ParfumPlus talks to Russell James, Founder of Raw Spirit Fragrances to get an insight into his journey from a famed fine art photographer to the world of perfumes
Founded by Russell James, Raw Spirit is a concept inspired by the diversity of cultures encapsulated into mesmerising scents. The ambitious initiative has been launched by OBS Lifestyle that specialises in encapsulating a story and a message through each of its brands. With its recent debut in the city of Dubai, ParfumPlus talks to Russell James to get an insight into his association to the domain of perfumery, the transition from photography to perfumes and of course his upcoming creations.
ParfumPlus (PP) : What does a perfume mean to you?
Russell James (RJ) : Perfumes for me is a sensory experience, it is as important to me as sounds and words. In fact, I would say that fragrance-making is an art form that is capable of transporting you to a whole new place with its olfactory notes.
PP : You were into fine art photography, what motivated you to get into the domain of perfumes?
RJ : I am still involved into photography and my dream is basically to bring together fragrances and fine arts through an exhibition that displays incredible collections. Coming to my interest in perfumes, it was the stories of people when I travelled and explored the world that drove me towards the fragrances. When you hear these stories of different cultures, they would always be related to a particular flower or a scent. For example, in the west of US, their people would always talk about the smell of oaktree after the rains, and it’s such stories that inspired and gave me a curiosity to know more about fragrances.
PP : Can you tell us a little about your first exposure to the world of perfumery?
RJ : During one of my travels I remember, it was an aboriginal man, an elder, who gave a me an oil that he said was used for almost a 1000 years in their community and it somehow brought out a definition of an individual. Hearing this story in length, I realised that I have been hearing a lot of these from the many places I have visited and so I decided to go back to these places and somehow in the transition, I discovered the Boronia flower and oaktree scent, and we started to work on them.
PP : Tell us a little about Raw Spirit: the brand, the idea and the journey so far?
RJ : Well, it is actually the stories of the people of the indigenous cultures and communities that inspired us to bring it forward through our fragrances. And it’s been fairly recent, like a matter of three years ago. We came up with this concept to tell the stories of people from various cultures and the fragrance industry as a whole, which are evolving very fast.
PP : What according to you will be the differentiating factors of the fragrances by Raw Spirit?
RJ : I don’t really compare my art with others. As a concept, we just want our fragrances to tell a real story, a raw ingredient and develop a really good and high quality product. Being authentic and sustaining that is what we aim for and I guess that is what sets us apart.
PP : How do you capture the contrast of ancient and modern cultures in your fragrances?
RJ : I think it’s very fascinating and I tend to do it very often. From a fine artist perspective, I have studied ancient culture and I think it is unique to combine the best of both worlds, the past and present. I feel my fragrances are best described as a culture collision.
PP : How has fragrances changed your creative process while photographing?
RJ : I think fragrances have opened a whole new sensory range for me. Now, I feel it’s a part of my life and a very important one. When I am shooting, I try to capture and interpret the essence of the idea or the character and its spirit. When I was shooting Behati Prinsloo for the Raw Spirit campaign, I thought it’s not about capturing the oaktree or the Boronia flower alone, but what exactly is the story, its spirit behind and that is exactly what we tried to put on the film. My love for perfumes has actually made me a better photographer today.
PP : What are the perfumes that Raw Spirit would be offering for the Middle Eastern markets?
RJ : Raw Spirit essentially offers unisex fragrances. But we also have perfumes like Citadelle, which has more masculine qualities and then there is Dessert Blush which is allegedly more feminine but I personally like it, and often use it! So, according to me I think these two will appeal more to the Middle Eastern market. However, fragrances are more of an individual experience, so I expect choices to be different. In fact, Winter Oak is a popular choice here.
PP : Raw Spirit is also actively associated with various community welfare projects… please share a few details.
RJ : I have a foundation called the Nomad Two Worlds foundation and basically what we do is collaborate with artists from various indigenous and marginalised communities and give them the exposure through a platform that is essentially to develop their careers as artists. Then with Firmenich master perfumer Harry Fremont, we support Firmenich’s commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative. These are some of the many welfare projects Raw Spirit associates itself with.
PP : What made you decide to launch Raw Spirit to the UAE and how many scents are you releasing to this market?
RJ : When Raw Spirit Fragrances launched in New York at Barneys we noticed many great comments from people from the Middle East in particular. I have many friends in the region and I was introduced to Dr Omar of OBS Group who did a deeper exploration of our brand. We decided to partner in a special packaging and size for the middle east and for this launch Raw Spirit is releasing each of our fine fragrances in a 100ml bottle.
PP : Finally, can you share some details on your upcoming fragrances?
RJ : Yes, we do have two new products coming up in the market and many others in the consideration process. But this is all I can talk about for now.