An article written for Live Theatre by Sarah McCartney who created the scents used in Claire Trevien’s show The Shipwrecked House which is at Live Theatre us on Thursday 30 October at 8pm. Sarah is the founder and creator of 4160 Tuesdays scents.
I have the world’s best job; I make handmade perfume. There are difficult parts, like the EU cosmetics laws, and that posting perfume overseas is illegal because it’s classed as “Dangerous Goods”. Growing up in South Tyneside, when I talked about the future with the Boldon Comprehensive School careers teacher, this was never on the list, but here I am.
Claire and I hadn’t met before but we’d worked on a poetry and perfume project, Penning Perfumes. This was a wonderful creative collaboration run by Claire and Odette Toilette, organiser of fascinating scented events, and I made the scent of the bottom of the ocean, The Opposite of Roses. The poet wanted a muddy scent of decaying fish. That was excellent, as it’s a dark reflection of the usual perfumery project.
Claire is a big fan of one of my more attractive scents, a fruit, flowers and resin blend called Urara’s Tokyo Café – that one really was designed to be put on the skin and worn like normal.
Most of the time I’m making scents for people to wear, but my new projects including ten scents for the Ten Commandments and one that evokes a Shoreditch Street. I’m also making Meet Me On The Corner, a scent of the 70s from before people had mobile phones, inspired by the Lindisfarne song.
When Claire asked me if I’d be interested in creating the smell of The Shipwrecked House, of course I was.
It has two parts: the house and the sea.
For the sea, I’d already made a seaside smell. We call them accords in the world of perfume – notes blended together to make a chord, the same as music. Mine was to evoke the scent of rock pools in Scarborough, paddling about on my childhood summer holidays. This one needed to be more threatening so I took the original and I added a new synthetic molecule which is called Maritima. By itself I found it pretty disgusting, and it gave my seaside accord an appropriately nasty kick. This was a sea that could drown you, not one to play wave jumping and skipping stones. It’s the point where your parents see the waves growing higher and bribe you away from the beach with an ice cream. So I added a bit more Maritima to make it deeper and more powerful.
For the house, I used woods – again, both natural and synthetic materials. I wanted it to feel like a safe place, a warm, welcoming simple space.
Naturals – essential oils, absolutes, or CO2 extracts – are usually made from about 300-600 odour molecules, all grown by plants. Synthetics are one molecule at a time, made in a lab. I’ve had perfume experts smell a beautiful synthetic and tell me that “it’s really complex!” Chemically they are really simple but they can trigger so many memories that they feel complex. I’ve also seen people wrinkle their noses in disgust at a “chemical smell” that’s made entirely of natural citrus fruits, but reminds them of cleaning materials. You’re more likely to get a rash from a natural than a synthetic perfume ingredient.
We have to be careful which woods we use. Some woods are unsustainable, others are seriously endangered. There’s no Indian sandalwood left that’s ethically produced, so in our world, we use a beautifully smelling synthetic. For our house, I aimed for a seaside shed, made from wood that still smells as you open the door and walk inside. It had to be able to diffuse around the room too, so I needed a powerhouse synthetic to make that happen. I’m giving secrets away here, but I think it’s time to be more open about perfume. I used two kinds of cedarwood, plus some smooth, strong, safe synthetic woods, molecules that the trees can produce naturally, but made in a lab instead.
Combined, I hope we get the olfactory impression of what Claire imagined; a house, shipwrecked.
The Shipwrecked House is being performed as part of a double bill with a set from local musician and songwriter Matt Stalker.
Tickets for Claire Trevien & Matt Stalker cost £8 full price and £6 concessions with tickets for Claire’s Writing Home workshop costing £10 (including admission to the evening performance). Tickets can be booked now by contacting Live Theatre’s box office on (0191) 232 1232 or by visiting www.live.org.uk.
This article was written for Live Theatre by Sarah McCartney