Azzi Glasser: Scenting the Zeitgeist

The prolific perfumer spills the secrets behind her fragrant collaborations with Chiltern Firehouse, Alexander McQueen, Tom Hardy and more

Azzi Glasser was enamoured with the world of fragrance from the very beginning. "Back in the 70s, my mum and dad would go to lots of parties and they'd spend hours getting ready," she explains, sitting upon a leopard print coat in her studio-cum-Camden townhouse. "The last thing my mum would do, after she put her false eyelashes and fur coat on, was spray her perfume; she'd come and say goodnight to me, just leaving this beautiful, expensive aroma behind. And then I would go into her bedroom and open the case that her perfume came in – it was Worth, which came in this special, velvet-lined box – and it just smelled so fantastic." Her obsession with scent has since resulted in an enviable CV that not only includes launching her own fragrance line – The Perfumer's Story by Azzi – in Harvey Nichols earlier this month, but also scenting spaces likes Alexander McQueen's runway and the inimitably cool Chiltern Firehouse, alongside creating bespoke perfumes that adorn the bodies of Helena Bonham-Carter, Johnny Depp and Tom Hardy. Here, we enter Glasser's world of fragrance – literally, a room filled with every one of her ingredients and all of the fragrances she has ever created – to find out about some of the key moments of her illustrious career...

On collaborating with Alexander McQueen...
"Back then, fashion – and all the parties that go with it – was really good fun. The shows were amazing; Hussein Chalayan had just come out and there were these incredible queues to get in but nobody could care less, everyone would just have a chat outside. You know the show where the robots came out and painted Shalom Harlow's dress? I scented that, because it was at Lots Road and the warehouse was really smelly. I remember Lee [McQueen] saying, 'What can we do to get rid of this damn smell?!' I wanted to do something sexy and sensual but quite simple... so I created a strong jasmine fragrance, because jasmine is an aphrodisiac. We made a thousand candles, and placed them leading up to the runway... every single one of them got nicked, of course. All the journalists must have had houses that smelled of the show.

We did another collaboration, which must have been in 1996... the Memento Mori project. Lee was commissioned by the French government to do this art piece; he got Nick Knight to do the visuals, Björk did the sound and I did the smell. It was all about death, of course – he created this sort of dead body which he put in a French chapel, but then it had hundreds of coloured maggots infested throughout it which made it come to life. It was so beautiful; absolutely amazing. I made it all smell similar to my Old Books scent – but a little bit more like an old grandma's attic, where you can smell age and heritage but also wealth and the stories that every person has to tell."

On scenting the Chiltern Firehouse...
"With Chiltern, it was quite a tall order for them to straight away establish themselves as the coolest place on the planet – but that’s what they’ve become. I went to go and see it back when it was the old firehouse, when André [Balazs, the founder] had just bought the building, and it wasn’t in a great state; it was incredibly raw, like a shell. I think what’s important about André, and something that you realise if you stay in any of his hotels, is that he has this incredible way of making you feel like the place has been there forever and you’ve come home. He wanted to have that same feeling at Chateau Marmont, but it was also important for me to look at his own personality: his attention to detail, his interest in people and how they feel and what they want rather than what the market demands. I had this picture of a travelling man, someone really debonair and sophisticated and charismatic – but the scent I created wouldn’t be of him, it’d be what he left behind, leaving you asking where he went. There’s a heritage about it, but not a heaviness; it was about creating that presence that you feel has always been there."

On what Tom Hardy smells like...
I gave Tom Hardy a fragrance that I thought he would love and he just said, ‘This is really lovely, it’s great, but can I just have the one that you smell like all the time?’ It’s Sequoia Wood which is completely unisex – I don’t like puny, sweet smells – and it’s very woody, super sexy. Tom’s amazing, I could just watch him for hours…"

On Helena Bonham-Carter...
“I did Helena’s fragrance after she came round one day to pick her kid up fom a play-date and she saw all my perfume bits everywhere and started rummaging through it all. I can see why she liked my place, because her house is a bit similar: she has all these rooms filled with boxes of buttons or needles and string and things like that. Anyway, she told me that she doesn’t like wearing perfumes because she gets sent so many but doesn’t know what will suit her. The thing is about what I do is that I learn a lot about characters and the way they dress and live their lives, and Helena is so couture, so beautiful – sometimes she wears a ballgown to the school playground at 8:30 in the morning and sometimes her pyjamas, but it always looks amazing. She has her own quirky eccentricity going on and she’s super funny and intelligent so I wanted to make a perfume like her, so that when you smelled it you’d think ‘Oh my God, it’s like no other!’ but with the sense of an English Rose, which she is. The real core, the real soul of a person has to be at the heart of it all.”

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