Wear different perfume. How one indie brand is bucking fragrance trends
Nine years ago, Sarah McCartney started 4160 Tuesdays, a London-based indie perfume brand which causes waves in the fragrance industry by its very existence. We caught up with Sarah at a recent workshop she held in Leeds to find out what she has learned from (almost) ten years in the industry, and what advice she would give to people aspiring to follow in her footsteps.
“I’d say that for every job in the fragrance industry, there are 100 people who want it.” Sarah begins, thoroughly realistically, if a little depressingly.
“My advice would be to find something else to pay the bills and then start to enjoy fragrances as a serious interest. Then, if you want to go further, there are online groups, workshops you can go to, and I’ve been talked into running an online class too. I run a workshop about how to set up your own brand and, honestly, I spend two days trying to put people off. For perfumery as a career there just aren’t that many roles.”
Despite the odds seeming stacked against her, 4160 Tuesdays is a brand which has clients across the world, and which occupies a very specific niche within an industry dominated by the gigantic companies.
“I never intended to run my own brand,” Sarah tells us. “It wasn’t so much a transition as an accidental drop into a well disguised trap. Currently I can’t find my way out, but I am quite enjoying it down here.”
“Having a small, flexible organisation means that I meet fascinating people and get invited to work on projects which are impossible for big companies. For example, one Christmas, I made three fragrances to evoke the smells of sprouts, blue cheese and bin bags for Febreze to send to journalists. I am surprised every day by something new.”
It’s clear from meeting other perfume-lovers at the Leeds workshop, that 4160 Tuesdays has a devoted following and customers who are as enthusiastic and excited about the brand as Sarah is herself. We asked her to tell us a little about that success.
“We’ve managed to stay in business in a difficult environment for seven years, but we are tiny. We sell less perfume in a year than Jo Malone London does in twelve hours, so we’re not really up there competing with the big chaps. On the other hand we refill our bottles, we don’t waste anything, we use glorious materials – natural and synthetic – and anyone else with similar formulas would have to charge around five times more than we do to cover their distribution costs. We make people happy. I’m very pleased with the fragrances we have, and the way they’ve been received. My success is not based on money; it’s on filling the world with invisible beauty.”
In meeting Sarah, we were struck with how she wears the role of being outside the mainstream of the fragrance industry and how, even they may not be fully aware of that, her customers respond to this facet of the brand’s personality.
“My challenger, rule-bending role is quite intriguing to the press and to our customers. Although I didn’t mean to upset the applecart, it appears that I did. (I picked the apples up and made cider.) I think most of our customers have a bit of maverick in them, and many don’t really want to do what the crowd does. We’re tiny, we’re here to be discovered, and people who do find us become part of the family almost. We’re small enough to listen and to be influenced, and to make things that people ask about.”
It’s this level of personality and the ability to listen to her customers which makes Sarah’s approach different in an industry where so much is produced ‘at’ the customer rather than ‘with’ them. We asked her to share some of her plans for the future with us.
“We’re working on some very interesting ideas, including talking to a high street brand about designing their fragrances: the idea is that they do our “diffusion” range as a collaboration. That way more people can smell our fragrances, and they can borrow our indie reputation.
“I’m also making two top notch exclusive scents for London Craft Week to go on display at the Beaumont Hotel in Mayfair, May 8-12. The scents are inspired by the 1930s film star Dolores del Rio and aesthete, composer and marvellous English eccentric, Lord Berners. He dyed his pigeons the shades of sugared almonds.”
Despite what Sarah tells us about the viability of a career in perfumery, one can’t help but feel a certain envy that she gets to work on a scent inspired by sugar-almond pigeons. And really, this eclecticism sums up the 4160 Tuesdays brand. They appeal to the eccentric in all of us, the part of us that likes to wear a cravat when nobody is looking, climb the stairs in the manner of a toddler, and search out whatever weird and wonderful gems set alight that little spark of joy in our souls. Long may it continue that people are encouraged to find their own uniqueness and celebrate that, in whatever medium and means speaks to them.
We attended a perfume taster workshop held by 4160 Tuesdays in Leeds where we were able to explore the structure of perfume, smell different materials, and experiment with our own, simple constructions. As this was a taster workshop, lasting around two hours, the number of materials available was limited, but this wasn’t really a surprise given the length of workshop and cost to attend. It allowed the opportunity to try some really classical perfume ingredients in a fun and supportive environment.
The tone of the workshop was lovely, really friendly and inclusive, and the people we met there were passionate about both the 4160 Tuesdays brand, and perfume more generally. We’d highly recommend it for someone who is just getting into perfumery, or for a small group of friends to do together. 4160 Tuesdays run regular workshops in London.
We weren’t paid by 4160 Tuesdays at all for producing this article, nor did we receive any incentive from them. We attended the workshop at our own cost too.
Photo credit: Tianci Zang, used with the kind permission of 4160 Tuesdays.