Every Monday we interview inspiring individuals that have one thing we’re all looking for — a dream job. Whether it’s a full-time thing or a moonlit gig, we want to know the passions that drive them. This week we’re talking to Julia Zangrilli of NOVA Perfume, as her nose and taste level are totally on point. Here we talk to her about good and bad smells, knowing when to switch gears, and how practicing can take a long time to achieve perfection.
The icebreakers: Where are you from, what do you do, and for how long have you been pursuing your dream occupation?
I’m from State College, Pennsylvania. I'm a perfumer and I have my own business called NOVA, which is based in Brooklyn.
How long have you been pursuing your dream occupation?
The whole thing started just three years ago. I was in between vocations and trying to navigate… I pretty much took a perfume class as a way of taking a break from thinking so much. I really liked it so I kept taking classes, buying books. Then I started buying materials and experimenting. While all of this happened I shifted into work in the fragrance industry — sales and administration, basic stuff — just to get a foot in the door. It took some more time before I realized that what I really wanted was to make perfume. Since I was self-taught with no connections, the only way I could be a perfumer was to start my own business!
What was the first step in starting your own business? On a scale of one to ten how hard was it? Why?
Memorizing and working with hundreds of oils and honing my own methods were frightening tasks at first. There was a lot of trial and error, lots of happy accidents but also a lot of discouraging fuck-ups. Oils are incredibly dynamic and can perform a number of different functions within a formula. Every day was like getting to know a new bunch of personalities, watching how they interacted with one another versus how they were alone. Learning to work with money in mind, knowing which oils were too expensive to go crazy with, finding ways to compensate, substitute, reconstitute. I read a lot but I found that I had to just do everything, and find out the hard way. That was a ten on the difficulty scale, at least for the first few months of intense experimentation.
What is it about your job that you find so satisfying or fulfilling?
I feel fulfilled by my clients because they force me to constantly create. There's no possibility of becoming rusty because I work almost every day on multiple formulas at once. It's a nice pressured practice to have because as a creative person, I can be lazy.
I bet you get some wacky clients. What's the weirdest perfume combo you've ever made?
I once made a fragrance for the New York Magazine blog Bedford + Bowery. They asked me to make a scent dedicated to the most disgusting-smelling block in the lower east side. That one was very, very gross. It had notes of garbage, feces, cleaning fluids, bbq duck, tar, grease, and more.
Do you think people use perfume to fix things in other ways? For instance, I wonder how many of your clients have gotten dates because someone loves their perfume, or if using their new custom perfume is somehow therapeutic?
Oh, for sure. I think people use fragrance as a tool. I don't know if anyone has gotten a date or calmed down only because of a fragrance, but I do think it’s part of a larger energy they're putting out. But my answer is yes!