Fashion designer Bella Freud and perfume designer Azzi Glasser talk passion, permanence and punk.
In conversation with Azzie Glasser
BELLA FREUD. Azzi and I met through a friend of ours, Joe Corré. He invited us both to lunch to talk about a project that he was working on, and after that we kept bumping into each other. We had these half conversations at various places, always really interesting and very fascinating. Instantly, we really liked each other. I heard Azzi mention how it was really easy to make a scent. We talked about what to do — the jumpers and making the candles a reflection of that — and she sent round a few little testers.
AZZI GLASSER. We were both separately interested in the sense of smell. Bella would talk about climbing trees in the countryside and her time in Morocco when she was a child, and as she was talking I’d be visualising little Bella climbing the trees. When I think about smell, I go into a fantasy land. It’s very much not the real world.
BELLA. I suppose, with the first three [fragrances] it was like, if something is going to have a smell, it’s going to be a fucking good one. So, what’s Ginsberg is God? What are the components? What’s the story? I’ve always been interested in words, and I’ve always read a lot. When I’m looking for an idea for a visual, I read, and I find that sometimes
I can get to it much faster like that. With Ginsberg is God, there are a couple of pictures: I’ve got a photograph of Hunter S Thompson sitting on the cliffs at Big Sur, with his typewriter, and there’s another picture of Cocteau with a drawing book on his knees — he’s wearing these checkered slipper-boots, and he’s obviously totally engaged. I love the way Cocteau worked, the way he used so many mediums: art, theatre,
and dance, and people — he would use everyone to make some kind of story. With 1970, I remember going to Formentera as a child. I was about five. I was aware of this thing that happened in the evening: things would change, there was a bit of frisson, a kind of expectation, and I liked the idea that 1970 would smell of that, that time of day, that moment where something was about to happen. Azzi just seemed to be able to translate that into something you could smell. The signature, the Bella Freud [Eau de Parfum], is more about the private side of me, which Azzi picked up on. What I love about it is that it’s really warm, and it’s got something of the history of women in it, and that’s when I was thinking of… amber. I love the smell of amber. My mother used to wear amber and she didn’t wear anything except these amber beads. She was the 70s girl. She was a hippy and she ran away from home and kind of rebelled against the system. And I felt that Azzi captured the dignity and the layer of intrigue that most women have from going through stuff, but in a very refined way.
AZZI. This is where it gets interesting. It’s going to be personal to Bella because nobody will understand that personal ability, but what’s interesting is that we started with the other fragrances — Je t’aime Jane, Ginsberg is God and 1970 — which were very much based on Bella’s work, so we had the introduction to Bella, her designs, and the concepts, and the visualisations. And actually, that was very much the beginning of our work together, but we would discuss Bella’s private life and things like that, so it was an organic transition, literally. When Bella talks about Ginsberg is God, you get that tousle-haired poet/writer look that’s always timelessly cool and trendy, and deliciously gorgeous, and that feeling of heritage. The scent totally portrays that; it’s creative and intelligent, but it has this edginess to it, because that look does have that edginess to it. When you wear it, you feel like that. The whole scent has a sense of style to it, just like the vision that Bella has. With Je t’aime Jane, that was the most feminine of our conversations, and when you do actually imagine it, she’s got a baby but she’s got bare legs and she’s playing a guitar. It’s that simple, incredible life where you only care about the things that really matter to you. You create your own world around you, rather than it being created for you. And that’s very powerful, because most women don’t think like that. In general, if you look at women in the world, they tend to follow their man and be supportive, and this and that. But there’s something about this particular vision — an independence to it. That’s why Je t’aime Jane smells really sexy, but in a sort of beautiful, soft, intelligent way. She knows what’s right and wrong in her world, so it’s just having that kind of thought process put into a scent, so when you wear it, you feel like that. With 1970, it’s really exactly as Bella described it, but I added in more of a girl, wearing a halter-neck dress, with a lot of skin showing, so it’s that hedonistic feeling where you just know she’s going to have the best time of her life through the night. And you want that scent to last all night, so we wanted it to smell really exotic and hedonistic — that feeling of 1970s. It’s my favourite era.
BELLA. So many fun and interesting things happened, the whole rock’n’roll thing: Studio 54, pop art, and of course, punk, which was such a big thing in my life. And that mixture of glamour and grunge, I love both and I love the tension between them. And I remember in the 70s, seeing everyone all glam rock, and then seeing punk, it was just the way to go. I remember the first time it was cool to be young, instead of it just being idiotic to be young and having no power. Suddenly, somehow, you had this power to frighten people just by what you were wearing. People were scared of teenagers. It was interesting to see the power of clothes and how much they could affect people.
I like it when I smell a perfume on someone that gives me another reading of their character, something that isn’t immediately obvious and is an exciting clue. The smell of a person is the most erotic scent, so it should not be obliterated.
AZZI. It’s like the power of smell. See, this is the thing, that’s why our collaboration has been really strong, because we actually think very similarly, but in two little parallel worlds. They’re actually quite connected, because you’re very psychological as well, and you see how people dress, and the power and the aura they have as they walk past you. I have the same with smell. It’s like a love affair with perfume. Sometimes you instantly think, “I’m going to love this.” There’s also a nostalgic element to this fragrance. It has a soft, powdery comfort note, and that’s a mixture of tonka and patchouli. Patchouli is a really earthy, wet note, which is so delicious and very addictive.
BELLA. I love that you’ve used it so much — a bit of patchouli in most of the scents. In my childhood patchouli was a big smell. Everyone smelled of it. It’s kind of tough and earthy, but what’s brilliant is that Azzi uses a little bit, and that gives it an extra dimension. Even though it’s powerful, it’s mild in a way. It’s so refined and elegant in the context of these perfumes.
AZZI. See, I find you very feminine because of your personality, and I see you as a mother and wife and a really strong woman because of your work and everything else.
BELLA. But when people say strong woman, it always sounds slightly awful in some way, I don’t know why. It’s supposed to be a good thing, but it’s also “she’s a bossy old cow” and “she’s going to end up lonely”. I don’t know if it’s an English thing, but there aren’t that many compliments about women.
AZZI. My interpretation of it is a bit of fighter, really.
BELLA. But there are not many complimentary terms for women who know what they want to do and how to do it. I think that it’s got a lot to do with fear and the idea that if you do what you want, you’re going to lose out somehow. People use that stupid, awful, boring phrase “having it all”, and it’s like, men are never asked if they have it all, they just have a full life. But somehow it’s always construed that as a woman you are going to lose things and end up lonely and sad with no kids and no husband. We haven’t quite got there yet, just the fun of a woman who makes stuff happen, who’s a… fighter sounds good.