Interview: NOVA Perfumer Julia Zangrilli Shares her Summer Scent Secrets

The custom scent specialist talks her tips for summer perfumes, plus a surprising new collaboration.

May 28, 2014

The NYC scent specialist on what to wear this summer and creating scenes from stones

Since launching her studio NOVA in 2012, New York perfumer Julia Zangrilli has been busy concocting custom scents for discerning noses everywhere, alongside developing her first in-house eau de parfum Chakra—a heady mix of Bulgarian roses, tobacco and leather. While NOVA's previous projects have taken her down both likely paths (see her curated scent palates for Opening Ceremony) and unlikely detours (that time she made a scent based on the stinkiest block in NYC), Zangrilli's latest pursuit mines altogether different territory. Partnering with NYC jewelry designer Anna Sheffield, NOVA has produced three custom room and linen fragrances inspired by Sheffield's signature jewelry designs. Taking cues from the Hazeline, Moonstone and Bea collections, Zangrilli has whipped up three boudoir-ready scents that capture the essence of each and pair perfectly with Sheffield's precious stones. We spoke with Zangrilli about the best scents to rock this summer and to find out exactly how you create a scent from a stone.

What are the scents that you suggest for summer? What notes should a good summer scent hit? Citrus scents are wonderful, just as long as you don’t put it directly on your skin as you’re about to go in the sun. Sometimes you don’t know if you’re wearing a natural or synthetic citrus—a natural citrus reacts to the sun, so you don’t want that on your skin. Fresh, fruity and citrus notes are good. I generally stay away from super heavy perfumes in the summer, because heat makes scent travel better. Hence the gnarly New York street smell of summer. You want to keep that in mind when you’re applying fragrance: don’t go crazy but keep it fresh or else you’ll become a floating stink bomb. I love fresh and feminine for summer or going in the opposite direction with a really clean unisex fragrance, like a woody amber, that’s almost scentless.

Which scents last the longest on a hot day? Florals are a good choice for lasting all day once they a nice substantial base. Citruses generally don’t last for long since they’re top notes.

For your collaboration with jewelry designer Anna Sheffield, you had to match the vibe and the tone of the gemstones to a scent. How do you match a color to a smell to a gemstone? It’s a hard question to answer but when you smell something the color that you see [in your mind] works together. Even though smell is so subjective, most people can smell the same thing and be like, that’s purple. With this collection, we really went with our gut instinct. For the Moonstone scent, I went into the white musk direction immediately. We got through a handful of trials of classic white musk before deciding to branch off into ethereal, fruity notes, like pear, to match the flashes of color that might be in a moonstone gem. And people love white musk. Prior to the Hazeline scent, rose had always been a go-to scent paired with a patchouli or cedar wood. Rose is just really good with different woods and grassy scents. For me, the mix really captures the tone of rose gold metal, so that was a no-brainer. Bea was the only one that we really built from the ground up. That was the scent where I didn’t automatically go to notes and oils that I knew were popular. Anna was extra hands on with this scent. We had to ask, What does it mean to capture Art Deco? What is a cream soda diamond actually? That, for us, was really a conceptual fragrance.

How was it different creating a room scent versus a scent for the body? Room scents definitely have less fragrant oils. Typically for a eau de parfum or body scent, I’ll use 12% - 20% oil and the house scents are at 10%. Because of the flammability factor, as they’re being sprayed around [a room], they need to have more water, so the scent is more diffused. The difference is really more on a technical level. I built these room scents as I would any fragrance, and they actually double as a body fragrance - but a light one.

Do you have any tips for people that are looking to dabble with oils and make a DIY scent of their own at home? I encourage people to do it. It’s an amazing talent and art that’s definitely learnable. I would tell them to just start buying oils, do your research and don’t be afraid to buy before you know. Because unfortunately there’s a lack of public education out there, a lot it this is just taking initiative and being ok with investing first. With creating perfumes, you learn along the way.

What’s next for Nova? I’m working on a collection with Loup Charmant, this very dreamy, etheral beachwear line. I’m looking to expand my NOVA collection and create five new signature in-house fragrances, more room sprays and eventually candles.

What’s your favorite smell? My man and my future baby. They say that a mother is wired to like the scent of their babies, so they don’t think that their poop smells so bad. In that case, my second favorite smell is maybe my dog, Osa.

What’s your least favorite smell? Bad breath, because what you’re smelling is all of their insides churning.

Interview: NOVA Perfumer Julia Zangrilli Shares her Summer Scent Secrets