It’s a conceit of fashion journalists that they have some kind of backstage pass to the world of what’s cool, what’s of cult status and what’s known only to a select, exclusive few. Fashion, or even luxury, it seems, has become democratized and ubiquitous that the ultimate insider cachet is discovering a designer or product so special and so un-commercially available that keeping this knowledge a deliciously and judiciously guarded secret becomes in itself the ultimate luxury.
At least that’s how I felt when I came across the luxury organic perfumer Tammy Frazer, 37, who established Frazer Parfum in Cape Town in 2008.
Then, she was working out of her home, this waif of a girl with a degree in Philosophy and a master’s degree in Communication, teaching herself the alchemist’s art, insisting on the purest oils, conjuring emotions with the blending of scents, rousing memories, stirring dreams and awakening desires with the most ethereal, yet potent essences.
Her intention was to create perfumes in the traditional manner, before synthetics and additives adulterated the process, so to speak.
Her line, she said to me then, was “100-percent botanical, natural and biodegradable. Our palette consists of rare absolutes, concretes and resins coupled with petals, woods, roots, grass and zest.”
Today, apart from selling Frazer Parfum in the most select haute parfumerie emporia around the world (Roja Dove’s fragrance salon on Harrod’s fifth floor, Campo Marzio 70 in Rome, Eden Roc Hotel in St. Barth’s, to name a few), she has her own perfume lab-cum-gallery, on the appropriately named Rose Street in Cape Town.
But the air of exclusivity remains, the sense that what she creates is so intensely personal, deliberately limited in quantity, and fastidiously yet so instinctively composed, note upon note, that all it takes is a whiff to realize that you’ve entered a rare and wondrous universe.
Scent, she told me, was her medium of communication. “There is a freedom and inherent beauty in having no constraints to compose something. I consider myself a designer and an artist and each of my perfumes is a very personal work of art.
“Every layer of what I do is considered in this way: from the hand-blown glass flacon (my glass blower literally starts with sand to make the molten glass); the bespoke juice (I travel to the farmers who grow, harvest and distill the oils); the hand-sewn French seamed silk duchess couture glove; the hand-wrapped cotton paper box. Nothing is mass-produced and every single detail is considered for the wearer.”
Her first collection of scents, all beautifully packaged in the hand-blown glass flacon or encased as perfume solids in a beautiful blackwood box, was called Chapters, each one with a story to tell, of her own olfactory odyssey, her own experiences distilled, blended and expressed as fragrance.
She explained the essence of Madagascar, for instance, as “very much a sandy, herbaceous forest. I spent a lot of time in Nosy, the island at the top, and for me it was the sand, walking on the sand every night, with the full moon… so I wanted the composition to reflect my time and my experiences there, and not necessarily what people might expect, which would conventionally be more of vanilla or ylang-ylang.”
Her latest collection, The African Collection, consists of new fragrances African Soliflore Jasmine, Namibia and After the Rain, all evoking the continent of her birth.
“Each fragrance is inspired by raw materials sourced on the continent. They all have a resinous tone to them, because resins come from Africa and I wanted to showcase our precious raw materials to the rest of the world, showing what makes us unique and defining African fine fragrances as resinous, fresh and long-lasting.”
Self-taught she may be, but perfumery has perhaps always been her destiny. Her grandfather, after all, was Graham Wulff, the chemist who formulated that famed beauty elixir, Oil of Olay, in his South African kitchen in 1953.
Tammy creates bespoke fragrances, too. She almost created one for me once, in 2011, sending me the first round of blended scents to test, centered around patchouli. It was the ultimate insider luxury.
Alas, by the time the vials had arrived, my relationship with the man who smelled of patchouli had ended, and the last thing I wanted was to be reminded of his scent.
But I still long for my own customized Frazer Parfum.