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How The Pioneering Nose Behind *Apartment Perfume Found Her Way

We spent 5 minutes with Leigh-Anne Drakes, the pioneering creative behind our favourite new perfumery

Alix-Rose Cowie
Apartment, perfume, leigh-ann drakes
apartment, perfume, johannesburg

It's not often that a new product excites the whole House and Leisure team straight off the bat, but we couldn't help our instant love affair with the intriguing and downright courageous scents coming out of Joburg's achingly cool *Apartment perfumery. Admittedly it was their launch display at the recent Handmade Contemporary Fair which got us first — a simple and effective display formed from sponge, industrial cage, and neon lights —  but since then we have fallen hard for the complex scents that nose and founder Leigh-Anne Drakes has been experimenting with in her studio. 

Leigh-Anne also recently partnered up with image-maker Alix Rose Cowie to create a line of 'scentless' campaign images for the perfumes, featured in this story, that feature props that have no inherent scent of their own. 'So...' Alix says via mail, 'if you could smell the photos, the only things you'd smell are the fragrances — an antidote to the usual 'tasting' notes used in so many product shots.'

What has Leigh-Anne's journey been to making one of House and Leisure's favourite new things? We caught up with her to find out more about the road to making *Apartment Perfumes. 

ALSO READ: Joburg's Brik Cafe Does Summer Dinners

5 Minutes with *Apartment Perfume's Leigh-Anne Drakes

apartment, perfume, johannesburg
Apartment, perfume, johannesburg

How did you become a nose? 

Curiously, I had little to no interest in the industry until about 10 years ago when I noticed a shift. It was being driven by technological advancements and the likes of left-field noses such as Sissel Tolaas. There seemed to be a niche but growing desire for scents to break away from what cluttered the commercial fragrance shelves. ‘Notes of brown packing tape’ I read? My interest was piqued. Scent was emerging as a design tool and leaving behind concepts of romance and the stuffy secrecy that had shadowed the industry for so long. From there, 4 years of research, development, study, controlled explosions in chemistry classes and the birth of my rather pleasant smelling son. *Apartment wasn’t, and then one day, it was. 

What were you doing before *Apartment?

I initially studied photography and worked in the field for some time, there was also an art magazine, work in production and even a toe-dipped in the fashion industry, all the while a closet science nerd. I feel like *Apartment is the final culmination of all my facets, it just took 20 odd years to get there. Perfumery is the glorious and absolute meeting of science and art, and that thrills me to bits. 

Why name your line '*Apartment'? 

I was looking for an obscure name, one that meant little and had even less to do with perfume. A name devoid of romance but able to carry a quiet power as well as a sense of being modern. 

apartment, perfume, johannesburg
apartment, perfume, joburg

How do you go about naming your scents, or does the name come first? 

They just sort of, come to me? They amuse me endlessly. Sometimes they arrive in the early stages of develop of that scent, and in those cases often influence of the direction that scent takes. But sometimes they only arrive after a scent is finished and when she fully reveals her character to me. 

Tell us about the inspiration behind smells like 'Page 128 was Missing'? 

Ah, Page 128 Was Missing, an attempt to realise the abstract smell of squares and circles. I try to never draw from narrative as I find it stuffy and dated, it also somehow leads you to needing to spoon feed that story onto the wearer. I try to keep *Apartment devoid of this as I feel her wearer is far too astute for constructed romantic nonsense. Instead I try and work from a still visual, breaking it down then attempting to reconstruct it into a coherent and wearable scent, and then you may draw from that what you will. Page 128 Was Missing was developed without a traditional central focus, without a heart if you will, but rather by taking a linear approach to the build. Scents will always develop in layers, that’s just how molecules work, but I wanted the initial experience to lean toward more that of a single layer, velvety and inky and abstract. 

What's next for *Apartment?   

To answer your question practically, I’m working on a new product, and instillation and a perhaps unexpected collaboration. Saying this, I think one maintains a love affair with their work by never hitching it to a too clearly defined aesthetic and path. I developed *Apartment and her the primary branding language to always be able to hold her own in a room, but to be ‘non’ enough to be a quieter and steady framework for a secondary space that allows for endless and unbridled shift, play and whim. A space for my restless ideas to dance about competing for my aloof attention. And of course, collaboration. Collaboration is a tricky creature, it can be fought with discomfort and egos, but can bear things so far past the sum of their parts it’s simply extraordinary. 

For more visit Apartment's beautiful website (Leigh-Anne took a lot of the images herself) at www.aptaptapt.co and give them a follow on Instagram @aptaptapt.co to find out more about what they're up to and where you can get your own Apartment scent. 

ALSO READ: Our Slow Living Guide