You Smell Nice: Brennan Michael, Perfumer and Designer
ON STARTING HIS CANDLE BUSINESS
"A few years ago, I started seeing the connection between human emotion and fragrance. I had a moment with a candle that I bought—I burned through it and had the absolute best time of my life. At the end of it I realized it had elevated and amplified so many moments in my life that I needed to understand how to make it, and what was happening there. So I started making candles. It was a means to get to the market. I’m still trying to figure out fragrance and exactly what about it is so compelling and influential—that curiosity fuels my passion and my progress.
I got into candle making though a lot of practice, reading, and experimenting. Going into the workspace and just starting to mix stuff. Even if it doesn’t smell right. You just have to mix it, store it, write it all down, come back to it later. Because you can have fresh perspectives later. It’s just like writing music, in terms of notes and composition. You have to switch it around, take stuff, edit it."
ON WHAT FRAGRANCE TELLS YOU ABOUT YOURSELF
"The more you delve into fragrance, the more memories you uncover - memories in your life that you forgot about. The focus of one sense amplifies all of your other senses. For example, dusty old basement is my favourite scent. Smelling it brings me back to when I was spending time with my grandfather, chopping wood in the basement of my first house. It’s helping me relive a lot of old memories that help me understand who I am today. It’s not just about fragrance for me—it’s about understanding.
Fragrance can help awaken old memories - sometimes memories that we need to revisit in order to move on. Whether that’s frustration, depression, or sexual desire—we need to understand where we were. Because that’s all fragrance is - it’s smelling the past. We don’t know what we’re smelling until we’ve smelled it before. We don’t know what we know until we know it.
I'm actually making a fragrance collection called MEMORY (I through IV)—taking my time to make sure that it’s perfect. I’m tweaking a lot of them based on different oils that I’ve received recently, so it’s delayed the process...but it’s making it better. In MEMORY I, each note had a story. For instance, there’s a smokier cedar wood—that brings back memories of my apartment fire. When I was living in St. John, my apartment burned down when I was on tour with a band, and I came back to the smell of a burnt down house. It’s the worst smell, but incorporated with other notes that compliment it, it’s beautiful. Just like all of the good and the bad in your life, in the end."
ON SMELLING EVERYTHING
"I use natural oils when possible. I’m not opposed to synthetics—I think they should be used to make fragrances that wouldn’t otherwise be sustainable or replicable. It’s interesting to me to use them, but I love naturals. There’s so much character in one oil. It’s love it or hate it. A lot of these oils that I get are disgusting to some people, but inspiring to me. It goes with the territory though: education instead of judgment.
Smelling requires an almost meditative mind. When you’re walking down the street, you’re focusing on each sense individually. On garbage day, when garbage is taken to the curb, I can smell what kind of fruits and vegetables are rotting inside. Most people are repulsed by that, but I’m interested in it. I want to smell it and get to know it. It's all field study. Just walking around Toronto, you can smell a million different smells.
I try not to wear anything during the day, because I’m in the workspace and I need my most unbiased nose, but when I go out, I like to wear my own stuff to get feedback. Otherwise, Tom Ford. (Oud Wood, obviously. It’s just so sexy. I hate to say it, but it’s worth the money.) I also get a lot of samples. That’s the joke in the fragrance industry, isn’t it? It’s like streaming music. No one actually owns any perfume, everyone just goes to department stores and gets samples.
I love department stores as much as the next person, but it’s so sobering. It’s where you bring fragrances to die. How do you explain a fragrance in a white room? We have to find different ways to communicate scents to people. We need different environments, and we need to be able to scale it to the masses. Everyone has a different language—different experiences and ways of encapsulating those experiences. I’m trying to find a more universal way: through working with visual artists. Textures. Light."
Product photos found via Pinterest.