Today marks International Fragrance Day; a day dedicated to the art of perfumery. To celebrate, we spoke to industry veteran and Co-Founder of Shay & Blue, Dom de Vetta.
From championing tradition to the millennial consumer, here’s what Dom had to say when we met him at the Marylebone boutique.
Talk us through your career; what came before Shay & Blue, and how did you find your way into the fragrance industry?
I’ve been in the industry for 22 years now. I had a really fantastic once-in-a-life-time career in 2003, which began when I sat next to infamous perfumer Jacques Polge at a Chanel dinner in Paris. After conversating over five courses, he asked if I’d like to work alongside him on a new project – which ended up being Les Exclusifs de Chanel. It was an extraordinarily wonderful thing to happen to me, as I learnt everything about perfume making from one of the great perfumers of the last century.
That role led onto working at Jo Malone, where I was Global General Manager and oversaw the business after Jo herself left. We created a number of fragrances there that became bestsellers and then one day, I woke up and decided to start my own company.
What inspired you to launch your own business?
I just kept getting this urge. When you’re creating for someone else, you have to do it in their house style, and in my heart-of-hearts I knew I wanted to create fragrances that were very personal to me, and that I would need my own company in order to do that. I sat on the thought for quite some time, but it just wouldn’t go away, so I knew I had to do it.
The biggest challenge you’ve faced since Shay & Blue launched in 2012?
At the beginning, we were running a company with just the two of us, which proved very stretching. It’s exciting, and there are highs and lows; it’s absolutely thrilling to have your finger in every pie, but it can also be exhausting. Overall, I’m just delighted that I’ve done it – it’s been the best experience of my life.
Describe your Co-Founder Julie Massé in three words?
Joyful, youthful and energetic.
How are new fragrances for Shay & Blue created? Where do your influences stem from?
With Julie based in Paris, we travel backwards and forwards to one-another. Either I go to Paris and work with her in her perfume workshop, or Julie comes here and we wonder around to get inspiration. Julie and I get inspired by anything. We schedule in walks and visits to exhibitions and bars every few weeks.
We were wondering around London some time ago, eating salted caramels from Charbonnel & Walker – and that was the inspiration for our fragrance Salt Caramel (created in partnership with Charbonnel & Walker).
Sometimes it gets very off the wall. We were once chatting about our childhoods, and Julie was discussing growing up in Japan, and I spoke of growing up in London; it was a beautiful moment full of reminiscing and laughter. Out of those shared childhood memories came a conversation about a child’s fascination with small things – like picking dandelion clocks and blowing them. She did that in Japan, and I did that here in London – which led to the idea for our fragrance Dandelion Fig.
You’ve previously spoken of the brand’s respect for traditional skills; talk us through the way Shay & Blue incorporate them.
The tradition of Shay & Blue is really applied to the way we make our fragrances. The fragrances themselves are not traditional, they’re very modern; what’s traditional is our belief that they should be made with the highest possible quality methods. The reason why I wanted to champion the traditional way of making fragrance is because the industry has become industrialised – fragrances are being churned out in their millions in factories owned by huge conglomerates, and quality has suffered in that process. The majority of fragrances out there now are made with very cheap ingredients to keep costs low.
Traditional methods involve using the finest ingredients and fragrance oils from Grasse in the South of France, which in turn supports generations of craftsmanship. We make our fragrances with real flowers, fruits and spices – and the imported fragrance oils are mixed by hand and left to mature for several months in our workshop in East London. That maturation process is something that doesn’t happen in fragrance anymore. We’re doing it because the end result gives you a fragrance with more depth and richness. There are at least 20 processes to create a fragrance, from harvesting flowers to bottling the final product – it’s like making a wine, if you do it properly, it takes time.
What fragrance are you wearing? Do you have a signature scent, or is it mood dependent?
I wear Blood Orange at all times. It’s our unisex fragrance and one of our bestsellers – bought pretty much 50/50 by men and women. The reason I love it is because it’s a citrus that really sticks around on the skin. Underneath the blood orange, there is also a mix of musk, amber and leather, making for a really fascinating contrast with the fresh, sparkling citrus on top.
If you could pick anyone, past or present, to wear one of your fragrances, who would it be and why?
I love David Bowie, and I would have loved him to be someone that wore our brand. But another icon I’ve always admired is Bianca Jagger, and actually our spies tell me that Bianca Jagger may wear one of our fragrances.
What advice would you give to someone hoping to pursue a career in the fragrance industry?
It depends which part of the fragrance industry you want to go into. If you want to become a nose, there is really only one path. You have to apply to the only perfumers’ university in the world, which is ISIPCA in Versailles. There you learn to become a perfumer, and nearly every perfumer in the world has been through that school.
If on the other hand you would like to do what I do – let’s call it the Art Direction side of perfumery, or storytelling – there are a number of ways into it. You can work in the industry and work your way up like me, or you can go to art school and then choose your creative specialty as perfume.
Do you think ‘story’ is important to Shay & Blue?
I think that’s what customers of any brand want today – they want a story that’s real, that rings their bells and speaks to them. I think that more and more what customers want is something special, unique, authentic and with a passion for quality. That’s the reason why there are so many specialist shops popping up in every field.
We have a lot of Gen X’s that love Shay & Blue for the authentic and quality angle. But we also appeal strongly to millennials, which we can see on social media. We get a lot of mentions on Instagram and Twitter, and there’s generally quite a lot of buzz. I think our story is what appeals to this younger generation.
Everybody wants a fragrance that means they smell a little bit unique. Frankly, why would you want to smell like everybody else?
When you’re not working, how do you spend your down time?
When I’m not in the boutique or in our workshop, I’m usually painting – I paint abstract landscapes and seascapes in oils. I cycle around town on my little mountain bike… I shuttle between London and Paris, and I also shuttle between Hyde Park and Greenwich as that’s where my partner lives. We go out and eat and drink a lot as he owns his own restaurant business. We also have two dogs – a Yorkiepoo and a Jack Russell.
What’s next for the brand?
There’s just so much going on. We’re just starting to get into body products, we’re working on a whole new extract of perfume line and we’re expanding abroad – we’ve just launched in Germany, and are soon-to-launch in one or two countries in the Middle East, and possibly Russia…
Photos by Pippa Bugg.