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Interview with Sue Phillips, Founder & President of Scenterprises on Music, Fragrance and the Arts

Sue Phillips is the Founder and President of Scenterprises, a global marketing and branding consulting company she started in 1990. Her background in the cosmetics and fragrance industry began with Elizabeth Arden and grew from there where she worked for some of the biggest names in the industry – Chloe, Lagerfeld, Lancôme, Paris, and was the Vice President of Fragrance Marketing for Tiffany & Company and developed the first iconic TIFFANY perfume for their 150th anniversary.

She is an expert in her field and has developed and branded fragrances for some many well-known companies like Avon, Banana Republic, Burberry, Trish McEvoy, and Tiffany & Co., to name just a few! Not only is she an expert on just about every aspect of the cosmetics and fragrance industry, Ms. Phillips testifies as an expert witness on fragrance industry matters, as well as has taught at the Fashion Institute of Technology and will be teaching classes at LIM College this Fall.

Ms. Phillips recently opened the doors to Scentsorium, an eclectic retreat in trendy TriBeCa where clients can create their own customized fragrance. We had a chance to chat with Sue about her background in the cosmetics industry, her love of music and arts, and her consulting company. She truly is a “Scentrepreneur” in every “sense” of the word!

GGM:  Tell us a little about yourself and your background? 

Sue Phillips:  I grew up in South Africa in a family that was very involved in the arts. My mother was an amazing singer, pianist, artist and one of South Africa’s foremost calligraphers and artists ( My aunt was a musical child prodigy and landed up in England singing at the Queen’s coronation and had an illustrious career as one of London’s foremost contraltos. I pursued a career in the theater and was a singer and actress in South Africa before coming to the USA. I have always loved the arts and feel grateful that music and art were instilled in me as a little girl. When I came to the USA, initially I didn’t have a green card and so it was difficult to pursue a career in the theater as I was not a member of SAG or AFTRA, and so I pursued a career in the cosmetics area, and because I was able to ‘perform’ in front of people, I landed up at Elizabeth Arden as the National Training Director and thus began my career in the Cosmetics Industry.

GGM:  Besides your passion for the cosmetics and fragrance industry, you are known to be passionate about music and art, can you tell us about your musical background?

Sue Phillips:  From my earliest years I was exposed to classical music through my mom and I played piano and sang at concerts and eisteddfods. Later on I appeared in musicals and had my own folk-singing group. I love Broadway musicals and joined one of the top singing groups in South Africa. When I came to NY I did jingles and voice overs as a way to follow my passion for music and joined an Improv group in NY. Then I joined Elizabeth Arden and my career took a different turn. I always play music at my events and feel that it soothes the senses and is a great background to the career I have now chosen.

GGM:  You’ve had quite an extensive career in the cosmetics and fragrance industry. Why do you believe fragrance is so important and beneficial to one’s individuality?

Sue Phillips: Fragrance or our Sense of Smell is the strongest sense we have but people don’t really think about it. Unlike our other senses, we cannot turn off our sense of smell, and so during an event that is emotionally charged, what you smell at that moment becomes intimately intertwined with the experience. It is the only Sense that is connected to the brain via our limbic system which houses the olfactory hub, (the part of the brain that allows you to smell). When you process a smell, you’re also processing the event or the emotion that goes with it. As a result, scent and emotions become indelibly imprinted on your brain. When you smell the scent again it triggers the memory because is it tattooed in your brain. It is remarkable that our Sense of Smell is so connected to Memory and Emotions.

I am so grateful to have been involved in beautiful fragrances – either helping to train consultants about them such as – CHLOE, LAGERFELD for MEN, BURBERRY for MEN, as well as developing iconic fragrances such as TIFFANY, SOCIETY BY BURBERRY, TRISH McEVOY, DIANE VON FURSTENBERG and Fragrances for AVON. They are all different and each one reflects the brand. When developing a fragrance, I always remove my personal feelings about the ingredients I prefer, and think about the positioning, architecture and brand meaning so as to be true to the brand ethos. Some perfumers have a ‘signature’ in just the same way as musicians, artists and composers do, but I think it’s important to reflect the individuality of the brand. When clients create a fragrance, it is always a joy to see their eyes light up when they experience the scent that reflects their individuality and personality.

GGM:  You feel there is a relationship between fragrance and music. Can you describe that relationship?

Sue Phillips:  The vocabulary alone is similar! Music and Fragrance consists of ‘notes’ and ‘chords’, ‘harmony’ and symphonies. There is also a correlation in the construction of music and fragrance in the ‘composition’ which is similar too. Most classical pieces of music are constructed in three parts with an Overture, a Main Theme and the Finale – the same with Fragrance insofar as Top Notes, Middle Notes and Bass notes are concerned, to render a ‘Symphony’ of scent. We talk about a “pitch’ in fragrance which tends to be ‘high” and we think of light high-pitched scents such as lemon or citrus notes. When the pitch is ‘low’, we think of bass notes or sandalwood, musks, patchouli or ambers. “Vibration” between music and fragrance is also similar and some great perfumes have a sense of counterpoint too as the different notes weave around each other, now dropping out, now reappearing, and there is also an overall sense of architecture to a masterpiece fragrance. When music is ‘discordant’ it affects our ears! When a fragrance is ‘discordant’ or dissonant it affects our nose! Both musicians and perfumers are ‘composers’ of some of the greatest works. Can music and perfume be inspired by each other? I believe so. As our tastes (smells) develop, our noses become more sophisticated and we want to explore more complex experiences. We want more than a simple tune which fades away in three minutes like a tired pop song. We want a symphony, we want surprise, development, subtlety, tension.

GGM:  What’s the first song that comes to mind that you would design a fragrance for and what scent would it be?

Sue Phillips:  I love the song “From Both Sides Now” lyrics by Joni Mitchell and sung by Judy Collins. I love the juxtaposition of looking at life from both sides -the highs and lows of life with all the nuances of joy and sorrow. Like most fragrances that start with a bright top note, I would lead with a ‘breezy ozonic note’ to reflect the angel hair and ice cream castles in the air, with a hint of luscious herbaceous and fruity notes. Then weave a warm floral theme of jasmine, gardenia and ylang ylang to reflect the warmth of the sun and end with the deeper amber, woods and patchouli notes to reflect the dark clouds. This is an optimistic song about love and friendships, with high and low notes, and the fragrance will be optimistic too, even though there are doubts that creep in about not really knowing what life brings.

“Both Sides Now” Lyrics

Bows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
Feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

Now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and ferris wheels
The dizzy, dancing way you feel
When every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way

Now it’s just another show
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say I love you right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads
They say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost and something’s gained in living every day

I’ve looked at life from both sides now

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

I really don’t know life at all

GGM:  When did you start Scenterprises and what was the inspiration behind creating the business?

Sue Phillips:  When I left TIFFANY to have my daughter, I started my own consulting business, SCENTERPRISES, to offer unique fragrance experiences for clients. I am a true ‘Scentrepreneur’ and always wanted to explore the magic and mystery of scent. I opened THE SCENTSORIUM in February and love having clients explore our unique perfumery! We offer unique scent experiences as well as scent-branding opportunities for companies to reflect their brand through scent diffusion. My father was an entrepreneur and I get that from him!

GGM:  Your newest venture Scentsorium is quite a unique concept; what was the inspiration behind that? 

Sue Phillips:  The inspiration is to create a Celebration of the Senses and for people to indulge in the beauty of the senses. The Scentsorium is an oasis in the heart of trendy TriBeCa and filled with beautiful art on the walls by my mother, Grace Phillips, eclectic objects d ‘arts, and my wonderful collection of fragrance bottles. When clients arrive there is an audible gasp of joy as they feel relaxed and comfortable in the beautiful ambience. It is a way for people to explore their Sense of Smell in a lovely environment and for them to feel confident in the selection of their scents.

GGM:  Can you share with our readers what one might experience while visiting Scentsorium (the atmosphere, the scent personality quiz, and other valuable tips they will learn about fragrances)?

Sue Phillips:  Clients fill out our Scent Personality quiz which reflects their lifestyle. Are they sporty, casual, sophisticated or a combination of both? The quiz determines their olfactive preferences – do they like Fresh, Floral, Woody or Oriental Scents? Then we take them on a ‘fragrance journey’ and they evaluate all 18 of our exquisite blends. They select 3 or 4 they prefer, name their creation and then we blend it for them while they wait. They learn about the different ingredients and really get a great educational ‘scentertaining’ interactive and creative experience. We keep their formula in our database for future reorders and they leave with their OWN custom scent.

GGM:  So it’s not just about wearing a name brand perfume, it’s about picking a fragrance that suits your personality and style?

Sue Phillips: The trend today is all about customization in many different categories – T-Shirts, Tote Bags, event M&M’s are all customized today. Many people don’t want to wear whatever everybody else wears. Our offering is a way for them to create their own signature scent at a fraction at what only used to be available for the very wealthy or royalty. This way they can create something that truly reflects their individuality.

GGM:  What’s the most unique fragrance you have mixed for a client?

Sue Phillips:  One of my male clients did not want to make a typical ‘sporty men’s scent’ and told me that he was very comfortable with his feminine side and created a very sexy scent which had top notes of citrus, breezy ozonic, and herbal ingredients, with mid notes of a gentle floral of frangipani, freesia and ylang, and the bass notes were warm sandalwood, vanilla, amber and spicy notes. Truly a sophisticated, bright floral oriental! I have also had the pleasure of creating custom scents for some celebrities!

GGM:  As a woman-business owner, have you experienced any challenges and, if so, what type of challenges did you encounter and how did you overcome them? 

Sue Phillips:  My motto has always been to ‘never give up‘ and when I first started the Custom Perfume initiative people looked askance and asked me if this was ‘Tupperware for Perfumes”? I knew that had a man started it, they would have embraced his choice and supported it. I believe that people should follow their passion and believe in what they do. The financial rewards will come if one is motivated and passionate about what they do. I have taught at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) and will be Adjunct Professor of Fragrance Development in the Fall at LIM College. I always tell my students to follow their passion and if they are authentic about it, they will always find joy in the work they do…and, ultimately, it will not feel like work!

GGM:  You only have one Scentsorium in TriBeCa at the moment, are there plans to expand?

Sue Phillips:  For the moment the Scentsorium is only three months old and already getting rave reviews. It would be wonderful to expand this initiative, but I am launching a fragrance kit in the Fall so that people can have the ability to create perfumes in the comfort of their homes. By next year, we will be able to think about expansion plans.

GGM:  I read where you are working on fragrances for the in-home party market.  I love the idea!  Would people still get a chance to create a custom fragrance or would you choose from an existing fragrance? 

Sue Phillips:  The in-home party market is growing as more and more people are looking for terrific experiences. The kit will definitely offer this alternative if they can’t come to The Scentsorium. We also offer Corporate Events for Customer Appreciation events, as well as Team-building, Bridal events and for all occasions

GGM:  You’ve had a very busy 2014 so far with the opening of Scentsorium, your recent collaboration with TELEFORA  to create four fragrances for Mother’s Day, and the “Fragrance Bar” at The Girls Lounge In Las Vegas.  What’s next?

Sue Phillips:  This HAS been an amazing year and we are so grateful for all the publicity and for the client experiences we have presented. We just did a Custom Fragrance bar for the Baltimore Museum of Arts for the Guildford Centennial and have many bridal showers and corporate events booked for Summer and the Fall. We are thrilled that people are discovering their scent quotient by creating custom scents and hope to bring the magic and mystery of perfume to everyone!

For more on Sue Phillips and Scenterprises, visit their site HERE! And if you’re in the New York City area, be sure and schedule your customized fragrance session.

Photos courtesy of Scenterprises


Tara Low



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