Where did your interest in scent originate?
I think my fascination with scent has always existed, even since childhood. Every Saturday as a kid, my Mum and I would visit my Aunt, who worked at a local chemist in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. On every trip, she would slip me a different sample bottle of perfume to take home. “Wear that and all the girls will like you,” she used to tell me. Ha, little did she know…
In 2008 I started working for Lush, and quickly found myself becoming really nerdy about my sense of smell. Shortly after I joined, I met one of the founders of the company who suggested I read Perfume by Patrick Suskind. It was this book which really solidified my interest and led me to set up a blog, Personal Odour in 2010.
How did ODOU magazine come about?
I started working on ODOU in 2013 when I realised a perfume magazine was absent from the wave of indie publishing that was happening at the time. The only magazines that discussed the topic were beauty or fashion-focussed, neither of which I identified with. I wanted to create something that I would read, something that looked beyond the latest celebrity scent.
As a graphic designer, I’d had some previous experience working with print and loved the permanence of it. The juxtaposition of this against the transience of smell really appealed to me. I always knew that filling a magazine purely about perfume would be a hard sell. ODOU was – and is – much more than that. In Issue 2, for example, we published an article by Sylvia Ziemski, a communication consultant based in Stockholm, who had recently lost her father. She described how the smell of Polo by Ralph Lauren completely overwhelms her, due to the association with her Dad. The way she conveyed that experience was so palpable. It’s something people can really relate to.
Do you have a scent that you associate with a particular memory?
Chinese food always takes me back, especially the smell of fried garlic. It reminds me so much of my teenage years and the town I grew up in.
My favourite scent of all time though has to be Breath of God by Gorilla Perfume. That fragrance evokes so many memories for me – it takes me back to one ex, another ex, my time in Africa, Belfast, my Mum. It’s essentially the blueprint of my 20’s.
Do you think there’s any relationship between scent and gender or sexuality?
We actually published an article recently by Justin James, an Australian perfumer, which discussed this very subject. He talks about the death of the masculine fragrance and how he feels they are beginning to resemble their feminine counterparts.
Many people however, myself included, will argue that fragrance has no gender. Perfume, by its nature, is neither male nor female; it’s just a thing. You would never assign a gender to your other senses. So why do we do it with scents? Your vision for example: if you were to see a brick wall, you wouldn’t inherently think it was masculine or feminine. The same applies to food and our sense of taste.
Gender-specific fragrances are purely a convenient marketing tool. Although, I’m not sure how those traditional rules apply to a gay audience. If I’m attracted to a straight man wearing a male perfume does that means the marketing has failed? Who knows…
You mean the Lynx Effect isn’t real?
Ha! There are certain scents that can smell “masculine” but only because that’s what you’ve been brought up to believe. It’s all about your experiences, your associations and your prior learning. A smell will always imprint on your subconscious, be it in a positive or negative way.
Perfume, by its nature, is neither male nor female; it’s just a thing. You would never assign a gender to your other senses. So why do we do it with scents?
Tell us a bit about your childhood home.
I’m a total country boy at heart, born and raised in the rural hills of Northern Ireland. I moved to Belfast in 2004 for university to study a multimedia degree, followed by a stint in Dublin. Shortly after, I moved back home before moving to London in 2012.
What brought you to London?
Work essentially. Like a typical Irishman, I arrived by boat with a single suitcase in search of a job! I came with my long-distance Canadian boyfriend at the time, who I’d met through Scruff. He’d wanted to move to London for a while so we took the plunge together, hoping the change would be good for both of us.
I’ve been here for 4 years now, but I’m still deciding if I like it.
Really? Why’s that?
London can be a fickle bitch. Don’t get me wrong – there are days I love it and I feel really lucky to be here. But generally, I find it to be a very lonely place, alienating even. I think a lot of people experience that sense of loneliness in their own way. It’s a very profound feeling and one that I never felt in Dublin. I’m sure it’s all very normal, maybe the city just exacerbates it.
If you could create a perfume that captured London, what would it smell like?
The Tube, definitely. That old, dusty smell – I’ll never tire of it.
As you move around the city though, you do begin to notice how each area has a distinct scent. For me, Hackney will always be the smell of bagels; Victoria – sewers; and Stoke Newington the smoky smell of Turkish kebabs. That warming smell of charcoal in Winter is the best.
How about Holloway, your local neighbourhood?
Football fans and beer. We’re right next door to the Emirates Stadium here. On match days, the smell of onion burgers is pretty potent too.
Are you a part of any gay communities in London?
Not really. I may have a beard but I don’t really affiliate with the East London gay hipster crowd. It’s not that I think it’s uncool, I just don’t identify with it.
A couple years ago I went to a Vivienne Westwood fundraiser event in a disused warehouse in Hackney. I feel like such an old man telling you this… but it was full of people eager to be seen. I find that kind of crowd very cliquey. London is way better than this.
Have you found that gay social apps, like Scruff, have changed how you interact with other gay men?
I’d love not to be on Scruff to be honest. I used to be quite confident when I went out and really comfortable with talking to someone in a bar. Now I’m terrified! Grindr and Scruff have definitely changed things. For better or worse though? I’m not sure.
Are you conscious of building an online persona, either for yourself or for ODOU?
I find myself getting very ‘zen’ with social media in general. Often when I post something on Instagram I’ll ask myself, ‘do people actually need to know this?’ Who cares if I’ve just been smelling some green tea?
What is it that keeps you going when you experience that doubt?
Stubbornness probably! When you start a side project you do get very precious over it. Sometimes I look at ODOU and think ‘why the hell and I bothering with this?’ But then there’s a part of me that really believes in what I’m doing and my reasons behind it. That feeling always wins out.
When you start a side project you do get very precious over it. Sometimes I look at ODOU and think ‘why the hell and I bothering with this?’
What are your future plans for the magazine? What’s next for ODOU?
I would love to create a range of themed issues of the magazine. The first would focus on leather – leather fragrances, their origins, the gay leather scene – bound in pure leather with a simple logo embossing. A lush, limited edition print – that would be amazing! Maybe a tea-themed issue too?
There’s also a magazine shop in Soho called Wardour News which I absolutely love. If I were to walk in there and see ODOU on the shelves, I’ll feel like I’ve succeeded.