Editorial Coffee Break / Aaron of Blackbird
Photophraphy / Haley McLain
The perfumer behind Blackbird’s new fragrance line shares with us the inspiration and artistry of creating scents, as well as his own personal aesthetic.
Of the five senses, smell has the most direct access to our subconscious and the areas of the brain which influence our emotions, moods, and memories. With this in mind, it is no small wonder that Aaron, the perfumer behind Blackbird’s fragrance line, takes such thoughtful care and pleasure in fashioning new scents. Far from being smells simply mixed together, Aaron’s perfumes are the result of both vision and meticulous refinement.
Can you introduce yourself and describe your role at Blackbird?
My name is Aaron, I’ve lived most my life in Seattle, I’m 23, and I am Blackbird’s in-house perfumer. I also work with all of our wholesale accounts and perform a variety of other tasks.
What does craft mean to you?
To me, craft implies that something is handmade. I think going further than that there is a level of care placed on the creation of the thing. Carefully making something with your hands.
Many know that Blackbird started as a clothing store, what prompted the move to focus on apothecary products after being a premier supplier of menswear to Seattleites?
Nicole wanted to do something different after having the stores for 10 years, around the same time I expressed interest in making perfume, so we decided to make the switch. Blackbird already had a good track record of private label releases; so fully becoming a brand was just shifting where we were spending our time rather than introducing an entirely new concept to our routine.
What sort of inspiration starts the process of making a new fragrance?
An ingredient or an idea can start the process moving. Quite quickly the idea and the ingredients begin to influence each other and move in a particular direction. For my latest perfume Broken Glass, Nicole and I had both been thinking about making a geranium and jasmine perfume and everything came together around that.
I notice in your perfume descriptions you use a lot of vivid imagery, is this reactive to the scent or premeditated when creating it?
Often the description of a scent develops after its creation has begun and it has started to take on a unique shape. I think the descriptions are both reactive and premeditated; before starting I always have an aim on how I want something to smell and how I want it to feel. Assuming I roughly achieve that, I use whatever my goal with the scent was initially to describe it.
What goes in to each scent?
I don’t distill my own oils. I work with synthetic and natural fragrance materials such as essential oils and aroma chemicals by blending them together in different proportions. When making a perfume, I generally pull out several ingredients from a wide library of notes ranging from violet to apple to wood to plastic, and so forth, and combine them. Then I add more of the ingredients that I would like to be more dominant, constantly smelling what I am working on, until the balance I’m looking for is achieved
What’s your favorite part of the process?
Being finished with a fragrance. I like showing my work to other people and wearing it day-to-day. Up until that point it can be very painstaking.
What role do you feel a scent plays in someone’s aesthetic or persona? Or, why is perfume important to you?
Perfume can be a really satisfying and enjoyable addition to anyone’s life. I enjoy food, music and film, and perfume offers a way to enjoy a totally different yet equally or more compelling sensory activity that inherently feels a little more special because it is infrequently mentioned or thought of. It’s an exciting and explorative hobby and life accessory.
Have you always had a working understanding of scents? Is it a skill one can hone?
I haven’t. I think aptitude for mixing scents is a skill you must hone. I’ve always had specific taste though. I don’t know if taste is something you can truly hone. You do have to be born with the ability to identify fine nuances or characteristics of ingredients and fully composed perfumes with your nose.
Do you have a perfume you wear daily? One for special occasions?
Unreleased Blackbird perfumes for daily wear and special occasions.
Do you have a favorite statement scent? Favorite versatile scent?
Favorite statement scent, Opus VI by Amouage. Almost everything from Amouage is otherworldly. Favorite versatile scent, Sel Marin by Heeley, an absurdly beautiful algae, marine salt, and seagrass fragrance. Sel Marin proved to me that a seaweed fragrance can smell so much better and more captivating than so many other citrus/marine scents.
What should one consider when finding the perfect Blackbird fragrance for them? For their home?
Pick the fragrance you like the most, and know it’s okay to use more than one. I rarely wear the same perfume twice in a week. Our products are small to make it easier to explore our wide range of different and interesting things.
Are there other perfumers that inspire you?
Not really. There are other perfumers whose work I am inspired by, but I never think to myself that I want to be like any of the great perfumers that I know of besides their ability to make the world’s best perfumes. Nobody is doing exactly what I want to do so I am self-motivated.
Are there any style icons or individuals who inspire your sartorial choices?
Ian Connor is a fun character. I like how his style is rebellious and rough, but it is a little too normcore for me. I really like the sentiment behind the YEEZY collection because it is purely dystopian, utilitarian, hip-hop clothing. It’s insane for accomplishing that goal and I wish I had the whole collection in black. But in terms of how I actually dress, Nicole inspired a lot of my sartorial choices with Blackbird, and I think Keanu also set a very high bar with The Matrix.
How would you describe your own aesthetic?
I pretty much always wear black sneakers, black jeans, a black tee shirt, a black sweatshirt, and a black coat. My favorite garments are a sweatshirt from Vivienne Westwood with what looks like a medusa head with bright white eyes staring behind +5° printed giant in red, referring to global warming. Another favorite is a sweatshirt from a polish brand called UEG that has “DOOMSDAY SCENARIO” printed on a white tyvek patch on the chest, with long multi paragraph descriptions of various superviruses printed on white tyvek patches on the sleeves. I couldn’t sum up why in a concise interview answer.
What does the future hold for Blackbird?
It’s a surprise!
Is the focus going to stay apothecary or will we see more accessories and pieces for the home?
We are always open to pursuing new ideas. I believe there is a plan for clothing in the future, but for now we are excited to be releasing new apothecary products. We just released some new products including a face moisturizer called Universal Face Oil that I am really stoked on.
See more work from photographer Haley Mclain