Interview: Ruth Mastenbroek

Ruth Mastenbroek launched her fine fragrance line in 2010, but she is a perfumer who has seen the industry from more than just the fine fragrance vantage point over the course of her hugely successful, 40-year career.

We were lucky enough to meet up with Ruth at the Fragrance Foundation’s Jasmine Awards finalists’ drinks reception back in March and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to grill her on her wealth of experience.

Ruth’s journey to industry insider began over in the USA. 

“As a youngster, I lived in America and I attended High School in New Jersey,” she tells us.

“Coming back to England I embraced my English heritage and at Oxford University, where I did my undergraduate degree, I learned to value both the rigour of structured learning and the excitement of discovering new things. Whilst my formal education was quite classical, I was so glad to discover there was a more creative way of using my chemistry. That is why I decided to train as a perfumer.”

We asked Ruth what advice she would give to those starting out in today’s world.

“Smell everything. Be persistent and curious.” She advises.

“Since I trained many more women have come into the industry and become perfumers which is fantastic, as it used to be (and probably technically still is) such a male dominated industry.”

We asked Ruth what those early years were like for her, cutting her teeth in a competitive world.

“A lot of my initial training involved working on fragrances for products like bleach and detergents, because they are difficult to develop (the costs have to remain low and they need to smell good in the product itself but also be effective in their performance). I must have worked on hundreds of those fragrances! My first major ‘win’ was for one tonne of a perfume for detergent in Iran. It was at that time the largest order my company had ever had, so I was very proud! I didn’t carry on working on fragrances for household products, but it gave me a brilliant foundation to start to build my experience on.”

This fascinating aspect of the industry is one which isn’t talked about as often as the seemingly more glamorous world of perfume formulation, but it’s one which allowed Ruth to really earn her credentials as a master perfumer, and the knowledge she gained helped her make the transition to first formulating scents and scented products for other people, before launching a range of fine fragrances herself.

“I felt I hadn’t reached my potential; I wanted to explore the creative depths I knew I had but hadn’t found a way to express yet, so I launched my own brand. I am sure this is a feeling that many wrestle with and I was confident that my fragrances could help others to express themselves too.”

“I had learned so much throughout my career, working in France, the UK, the Netherlands and Japan, and had discovered so many ingredients along the way that I was convinced I could use those experiences to create fragrances that could help people relate to themselves better and express a part of their character or personality.”

With such a strong ethos behind her brand, Ruth’s line has been met with acclaim.

“My first fragrance, Signature, remains my proudest creation because it was the fragrance I launched my brand with. It is a story of freedom, which was inspired by the fact that I was completely free to create what and how I wanted, after so many years of creating for others. I am also proud of it because I still get so many amazing compliments about the fragrance – it is a chypre (made up of bergamot, rose, patchouli and oakmoss) but I have used pink peppercorn and mandarin to give it a twist. I love when I hear from a customer who was stopped in the street to ask what they are wearing, or when someone has worn it on their wedding day. Those are touching moments that mean a lot to me!”

“My last fragrance, Firedance, was a finalist for three Fragrance Foundation Awards in 2017. I was the only independent brand to receive three nominations, and being up against some huge brands like Tom Ford and Jo Malone, it was a huge achievement.”

Despite the significant success she has already achieved, Ruth isn’t resting on her laurels when it comes to her own brand.

“My next fragrance, Dagian, will launch later this year. I have been working on it for over a year and cannot wait for it to launch now. It’s completely different to my existing four fragrances. It is a story of optimism: Dagian means ‘dawn’ in old English, and the feeling this fragrance conjures is the feeling you get at the beginning of a new day. Anything is possible, you have no weight on your shoulders, no feelings of responsibilities, just a feeling of lightness and positivity at the prospect of what lies ahead.”

It struck us that Ruth sits at the crossroads of so many different things: science and art, traditional and modern, even the USA and UK and this broad view allows her to see things from different perspectives. We asked her if she felt more like an artist or a scientist.

“These days, I would say I am more artist: in fine fragrance, and especially when creating fragrances for my own brand, my creativity and imagination is the limit. I still draw on my science background on a daily basis as the performance of fragrance in product is still vital, but that is a given for me and I like to spend my time on the more creative side of perfumery now.”

With that in mind, we wanted to have a little fun, and so we asked Ruth what sort of fragrance she would create for any historical character of her choice.

“I’d pick Queen Elizabeth I – a powerful woman who influenced history for centuries to come. The fragrance would be reminiscent of the smell of imports of the time: tobacco, potatoes (vetivert!), blood-red roses, with a strong heart and base. The key accord would incorporate some fabulous new ingredients, too – I feel sure Elizabeth would appreciate the buzz of the new!”

If the next release from the Ruth smells like roses and potatoes, you now know where that inspiration has come from!

If you’d like to explore the Ruth Mastenbroek line further, you can read our article about the scents. 

Ruth Mastenbroek fragrances are available online via her web boutique.

This article was published with Ruth’s permission, we did not receive, nor seek, any incentive for writing it.

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