Clara Novelli Interview, Don't Edit Me

Clara Novelli Interview

Don't Edit Me

Italian Photographer Clara Novelli shares her ‘don’t edit me’ ethos and some of her beautiful images with us bitches…

Tell us about some women who have inspired you and what you do?

I have always loved art. The first woman who introduced me to art and inspired me was my mom. She has a degree in literature, works as a teacher, loves books and any kind of art. When I was twelve she brought  me to a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition in Florence. I fell in love. The second was my history of art teacher – that woman was like a goddess. A well of knowledge. She opened doors to the amazing world of art and its symbolism. Now I’m inspired by every woman I see, pretty much… friends, people on instagram, my two sisters, and obviously music and art as well.

If you could pick one thing to improve about the photography and fashion industry what would it be?

I would love to see a big change in woman’s idea of beauty. I hate that we need to be perfect, or photoshopped, or just you know, not us, covering and changing ourselves with make-up, crazy hours at the gym etc.  I hate it. My close friend is fighting an eating disorder, and I believe if there is a change in society there’ll be fewer girls suffering. We are all beautiful. We do not need all of this pressure to look or feel different from how we truly are.

What message would you like to share with other women?

More or less what I said in the previous answer. Love yourself. Treat yourself. Don’t let ANYONE, no girl, boy, man or woman tell what you should be or what you should do. Take off your make up, take off your bra. Feel free and do what you want.  Remember, ‘none but ourselves can free our mind’.

If you could change society what would be the first thing you do?

– I would love to see Donald Trump go to hell. Can I say that?
– I would love to see more peace everywhere.
– And well maybe I’d change  something in my country. Politicians are doing what they want to too much – it’s unaccountable.
– I’m not against men (I have nothing to say against respectful men) but more women in politics could really change things.

Tell us about a beauty campaign that made you feel angry or ugly?

I feel this way about every  big lingerie or bikini brand. They make girls feel bad, every woman I think sees an Intimissimi pic for example and feels uncomfortable with her body.  We’ll never be perfect like Irina. Please. Show some normal people. Thanks.

Tell us something about yourself that you once perceived as ugly/unattractive that you now love about yourself?

When I was little people laughed at me for having no boobs.  Now I love my small boobs. go fuck yourself. I don’t need to buy bras. Well, just cute ones cause I like them  maybe. Also my eyebrows – I’ve always had big ones. I love them (and maybe the girls who used to laugh at me are jealous now). 

What advice would you share with yourself 5 years ago?

Don’t care what people say.

I was still at high school five years ago, but actually I had already started  not caring about other people’s opinions. When I was eighteen I shaved my head. I loved  it but lots of people said ‘you look toxic’ or ‘you are disgusting, too skinny etc’ I’d tell myself – WHO CARES? Now I don’t.

What are your three favourite smells?

I love rose, jasmine, and the smell of weed. Oh and pizza smell. The smell of pizza is actually my favourite.

What does the word bitch mean to you?

I believe the world bitch has changed its meaning in the last few years. It depends who uses it, but for me a bitch is a strong woman.  Someone who can do what she wants. Get naked, have sex, get drunk, be bossy how and when she likes. I don’t care about people calling me a bitch.

Are you more of a bitch or a witch?

I think I’m half and half.

@clellinovara
#donteditme #nophotoshop

See more of her work here: www.patreon.com/clellinovara


Moody Girl

MOODY GIRL INTERVIEW

We interview Emily Fazah founder of Moody Girl an initiative to start a conversation about PMS… 

Tell us about the inspiration behind Moody Girl and how it got started?

Moody Girl was created after years of suffering with PMS. From the age of 15 onwards I noticed a huge difference in the way I suffered with my periods compared to other girls at school. When trying to open up about both the psychological and physical effects it had on me I realised that this wasn’t something people spoke about honestly and from then on I learnt to suffer in silence and to just get on with it. There came a point when I just couldn’t ‘get on with it’ any longer and I decided to speak with my local GP. As a young girl seeking answers I thought surely my doctor would have some answers! Unfortunately this was not the case and GP after GP met my woes with the same blank expression. All that was offered was the contraceptive pill (which sent my moods completely wild) or anti-depressants, which I refused to take, as I knew deep down what I had wasn’t depression. Finally after extensive research I was referred to the Chelsea and Westminster PMS clinic where I spoke to the first doctor who seemed to understand and since then things have got much better. For so many years I felt so alone as if no one else was going through the same as I was. But then I thought ‘what if other women have been suffering in silence too?’ It was then that I decided to start Moody Girl. Moody Girl aims to open a line of communication between women suffering with destabilising hormonal conditions. You can see moody girl here.

How can we get involved?


The whole purpose of Moody Girl is to build a community of women who have suffered with any type of period drama. Moody Girl has an online forum for women to chat through everything menstrual related. The best way to be involved is to sign up to the Forum and post any questions you may have or answer existing questions asked by other users. All we ask is that users are non-judgmental and inclusive when listening to any girl or woman who reaches out.

What has been the response been like for MG?

So far, so good! At first it was a daunting process sharing my PMS struggles after keeping them locked up for so many years but after the initial website launch I have learnt to be PMS and proud. The Moody Girl Stories that have been submitted have made the whole project worthwhile. To be able to hear from other women who have been suffering too is sad but also a relief, seeing as I felt so alone for so long. One of the stories we received came in all the way from Virginia, USA, and completely blew my mind. You can read all of our Moody Girl stories here


What would you like to see MG achieve over the next year?

At the moment it is just me working on Moody Girl with some help from my amazingly talented girlfriends and supportive boyfriend. In the next year I would love to have a more permanent Moody Girl team and a space to work from. My first fundraising event is coming up in August and this is to raise money for further research into PMS & PMDD and the team at Chelsea and Westminster PMS Clinic. The goal is to continue with fundraising events & too start retreats for PMS & PMDD sufferers. The Moody Girl retreats will offer educational and nutritional talks, meditation, yoga, music therapy and a general opportunity for women to meet and talk through their experiences of coping with PMS & PMDD.

What women do you most identify with from history to the present day?

All of the women who have had to suffer in silence with a destabilising condition over the years. My auntie was a beautiful, intelligent women whose whole being changed after she had children. She was put on antidepressants which then spiralled into alcohol addiction and sadly she passed away. My mum and I feel she had undiagnosed post-natal depression. I identify with all women who have been fighting for answers or have been misdiagnosed throughout their lives.

My Mum. She has been the only woman in my life that has believed in my symptoms fully since they started at age 15. She has suffered with PMS herself and has come out the other side fighting. She pushes me to not let it dictate my life. Companies such as Bloody Good Period, GurlsTalk, and Freda are doing amazing things too!

Tell us about a beauty campaign that made you angry? 

To be honest most campaigns relating to periods right now make me happy. I’m overwhelmed to see finally people are opening up and being proud! What does make me angry is GPs handing out antidepressants to women suffering with hormonal problems before steering them in the direction of specialists to get a definitive diagnosis.

What do you think makes a DAMN REBEL BITCH?


In my opinion a Damn Rebel Bitch is someone who fights for answers and pushes through the PMS fog better and badder than ever.

What advice would you give yourself 10 years ago?

You aren’t alone. You aren’t depressed. Keep pushing for answers, you will find them!

What do you think are the three biggest lies out there about periods and period pain?

1) Women use PMS as an excuse for everything. 

2) Menstrual pain is a myth. 

3) It’s wrong to talk to boys about periods.

Get involved with MOODY GIRL! Join the conversation or get involved with their fundraiser, Sat, 18/08/18 more details here


Keep Your Laws Off My Body

KEEP YOUR LAWS OFF MY BODY

We interview Dutch law student about why she wants the world to ‘keep your laws off my body’…

What do you do?

I’m studying a masters in Dutch health law and am currently writing my thesis about equal treatment in healthcare. I also work 2 jobs one the side – one in customer service and one as a doorhost (read: doorbitch) at a weekly electronic music festival in Amsterdam. I’m also on the board of a European study association based in Amsterdam, which has the slogan ‘a world in which there is respect for human dignity and cultural diversity’. Let’s say I’m living my student life in Amsterdam to the fullest and enjoying it very much.

Which women do you most identify with from history to the present day?

In Holland, the ‘Dolle Mina’ (crazy Mina) movement played a big part in the feminist movement of the 1970s. I have big respect for those women (read: heroines), who preached their own opinion, fought for their rights and didn’t care about what the outside world thought. As a humble dutchie, I wouldn’t say I identify with them, since I don’t know if I would be brave enough to have joined them, but if I would say nowadays, I identify with their actions and would do whatever I could to help.

Tell us about some women that inspire you

Probably very cliché, but first: My mum of course, since she is a hard working, kind mum whom, as well as having 3 kids, started her own company and helped my dad with his company as well. She always has a positive approach, enjoys every day as it comes and finds solutions for every problem. I still learn from her every day!

My older sister has struggled to find her passion for a while and now puts her creative energy into photography and I am so proud of her! She inspires me in the way she lives in ‘the now’ from day to day and doesn’t worry about the future. I sometimes get caught up in negative thinking about past or future but now is all we have.

What changes would you like to see in your community?

Hey. Not only in my community, but nationwide and maybe worldwide. The way we use language. I saw a recent discussion online and I have to admit that I never thought about it before, but I think language is a good place to start. It is common in Dutch to call an adult lady a girl (meisje in dutch, -je is a word to make things smaller), but not very common to call an adult guy a boy. (jongetje in dutch) In Dutch you really notice the difference. We choose words that make women seem like a small, sweet and cuddly things, while we don’t use those words for men. This inequality should be simple to fix. But whenever I tell people, they think it’s not that big a deal. So I guess there is still a long way to go.

Another personal experience – I was born as Yvette, but my parents always used the nickname Ted. Ted is a boy’s name but I prefer it over Yvette. So I decided to use Ted in my personal life and Yvette for business. When I’m at a party I introduce myself as Ted and people tend to get a bit confused. In the end names are not who we are, it’s just something our parents gave us and if I like my boy’s name I use it! The change I would like to see is people stop using labels – my name is a boy’s name, so what?

Overall Dutch women are very down to earth, practical and independent. I think we should honour that more instead of seeing it as a bad thing. I notice sometimes the word feminist gets used as a bad word, like ‘one of those feminists’. In my experience, these things are most said by men from countries with a macho culture. What should change is that everyone should be feminist and men shouldn’t feel threatened by strong and powerful women.

Next to this I would like to see change in the public perception of body hair. Shaved legs and armpits are still the standard and I don’t see why. A man is accepted for having body hair yet as a woman there is this idea that you should give men pleasure by shaving everything off?! HELL NO. I’ll decide for myself!

Tell us about who has inspired your personal life and style?

When Alicia Keys stopped wearing make-up I didn’t for 2 years either. In this period my style became very basic. Now I enjoy make up and dressing up again, so I do it if I want to. But I learned in this period to be happy with less clothes hanging in the closet. A kind of minimalistic approach, which works well for me. The bottom line is I do whatever feels good and when I dress up I do it for myself!

What would you put on one of our sticky bitches*?

Women just want to have FUNdamental rights!

Men of quality support equality.

Stop forced (child) marriage!

*Sticky bitches = our free gender equality cause stickers.

What are your three favourite smells and why?

Since I grew up on a farm the smell of fresh cut grass and hay will always be a special memory. Because I live in Amsterdam now, I don’t get to smell this often, but when it happens I feel like a kid back on the farm again.

The smell of the sky after rain on a hot day (yeah we have some of those), like nature is saying thank you for the refreshing shower.

The signature perfumes of friends, families and loved ones! (no explanation needed I guess)

What gender equality causes mean the most to you all personally?

What really really shocked me recently is the fact that the forced marriages of under-age girls is still widespread. From 2000 till 2010 there were 250,000 under-aged girls forced to marry a much older guy. Not only in religious communities, but also outside those. It is still happening every day. I can only imagine what hell these girls must be going through. A story I read about Sherry Johnson, who was 11 when she had to marry her rapist. Instead of sending her rapist to jail, her parents trapped her in this marriage.

It is crazy to realise that Afghanistan has stricter laws on under-age marriage than the US. In half of American states there is no minimum age for getting married. Legally speaking even toddlers could get married if their parents agree. In my opinion it is about time to get some legislation on this topic!

Read more here. 

Are you a bitch, a witch or a bit of both?

I would say both.

I am very interested in the spiritual side of life and think there is more than the dimension we live in. I feel this is not my first journey on earth and probably not my last.

On the other hand I always say how I feel, am very direct and can be slightly bitchy in a positive way.  

So I would like to use the term ‘bewitched bitch’.

Thank you for letting me part of this movement. I feel it can be hard to unite even though we are all connected through the internet. Initiatives like this make me feel #uniTED again!


GIRL Magazine Interview

GIRL Magazine Interview

We spoke with Fidele from GIRL Magazine about her take on the female form, the importance of self love and her favourite smells…

Describe GIRL Magazine…

Strong yet at the same time sensitive , that’s how I see myself. I can cry in a minute but after 5 years of cancer , I’m stronger than I thought. Each year that passes , each pain makes me more empowered , attached to my dreams, to myself , to life and the dreams that give me hope.

Empowering : I wanted to create a platform to empower others the way I empowered myself through the hardest times of my life. I was able to find hope within the importance of God , my family and dreams.

Caring and loving: there isn’t much love in this world and a light can go a long way.

What is the inspiration behind the publication?

Though it is odd to describe GIRL Magazine as a person, I am one with the magazine. My heart is intertwined with it. I was going through my relapse from cancer, when what started as a photography project turned to an online magazine , a platform to spread self love for every type of girl . I have learned through my experience that nothing strengthens the mind and willpower like forgiving yourself. 

Nothing builds your immune system from the hate others inflict on you, the way looking at your naked reflection does. The hate slowly turns to forgiveness, acceptance, admiration.

What message do you hope people take when looking through your images?

As a rule, I never post anything if I don’t feel an attachment to the photo or the words in the description. If there’s a message I want to share, either of my own or lyrics from a song that transmits a message, it’s important to connect to people through your raw emotions rather than just post for the sake of appearing on their instagram feed and that is how I was able to build something different online as there are many online magazines and zines that spread feminism but I wanted GIRL Magazine to focus on the innocent girl within – the one who jumps up and down at the thought of ice cream, who dances in her underwear, who doesn’t get sad for too long. In a way I wanted to immortalise the idea of our inner selves staying young and the words “PURE”  and “different” are often the words I receive from strangers to describe the magazine.

If you could pick one thing to improve about your industry what would it be?

They talk about self love but yet not how to attain it in the simplest of ways: 

Don’t give up on your dreams. 

Look at your naked reflection.

Take 30 minutes to be mad , it’s enough time to think things through yet  not long enough to waste a whole day ( it’s a rule of mine and it works , it gives my mind 30 minutes to find inspiration and a solution rather than focus on the problem).

It’s a whole new mechanism.

Turn the music up, take a shower, dance naked or in your underwear (it is one of the most cleansing forms of self love rituals you can perform). 

What advice would you give yourself 5 years ago?

The same thing a friend told me “YOU ARE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK” and that was even before I knew I had cancer. They were the perfect words for the unknown that was coming my way.

If you could implement a big change is society what would it be and why?

Dismembering  jealousy from people’s minds and cores. It is the cause of self hate, wars, hunger and every other rat race.

What women have inspired your career?

I spent my young years coming back from school, doing my homework and watching Oprah with my grandmother at 8pm… you can almost say , these two women raised me along with my mother. There are countless reasons, stories and people that have moved me to tears and helped open my eyes to a world I didn’t know, it made me eager to grow into someone who makes a difference rather than just building a successful career.

Are you a witch or a bitch?

I’m strong in my opinions and goals but I take other people’s advice better now. I don’t get too sensitive about it. I guess it makes me a bit of a white witch and a little bit of a bitch because I’ve learned when people are only using me and I don’t allow their negative energy to affect me.

What does the word bitch mean to you?

Bitch: sleeping around with men you don’t know, wearing short skirts but in truth that’s not who or what a bitch is.

What are your favourite smells?

REEK Perfume! Other smells would be : a new book , coffee , chocolate , the smell of food my grandmother makes, the smell of my mother’s baking, the journey of cooking for others, I love food memories, my father. This song comes to mind…

You can follow Fidele and GIRL Magazine here.


STRONG AND SHAVED

STRONG AND SHAVED

It’s on trend and has been for a while, but what is the reaction to these brilliant bitches and their shaved heads our in their day to day lives. REEK finds out…

Jamila

Why did you shave your hair?

To be honest, I’d been wanting to shave my head for almost 5 years. I was always too self conscious to do it, thought my shoulders were too big, my head too small blah blah blah.

My hairs always been something that people commented on. I could almost sit on it. But it’s so much upkeep and I’m a lazy bitch when it comes to grooming on a good day. So it made sense to get a fresh start.

Worst thing anyone’s said to me since shaving it all off?

I don’t think anyone’s said anything nasty to me, they’ve just questioned my sexuality. My mum always said ‘if you’re not planning on sleeping with them then it’s none of their damn business’

Best thing someone’s said about your haircut?

I don’t even think I can choose one comment. I’ve had an unbelievable amount of kind and beautiful words from friends, family, even strangers! It’s mainly been positive and now I’m wishing I had just bitten the bullet and did it sooner.

Titana

Why did you shave your hair?

I am a born-free South African (born 1994)  I was in a society where Afro hair was not considered beautiful , so chemically straightening my hair was the norm, even though I had beautiful Afro hair I disliked the fact that it was so curled and I wanted it straight – straight hair was considered more beautiful just as European features were considered  more beautiful. Afro hair was also looked down upon as untidy in a lot of schools. So my hair was damaged by all the chemicals though it was dead straight. Being a dark-skinned black woman in that society I experienced a lot of prejudice which caused me to be insecure and my self esteem was very low. 2 years ago I saw a lot of black women shaving their heads and letting their natural hair grow. I also saw how it made them feel emotionally. When I decided to shave my head I started to notice who I ,Titana, is and was. I noticed the amount of self love that started to pour in. The fact that I had to face myself and look in the mirror and see all that I am. I can only speak for myself but there is something liberating and powerful in looking at yourself in the mirror with no hair and no make-up. It’s a form of true acceptance. I am truly blessed to have experienced it. I’ve always wanted confidence and now, that’s how I feel!

What’s the worst thing someone has commented about your hair?

Someone pointed out that I don’t look feminine . I had to ask them what femininity was, and challenge them on that.

What’s the best?

Someone said that I look beautiful, strong , and that I’ve gained a beautiful confidence in myself.

How do YOU feel with your hair shaved?

I feel incredible. I feel like I have accepted who I am. I feel liberated , confident and beautiful.

Misha

What inspired you to shave off your hair?

In terms of my hair, up until recently I have found myself doing what was expected of me as a model. I allowed others to dictate and decide what haircut would be best for my career, and I just went with it! This may have been what the clients were after but when it comes down to it, I truly believe that confidence is more attractive than any hair cut, and it’s impossible to be fully comfortable with yourself if you are not being true to yourself. This is why I went for it!

Worst thing anyone’s said to me about my haircut?

There was one taxi driver who GENUINELY thought he was doing me a favour by informing me that every single man he has ever known would agree that long hair is more attractive on women. He then asked me with genuine confusion “Has no-one ever told you this before? Really?” And I was just sitting there, wondering how it became acceptable to tell a woman how you would prefer her to present herself? And how on earth people in this day and age are baffled by why she would dream of prioritising her own interpretation of beauty, over yours? I told him that I do not decide what I do with my appearance based on what others (men/women/humans) find attractive, and I do not let others dictate how I express myself.

Samantha

What made you want to shave it all off?

I’ve felt so empowered since shaving my head. Its allowed me to accept the insecurities that I had before and learn to love myself fully for who I am. I’ve never felt more like my true self, than when I got rid of my locks. I totally think more people should feel comfortable about it and try this look, it brings out the uniqueness in a person’s face and gives you real confidence as you can’t hide behind anything.

Worst thing anyone’s said to me about my haircut?

I’ve had a lot of uncomfortable and horrible comments surrounding my choice of hair. So it’s hard to choose a particular incident. It usually goes one way or the other, either I’m having my sexuality questioned (even my gender on one occasion) or I’m being over sexualised by men, who think its okay to touch my head or take photos without asking. Which once sadly ended up with me being sexual assaulted in a club. I think the stigma surrounding girls with short hair needs to change. Its something which can be completely empowering for a women as it isn’t the social norm. What I think people need to remember is that our femininity and particular our gender, doesn’t lie in a hair cut.

How do you feel since shaving it all off?

I’ve felt so empowered since shaving my head. Its allowed me to accept the insecurities that I had before and learn to love myself fully for who I am. I’ve never felt more like my true self, than when I got rid of my locks.  It’s scary but I recommend everyone to do it!!! Love a buzzcut!!!


EMMA BRESCHI

EMMA BRESCHI

Photographer, model, and lover of red, Emma Breschi, talks to REEK about why she’s a bitch’s worst nightmare…

 

Tell us about your day to day?

Each day is something new and different. I’m lucky that I get to experience life like that! But when I’m not working you can guarantee I’ll be spending the day with my dog, Lebron.

What has been the most exciting thing to happen to you this month?

Well today I’m hungover and I’ve lost my voice… safe to say I must’ve had an epic night.

Tell us about some of the women who inspire you in your personal life and career?

I’m inspired by bitches that rage with anger and give everybody hell. I’m inspired by the mothers who care to be kind. I’m inspired by women, because they really are quite something.

What gender equality causes mean the most to you personally and why?

I mean most of us know the textbook meaning and how it should go, but gender equality is a topic of discussion that could go on forever and ever. So how can I put it simply? The way I see it, is that we should be able to raise our daughters more like sons and yet have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.

What signifies female strength to you?

Powering through your day with severe menstrual pains.

What are your 5 favourite smells and why?

Smoke from a wooden fire, Jasmine flower, the sea, eucalyptus oil and puppies… those smells rid me of anxiety.

Are you a witch or a bitch?

I’m a bitch’s and a witch’s’ worst nightmare.

Find out more about this brilliant bitch here!

Images: self portraits by Emma Breschi.


An unretouched image of Damn Rebel Bitch Nina Mdwaba to accompany her piece ‘My Black is Infinitely Beautiful’ for REEK Perfume's blog platform 'Bitches Unite.'

A Scent of Disruptive Women

A Scent of Disruptive Women

Alex Musgrave – Silver Fox

Germaine Cellier

Germaine Cellier

Germaine Cellier

Sophia Grojsman

Sophia Grojsman

Sophia Grojsman

Lyn Harris

Lyn Harris

Lyn Harris

Mona di Orio

Mona di Orio

Mona di Orio

Mandy Aftel

Mandy Aftel

Mandy Aftel

To mark IWD18, Perfume expert, Alex Musgrave, who blogs as The Silver Fox, writes about the contribution and struggle of talented women in the perfume industry –  those damn rebel bitches. 

for all the nameless lost wise women who used odour across centuries to heal, nurture and bind; I salute you… Foxy.

This skin game, the scenting of us, is a strange and arresting thing; a search for an odiferous counterbalance to our physical weight in the world.  It feels glossy, alluring and romantic, aspirational and transformative. The reality is one of cynical million-dollar marketing campaigns, explicit demographics, ruthlessly tested formulations and perhaps some small consideration to the scented juice itself.

The veneer is tantalising, an intoxicating collision of fantasy, artistry, business and passion. There will always be the discussion about whether perfumery is an art from. Everyone has an opinion on it.  Like Wong Kar Wai vs. the Twilight franchise or Cy Twombly vs. Jack Vettriano, there is snobbery, but both sides are necessary as light needs dark to shine brighter and darkness needs light to form shadow.

There are perfumers who flourish in relative anonymity, working for the big scent companies formulating candles, room fragrances, detergents, car, mall and hotel scents. Then there are others, arguably the artists and rockstar perfumers, who use perfumery to hurl us into memories of love and old classrooms, mother-love, dissent, heartbreak, fucking and betrayal.  For decades most of the auteur or dominant names in perfumery were men – strange considering the predominately female skin the juice would adorn.

The scene now is weighted differently. There are many more female perfumers making a panoply of compositions at all levels of the industry.  However much it may have moved from being a masculine-dominated world, there is still an underlying tremblement of women still having to prove their right to inhale the same rarefied air as the men. The title Master Perfumer is generously and to my mind, unnecessarily bestowed on male perfumers when they are assumed to have achieved a certain status.  It is a title of peers rewarding peers. It is also uncomfortably applied to female perfumers that the industry deems worthy. The feminine version mistress is too tainted by BDSM leering and TV home wrecker portrayals to be used and yet Master Perfumer reeks of patriarchy and Fifty Shades of Uncomfortable.

I have written extensively on both male and female creators, brand directors and perfume designers. Looking back through my archive I realise I have an unconscious bias toward the female nose although I can’t claim this is deliberate. I prefer the female cry and roar in music and my taste in literature has always been one of trusting the female voice. Thank you Charlotte Bronte, Margaret Atwood, Anita Brookner, Elisabeth Smart, Emily Dickinson, Sharon Olds, Helen Dunmore, Susan Cooper, George Eliot, Sarah Waters, Mary Renault, Jane Austen, Candia McWilliam, and Shirley Jackson. I have never felt the need to apologise for my need to search for beauty amid molecular moods. All we can ask of perfumery at the end of the day is that it smells good and that our skin is a primed canvas for the creations of the men and women who choose to follow the strange and some might say sanctified calling of odour.  

I have pondered the role of nurture in perfumery, sensing in certain strains of natural and artisanal work the shadows and whispers of ancient Wicca and witchcraft in the expert manipulation of herbal lore and essential oils.  There exists a desire to illuminate the skin as sun nurtures the leaves. The mixing of medicines, poultices, philtres and poisons is loaded with the sensual symbolism of scent, regarded suspiciously as the domain of outsiders, witches, nuns and misfits. I don’t think it’s entirely fair to claim that one gender is better than the other when it comes to the arrangement of materials and presentation of odour but I feel there is difference; shades of interpretation, vehemence and sensitivity in the catalogued work of female perfumers.

In the early years as with so many things the scarcity of women in perfumery was due to it being viewed as a particularly chemical (i.e. scientific) process and therefore not seemly for a woman. Why would the delicate things want to do it when there were men in the labs making beautiful scents for them to wear and of course sell in the rapidly expanding world of aspirational retail?  Female perfumers? Crazy talk. Yet within the story of perfumery there have always been women, it just depends on how your vision is filtered. From the women breaking bodies gathering millions of rose and jasmine petals, tons of orange blossom required to create neroli, harvesting iris rhizomes, wrapping soaps, bottling, packing or perhaps standing in the bright lights of a marble glittered department store persuading a hapless man that perfume will save his marriage.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I want to write about some female perfumers that have scent-marked the air. This is a deeply personal selection; I like these perfumers and the work they have produced. Haters are gonna hate. I don’t give a fuck.  My choices resonate and for me gender does matter, female film directors make very different movies from male; ceramicists, tattooists, photographers, architects: all benefit from sleight of feminine hand. Equality is a right and on a sanguineous battlefield, any conversation will be at the edge of a sharpened word.

So…five women: Germaine Cellier, Sophia Grojsman, Lyn Harris, Mona Di Orio and Mandy Aftel; all of them incredible, all of them unique.  

Germaine Cellier

On my right arm is a tattoo of the molecular formula for iso-butyl-quinoline, a synthetic material that is now completely restricted in modern perfumery due to its highly allergenic properties. But at one time it was used in measured doses to create the sensation of textured untreated leather in green chypré compositions- like Bandit in 1944 by Germaine Cellier, created for couturier Robert Piguet with an unseemly overdose of this reckless material.  One of the most beautiful perfumes I have had the honour of reviewing was Le Sillage Blanc made by the heavenly Pissara Umavijani of Parfums Dusita, a perfume I described as ‘green forested pieces of skin’.  Pissara’s composition is a love letter to Bandit, an echo, not a copy; Le Sillage Blanc is bereft of floral notes and bitterly beautiful. Bandit was a talismanic perfume for Pissara as she grew up and it stayed with her as she became a perfumer herself.

There have been many reformulations of Bandit since the original; it is now well nigh impossible to know what it smelled like. You can sample it at the Osmothèque in Paris, the museum of odours that stores near-perfect replicas of old formulas using ingredients that are not banned.  A few obsessive (and lucky) collectors have bottles or traces and even so, the top notes may have long since evaporated. Pissara’s Le Sillage Blanc for me is the most haunting compliment by a contemporary perfumer at the height of her unique powers and I think perhaps the closest we might get to the spirit of the original Bandit.

The difficulty now is cutting through the sleeping beauty briars of myth and gossip that have grown up around the creation story of Bandit and of Cellier herself.  It is fact is that Germaine Cellier (1909-1976) was a rare superstar perfumer in an age almost entirely ruled by men. Cellier’s vision of perfumery was something genuinely schismatic and off-kilter. She was fearless. That we still reference Bandit and Fracas, which she made for Robert Piguet and Vent Vert and Jolie Madame made for Balmain, demonstrates the visceral and often discordant effects her work provoked.

Now those traits, risks and exquisitely articulated histories are viewed with wonder, awe and more than a little envy.  From Frédéric Malle’s Editions to Madonna, Cellier’s caustic ghost still hovers. Dead in 1976, wrecked from a life of ill health, too much whisky and her beloved Gauloises, her legacy is one of clash, character, determined beauty, insolence and a refusal to conform to her peers’ expectations.  Her use of pre-mixed olfactive bases at Roure where she worked led to accusations of laziness. These now legendary (and in many cases irrecoverable) bases were really perfumes in miniature, however in the hand of Cellier, over-tipping the levels of that inky hidebound shudder of iso-butyl-quinoline in Bandit or the icy verdancy of mulchy galbanum in Vent Vert they served as the most extraordinary theatrical backdrops for her perfumed signature.  

She is an icon and arguably her womanhood made her a better, indeed more revolutionary perfumer. Would she have created those extraordinary fragrances if she hadn’t kicked against the system and fought to compose work in her own cigarette, silk and steel way? Sometimes the crucible needs friction to create the right kind of fire. We can’t discuss tuberose without referencing the white buttery glow of Fracas or leathered chyprés with looping back to the knife-bristling couture lash of Bandit; such is the legacy of Cellier.

Sophia Grojsman

Sophia Grojsman will be remembered as the perfumer who stared into the soul of a rose – it looked back and whispered yes. Born in Belarus in 1945, she talked of a childhood of taste, her mother unable to tell if food was fresh, asking the child Sophia to test everything, heightening her awareness of flavour. The family moved to Poland then emigrated to the USA, where Sophia joined IFF (International Flavours & Fragrances) in New York as a junior perfumer.

Working for a fragrance behemoth like IFF means a vast array of projects from fine perfume to candles and scents for detergents and fabric softeners, a huge (and profitable) part of the fragrance industry.  It takes a determined mind to navigate the elaborate politics and nuances of the industry and Sophia is now a Vice President of IFF with some of the most iconic perfumes of all time to her name. In all probability you have worn at least one or two of her compositions.  Calyx by Prescriptives, Lancome’s Trésor, Paris, Parisienne & Yvresse for YSL, White Linen and Spellbound for Lauder, Tentations for Paloma Picasso, Vanderbilt and the original Lalique for Lalique, just to name a few. Calyx was a personal favourite of mine, marrying a deeply weird almost rotten melonic surge with crystalline verdancy and a feminine cologne sensitivity. Clinique now own the remnants of Prescriptives and sadly Calyx now smells like a disturbing imposter.

If you research Sophia her name is entwined with roses, it is the bloom that defines her and has rewarded her with beautiful results.  She is quoted as saying:

Rose is a flower of love; it is the first flower that a man gives to a woman.’

And if you think about this simple exposition you will realise how much power it contains, not just in the justification of olfaction, but in terms of chroma and psychology. It may seem like an eternal cliché but roses are laden with an enormity of symbolism all over the world with a myriad of connotations. Shape and form from tight bud to reckless loose blooming.  Somehow it is a flower that manages to reinforce and transcend stereotype and this is how Sophia Grojsman uses it, combing the overt familiarity with that yearning for romance and billowing profusion of aroma.  

Somewhere in my childhood there was Paris, an explosion of dewy exuberance amid my mother’s normal olfactory routine of Opium, Dioressence and Paloma. It was probably purchased from a duty free shop as we travelled across the Middle East and West Africa. It was radically different from the sultry ambered mysteries of Opium, a perfume my mother adored. Paris appeared in 1983 and had many of the hallmarks of 80’s heavy hitters. It’s big and sensual; the floral notes appeared hugely bright like neon butterflies flitting across the sun.

Sophia is known for overdosing materials in some of her compositions, arguing quite cogently that the fullness of the overdose would rise like cream to the top, thus providing a dramatic luxuriance to the start of the scent. Paris was a love letter to the city from Yves Saint Laurent in the form of a lavish bouquet of pink roses. A simple idea; the brief was a swatch of pink fabric from a YSL collection, but the execution of simplicity is often the hardest thing of all.  In the iconic original ad campaign, the beautiful Lucie de La Falaise, niece of Saint Laurent’s beloved muse Loulou, held her bouquet with a strange ambiguity; implying a gift of love but also implying a woman who had bought them for herself on the way home to her apartment from a flower seller near the metro exit. Her huge 80’s gold earrings and bold scarlet mouth hint at the floral dazzle within the scent.  

The great allure of Paris is the erotic anxiety between the rose and violet notes that spill out of the heart and consume the senses. Orris, jasmine, linden, lily, lily of the valley and ylang all swirl in attendance to the main duo; carnal, glittering rose and dark, emo violet. It smells vast, like a universe of floral forever, yet the control of the notes and structure is masterly. There is an undertone of frivolity as there should with any scent inspired by Paris, but the tenacity reveals something more glamourous, mature and opulent, balanced with smooth musks, cedarwood and a carefully calibrated heliotrope note. Just enough to add a hint of old-school Guérlain echo, but thankfully not enough to dose that rather sickly cherry-pie vibe that sometimes flickers alongside heliotrope.

Some scent watchers say that many of Sophia’s creations have a similar feel, leading to discussions in perfume forums on the Grojsman Accord, believed to be equal parts Galaxolide, Hedione, Iso E Super and Methyl Ionone. Galaxolide is a clean sweet musk with gentle woody tones; Hedione is a gorgeous white-metallic, citrus-imbued isolate of jasmine; Methyl Ionone is an iris-tinted woody material and Iso E Super is a hugely popular booster musk and the main ingredient in the hugely successful cult scent Molecule 01 by Eccentric Molecules, created by German perfumer Geza Schoen. Placed in her formulae, particularly with large doses of rose, this kind of clean, cool musk combo deliriously exalts the floral body of the perfume and amplifies the tenacity on skin.  

Sophia’s importance as a composer of voluminous immersive perfumes cannot be overstated. Her commitment to the world of olfaction and mastery of different styles is exemplary. As a female perfumer she has created a repertoire of complex romance and smart storytelling that continues to influence perfumers today.

Lyn Harris

In 2000 a young English woman called Lyn Harris launched Miller Harris a London-based brand with four perfumes: Fleur Oriental, Citron Citron, Feuilles de Tabac and Coeur De Fleur. It was the culmination of years of training in Paris and at Robertet in Grasse.  It was a brand of memory, romance and the seduction of personal experience. Compared to the clamouring fragrance noise on the high street, there was a sense of elegant quietude to Miller Harris emitted by a clever signature mix of British natural materials like blackcurrant, moss, ivy, gentle woods and smart floral notes mingled with touches of French aromatics like basil, bright citrus notes and figs from the Mediterranean coast.  These hung like voiles over souvenirs of stillness, memories of Scottish childhood, the love of a French man and the smell of salt on a beloved’s beach skin.

One of my favourite writers has always been Elizabeth David who flooded British post-war cuisine with the vibrant colour of Mediterranean food. I read the copies my mother gave me over and over. The pages are falling out and stained from attempts to capture the essence of the books. Her descriptions of wine-soaked daubes, venison, shellfish, artichokes, fresh herbs, olives and oil-drenched aubergines enraptured me. You must remember that in this day of image-obsessed culture where we seem incapable of reading three sentences of instruction without an image; Elizabeth David’s books were published without pictures.  Her gift with words was enough.

I mention David because Lyn’s perfumes with their deeply emotive riffing and referencing on location and olfactive textures remind me of David’s writing. Both women have the ability to conjure up places, smells and sensation by using a carefully chosen palette or recipe of words. I can only imagine how fascinating an encounter between them would have been in real life.

Lyn’s catalogue was always tight and beautifully controlled and my pick is L’Air De Rien, the beguiling and affecting perfume she created for Jane Birkin in 2006.  It is one of a series of signature scents that have signposted my life. There are times when I crave it like a drug. It is a smudged and contemplative take on a musky vanilla scattered with dust motes, dissolving antique books, smuts of snuffed out candles and a moreish scent of body heat, an odour that stills us in silences where heartbeats sound like bombs.

L’Air De Rien translates as much as possible as nonchalantly, but even its literal translation, a sense of nothing, suggests the ambiguity at the heart of this Birkin/Harris collaboration. Its very unexpectedness makes it sublime. Jane Birkin is the keeper of the Gainsbourg flame and the most celebrated interpreter of his songs. In the UK we have never acknowledged the talent of Serge Gainsbourg. His relationship with the young and English Jane Birkin created a scandal in the 60s.  But it was a complex and fascinating love story. Controversy, talent, cinema, song, beautiful women, cigarettes, self-doubt, celebrity, love, sex and death. Such is the magnetism of the Gainsbourg legend.

For the French, Birkin is La Veuve Gainsbourg. Their daughter Charlotte is now an icon in her own right, an angular haunted beauty who combines Serge and Jane in startling shards. She is an acclaimed singer/songwriter with a voice that channels her father and mother and yet is distinctly her own mournful disco expression.  As an actress she has forged an unapologetically bleak and raw pathway as a muse for Lars Von Trier in Antichrist, Melancholia and the disturbing Nymphomaniac. All of this is wrapped around the Birkin/Gainsbourg narrative.  The images of Serge and Jane from the 60s are a mix of naïve sex kitten and louche cigaretty old lounge lizard with English country girl abroad and a shy musician deeply in love with his muse.  Yet with L’Air de Rien, Lyn chose to focus on the silence, the moments away from all of the paparazzi bulbs and headlines.

Jane didn’t wear scent and wanted something that would capture the scent of old books and her brother. Smelling it each time I am always amazed at how beautiful it is, how odd the pieces are as they coalesce. The after-years of memory, the vocal echoes, a whiff of cold wax and dust in the empty hallways of the mind. It feels incredibly feminine to me, deft and tender with a secretive ache somewhere in that slide down to vanillic dirt. Personally I think it is something only a woman could have composed; Lyn Harris is a genius with close up, personal composition. She moved on from Miller Harris in 2014 to found Perfumer H in Marylebone where she combines bare, fine raw materials with astutely observed memory rotating around concepts such as Moss, Snowdrop, Charcoal and Rain. It is as if the mood has become the essence.

Mona di Orio

The death in December 2011 of Mona Di Orio at the age of 42 from complications following surgery sent shockwaves of grief through the tightly knit and obsessive fragrance community.  For someone who has not worn her perfumes and experienced the profound beauty of composition and insight that Mona painted into her work, it is perhaps hard to understand the enormity of her light being extinguished so suddenly. For her devoted and loving partner Jeroen Oude Sogtoen, left surrounded by her scented legacy, he had the painful challenge of moving forward through the sticky sands of grief whilst trying to navigate a different route for the House that would both honour Mona’s memory and allow new perfumers to respectfully follow in her footsteps.

Each year on the anniversary of her death, those of who us who connected to her so urgently and vividly through her work join Jeroen in a moving tribute on social media to remember a woman who was one of a kind; a perfumer who developed a chiaroscurist language of her own, dazzling and erudite in its analysis of classic materials.

Mona was determined to be what she became, a psychological artist of olfaction, and a painter of the internal machinations of materials. From the spellbinding odours revealed to her in a street as a teenager as she impatiently opened her first bottle of L’Heure Bleue by Guerlain, through the rigourous and scholastic sixteen years apprenticeship with Master Perfumer Edmond Roudnitska in Cabris.  She was his last pupil and in many ways his finest work; he instilled in her a unique desire to see the living world, approaching plants holistically, imagining a soul and tasking her to envisage how that might smell. But she was far from being just a student, though she learned extraordinary things with Roudnitska and you can sense the master’s hand guiding some of her work. How could Mona continue without Roudnitska’s voice echoing quietly through weather and shadows?  But ultimately she was her own creation; a woman who understood that perfumery was alchemy to disrupt and alter our lives.

The early compositions including Carnation, Lux, Nuit Noire, Jabu and the glittering Chamarré were eventually discontinued as Mona pursued an ambitious dream of perfect things. Les Nombres D’Or is a sensational collection, one of the most beautiful and eloquent produced by any contemporary perfume house. The compositions, rich and searching explorations of key materials such as Vanille, Musc, Vetyver and Cuir are near perfect and utterly unorthodox portraits of difference and classicism. These were inspired by the mathematical concept of the Golden Ratio and demonstrated the purity and acumen of Mona’s accumulated methodology.

After her death, Jeroen took time to grieve. To go forward surrounded by the personal reminders of olfactive and personal love was a tough call and I’m not sure some of the perfume community really understood how raw his experience was. In the end he unveiled a sensual updated version of the House, central to which was Mona’s trademark perfumed chiaroscuro, manipulating her materials akin to the light and shadowed nuances of Vermeer.  The House was in her name and she was perfumer and muse. Watching, we waited to see how Jeroen would manage and after a fumed and mournful start with Melanie Leroux’s Myrrh Casati, inspired by the sensational smoke and mirrors eccentricity of Luisa, Marchesa Casati Stampa di Soncino, Jeroen found a oddly perfect echo of Mona’s sunlight and Cabris languor in the boreal Nordic reflections of Swedish perfumer Fredrik Dalman. His Dōjima last year, a perfume infused with the delicate mysteries of rice as currency, sacred drink, face powder and dust was utterly sublime.

The most wonderful part of the Maison evolution was the wise return of Lux, a scent that in many ways encapsulates the essence of Mona di Orio.  It took me a while (i.e. years…) to get it, the reflecting of Cabris zenith light with resins, amber and a smoky, powdered vanilla that dissolves like dawn. In my essay on Fredrik’s Bohea Bohème I described Lux as ‘a bare white bulb swinging in a stark, empty room’. I’d revise that now by adding that it would reveal a vase of sunflowers and a bowl of orpiment-shaded lemons. Lux was a personal project for Mona and it feels private, almost autobiographical in the way it combines her emotional connection to the terrain of her apprenticeship but also demonstrating the necessary awareness that all light needs shadow to create rapture.  

As a perfumer she brought immeasurable beauty to perfumery, a haunting fusion of Roudnitska’s rigourous ideals and her own innate sense of how our skin should project the light of odour. Mona may no longer be with us and this in itself has sadly charged her work with a certain mythology, but she survives in the molecules and compositions she left behind and in the gracious grief of Jeroen Oude Sogtoen who keeps her shadowed flame gently alive.

Mandy Aftel

California-based Mandy Aftel is one of the most influential and sage perfumers working today. Does the fact she is a woman matter when it comes to her beautiful and profoundly imagined output? I think it does.

I wanted to capture the feeling of how the past is alive in the present but transferred into beautiful, shadowed feeling of layered richness and sensuality.’

These words are a mantra, a rhyme and rhythm of creation for Mandy.  She has written two vital, thrumming books on scent, odour and most importantly a textured history of materials and practices that allow her to place herself within a rich tapestry of perfumed life.

Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent’ (2014) and ‘Essence & Alchemy (2001) are important reads about the soul of perfumery, not just creation and the simple smell of things but the compelling human why and how our lives have been addictively entwined with a multifarious cacophony of odour and sensation for millennia. Her gathering of perfume books, pamphlets and documents to research her own publications provoked a need to create.  Her original work as a weaver, collecting natural ingredients to dye her own threads allied with her training as a therapist, has enabled her to enrich her place in the world by understanding the fugitive layers of the past. We should be grateful for this, her work, composed from materials sourced exclusively herself are unlike anything else. For me she is sacred and wise, an incarnation of healer, witch, midwife, priestess, matriarch and parfumeuse.  Her work thrills me; it has a rare ability to connect to an emotive part of self that still surprises me with each delicious revisiting of her perfumes.

I reviewed Palimpsest for my blog, an astonishing scent built around Firetree essence from Australia, chthonic and resinous, that I can smell on my skin without even wearing it.  It is such an important perfume for me, preoccupied as I am with ink on skin, reworking tattoos, re-inking new designs and leaving visible traces of the old beneath. Many of us live perfumed lives like this, writing stages of our existence in scented molecules on flesh. One of the other perfumes I wore as I was working on my Palimpsest piece was Vanilla Smoke and recently, I have been wearing this a lot as heavy snow fell across the city where I live.

Vanilla Smoke received amazing reviews when it launched. So many purported vanilla scents come and go it is hard to keep track or even care when the word vanilla pops up. Even as a diehard vanilla lover, I sometimes succumb to fatigue. I noted the launch and the word smoke and thought I must try it. There are only a few perfumers who understand the low feral anima of vanilla. Vanille, Mona Di Orio’s take on it was a wooden ship awash with booze and vanilla pods, the woods soaking up the juices. It is an incredible scent; added into the mix is the barely perceptible spoor of a wild animal, a snarling cat roaming the sticky, swirling decks.

Vanilla Smoke proves that Mandy Aftel is one of the perfume world’s great vanilla manipulators; you know by the tactile inhalation of the Madagascan vanilla that she doesn’t settle for any old vanilla absolute. Why would you? Like a colour tone or lux of light, it is about the search for personal interpretations of materials. The vanilla absolute in Vanilla Smoke is rich and chewy, with an oily wood-panelled back-taste to it, its beauty dramatically enhanced by a blueish Lapsang Souchong note, the tea smoked over pine needles. This has imparted a faint yet discernable terpenic nuance to the mix, counterpointed by saffron and a lovely soft touch of yellow mandarin at the top of the scent. The sensual joy of the perfume is to be found in the glorious drawn-out fade of vanilla on your skin.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day it is vital to note how far we have come in terms of women working as perfumers within what was once regarded as a man’s game. Despite this I can’t help feeling that something is still off, an underlying prejudice of masculine science vs. the emotional impact of feminine spirit. Though this should be celebrated; all of the perfumes I have described are technically brilliant, however they are illuminated and in some cases fireworked by the female hand and the emotional commitment that sometimes seems lacking in men working at the same level. There are men like Bertrand Duchaufour, Julien Rasquinet, Rodrigo Flores-Roux, Hiram Green, Rodney Hughes, Fredrik Dalman, Cristiano Canali, Bruno Fazzolari, Hans Hendley and Quentin Bisch who relinquish affecting aspects of themselves into their work allowing us to connect perhaps tenderly.

This is a personal view, formed by writing for many years on many different styles of perfumer and maker. I have gravitated subconsciously toward female perfumers as a buyer, writer and wearer; could I distinguish masculine and feminine work in a blind test? Probably not, but that is not my point – my reasoning is to celebrate some of the extraordinary women who have left a potent olfactory sigil of individualism in the past, present and future of scent. Germaine, Sophia, Lyn, Mona and Mandy; thank you. And thank you as well to my female roll call of skin…

Alexandra Balhoutis • Alexandra Carlin • Alexandra Kosinski • Alexandra Monet • Aliénor Massenet • Amber Jobin • Amélie Bourgeois • Anais Biguine • Angela Ciampagna • Anne Flipo • Anne-Sophie Chapuis • Annick Ménardo • Annie Buzantian • Anya McCoy • Calice Becker • Caroline Sabas • Cécile Ellena • Cécile Zarokian • Charna Ethier • Christi Meshell • Christine Nagel • Corinne Cachen • Dana El Masri • Daniela Roche Andrier • Dannielle Sergent • Daphné Buguey • Dawn Spencer Hurwitz • Delphine Jelk • Delphine Thierry • Domitille Michalon-Bertier  • Dora Baghriche Arnaud • Dortothée Piot • Ellen Covey • Emilie Copperman • Evelyne Boulanger • Florence Idier • Francoise Caron • Hildi Solani • Honorine Blanc • Ineke Ruhland • Jeanne-Marie Faugier • Jeannine Mongin • Jennifer Botto • JoAnne Basset • Josephine Catapano • Karine Dubreuil-Sereni • Karine Vinchon Spehner • Laura Tonatto • Laurie Erickson • Liz Moores • Maria Candida Gentile • Maria McElroy • Marie Duchene • Marie Salamagne • Marie-Aude Couture-Bluche • Martine Pallix • Mathilde Bijaoui • Mathilde Laurent • Mylène Arlan  • Nathalie Cetto • Nathalie Feisthauer • Nathalie Koobus • Nathalie Lorson • Patricia Choux • Patricia de Nicolaï • Pissara Umavijani • Randa Hammami • Ruth Mastenbroek • Sandrine Videault • Sandrine Videault • Sarah McCartney • Shelley Waddington • Shyamala Maisondieu • Sidonie Lancesseur • Sonia Constant • Stephanie Bakouche • Tammy Frazer • Vanina Murraciole  • Vero Kern • Veronique Nyberg • Victoire Gobin-Daudé • Victoria Minya • Violaine Collas • Yosh Han

Bandit (Piguet 1944)
Paris (YSL 1983)
L’Air de Rien (Miller Harris 2006)
Lux (Maison Mona di Orio 2006)
Vanilla Smoke (Aftelier 2015)

Alex’s blog, a scent of elegance is here: http://www.ascentofelegance.com/

 


LASERS AND FEMINISM, IT'S BONNIE BLING

LASERS AND FEMINISM, IT'S BONNIE BLING

We speak to Mhairi creator and owner of  Bonnie Bling about lasers, feminism and #metoo… 

Tell us about Bonnie Bling.

Bonnie Bling is my alter ego where I gather my thoughts on what’s been around me lately and then design and create my own laser cut jewellery inspired by my absolute adoration of all things Scotland.

What would you like to see change to help women in business succeed?

I feel that there is very much an ‘old guard’ of men in suits who don’t take women in business seriously. I remember when I set up my first (Graphic Design) business, going to start-up events and the ‘networking’ hoo-ha’s you were advised to go to, and feeling really uninspired by them. I always sensed that male-dominated hierarchy in the room. They treated me like my business was a ‘hobby’, but it made me more determined to do something different. Fifteen years on and I’m sure that world still exists but now there are alternatives. Social media groups make it easy to connect with like-minded women to support each other and that makes a big difference when you’re new to the field or even an old un like me! We are more outspoken, creative and kinder in our approach to each other’s businesses now and that is a huge step forwards.

What gender equality cause means the most to you personally and why?

Since I had my kid it’s been a real eye opener, the pressures on working parents was something I had never even considered before. Maternal and paternal leave restrictions in this country leave a lot to be desired, and inflexible working for both parents cause huge issues for many. We work far too many hours in this country, getting a balance right for a family life can be a real struggle. I am fortunate in that I have my own business and this has afforded us the luxury of being able to juggle things more than most people, but that comes at a financial cost as you can’t be all things, all the time. I was super close to losing my whole business and giving up on it all. Before my kid hit 3 years old, which is when parents get their first allocation of free childcare, it was very difficult to juggle the work/home responsibilities. I don’t know how we’d have coped if it weren’t for my amazing parents who helped out, but others aren’t as fortunate in that regard and it’s something that has to be taken on by employers and the government. There has been more awareness of parent’s rights to apply for flexible working, but companies can still refuse to grant requests. We have a long way to go to getting this right. Check out Mother Pukka for info on their awesome Flex Appeal movement.

Why is the #metoo cause so close to your heart?

When the #metoo tag started appearing across social media, I was dumbstruck. We all felt it, that clanging in your stomach, the sadness in your heart, when you realised that all those moments where you had yourself been sexually harassed were real, that it wasn’t just you, that others had had much, much worse experiences. It was the saddest of days but also a turning point in becoming a positive movement. Personally it brought back a lot of encounters that I had blocked from my memory and had never discussed with others, it made me acknowledge them and that in itself was empowering. I had never realised, or indeed considered, that so many others had experiences similar to my own, and that made me goddam angry! How had these assholes got away with their behaviour for so long?! Not anymore.  

I made my own pin of support as I wanted others who saw me wearing it to know that even if they didn’t want to speak out, that I understood, like a silent signal. I truly hope that the #metoo movement has become a milestone in our society’s attitudes to sexual abuse and harassment, and that future generations won’t have to tolerate what so many before had to endure.

What women do you most identify with from history to the present day?

I feel like a shiny happy pop Princess on the surface, who retreats to her bunker to shave her hair off, have a meltdown at the state of society, and work on her schemes to stick it to the man. I’ve always been like a wide eyed puppy dog growing up with the likes of Madonna, Debbie Harry, Kate Bush, Grace Jones, these strong, fantastic artists who broke the rules but also managed to tread a line that made them MONEY! They put up and fought through a whole load of shit I’m sure, but they played the game by their own rules and made it work.

Tell us about some women that inspire you?

The creative community in Scotland is strong. Everyone knows of each other if not directly, then through social media. We are a small country but we are well connected. The number of insanely talented women we have in our creative business community is mind-blowing. Over the past 6 years Bonnie Bling has brought me together with some of the most inspiring souls I’ve ever encountered and growing alongside them has been a super rewarding experience. From Gillian Eason working her ass off at Creative Dundee, Sam at Isolated Heroes building her fashion brand, Lynn McCrossan crafting Scottish cashmere on another level, the team at WE Mean Business creating a safe, supportive online space for women in business, to my neighbours in the Hidden Lane who are creating their own small businesses from our little backstreet in Finnieston (Libby Walker, Vanilla Ink, Hidden Lane Tearoom, Shona Fidgett)  I consider myself very lucky to have met and be surrounded so many kick-ass creatives.

What are your three favourite smells and why?

Honeysuckle, we had it outside our Highland holiday home and reminds me of long seaside school holidays in the most beautiful, remote, tranquil surroundings.

Sea spray- it blows in your face on wild, choppy days and cleans out your mind. It reminds me of all the ferry journeys I made as a teen of divorced parents, making the boat trip from one parent to another.

Sun tan lotion- the moment sun hits my skin I can smell the freckles popping out.

Are you a bitch, a witch or a bit of both?

I’m a bitch, but a good one.

What do you think makes a DAMN REBEL BITCH?

Support, sensitivity, positivity and a fun-tactic sense of humour.

What advice would you give yourself a year ago?

Don’t try to do it all, just do what you can.

Bonnie Bling are hosting a celebration on Saturday 10th March at their Hidden Lane HQ.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1888715561140753/

We’ll also be raffling off our one off, totally unique #metoo necklace to raise funds for Glasgow Women’s Aid.


EMILY MILLICHIP INTERVIEW

EMILY MILLICHIP INTERVIEW

REEK interview with textile queen Emily Millichip about what makes her such a creative and empowering bitch…

How would you describe your job?

Like a questionable mushroom trip in an abandoned theme park. Relentless. Also colourful, creative, exciting and empowering. But relentless. It’s like walking a knife edge between total excitement and mischief, and bottomless fear and despair. Not to sound too melodramatic, or illegal.

Do you feel that women are celebrated in your industry? Tell us about some of the women who have inspired your own career?

I would consider my industry to be young internet-based independent labels rather than the traditional/established fashion industry, so yes. I find it impossible to divorce my own personality and identity from my brand because I set it up to express myself, so I can relate to women that have created brands that are extensions of themselves. I love the way that Jen Gotch is a total business powerhouse, but still Instagram Stories herself having an existential crisis, then watching Dolly Parton. I also admire the way that Sophia Amoruso handled the bankruptcy of Nasty Gal, a brand which was built on her personality. She was just like, “Whatever. I’ve set up this media company now. Bye.”

Where do you find inspiration for your own style?

I used to be pretty experimental in my dress and would read a lot of style blogs and do a lot of vintage shopping. I guess these days it’s more Instagram and Pinterest, although the demands of my lifestyle are probably my biggest influence. As I get older and busier my tastes have changed, so now I am more minimal punk on a good day, grotty street-rat on a bad day. There are things I used to wear almost daily that I couldn’t bear to put on my body now. Full skirts, ruffles, sequins, bows, they are all dead to me. Give me a nice wipe-clean bit of pvc and a white ankle boot, thanks. Although, the other day I saw an elderly woman walking through Holyrood park with a can of Tennent’s and a Rottweiler and that was pretty fucking inspiring.

What gender equality causes mean the most to you personally and why?

Bodily autonomy is essential. I am so happy to see the way the narrative regarding consent has evolved over the years. My generation were taught that anything other than an active no is consent, whereas now consent is regarded as an enthusiastic YES. Sexual coercion can be damaging on a much deeper level than we realise.  There is an incredible amount of entitlement to woman’s bodies, both in and out of the bedroom. Leading on from this I also think it is vital to have access to free reproductive healthcare, safe abortion and aftercare.

What women do you identity with from history to the present day?

Probably all of those nameless women that got stuck in mental asylums for distemper / living an immoral life / reading novels, etc. It’s like, GUYS LEAVE US ALONE, WE ARE WRITING THE BUCKET LISTS OF THE FUTURE.

What changes do you think should be implemented to try and encourage more women to go into business and start up their own brands?

Parents of all genders should be banned from asking their adult offspring when they are getting ‘proper jobs’. Beyond that, give us cold hard cash.

From your travels what cultures inspire you the most?

The first place outside of books that really inspired me was Berlin. I hitchhiked there when I was 18 and got a lift with these old punks. I remember getting out of the car in Prenzlauer Berg (before they cleaned it up) and entering this other world. It was like being a kid in a candy store, there was so much chaos and fun, but these guys were smart. I think that was one of the first times I really saw the intersection between intellect and style. More recently I have been inspired by the colours and vibrancy of Mexico. I spent time there learning traditional Mexican embroidery, but the thing that ended up inspiring me the most were the tiny shops selling domestic products. I particularly loved the striped rolls of loosely woven cleaning cloth you could buy for about 40p a meter. I ended up making sack dresses out of the stuff with neon orange and neon green through it which obviously confused everyone because they were like, why are you wearing our floor rags?

What are your favourite smells and why?

The sea, because it the one constant in my life and the recipient of all of my hopes, woes, and darkest secrets. Nag Champa because it reminds me of moving to Edinburgh and creating an independent life for myself. I burn it at home all of the time and take it with me when I go travelling. I like heavy sweet scents like jasmine, honeysuckle and vanilla. I literally just remembered that my dad once told me that rapeseed flowers smell like decomposing bodies. That’s dark. Moving on, all food.  

Are you a bitch, a witch, or a bit of both?

Depends on if you’ve crossed me, muthafukkaaaa.

What makes you a damn rebel bitch?

My criminal record.

Want more? Of course you do. You can follow Emily’s work on her instagram and website

https://www.emilymillichip.com/

https://www.instagram.com/emilymillichip/

Photography, Caro Weiss 


DISSENT REVOLUTION POETRY

DISSENT REVOLUTION POETRY

Poet, performer and game-maker, Harry Josephine Giles, is lead singer of Fit to Work – a quasi-autonomous, non-governmental punk act. They talk to REEK about equality, dissent and the importance of words.

Who are you, Harry Josephine Giles?

I’m a writer and performer. I’m from Orkney and I live in Leith. I do poetry, theatre, games and now punk. I love it all. I never saw an art form I didn’t want to try.

What makes you a feminist?

Um… I desire the complete destruction of an oppressive global system of gender hierarchy? I think the practice is more important than the identity. People claim the identities they need, and that’s grand, but it’s what you do with it that’s most important. I’m always trying to do feminism better.

What equality campaign is most important to you? Why is dissent important?

You know, I don’t really like the word equality. There’s a site, againstequality.org, that I highly recommend. ”Equality” implies some authority certifying it, or legislating it, but I want something we can take. And I’m not interested in equality between groups of people within a system of oppression. I’m interested in the destruction of that oppression. I want the end of a gendered system of being.

As for dissent: well, freedom comes first through learning to say no and being able to say no to things. No, I don’t want that; no, you can’t have me. And once you’re good at that can you find freedom through saying Yes. Yes, please. Yes, do that. Yes means nothing if you don’t get to say No.

What does all that look like to you?

I wish I knew. It’s probably revolution. Let’s be revolutionaries. I guess it looks like mutual support and community and organising in a way that doesn’t rely on hierarchies of power. Trying to overturn power, and trying distribute resources equitably (not necessarily equally). And justice, justice is a more exciting word than equality. Justice, equity, transformation. It also looks like being accountable to our peers, lovers, communities – and them being accountable to us. Mutual accountability is revolutionary.

What has been your personal experience of gender equality?

I’m still figuring out what feels possible there, or even liveable within the system of gender we’re currently stuck with. I’m still in that process. I’m friends with a lot of trans people who find some kind of stable gender identity and others who welcome the instability. The trans umbrella encompasses a lot of different ways of living. It’s an adventure and it’s also hard – terrifying actually. I am quite public about that journey, but it’s fraught with risk and pain. All that means I’ve had different experiences. I’ve spent a chunk of life being seen as male and trying to live up to that, and then a chunk of life trying to understand the psychological wound of masculinity, what bell hooks calls “the first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males, psychic self-mutilation”, trying to critique and recover from that. Now I’m spending a chunk of life as something Other, and that’s different again.
In practical terms, that means that, while my wardrobe all comes off the “Women’s” rack, some days I pass as male, if a little queer, and some days I’m clearly something else. If I’m in a dress and leggings, or have done my full hair and make-up, I get a lot of sir-ma'ams (or, in Scotland, hen-pals), because people don't know where to place you. And then, if you go out with any obvious masculine features and, say, you’re wearing a dress, you will be harassed. I get that at least 50% of the time, just as all women face daily risks of harassment. So my current experience of the lack of gender equality is of being indeterminate and that being a source of both pleasure and danger. Sometimes I enjoy it, and other times the daily violence of that is impossible. And that’s just clothes and self and street harassment. We haven't even started on economics, social exclusion, mental health, border control, the carceral state…

What inspired you to create Fit for Work?

I didn’t! A couple of friends of mine who are professional musicians and who I went to school with asked me to do vocals for their punk side-project. I said yes immediately, obviously, cos it sounded fun. Thinking through what I wanted to do with that, I decided I wanted to put an aggressive femininity into that very masculine space of punk. I strut around in my thigh-high boots and my knee- high dress and bring to the stage a feminine energy into that the refuses to be boxed in. That is inspired by the long history of Riot Grrl – women’s punk music. Femininity can be furious, violent and resistant too.

Do you feel there are big changes happening right now? What words are important in that?

There are always big changes. In one way history moves really fast and it can be astonishing how quickly some things change and at the same time how slowly other things change. For example, I grew up and went to school under Section 28 (the most destructive imaginable law – the law that banned even discussion of anything LGBT in schools) and not only has that now gone, when I do workshops in school I see posters for trans youth groups – meeting at lunchtime. That took only 20 years. It’s an enormous change. But, on the other hand, it we had hundreds of years of feudalism, and now we’re only a 150 years or so into capitalism, and even though some of the dynamics have changed it’s still the same destructive and immiserating system it ever was.

What people do you most identify with from history?

Emma Goldman, Lucy Parsons, Catullus and Sappho.

Is smell important to you? Which smells and why?

You’re in the best place to fight if you’re centred. So my favourite smell is the smell you get when you are halfway up a mountain and the wind is blowing and you get the freshness off the top of the trees and the freshness coming down off the snow. You can’t smell the city at all. That’s when I feel most calm.

Then there’s rotting seaweed and silage and manure – the overpowering smells of living on an
island. They take me right home.

What makes you a Damn Rebel Bitch?

I’m damned – I’m definitely going to hell and I’d be disappointed if I weren’t. I grew up with hellfire sermons, so though I don’t actually believe in hell my gut is still convinced that’s where I’m headed. I’m a rebel cos it’s in my bones. I have never got past the stage when a two-year- old kid first learns to say No. I’m still there. And I don’t know if I’m a bitch yet – but I aspire to be.

Tell us what kind of bitch you’d be, then?

A problematic bitch.

Find out more about Harry’s work: www.harrygiles.org and more about Fit to Work: fittowork.band

All images by Void Works Photography.