Liz Moores is the founder and perfumer behind the brilliant award-winning fragrance house, Papillon Perfumery. Papillon is based in the forested outskirts of London, where Liz creates complex, beautiful perfumes that never fail to delight fragrance lovers far and wide. We were thrilled that Liz took the time to talk all things perfume with us, and think you will be too...
Q. What drives you to create perfume?
A. It is the best feeling in the world when a creative idea can be brought into being. My effort to keep creating comes from an innate desire to take an early idea and to condense that inspiration in a tangible form.
Q. Your fragrances and personal style have vintage elements but are simultaneously original and modern. What is it about classic vintage style that excites you?
A. I have always loved perfumes that contain layer upon layer of different facets, fragrances that continually shift and reveal different aspects of themselves, fragrances that move. As this is the style of fragrance that I have always worn and loved, it was probably on a subconscious level that I found myself emulating this style.
Vintage perfumes are very multifaceted, often using many materials to achieve this affect, and I found that by working in a similar way, building accord upon accord within the formula, I was able to capture a vintage feel to my work. I think my creations feel modern as they are compounded using the materials available today with all the top, middle and base notes in pristine condition. It would be interesting to see how my fragrances would smell in 100 years.
Q. Your perfumes are so sophisticated and professionally formulated, yet you’re primarily self-taught. How did you attain this level of skill?
A. Thank you, that is the greatest compliment, it really is. I spent an exceptionally long time honing my craft and much of what I attempted to produce in the early days was terrible. The frustration at not being able to physically create the concept that I had in my head was the impetus that pushed me to learn, learn and to continue learning. I genuinely believe that success in this process can only be achieved by trial and error while tangibly learning a skill, there is only so much a book can teach you.
I spent an inordinately long time just learning about the natural materials; how they behave on a smelling strip versus the skin, their overall impact and their ability to completely change a composition. I have always said that by studying the natural materials and keeping a journal of one’s observations is the key to understanding the building blocks of a fragrance.
Q. Do you think about a specific person or personality as you design a scent, the archetypal wearer of the perfume?
A. No, I do not. I work in isolation and do not have focus groups or a marketing team who would insist I create a perfume for certain demographics or individuals. When I create a fragrance, I want the wearer to make that perfume their very own and to feel that it belongs solely to them. To keep an image in my head of who will be wearing one of my fragrances would inevitably lead to my creative process being constrained and I could not work in this way.
More importantly, perfume is for everyone, and I do not feel it is my role to push a fragrance upon a certain group of people while excluding others. I am extremely fortunate that I have this freedom as a small independent perfumer and that freedom is utterly liberating.
Q. In general, how do you come up with the concepts for your fragrances or does it differ from scent to scent?
A. It does differ from scent to scent. I always start with a very clear idea of what I want to achieve and will follow the thread to completion, even if it means that some ideas like Salome, get shelved for a while until I feel I’m ready to finalize the formula. I draw inspiration from much of what is around me and although nature will always be my greatest inspiration I can be inspired by poetry, photographs, history, art, people, music; there is no end to where one can find their muse.
Often, I am inspired by a new material and will spend a lot of time with a smelling strip under my nose while waiting for the creative spark to ignite. The concepts for each fragrance can be a slow burn or a sudden rush of inspiration and each of these ideas are noted in one of my many notebooks and each are given a working title until I feel the time is right to start working on one of them.
Q. We love your social media presence, especially seeing your many beautiful animals (including your striking white owl, Ghost!). Your last release, Bengale Rouge, was a tribute to one of your Bengal cats. Are any of your other animals the subject or an influence in your work?
A. Thank you, I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by so many beautiful creatures, and I cannot fail to be inspired by them, on a working level as well as personal. I knew that I simply had to create a fragrance that was inspired by a cat and there was no better muse than my first Bengal to move this idea forward.
Once again, it this freedom in my work that I love so much, to forever immortalize a much loved pet in perfume form did make me smile but I must now resist the temptation to use all of my familiars as my inspiration! I do however have a mod tucked away in the studio that pays homage to my beloved horse, and I am hoping that I can continue work on this potential fragrance and one day add it to the collection. It smells of warm horseflesh, English hedgerows, well-oiled leather tack with a dry down full of sweet hay with just a hint of stable to stop the concept falling into romanticism.
Q. How has social media helped to grow your business, and any advice you would give to other perfumers hoping to leverage social media for their brands?
A. There would be no Papillon without social media, and it is a simple as that. When the Papillon brand launched nearly 7 years ago the use of social media was how I was able to present my fragrances to a worldwide audience. I am by no means an expert in the use of social media as my children will attest to; in the early days I had to be continually instructed by them as I didn’t have a clue how to even upload links and photos, but I have always tried to keep my posts authentic and interesting.
My days are not spent sweeping through fields of lavender or visiting far flung exotic places, often I am in the studio replying to emails, packing orders or dealing with suppliers, which doesn’t make for a particularly interesting social media post, but when I take a break from my day to day work I will often snap away on my phone and maybe post a photo of something beautiful I have seen in nature. I would advise any brand to stay genuine in their posts and to engage with their audience, I think the latter is so important. You would not ignore someone in the street if they spoke to you and I think it is rude to not reply to one’s audience in a social media setting too.
Q. There also appear to be mystical references in your scent stories – do you consider perfumery to be a spiritual practice?
A. For the creative process, absolutely, but for the other aspects such as compounding, packing and the general running of the business I do not. I think that with most creative endeavors there is a spiritual thread that runs through the process, and for me personally, I embrace the meditative aspects during the creation of a fragrance, even down to often dreaming about the perfume I am working on, and frequently dreaming about future creations.
Q. You’ve said in the past that your entire family (5 children and partner, Simon) is involved in Papillon. Is this still the case and, if so, we’d love to hear more about how you experience perfumery together as a family.
A. My partner Simon has now fully stepped back from the business but is still tormented by me spraying him with the latest mods and asking his opinion on the latest thing I am working on. My eldest daughter still does a lot of the writing content for me as her day-to-day job is writing, and she often becomes my voice when I find my brain disintegrating by the end of a long week. She wrote some beautiful poems to accompany Bengale Rouge and Dryad and I am hoping she will write some more in the future.
My other 4 children show a lot of interest in the brand but as yet have no interest in working directly with me, but my youngest daughter does love to join me in the studio and when allowed will mix her own formulas, so maybe one day she will follow in my footsteps.
Q. Has the pandemic changed the way you work, and how are you coping?
A. I have been extremely fortunate that I have been able to continue working through the pandemic as my studio and lab are attached to my home. I am very used to working alone, but last year I employed a wonderful assistant who unfortunately was unable to work directly alongside me while the UK was in lockdown, so I really did miss her and my workload went through the roof. Juggling homeschooling and running a business was not without its complications at times, but I have been luckier than most as I have been able to continue working and fulfilling orders.
Q. What can we expect next from Papillon?
A. There will be a new release in 2021 to coincide with Papillon’s 7-year birthday. I am extremely excited about the new fragrance offering, and as I type I have a smelling strip next to me that has been dipped in the new perfume and it is wafting beautifully. I am still in the process of finalizing the formula as it still requires a few tweaks and a little bit of polishing, but I am incredibly happy with the perfume so far.
Without revealing too much I can tell you that it contains silver ambergris and black ambergris that I tinctured myself, along with a glorious Siberian pine, Black hemlock and Indian sandalwood. More will be revealed closer to the release date, but this perfume is quite special, and the concept has been woven around the mystical and cyclical number 7 while following the thread back to the first perfume in the Papillon collection, Anubis.