IIUVO bottles the persistence of memory. Tomi and Leo are the handsome heads behind the Proustian perfume house, creating eloquent and emotive fragrances that capture the personal but captivate many. Beauty Papers talk to the boys about the stories behind their scents.
Words JOHN WILLIAM
Portraits ROGER RICH
Tomi Ahmed: I left school at sixteen and just had a few jobs dotting around, from cleaning to being a hotel maître d′… I’ve done so many things. Yeah, the evolution has been quite aggressive from then – to what it is now, and I’ve learnt and scooped a lot along the way.
It probably started like age 20, 21. You start to see that there are other things out there through the internet. I had my own little computer and you just start to google things like Hypebeast, things like that on a primitive level, that I really was into. I used to love this kind of trashy blog called The Classy Issue. From the age of 21 to 29 it has been a journey of constant information. I used to work at Dover Street Market and I just absorbed everything like a sponge. That was the moment my life erupted and started to change.
Leo Gibbon: I was in my final year at uni when we started discussing the idea of scents. I’ve always been into scents and perfumes and candles. My mum’s a florist so I’ve always grown up around it. My ex-girlfriend Georgia showed me a brand which wasn’t actually a perfumery it was more about a guy who had ideas about scents and wanted to make them realised. It’s broken a barrier because the perfume industry before that was all very old-school, very snooty. Everyone studied perfumery for X amount of years at different perfume houses then became their own Maison. Tomi comes from a fashion and visual background and I come from more of a musical background, and we kind of combined the two together to create this brand around scent. Neither of us have studied perfume, we just knew exactly what we wanted to do in terms of product and concepts and ideas. And getting them realised was part of the process by working with these amazing perfume houses in Paris and sitting down with the noses and really, really getting our concepts out.
"Me and Tomi come from really strong women. It’s part of our narrative to pay homage to them. Emmie for me was someone who taught you to be yourself, do what you want to do." - Leo
Beauty Papers: So music was your first creative outlet?
Leo Gibbon: Yeah, for me it was the first thing I did really for myself. From a young age I was immersed in music from my mum and my dad and my sister.
BP: Whose poster did you have on the wall?
LG: Eminem, back in the day.
LG: Yeah, straight.
BP: Do you remember what the first record you bought was?
LG: Yeah it was Tupac Greatest Hits when I was like nine years old. What about you?
BP: Mine was The Fugees. And M People, so quite a mix.
LG: M People were great, can’t sleep on M People.
TA: You know mine was Whitney Houston Heartbreak Hotel.
BP: Ah, brilliant.
LG: He’s a softie.
TA: Yeah proper soft, everyone’s pulling out – and I’m like ‘Yo, Whitney!’
BP: Did you ever want to perform?
LG: No, I come from an Irish background so I got made to go to church and do the whole choir thing.
LG: When we make a scent, me and Tomi will construct a beautiful mood-board maybe with a short film, imagery… anything we can use to translate our message. And then I’ll create a mix of music to accompany it. There are certain emotional nuances and feelings that I can’t translate through scent, and music is the way I can communicate them. Music and scent are so synonymous in how they evoke emotion, how they make you feel – it’s so personal, it’s so specific to one person.
"People get dazzled by the outward appearance whereas it was always about internal understanding. The pimp game, the essence of soigné, was about being an intellectual person who is at ease, not a pseudo-intellectual." - Tomi
LG: Our first piece was three candles, it was our core range. Ajon, Emmie and Woodgrain. Three was neither too many, nor too few. My mum’s the reason that I’m in to scent. She’s still a florist, that’s what she does every day, working in this little workshop making flower arrangements and bouquets. Ajon was a candle to represent that. A minimal floral – it’s not too busy, not too sweet, not too overbearing. It’s just got four floral notes and it represents the exact smell of my mum’s floral workshop.
LG: Emmie was my Irish nan. Crazy lady. Amazing woman. She was obsessed with her garden – she’d be outside in nothing but a bra, hair tied up in a scarf, fag, glass of whiskey, in her zone. Me and Tomi come from really strong women. It’s part of our narrative to pay homage to them. Emmie for me was someone who taught you to be yourself, do what you want to do. She came to the country with a couple of quid in her pocket and built a huge family. The candle is very fresh, very greeny, very earthy, almost ‘bittery’. Her garden after the grass has been cut, the hedges have been done and it’s just rained. Because in England and Ireland, it always rains. I spent a lot of time in that garden – it was cleaner than her house!
TA: Woodgrain was a different concept. It was a result of the music I was making at the time. I used to do a lot of samples. Chop up beautiful old soul and funk records. Mix them with southern hip-hop from the early 2000s, like Juicy J, Three 6 Mafia. They always used to mention woodgrain. I didn’t know what it meant, I’m from St Albans, Hertfordshire, iffy, suburbs, it’s beautiful, we don’t have any woodgrain round there. I was intrigued by it, then I found out woodgrain is, in fact, these panels in vintage Cadillacs, Chevrolets, really beautiful, old American cars. So, from the steering wheel, dashboard, it’s all just kitted out in wood. And obviously these guys are talking about woodgrain as if it’s their kid – that’s how proud and boastful they are. So it’s kind of a celebration of ignorance. And the Woodgrain is meant to represent what it would smell like – warm, woody, spicy, leathery kind of more… what’s the word? More opulent. A little bit more masculine. So that’s where Woodgrain came from. A car I have never driven.
TA: Soigné is a French word meaning immaculately groomed. I’m reading Pimp by IcebergSlim. The way these pimps present themselves, from the best cars to the best shoes. The pimp game was never about the aesthetic, it was to do with your mental capacity. People get dazzled by the outward appearance whereas it was always about internal understanding. The pimp game, the essence of soigné, was about being an intellectual person who is at ease, not a pseudo-intellectual. There are so many other words to describe what soigné is, whether that’s jazz, a speakeasy, listening to Art Pepper. I once saw Steve McQueen, the director, talking about the first time he met Prince. Prince walked into this Oscar party, and he had these two beautiful women next to him and he had his cane. This visual painting he was making… everything to do with Prince at that moment summed up the success of what he felt from winning for Twelve Years a Slave. You know Prince was fly, you know he probably wore silk boxers to bed. That level of flyness is what you try to put into a product. So yeah, that’s Soigné.
BP: The theme of this issue is Glamour. I want to know what epitomises Glamour for each of you? Your personal notion of glamour?
TA: That is a beautiful question. Peckham. My mum’s 60th birthday, I was late as well. But she just looked sick. That’s glamour, that’s juice. A black woman just looking like money, looking great, smelling great. She’s happy, she’s shining. Music, cousins everywhere, food. Peckham, it’s where I’m from, the whole family’s there. You need to understand, my mum grew up in Nigeria and most of the men that she associated herself with were quite powerful people. Like my brothers’ dad created like an Evian of Nigeria, my dad was a pastor and he was a man about town. So she was just swaggy innit. This notion of what a woman should be like, a powerful woman quite staunch. She was extremely strict when we were going up, but quite regal in an African sense like Fela Kuti, but without all the noise. In every woman that I want to date or have an association with – I look for that trait. It’s like I’m addicted to a type of powerful woman. That epitomises glamour for me, my mum. Seeing her shine with her Gele.
LG: I think honestly the first time I thought of glamour, when I thought wow that’s the one, it was the whole idea of West End girls, East End boys. Ronnie and Reggie. That kind of lifestyle where you’re not actually doing anything but you’re with the best boxers, you’re with the best actors, they’re coming to your bars, everyone’s dressing nice, do you know what I mean? Have you seen The Long Good Friday, with Bob Hoskins? My mum showed me that film when I was younger and I loved it. When they’re driving up to him and he’s got his boat on the Thames and he’s the geezer, he’s the man. And when you’re growing up you start hearing stories, little puzzle pieces. I swear it’s different than growing up these days because everything is at your fingertips, but growing up when we were young, you used to hear things and you’d be told stories and shit. There was a lot more personality in it, hearing stories from my old man or his mates. That’s all glamour.