Kyle Mott-Kannenberg and his husband Michael are the duo behind OSM Perfume, a genderless house whose fragrances are based on significant scent memories and named after the age or year the events took place – 28, 15, 84 and 97. ’15’ evokes the early rain and salty mist-filled air of their wedding day, whereas 84 is a more lustful affair referencing youthful summer nightlife. With his background in chemistry, it was natural that Kyle became the nose and Michael covered more of the visual art direction. The intricate collage art on the bottles represents the intertwined memory collages of each fragrance and is worth looking at more closely…
Interviewed by RJ Kaufman founder of Portives
How did you become interested in the world of perfumery?
It began when I was making candles in my spare time as a hobby. I had been sourcing fragrance online and locally in Los Angeles to make candles for myself as well as gifts for friends and family. I was quickly disappointed with what was available. Everything smelled artificial and uninspiring. Being way more interested in fine fragrance candles, I did a deep dive to find out if I could source the raw materials and that’s when I stumbled into the world of perfumery. As fate would have it, there was a shop that had recently opened in Hollywood that supplied raw materials and they had a professional level training course. I signed up immediately and the next week was one of the most eventful weeks of my life. My husband and I moved into a new house, we met a potential birth mother as we were looking to adopt a child and I started training at The Perfumer’s Studio in Los Angeles. Three life changing events all in one week. This was definitely the start of a new chapter in our lives both personally and professionally.
How does your background in chemistry affect how you approach creating a fragrance?
Hmmmm, that’s interesting to think about. I think my chemistry experience has definitely helped me with the math and understanding some of the functional groups of the actual molecules involved with perfumery. It’s also facilitated the way that I think about accords. I see them as mathematical expressions. Specifically, the way that I work with raw materials, I give them a numerical value. Then I use this value to plug into a mathematical expression and this gives me a good target to aim for when mixing my accords. After that, the nose does the evaluation to see how close I got and then tweaks are made in subsequent trials.
So how did you develop all of your skills as a perfumer?
It’s really a hybrid of both professional training and being self-taught. As I mentioned, I began my study of perfumery at The Perfumer’s Studio in Los Angeles under the mentorship of Stephen Douthwaite, Ryan Chadwick and Christopher Gordon. Their guidance was invaluable as I learned to categorize and evaluate materials. Studying with them and employing their methods definitely made the initial learning curve easier. And my own curiosity has helped me to continue learning on my own through various textbooks and websites that are known for their instruction and methods.
Can you tell us about an interesting experience working on any of your other fragrance projects you’ve been hired for?
Here’s one I think I can safely share. I had a private client who wanted a fragrance made for himself. Nothing new or interesting there. However, we never met. He would only correspond via letters and I was instructed to ship the trials to a post office box. It felt like I was taken back to another time before the internet and instant communication. It took a bit longer but there was something romantic about that.
Very Romantic! Can you tell us about another romantic experience that involves fragrance or scent.
“84” is based on an experience in the backseat of a VW Rabbit. That’s all I’ll say about that.
Do you have any hard-won advice for aspiring perfumers?
One thing that I learned the hard way is that packaging quality matters. I think many people think that it’s the juice inside that is important. While a quality fragrance is important, I think it’s equally as important how the perfumes are bottled and packaged. Both the perfume and the packaging tell the story. It’s the first thing that a perfume enthusiast sees, so you want to make sure that you put your best foot forward. For me, the mistake was trusting packaging vendors without seeing samples of their work. Our first packaging run had very detailed set-up boxes that were done horribly by the vendor. They did not care about the quality of their work at all. So, I learned to always pay for a prototype of the packaging that you think you want. It will cost a little more money up front but it will potentially save you thousands or more in the long term.
Oh, and also get the naming and labeling of your trials worked out early. I’ve got loads and loads of vials and formulas that have all sorts of different names and codes which made it difficult to find them. Get a consistent procedure early on and stick to it. You’ll be able to find everything much easier.
What was the most difficult OSM fragrance for you to achieve and why?
“15” took a good while to perfect. There is a rose in the heart of this fragrance and I wanted it to be a unique rose that I hadn’t smelled before. Since this rose is meant to represent my husband in this memory, I wanted it to reflect his unique qualities as well. With that as the target, it took about 50-60 trials just to get the rose exactly the way I thought it should smell in my mind. And now I couldn’t be happier with it.
And what film goes along with this fragrance?
Oooo, good question. I’m going to say that it’s a mashup of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and It’s a Wonderful Life.
Can you recommend a book or two to our readers?
Right now I’m reading The Night Circus and it’s thoroughly enjoyable.
Can you explain more about how you will involve your customers in your upcoming releases?
Absolutely! We are going to create capsule collections based on the memories of our customers. For example, we might team up with just one person and work with them on 3 fragrances based on their personal memories. Or we may pick a central theme and have 3 different customers contribute their memories based on that theme. I’m thinking it’s like a pensieve for scent.