the gentlewoman

The Reader

The delightfully angular Polish supermodel Anja Rubik, 32, likes to keep busy. As well as stalking the globe as one of the fashion industry’s favourite mannequins and publishing her own magazine, 25, she’s now setting up as a fragrance entrepreneur with her debut perfume, “Original”. Take the aesthetic inspiration of Robert Mapplethorpe, the architecture of Richard Maier, a generous helping of Geoffrey Beene and a little Vaccarello pizazz. Mix it up with a touch of Patti Smith and Debbie Harry. Layer over this the resinous notes of lilies, a hit of green tea, some woodiness and a sprinkling of pink peppercorn et voilà – you have a true original. It’s exactly how you’d imagine Anja Rubik would smell.

Anja Rubik

Richard: Would you say that your nose is particularly sensitive?

Anja: It is. I’ve always been somewhat sensitive to smells, but I wasn’t aware of quite how much until I made this perfume. During the process I would react very strongly to different smells. Headaches were a constant problem: all that sniffing.

R: How long does it take to make a fragrance?

A: Quite a while. I started thinking about the idea for a fragrance about four years ago and I worked with Patricia Choux, who was the nose for some of the Commes des Garçons fragrances, for about two years on it. She took me under her wing and taught me about the whole process – how to recognise different notes in different fragrances – it was just constant smelling. Then, when I was ready, we would go to the lab to mix the scents. Before each session I would have to arrive “pure”. So no body lotion, no oil in my hair, no leather watch on my wrist. I had to come free from anything that could potentially affect the response of the scent on my skin. Then, you smell the scents, make notes, mix them around, smell them again – this time not seeing which one is which, you make notes. You just keep going until the point where you’re 100% sure. Working out the balance of the scents was the trickiest part.

R: It must have been bamboozling!

A: I was quite clear about what I wanted throughout. I love lilies so I knew I wanted to start with them. They’re such beautiful, simple flowers. Very pure, but then on the other hand they’ve got erotic connotations. I also wanted green tea because it’s a unisex and modern smell, then something a touch woody – I’ve always been drawn to woody smells so that’s where the amber comes in. Finally, we added some pink peppercorn for a little spice.

R: People say that scent is a direct route to memory.

A: The first smell I can remember is probably the smell of the glue we used at school in South Africa. I loved that smell. I grew up in Umtata, which is now called Mthatha, in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, and we had a lot of lavender there. Plus, my mother’s perfume, Wrappings by Clinique. It’s a very rare perfume that was only available at Christmas time. It’s quite floral and musky – I can close my eyes and still smell it!

R: The smell of clean laundry and ironing always reminds me of home. You know that warmth, mixed with fabric softener?

A: That’s a great smell. Anytime I go home to Poland my mum always prepares so much food for me. She starts cooking a few days before I arrive so when I walk into the house I’m met by this aroma of warm cooked food, which is so comforting. It’s not a very pretty smell though; there’s a lot of cabbage.

R:  Do you have a favourite dish?

A: Cabbage and Mushroom Pierogi with white cheese. Fantastic!

R: So you’ve more of a savoury palette?

A: I think so. I mean, I’d rather have peanuts, pistachios or olives than cookies and I like the Polish kitchen. There’s a lot of meats in the Polish diet, which is difficult for me because I’m a vegetarian, but there are plenty of soups and pierogi that are without meat.

A: What does your house smell like?

R: Candles. Diptyque ones. And lilies, of course. I use a lot of lavender products in the bathroom. What’s amazing is putting some crushed lavender in the bathtub when bathing. That, mixed with a bit of coconut oil, which I use on my body – the cooking one, because it’s more natural.

R: Do you wear deodorant?

A: I’m not a very sweaty person, but I wear a scent-free roll-on. I’m really into soaps though. Hard soaps. Not liquid, they dry out your skin. I like to collect bars from different parts of the world. I have ones from South Africa, Mexico, Bali, which is very lemongrassy. Sometimes, if I find one in a hotel that I love, I’ll steal it – why not? At the Soho Hotel, they used to give guests these lavender spray pumps to use on your pillow. I always use them to spray my seat on an airplane when I travel because I hate the smell of airplanes.

R: I gather they give those out on the sleeper train to Scotland too. Do you remember your first perfume?

A: Yes. “Yohji” by Yohji Yamamoto, which I got when I was 14. An older friend introduced me to it. The funny thing is I hated it in the beginning. I was using deodorants that were musky and sweet – typical teenage girl ones – but when my friend wore "Yohji" you’d smell it straight away. It was mildly irritating, but entrancing at the same time. I guess that was my first big step into fragrance.

R: When I was a teenager, most adolescents’ first encounter with fancy perfumes was via those scent strips in magazines. Would you ever consider putting them into your magazine?

A: I was actually thinking about that. The next issue of 25 is dedicated to the five senses. Perhaps the part dedicated to smell will have one?

Interview by Richard O’Mahony. Photography by Paolo Kudacki. Courtesy of Anja Rubik. Would you like to be the next featured reader? Then sign-up sister and tell us about yourself!