“To gain the ability to sculpt memories, experiences and ideas out of tiny, invisible, volatile molecules is the most incredible, shocking, brilliant and powerful thing I have ever realized.”
Mackenzie Reilly was born and raised in New York, and has lived and worked in France, Italy, Singapore, the Netherlands, and United States by the age of 28. She always loved perfume and remembers feeling bewitched, at age five, by the glamorous sight of her mother applying Shalimar at the vanity before going out. But, it was a singular fragrance which completely changed her life at the age of 16 and made her want to become a perfumer. The “addictive, weird and animalic” niche perfume Dzing!, designed to conjure the aroma of the circus, immediately captured Mackenzie’s curiosity, imagination and certainty about her future path. “It was the first time I thought, wow, someone designs these, and I began to think of fragrance as an art form…magical and architectural, telling a story and building a three-dimensional experience with dynamic pieces.”
Mackenzie’s early influences include her father, a renowned filmmaker, and her mother, who enjoyed a career in advertising and encouraged Mackenzie’s love for cooking (Moroccan cuisine is a longtime passion), gardening and nature. Like her father, Mackenzie chose a career where success is notoriously difficult and cultivating one’s own style is paramount. But, the unique creative power granted to a perfumer is intoxicating: “Perfumery is an exceptionally abstract form of art, which gives perfumers lots of creative license, and it’s also incredibly intimate, touching memories and the emotional part of the brain,” she explains.
Mackenzie worked for the luxury publishing house Assouline before joining IFF in 2010 as assistant to the Director of the New York Creative Center. Admitted to IFF’s Perfumery School in 2013, she was finally able to commence her dream, and she regards IFF’s senior perfumers as her extended teachers. Mackenzie also has a strong self-taught impulse and loves to experiment in the lab and field to develop raw, virginal ideas untouched by market trends. “You have to believe in yourself,” she insists, and admires artists and designers who express a playful or whimsical spirit through color, form, or even surrealist elements – from Picasso, Matisse and Magritte, to Zaha Hadid, Delfina Delettrez and Thom Browne.
Another aspect to Mackenzie’s developing aesthetic is a reverence for simplicity, a ‘soap-and-water’ approach to elegance. A huge advocate of the natural products of IFF’s Laboratoire Monique Remy (LMR), and materials like orange blossom, ambrette seed, and clean musks and ambers, Mackenzie’s minimalistic approach highlights key ingredients and a special palette. “Sophia Grojsman taught me: know the ingredients you love and work with them over and over – it won’t make you boring; it will make you good!” It is critical to understand not only how ingredients smell, but how they behave, their good sides and bad sides, how they move through the air, and how their personalities manifest on the skin. Mackenzie also marvels at the discovery of ‘hidden’ scents, such as vetiver root or orris, which must age to find the odor; nutmeg, which resides inside a hard shell; and ingredients from the sea which someone, once upon a time, thought to bring to the surface. A lover of surfing, swimming and diving, Mackenzie finds that perfumery provides her with an even deeper connection to the earth and all its elements.
But, perhaps most of all, Mackenzie is fascinated by the capacity of odor to help us infer things and understand our environment. Her undergraduate degree in International Studies included stints in Paris and Rome to study the history of perfumery, the spice trade, and even the use of scent in African tribes. She remains an endless student and tireless explorer. Her love for travel ignites a scent snapshot of each experience to preserve the memory. A recent trip to Sri Lanka inspired a reproduction of elements of the pilgrimage: burning incense, wet earth, mountain grass, bare feet, camphor muscle rubs, cardamom and mint teas, steaming coconut rice, women breast-feeding their babies along the path. “You can experience the life of people, the whole world, through scent; there’s just so much you can discover if you’re looking for it.”
(Bio provided by IFF)
— — — — — — — — — —
Mackenzie Reilly is the author of California Snow (Fall 2017).