AN INTERVIEW WITH CO-FOUNDER SARAH BLAIR
In celebration of International Women’s Day we take a look at Parlor X’s interview with Map of the Heart Co-Founder, Sarah Blair.
Sarah Blair has proven that anything is possible when you pursue your passion & your heart is driven. Starting off in the film industry as an Australian Executive Producer & Product Designer, in 2012 Sarah began to explore another highly sensory experience: Fragrance. Collaboratively, Sarah & her partner, filmmaker Jeffrey Darling developed: Map of the Heart. Drawing on their passion for storytelling, Sarah & Jeffrey partnered with International renowned experts; Fragrance developer Giovanna Aicardi & perfume bottle designer Pierre Dinand to create the unique & divine perfume. X Files interviews Sarah Blair about her successful career as well as the evolution & inspiration behind Map of the Heart.
Tell us about yourself; your career history & where it all began.
I have spent the last while working with my partner, Director Jeffrey Darling as his Australian Executive Producer and managing him worldwide. Prior to that I was a product designer and founding partner of Corban and Blair. Working in film is everything that scent is not, so for both Jeff and I, scent was the last creative frontier to explore, and for me the calling of product design was still strong. In about 2012 I became obsessed with scents and spent some time researching the perfume world, reading everything from chemistry books to books about perfume creation. I figured out it was not something we could concoct in the kitchen and so we used the same methodology that we use in film, which is to find the best collaborators in the world.
Where did the concept & idea around Map of the Heart originate from?
There are two things really, we are both intuitive people, and so I would say that we both operate from our hearts and this is where our best decisions come from, so to celebrate that was really important. The other thing was that around that time it felt like digital was pervading every corner of our lives and I was interested in the idea of connection and whether we are in fact more, or less, connected to each other.
Talk us through the creative process that led you to your business.
Really it was quite simple. It was an obsession and then in a moment of insanity we dived in to create the brand. I didn’t want to be one of those people who are always ‘gonna' do something. I thought if we are going to do it, we have to do it now. Once I had finished the research phase, we understood that there were a number of houses around the world that produced the majority of fine fragrances in the world. We contacted Givaudan here in Australia and they told us that we needed to pitch the idea to them. I did and they liked it and sent it to Singapore and then to Paris as this was where they had the best perfumers for the project.
We then needed a bottle designer and our research kept leading back to Pierre Dinand, who had changed the game with many of his designs. I didn’t know this at the time, but he is kind of a rock star in perfume circles. He has designed bottles that have broken boundaries and has worked with the many of the important fashion houses: YSL, Dior, Givenchy, Valentino, Fendi, Armani, Calvin Klein, and Vivienne Westwood to name a few. When we sent him the project, he immediately wanted in which was great as he became an important mentor for the whole of the production process.
Do you & your business partner Jeffrey have differing roles?
We create the original briefs together and we both follow the process of each perfume’s creation. We work together with our partner and fragrance developer, Giovanna Aicardi, who is based in Europe. Jeff has directed all the films except for V.1 Freedom which was done by a young director, Scout Jackson and the stills were done by Cloudy Rhodes. Jeff is a great visualist, so his eye is on everything and I love words, but most of the creative we work together. I am with Giovanna, more involved in the day to day running of the business.
Map of the Heart bottles are like no other. We would say they are a piece of art to cherish long past the last drop of fragrance. Tell us more about your unique collaboration with perfume bottle designer Pierre Dinand.
It was definitely one of those very serendipitous collaborations. He totally got the concept. Jeff had been shooting in Nepal and he brought back these beautiful river stones from this remote location where they had to get to by elephant. I remember holding one and saying to Jeff that this is what I want the feeling of the bottle to be. When we got the first bottle mock-up from Pierre, it was almost exactly the same shape and feeling. I didn’t have this conversation with Pierre. It was just something that he knew how to get right. This is what experience is.
Talk us through each of the seven fragrances.
Each of the fragrances occupy their own world within the Map of the Heart. Which is to say that they are all very different, but, have the same DNA. It is this sense of difference and cohesion that signifies to us when a fragrance is finished, when we feel that it is a Map of the Heart fragrance. We developed the first three together. We had the Clear, Black and Red as the anchor points: Clear being one point, Red being the centre, the heart beat, and Black is the opposite to Clear.
- Clear Heart v.1 is our homage to the Australian Summer, with the sense of freedom, of big skies and endless possibilities.
- Black Heart v.2 is the Heart of Darkness - our ode to Conrad and the ideas of who do you become when you are pushed, but also the idea that you dream in darkness so it is the place where you can glimpse the im/possible.
- Red Heart v.3 is all Passion - it drives us and keeps us going.
- Gold Heart v.4 is around the idea of having a heart of gold and everything that is good and nurturing.
- Purple Heart v.5, the Heart of Valour, we inverted the olfactive pyramid so that it opens deeper and then brightens out. When Giovanna first discussed this idea with perfumer, Jacques Huclier, he told her “I’m a perfumer, not a magician,” but in fact, he did do this.
- Pink Heart v.6 is all about Ecstasy - hypnotic and narcotic - a mesmerising ride on your skin - a re-interpretation of a big floral - to give it some attitude.
- White Heart v.7, the Heart of Love, is white because when white light refracts it splits into every colour of the rainbow, so it is about all types of love. We are fascinated by the idea of the duality of love: that it is fleeting or everlasting, that it can be great or shit, hot/cold and so the perfume has this tension within it.
Born in Australia, Made in France, tell us more about your ingredients & processes.
The born in Australia is because we are an Australian brand and all the creative briefing, imagery, asset collateral comes out of here. However, all the scent creation and the manufacturing is done in France. As a brand we are a bit of an enfant terrible - we could not have come out of Europe with its history and traditions. We, as Australians, take risks and are crazy enough to follow our hearts and shake things up a little. The choice of ingredients is inspired by the creative brief and are from around the globe, but each fragrance has Australian Sandalwood as the brand’s fil rouge.
To create the unique scents, you have also collaborated with senior perfumer Jacques Huclier. How did this collaboration come about & can you tell us more about his practice?
When Givaudan came on to create the fragrances, they initially sent us nine submissions for the first three fragrances from three perfumers. We did not know who they were, or who did what. The three that we chose to move forward with we soon found out, were all by Jacques Huclier so we have worked with him exclusively since. For the Pink and White he brought on Nisrine Grillie, who was a Junior Perfumer at the time, and now is a Perfumer in her own right.
Your brand has such a recognisable DNA. How do you continue to creatively evolve without losing sight of your roots?
This is something, that Giovanna, Jeff and I, and most recently our daughter Imogen, who has joined us, are very clear about and it is something that constantly comes up in the development. Intuitively we have a very strong understanding of what is Map of the Heart, so it becomes a recognition of sorts. There is always a moment with each of the fragrances when we all know it is now a Map of the Heart fragrance.
Fragrances are often nostalgic, relating to memories & feelings. Do you have specific memories which have influenced your fragrances?
My mother was a great lover of fragrances, so my love of fragrance has come from her. Although, I think that growing up in Sydney with a garden and the smell of the ocean and eucalyptus in the air, it is a very fragrant existence. The intense dryness of Summer and then when it rains a whole other world of scents erupt with bushfires, fruits, and vines that clamber over fences…
Which Map of the Heart Fragrance is your favourite & why?
This is a very hard question as it depends on the day. The Black Heart is my consistent love because I love the idea of surrendering and dreaming in the dark. It is a quiet place where creativity comes from. The Pink Heart would be my next favourite as I love that it is a floral with attitude, and how it takes you on such a great journey on the skin. I do wear them all, especially the Clear when I am travelling as it brings home close to me.
Map of the Heart is a global business. Have you had to change the way you operate your business this year as a result of COVID-19?
Just like everyone else, as there has been no travelling there has been many more video calls. We have had time to breathe which has been good, though having said that, I can’t say we have been less busy. I miss the interaction of face to face with our partners, but don’t miss travelling.
Describe your client in three words…
Curious, Confident, Captivating
How did you align your brand in the luxury fragrance market?
I don’t think we tried to align ourselves per se. It was more of a case of creating a product that was not derivative and up to our own high standards. Our ambition was to explore a new frontier of creative expression. We are our own toughest audience.
What has been your greatest achievement?
Personally, my greatest achievement would have to be raising, with Jeff, our 4 children who are now grown up and pretty damn great people. For the brand itself, our singular achievement is to still be here and growing.
Being honoured at the Fragrance Foundation Awards UK (the Academy Awards of Perfume in the UK), with 2 awards (out of 3 nominations) last year; one for Best Newcomer and the other for Best Media Campaign Women, was huge - especially as the other nominees were: Chanel, Calvin Klein, Tom Ford, Paco Rabanne, etc.
Also, being shortlisted for the French Independent Olfactorama, invite only award: Prix de L’Emotion for the Purple Heart v.5, and the American Art and Olfaction for Pink Heart v.6 were both big achievements as it is recognition by our peers.
What is next for Map of the Heart?
We are working on our eighth scent and other product categories. We continue to consolidate our existing markets and every day there is another enquiry about a new territory. So, lots to do, but we are here for the long game!
Interview by Parlour X