Thirty-nine-and-half-year-old Leigh-Anne Drakes, who signs off her mails as a “curious nose”, says she had been disinterested in the perfume industry, until 10 years ago, when she noticed a shift in the space. As she explains, “Technological advancements and the utter genius of noses like Sissel Tolaas had begun to slowly displace the old, steadfast perfume traditions, the samey nonsense that clutters the commercial perfume shelves and introduced a far more interesting, conceptual space for scents that are still highly wearable.”
The photographer, who has also worked in fashion, production, and advertising decided to study perfume and chemistry, and last month launched *Apartment, a niche perfumery.
What’s your first significant scent memory and did it in any way shape your own fragrance choices and how you developed *Apartment? There are a few, and they are, oddly, all floor-related. Perhaps it’s the proximity of one’s nose to the floor as a child? The blue synthetic carpets in my mother’s bedroom, the red stoep bricks after rain, the freshly laid black-and-white linoleum tiles in the kitchen of the same house. I’ve never actually stopped to consider that this may have altered the course of what piques my curiosity as I have always been interested in the more peculiar, left-field smells.
What are some of your favourite scents or smells? Cut lawn, skin, rubber, wet red brick, paint, air, violet leaf, burnt things.
What’s a fragrance you wish you had created? Comme des Garçons EDP of 2011. One of its notes is brown packing tape — enough said.
How long did it take it to develop *Apartment? Four years, of which some time was spent studying chemistry, much time was spent developing the scents, and a pit stop was made for the birth of my (glorious-smelling) son.
Did you formulate the scents to be unisex? Yes. I think people should be able to smell however the hell they want.
What inspired one of your signature scents, Please Wait Here? Trips to Japan. They always made me feel like I was looking through a View-Master — that slight discomfort of single images that sparks curiosity. I tried to capture this through using, among other materials, the complex, terpene-rich notes of hinoki, which is a Japanese cypress often used to build traditional Japanese baths known as onsen.
… and the other scents in the range?
Ah, let us meet the girls. There are currently six in the line: Forgetting Sandra’s Emails, The Other Details Were Hazy, Please and Thank You, Page 128 Was Missing, Done in Straight Lines, and Please Wait Here.
What was the inspiration behind some of the names? This is something I get asked often and I’m yet to come up with a sufficient answer. They just sort of, come to me? Sometimes they arrive in my head before I develop the scent and they influence how it’s formed, and other times after the scent is finished and has revealed its character to me.
• From the December edition of Wanted 2019.