Whenever I walk the underground walkway from Ngee Ann City, the smell of baked cookies would greet my entrance to Wisma Atria and it would get even stronger when I’m nearing Famous Amos.
The fragrance actually made me crave for their cookies.
Imagine my shock when I found out that, all along, the smell of cookies wafting through that underground passageway wasn’t from actual cookies being baked — but from a perfume!s
But now that I think about it, it’s actually quite fascinating how a smell can evoke a feeling or a memory, or create moods and ambiences.
Professional perfumers may even be able to take a whiff of the scent you’re wearing and tell your personality.
So when I chanced upon a place in Singapore that lets people create their own perfume, I was curious to find out more about the business.
I got to speak to the founder of Oo La Lab, Terry Jacobson, who also started AllSense, a scent consultancy, to share with us his journey in becoming a scent designer.
“It’s A Very Human Thing To Smell”
South Africa-born Terry has been moving around Australasia in the last 16 years, spending time in cities like Sydney and Hong Kong before settling down in Singapore.
He launched a youth-orientated e-magazine in South Africa, was a creative director for Australian narrowcast radio station, Bondi FM, and ran a lifestyle magazine for Virgin Mobile before he established AllSense in 2008.
“I have always had a passion for ideas and the human condition,” he told me.
Speaking to Mumbrella Asia last year, he said he was inspired to start up after reading a “three-line paragraph on scent” in a magazine.
Creating a scent consultancy “ticked all those boxes”.
I found out that he doesn’t have an ounce of chemistry or scent-making background, as he told Mumbrella, “I’m a writer. I’m not a perfumer by the strict definition, but I am a scent designer.”
How did he acquire the skills to become a scent designer, I asked.
“Primarily, a passion for human experience and the ability to work with brands to understand their emotive resonance, and what that could represent as a fragrance, was the starting point for me,” he replied.
Working with brands and the people behind those brands for over a decade has allowed him to gain “skills in technical perfumery and a strong vision for the styles of fragrance” that they want to bring to market or to present to specific clients.
“What I realised is that even though such people typically had very little fragrance knowledge, there was an instinctual and emotional reaction to scents as a whole,” he said.
“It’s a very human thing to smell.”
So, he created Oo La Lab in 2016, a “community-orientated platform” where anyone can learn about fragrances, how they’re made, and how they could make their very own fragrance.
Making Scents In Business
Terry shared that he decided not to launch the bespoke perfume-making concept under AllSense because AllSense is a consultancy that deals with larger projects that usually involve industrial diffusion technologies.
He described Oo La Lab as their “consumer-facing brand that immerses people in the mystery, wonder, and science of crafting a fine fragrance”.
But he assures me that both AllSense and Oo La Lab share the same value; the passion for the human experience of smell.
With AllSense, he said he’s received reports of “a variety of positive outcomes” and a large amount of research in the public domain that support their work.
They take into consideration results like elevated mood, enhanced customer experience, and positive brand recall on top of an increase in sales and footfall.
When asked about a memorable project he’s worked on, he said Singapore Fashion Week and Laneway Festival come to mind.
For Laneway, Terry said they set out to create “an experience for music lovers” so they set up their fragrance crafting bar for festivalgoers to engage with them and their Fragrance Table where they could craft their own scent.
They left the entire design process to festivalgoers, letting them tailor their scent according to their tastes and preferences.
AllSense also fragranced the White Room, the festival’s indoor dance floor.
Beyond fragrances, Terry has also designed some very unique scents, such as recreating the smell of dead bodies.
He shared in an interview in March this year that they have been working with Universal Studios Singapore (USS) Halloween Horror Nights for the past two years.
“They wanted to create a scent of horror, so we looked at the different scenes and the context of each space. Some of the briefs were a direct request like the smell of burning leather or natural gas,” he said.
When I asked him what was Terry’s point of reference for the smell of rotting flesh, he said, “We didn’t actually smell dead bodies for this work, rather we had access to olfactory chemical structures related to decomposing flesh.”
On whether his vast business experience has helped with getting clients to come onboard Oo La Lab, Terry said it has greatly contributed to it.
“When big brands choose to work with you it’s a validation of our concept and desire for what we offer.”
A Scent-sational Time
When designing scents for ambient or an environment for a project, the team will study the characteristics of the space, noting elements such as colour, textures, sound, and lighting.
“We take into consideration any functional purpose of the space and how people interact with it,” he explained.
“In close consultation with the customer, we then work together to identify how fragrance can be used to enhance the emotive perception and functional experience of the given environment.”
With a consumer, it comes in the form of Oo La Lab’s one-hour workshop titled, Chemistry of Oo.
“[You’ll] get acquainted with our lab’s core 27 fragrance notes. It’s about inspiring your personal journey and the creative process of building your own formula,” Terry described.
“At the end (of the workshop), you’ll get to name your own fragrance, and there’s always an option to remake or change up the notes in the next bottle!”
I had the opportunity to experience the workshop, conducted by the lab’s friendly mixologist.
The workshop made me feel like I was back in school attending a chemistry class in the science lab, so it was really fun.
She introduced us to all of the fragrances, explained the terminology and described the scents as we went along so we can visualise what goes into our personalised perfume.
You can read about the full experience here.
When I asked Terry why he decided to settle in Singapore, he simply said, “One word – serendipity.”
For the industry he’s in, he said that they need to understand that culture, taste, and consumption vary from market to market.
“By understanding this we can offer the right set of products and services in each market,” he added.
Drawing on his own experiences, he explained that entrepreneurs need to deal with the uncertainty that comes with doing something new in their business.
“How something will turn out, how long it will take and how much it will cost. These are all uncertain details that ebb and flow. It’s a must as an entrepreneur to learn to be comfortable with uncertainty.”
Terry advises aspiring scent designers and perfumers to be sure of their passion because it’s a niche industry, and warns against focusing on the “pot of gold […] at the end of the rainbow”.
A scent consultant should enjoy working with people and be comfortable with emotions, he added.
Wrapping up our conversation, Terry shared that we can all look forward to more events, workshops, festivals, and collaborations with Oo La Lab.
To make your very own Chanel No. 5 or try a unique, off-the-shelf fragrance, visit the Oo La Lab website here.
Featured Image Credit: The Fifth Collection; Victoria Sek, Vulcan Post