REFLECTIONS | WINTER ’21
HOW TO MAKE A FRAGRANCE: SADE
WORDS and RECIPE by JORDAN BRYAN
ILLUSTRATION by JACOBI MYLES
As QTIPOC individuals our ideas aren’t always valued and our work not always fairly compensated or credited. Even when this is the case, our bodies are rarely considered or even shown within our own work product.
I’ve lived this in group uni projects, in bar and office jobs, in brothels waiting in the lineup, and on set for fansites and studios. It doesn’t matter where, and even in my role as a perfumer these days, I see no exception. The ads I see for my industry are invariably qwhite interesting.
Whiteness in perfume is a lie (just ask the Himba, and definitely ask the NGO). More likely than not, it’s a lie in your industry too. We need to stop chasing crumbs—it is not in the interest of whiteness to (meaningfully and immediately) change a system that benefits itself—and build our own systems, proving we were here and that we mattered as ourselves without anyone’s permission to matter.
So I will teach you and I will teach you honey, to make your own perfume at home inspired by QTIPOC icons who have advanced our cause. Which is why I’m starting with Sade—because, who else embodies the Sweetest Taboo?
SADE SOLID PERFUME (STARTER RECIPE)*
1 drop Rose Water (or 1 half cap rose water)
- 1 drop Nutmeg Oil (or 5 ml nutmeg powder)
- 1 drop Cinnamon Leaf Oil (or 5 ml cinnamon powder
- 40 ml Talc or Cornflour
- Cotton pad
- 50 ml glass jar with screw-on lid
- 3 x glass or plastic pipette
- 1 x powder brush or glazing brush
- Place the cotton pad flat inside the glass jar
- Add the Rose Water to the cotton pad
- Repeat with Nutmeg Oil, and then Cinnamon Leaf Oil (if using powders, premix and then pour in)
- Add the Talc or Cornflour
- Shake well, turning and rolling the jar as you do.
- When you open the jar, you should see an even colour, and smell the ingredients evenly blended together.
- Using the brush, dab the powder then apply lightly to pulse points (neck, behind ears wrist, inner elbow, inner knee)
*Above is just a starter recipe. Experiment with the scent proportions and add your own powders and scents in your cupboard, until the scent is right for you. Good places to start would be Vanilla/Almond Essence, Cardamom powder, and Ginger powder.
To state a harsh truth of our chosen queer icons, regardless of their amazing contributions and allyship (Sade’s son is trans, and she supports him), the truth is that those whom we champion, revere and defend most, often need it the least. Because they have privilege within our community, or are simply born above it in the context of our wider social strata.
Very rarely do we, our community, accept and advance QTIPOC unacceptable to Whiteness. The poor, the non-conventionally attractive or able-bodied, the flamboyant, those unable or unwilling to ‘pass’ in appearance or manner. We need to question and unpack that, in context of shame and socioeconomic survival. That is the entire point of this column, so I’ll leave this here.
Now, back to Sade. Born Helen Folesade Adu, known and beloved for her mystique and her trademark quiet storm sound. Nigerian and English, and asked to sing in her first band because she was black. She is now a respected Black Briton: a phrase breeding contention in the UK, but she has the OBE.
Releasing their first album in 1984, Sade (the entire talented band) have since sporadically released 6 albums over 26 years. But it all began with ‘Diamond Life’. Specifically, the first song the band ever recorded and first single ‘Your Love Is King’ (though most people will know the breakthrough third single, ‘Smooth Operator’).
Released February 25th, ‘Your Love Is King’ is one of my favourite songs. Its smoky melodies, neutral grooves and husky vocal tones lead my mind to peace and my nose to a scent in the Amber family. I wanted to capture something defining Sade’s (the legendary frontwoman) ‘earned’ place (and I’ll get to that soon enough) in Black British history.
The top notes in any fragrance are the first to evaporate in horizontal perfume, diffusing to reach the smell receptors in your brain. They “open your smelling experience of the perfume. To me, Rose is the opening for this song: structured, gentle and complex. This perfectly captures Sade’s musical style and, as a known symbol of England, acknowledges the band’s iconography. The open is the first 20 seconds with the rush of the hot high sax, calming down to a refined drawl.
And for those with darkness in their skin, the symbol of Rose is more jingoistic, something to be earned while somewhat feared and resented. This captures the tension of the term, “Black Briton” and how this “title” must be endlessly “earned” no matter your nationality.
By making herself unknowable, Sade “earned” her Black Britishness in the minds of white Britons. Precisely in being unknowable, she challenges the idea that black people “owe” something or must be as others say. People can project their ideas of her, including myself, but never onto her.
This affords her a clean slate in the eyes of the public. That refusal to be known by all, and therefore to owe, is the point of this series and the reason Sade opens this column. She releases albums when it suits her, not the hourly demands and changes of the white-led music industry. Her simple, plaintive musical style doesn’t tick the boxes expected of a black female singer. Nor did it musically tick the boxes of her early era’s bawdy Brit or slickly produced American sound.
As for the “middle” notes, the main body of the perfume you’re wearing, the ingredients I have chosen would also differ from the pungent scents that littered the eighties. I have chosen Nutmeg instead. For one, ‘Your Love Is King’ was and sounds like a winter song. In husky deep vocals, controlled and unshowy in a musical era of vocal powerhouses, a simple ballad is sung about a lover. The emotion is felt, but so is a sense of craftsmanship. When I play this song, I feel quiet and warm against the cold. The Fender Rhodes piano is played painstakingly in phase with the live piano. Like Nutmeg, the song is a gentle spice to warm your heart against the bitter cold.
Behind the restraint of Sade’s vocal delivery lies a timbre that is plaintive. This is not unlike the history belied by the tingly Nutmeg. It is known for its association with the VOC in medieval times, where slaves would work the ruthless Bandra monopoly on the supply. This again speaks to the perception of the term “Black Briton.”
The bottom or “base” note is the last to be detected by your smell receptors. With the heaviest combination of molecular weight and intermolecular bonds, these notes linger longest. It is wise in perfume design to keep these understated. In ‘Your Love Is King’, this is the steady staccato groove of the bass guitar. It permeates the entire song, complimented by shakers and drum in a slow one-two step. That’s why I’ve chosen Cinnamon.
Like Nutmeg, Cinnamon is warming. Unlike Nutmeg, Cinnamon has a more intense aroma and storied history. For a long time its origins were guarded most jealously, and its price fixed due to tall tales around the production. Cinnamon’s history underscores my point made six, thirteen and sixteen paragraphs ago: we cannot and should not exhort others to see our value.
I love perfumery. In the crudest sense, I put smelly oils in alcohol, then doll it up and hike the price to flog it to the public. I speak no lies, and your faves all do the same, but there’s more work and nuance than that. Yet, no matter how much work goes into it, the art and science of perfumery is always centered around whiteness, and it’s not very likely as a QTIPOC individual, that my work will be truly seen or appreciated.
That’s why I’m writing this series, sharing these starter recipes, sharing these examples of great QTIPOC/ally rulebreakers. To ask that we all demand more.
Jordan Bryan is a UK based writer who is the founder of Celie & Couch – an independent perfume house, supporting self-care and self-love. Bryan creates each scent by exploring memory and queer identity.
Jacobi Myles is an illustrator whose imaginative use of color and balance provide a unique gaze into the black, queer heart and mind.