Interview: Adam Eastwood and Franco Wright of Scent Bar
Interview: Adam Eastwood and Franco Wright of Scent Bar
The destination for independent and niche perfume shopping opens a new location in LA's new retail space the ROW
Walking into Scent Bar, egg-shaped and gem-colored The House of Oud bottles draw the eye. The Oriza L Legrand bottles evoke a historic era and Fueguia 1833 features a more modern apothecary style. But it's what is inside all of these vessels that captured the imagination of Adam Eastwood and Franco Wright, who began the first chapter of their perfume journey 15 years ago.
In the years since Wright and Eastwood started Luckyscent, their online perfume market and opened their first tiny Scent Bar storefront on Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood, they have become a go-to source for independent niche perfumes. Now with their larger location just east of the original and a new location in downtown Los Angeles at the ROW, the Scent Bar team celebrates their anniversary by offering more hard-to-find and exclusive fragrances.
Inside the new space, white lacquer cabinets and milky translucent counters are flanked by chalkboard-style signage for each ingredient category. These fragrance families offer everything from musk to oud and sandalwood to vetiver, making a clear statement of how Scent Bar offers a different shopping experience than department stores. Rather than displaying each perfume by brand, the Scent Bar staff know their fragrances and ingredients so well that they can display them by the dominant traits of the perfume. This way of organizing their inventory gives customers the ability to compare the type of aromas they are looking for side by side. "We wanted to keep the bar vibe," explains Eastwood.
We spent a day with both founders, learning about the history of the company, their philosophy of how to customize consumer experiences, and why they believe that the world is ready to open their minds to new perfume ingredients. Wright has been known to wear Comme des Garçons Odeur 71, which is described on their site as, "Hot laundry right out of the dryer served up on your clean, sexy Xerox machine." When knowledgeable customers walk in asking for perfumes with a favorite classic, exotic, or innovative ingredients, the Scent Bar team matches their desire to bottle.
How did you approach the design of store?
Adam Eastwood: For the first store we designed everything. We came from a graphic design background. When we did this one, we kept a lot of the elements that we liked. I love the lucite countertops for a number of reasons. Glass makes so much noise when you are putting glass on top of it. This feels milky and cool. It is a clear piece of lucite that has been spray painted white on the bottom, so you get depth and shadows. We have the white lacquer cabinets, polished concrete floors, and overhead structure here at the ROW that makes it feel more intimate and gave us a place for the lighting.
Have you always categorized by ingredient profile or did you discover that idea over time?
AE: We would go to New York and do competitive shopping, to see what’s going on. You see people who are working for just one or two brands. That way does not always serve the customer. We wanted to break them out so that when people are looking for a specific type of fragrance, they can experience all of the fragrances of that type from all of the different brands. Like the vanillas or the leathers. Someone might come in and say, "I really like incense," and we show them the incense section. We may have some amazing incenses you may not have even heard of. It's almost the tip of our hat to a bartender. That's how bars do it—they have all of the bourbons over here. We like that concept. We like the fact that it encourages discovery. It requires a lot more effort on the salespeople's part. They really have to work with people more.
How does your staff help customers find just the right scent?
AE: When people come in and say they don't want musky, they usually mean they don't want oak moss. Everyone has preconceived ideas. It is a very specific person that likes chypre or vetiver. Some people love vetiver and the rest of the people don't get it. They think it smells too grassy. We give samples. We shoot it into a little vile. We put it on a card. We label it. They take the samples home and live with them.
Do some people come in with a memory of a specific scent that they are looking for?
AE: The Comme des Garçons Incense series is a perfect example. You get people that come in and grab the Avignon. It's a very churchy scent. Some people say, "I cannot stand this, it reminds me of my childhood," and other people say, "I love this, it reminds me of the church from my childhood." Memory has a huge impact on people. Someone might say, "That smells like my girlfriend in high school."
What other rare and exclusive fragrances do you sell?
AE: Oriza L Legrand. We carry Fueguia 1833. Escentric Molecules has been our number one seller for eight years. It is super-sheer, it's a synthetic form of a cedarwood or a sandalwood—and that's it. One aroma material in it. Iso E Super. Added pink pepper and lime and other elements. Bubbly and effervescent like a gin and tonic. Like a cocoon. Sheer. People can wear it to work.
CH: Which brands are you personally excited about right now?
Franco Wright: A little bit of new and old. I am always excited to see what Comme des Garçons comes up with. For their 2017 releases, most notably they brought back a lot of discontinued fragrances back into production. Their Olfactory Library has 10 fragrances. A personal favorite from myself and the staff, most notably Sequoia, was the very first niche fragrance that I had ever purchased about 17 years ago. We could not get it fast enough. I think we sold out of it about four times. Ten years ago they did a series call Synthetic Series, which was so far ahead of its time. They had a fragrance called Tar, one called Garage. They were artistic in the way that they were produced. Calling out synthetic ingredients, which then was kind of a taboo with people saying it has to be natural. Moving forward we know that synthetics can be fascinating. Garage and Tar are cult classics—you couldn't even find them on eBay. When they came back out, there was chaos. And now when you smell them, they don't seem so bizarre. Our noses have modernized over time. Garage has a really cool rubber gasoline thing that is fascinating on skin and the Tar, an oily asphalt.
Can you recommend another perfumer to pay attention to?
FW: In Portland Josh Lobb has a brand called Slumberhouse. People go bananas for his work. He has a different style. His work has a lot of syrupy rich fruitiness with rare and unusual ingredients. He is making a scent for us and is still working on it, with the name to be determined. Nobody knows what he looks like—he's in a secret corner in Portland and releases fragrances quietly.
How did you secure the new exclusives for Scent Bar as you celebrate your 15th year in the perfume business?
FW: Over the years, our store has become a destination for people interested in fragrance. We have this opportunity to satisfy this appetite for the customers who want something more and more unique and having that in person experience. They can see and touch the bottles and have a conversation about it. We have forged relationships with perfumers. There is some really good talent out there. The availability to produce small-batch fragrance has become easier, sourcing ingredients, material, and packing products.
Tell us about one you are especially excited about.
FW: With Bogue Perfumo, we have an exclusive for the brand in the United States, Antonio Gardoni is a real artist. He is also an architect and a designer. He creates very small-batch fragrances with expensive and complex, rare ingredients and raw materials. These fragrances smell like they were created in another era—maybe the '60s, '70s or '80s powerhouse fragrances. Intense, beautifully done work. For our anniversary, he created a new fragrance called Noun. It’s a wildly complex fragrance that is a study of rose and patchouli, but when you smell it, it does not smell like a rose or patchouli. He has a masterful nose. He works materials like you have never smelled before. Very intense and lush florals, but he works them in a way that the effects are masculine with a high percentage of naturals. You smell things that feel genuine and lifelike.
How much are you involved with the process of developing an exclusive fragrances?
FW: With Antonio at Bogue, we were talking about doing some thing together. He said, "I am sitting on this really rare patchouli and some great rose absolute." We started off from that. He does some rough sketches, blends, and sends some samples over to us over a few months. I like the perfumers to have creative autonomy. This one has a smokiness to it with incense, resin and a kind of mustard seed that brings in an interesting spiciness. It is a very robust, complex fragrance. That was fun.
How do you develop relationships with perfumers?
AE: For our 15 year anniversary, Franco got several perfumers to make a unique scent for us to sell direct because of the relationships we have with them. I think they see us as the champion of the niche or the independent perfumer—and we are. We evangelize to people. When people come in, the one thing that people love about us is that we are looking out for their best interest. Andy Tauer is a Swiss perfumer. This is a cult classic woodsy resinous dry, it is called L’Air Du Desert Marocain. This is a huge seller. When he first offered this, it was in a little square bottle and he printed the labels and applied them himself. Now he has grown. We launched this brand in the US, when we were in our original store on Beverly. We have events when perfumers come to town. Andy has a cult following. It’s the perfect mix. Every once in a while someone hits it and it takes off. This one did.
Is Frank your in house brand?
FW: Frank Los Angeles is my wife's brand, a men's line with three fragrances. The idea was to create something small, artisan, and authentic for men, but accessible with the style of fragrance and price point, LA. And we like the idea of championing something coming out of Los Angeles.
First, second, third and sixth images courtesy of Scent Bar, all others by Julie Wolfson. Special thanks to Natalie Toren for help with this story