"Up Close And Personal with The Perfume Magazine’s Raphaella Barkley"

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Tell us a little about your background. What your original goals were…a career in journalism, a career in the perfume industry or was it always both? 

My background is in management in the arts and non-profit sector. For many years, I served as Artistic and Executive Director for two successful major arts organizations, working with international ballet super stars. I gained a great deal of experience working with successful arts organizations, especially in view of my overall responsibility for fund raising, grant writing, booking talent, handling press relationships and publicity and managing business matters. I have also served as artistic director, choosing the actual program based on what I felt our audience would love. I felt I knew what the audience wanted and I gave it to them. I do the same today with The Perfume Magazine. I understand the pulse of our readers and have a definite vision for the Magazine.

My original goals were simply to create a Magazine devoted to perfume that grew solely from my passion for fragrance. I felt that I needed to do something “creative”, always believing that I am an artist first. I had created websites for others before I created Sniffapalooza, but a career in journalism or a desire to be involved in the fragrance industry were not my motivations.

What sparked your passion for fragrance?

In my youth it was the women in my life - my mother and grandmother. Throughout my life it seems to me that I have tried every fragrance type imaginable. I remember that as a young woman in the early seventies, I had many more fragrances on my dresser than any of the friends I knew. Then after I retired from the arts, my love of fragrance resurfaced and I became “addicted” to purchasing fragrances again. When I again became actively involved with fragrance, I recall feeling that scent was healing to me. On a spiritual level, I feel that fragrance envelops us and I am constantly fascinated by all the many aspects of the universal and ancient history of fragrance. I use scent as an aura.  

Have you ever worked in the fragrance industry in an aspect other than journalism…marketing, sales or fragrance development for example? 

I have not worked in perfume product development, marketing or sales, yet I have the highest respect for those who do and are good at it. I wrote all press for years with numerous professional ballet companies. My experience in fragrance began from a journalistic perspective was through the creation of Sniffapalooza I was subsequently the editor of the Bond No. 9 Blog and I have been and continue to be a contributor for Beauty with my column “San Francisco Beat”. I feel some of my best writing was with the Bond No. 9 Blog, including the series “The Neighborhoods of New York City”.  
How did the Sniffapalooza Magazine evolve into the The Perfume Magazine? What motivated you to start The Perfume Magazine?

I developed the magazine independently of the Sniffapalooza events. Although I loved attending the events, the Magazine was actually quite different from the activities of the event group. What we each did, and accomplished, were completely separate from day one. The Perfume Magazine was created from my need to move on with a new undertaking in which I could operate on my own terms. My vision grew as we all do. The Perfume Magazine title was carried over with the word “Magazine” in the theme, of which I originated back in ’05. Now, everyone calls themselves a “Magazine”. I did not want it to sound something like Scented Dreams or Fragrant Memories, La French Perfumes, and so on, you get the picture. I wanted something that just said it all. The simplicity of it worked beautifully.  

In your view, what’s the difference between blogs and magazines…online or printed?

Since a blog is by definition a publication of one’s personal thoughts, it is then simply a sounding board for someone to get their opinions heard and “in print” and really only for the purpose of catering to themselves and their followers. This distinction gets somewhat blurred nowadays since most top magazines publish blogs. In effect, these blogs are owned and operated by businesses with substantial financial backing with the objective, at least in part, to manage information flow on the internet regarding the business and products. At The Perfume Magazine we’re attempting to present the more traditional magazine format with articles of general interest, profiles (reviews) and other items relating to the fragrance world that are entertaining and illuminating to our readership.

How do you build a readership/subscription base for an online magazine?

I think the motto of the Magazine is, and was in its prior incarnation, “build it and they will come”. After only two recent issues, we’ve had a substantial amount of web traffic, literally thousands and thousands of hits. For me, it demonstrates that internet readers are looking elsewhere for content. I believe we fill that need. I do know, that there are millions of mainstream fragrance consumers that do not read perfume reviews nor read any of the perfume blogs. We wish to tap into that market and are working on a plan.

How do your critiques differ from blog critiques?

We have come to question the concept of “critique” and “review”. In my opinion, there are very few true “critics”, but many self-appointed ones. It seems so many now assume self-imposed titles of “Fragrance Expert”. There are many people who actually work in the industry who are true “experts”. These people have years and years of true experience-gained knowledge. I would love to see more industry people write reviews of fragrances, but that will never happen because fragrance, in reality, is so subjective. I really appreciate blogs that don’t feel the need to trash scents just because it does not smell good on them personally. A friend in the industry recently told me that she found the“ internet is like the Wild West with no sheriff” and I have to agree.  

Reviews are just someone’s opinion, not necessarily a true critical analysis from a trained industry professional. An opinion is not a fact; it is just someone’s opinion. At The Perfume Magazine I encourage our contributors to avoid making judgments based purely on fragrance “notes” that are not to their liking. Often in the “comments” section after a new fragrance press release, a commenter will say something to the effect of “oh, I’m not even going to try this scent because I hate the notes”, or make a statement in the comments section or even in a actual review, such as “this smells like an old lady perfume”, then many of the author’s followers jump on the bandwagon. It often leads to someone’s preference for perfume composition having a disproportional consequence to the viewing public. A personal opinion is just that, right or wrong.  

That is why I do not like “comment boxes” on the magazine. We want someone to read an article, take it in and possibly think about it the content without all the chatter. Now chatter is good in the respect that it makes people feel close to each other. That is why I started a FORUM for the Perfume Magazine. 

Do you ever publish negative reviews/commentary and, if so, what kind of feedback ensues? 

A true story; I ran a negative review once from a contributor. The owner of this famous perfume company called me. This is someone in the industry who has also won a FiFi and has been nominated in the Top Five category a few times. When I received the call from the owner, the request was something that has stuck with me ever since, “Have the writer give a valid and intellectual reason as to why on why they hated this fragrance”. This person opened my eyes, not by chastising me, but by explaining that I need to “give a good reason” for the critique. All I had was a statement by the reviewer that the scent “smelled like a bathroom deodorizer”. Coming from reading some blogs where “everything goes”, I truly saw another side of what they were saying by opening my heart and listening. I realized that perfumers and independent perfume houses, even big houses, have real people working in them. These people have valid feelings and to have their industry accomplishment torn apart publicly and trashed; that was not what art was about. Who are we to contest that by writing negative reviews? That was a life changing moment because it is easy and addictive to take the low road. At the exact time, I had some of my contributors telling me things like “we have to write negatives reviews and tell the truth to be taken seriously”. What truth? That you did not like a fragrance, because it did not smell good on you? Who cares? It took a great deal of courage for me to stick to my guns. I will not personally, nor will any contributor of The Perfume Magazine, be responsible for trashing someone’s fragrance or anyone in the industry publicly in this magazine. 

We have recently decided to phase out using the term “review” in The Perfume Magazine. We feel that it puts the reader in a position of expectation that what they are about to read will either be positive or negative. It will never be negative, so we feel that calling it a review is misleading to the reader. We have chosen the term “fragrance profile” instead. 

There’s plenty of the negative out there already, so we would prefer to frame our fragrance profiles in the positive. I have many opinions about fragrances, don’t we all? But I would never have the audacity to tell someone that a fragrance is bad because it smells wrong on me. We should all look at fragrances with an open mind, since that it is the only way to truly gain wisdom about fragrance. If any of our contributors dislikes a certain fragrance, they won’t write about it, it is that simple. None of us really have the time to write a negative review anyway. Being negative and tearing down takes a great deal of time and energy. We would rather inspire.  

Given that subscription is free, one assumes that the magazine is funded by advertisers. Is there any quid pro quo between editorial and advertisers?  

There are hundreds of perfume companies/houses that we will be covering in the future. The majority will never run ads, so I do not worry that anyone would think there is any evidence of quid pro quo. My first priority for the magazine is to include content that I believe will be of interest to our readers.  

Why did you structure the magazine with a free vs. paid subscription? Do you think that the fact that it’s free may influence readers’ perception of the legitimacy and validity of the publication’s articles? 

We may move to a subscription-based model for the magazine at some point in the future, but we want the publication to be accessible to everyone initially. I do not agree that a work that is offered without a paid subscription influences anyone’s perception of legitimacy these days. How can an interview with an esteemed professional perfumer or an industry professional, who speaks from the heart about the art of perfumery, be judged based on whether it is offered for free or for a charge?  

Do The Perfume Magazine’s journalists work pro bono or is there a fee structure? 

Our contributors are very loyal and we are all blessed because of their contributions. The contributors are the true stars of the Magazine. Many of our writers are paid elsewhere for their work, but have contributed to the magazine in support of our concept.

Do journalists submit articles to you or do you have a staff of writers to whom you assign articles? 

We have a staff dedicated to coverage for specific topics, such as Men’s Fragrance, Classic Fragrance, Perfume Culture, Vintage Perfumes and the Naturals with remaining coverage provided by other contributors. We collaborate with our contributors to get a feeling for what is on their minds that they may be interested in writing about, and we also approach our contributors with our ideas that they may accept if they feel a connection. It is important for our writers to feel comfortable and confident with what they are writing about so we would never force an assignment on them. 

Do you vet your writers? And, given that some are actually employed in the industry, is there a conflict of interest?

We review the prior published works of our writers and seek to avoid any situations that may give rise to conflicts of interest. 

Do you fact check your articles…especially those that may deal with technical or scientific matters and/or product claims? 

Through our team of staff editors we strive to ensure accuracy in the published work of our contributors that appears in the magazine.  

Given the growing popularity of online magazines, what do you see as the future of print media? 

I believe print media in some form will still be with us, despite the continued growth in online publication. I for one, still enjoy reading a print magazine or newspaper, if for no other reason than the look and feel of it and the pleasure of that experience. I prefer a good book in my hands. I love the smell of books and you cannot get that from the internet. It will be a sad day if we lose that. 

Studies and numbers indicate that the ranks of “lapsed fragrance users” are in free fall. What do you think accounts for that and what do you think The Perfume Magazine can do to reverse that trend? 

Certainly the current economic conditions account for many of the “lapsed fragrance users”. The initial impact of the economic downturn didn’t seem to have that effect, as continued spending by high-end consumers appeared to prop up the perfume industry along with other “luxury” goods. More recently, though, the luxury consumer seems to be wearing down as the face of the financial crisis changes and slower economic growth seems to have the potential to be a more “permanent” condition.  

In this business environment, there may be too many fragrances vying for attention and fighting to survive. The niche houses have difficulty competing with the big houses. Over the past year, I have noticed that small perfume houses seem to be more apprehensive than ever. In today’s economy, everyone wants publicity with the hope of gaining sales and exposure. Coverage in our magazine, or any publication for that matter, may or may not generate sales. We certainly cannot control consumers’ spending habits, even though I have been told on many occasions that our readers do respond and may shop for products after reading our articles and reviews.  

I am not sure that any publication has the power to affect and reverse any trends. I would imagine that the industry sets the trends and everyone else follows. I believe The Perfume Magazine will reach a million hits within the next year and we will continue to focus our readers on fragrance in an illuminating, educational and positive way. 

Who are your readers? What are the demographics (age range, employment, education level, sex)? Are the majority of your readers heavy fragrance users? 

Our readers come from all walks of life and we have developed a truly global reach. So far, we are read in over 96 counties, with the most readers from America but also a notable amount of readership in the Middle East and Europe. Our readership includes industry people and other professional magazines, perfumers and blogs. We are read by very knowledgeable fans, as well as many who are new to the art of perfumery. It appears from the many comments we receive on the magazine website that our readers are heavy fragrance users. 

The Perfume Magazine could be a wonderful way to educate those lapsed users and pull them back into the fold of fragrance users. Do you have a strategy to attract those readers?

I do not believe that we cater to “lapsed users” at all. I do not feel we attract a “certain” type of reader because readership is so varied in taste. I would like to attract a more mainstream readership. It is my responsibility to produce the best content we can for the benefit of our current readers and to attract new readers, whether “lapsed” or not. 

How do you get so many industry professionals to talk to you?  

We have a story to tell and we’ve been able to generate interest in the Magazine with many of the top professionals who want to be a part of it. We have only just begun to explore the countless possibilities for bringing in professionals that we want to include in the Magazine. There are so many industry professionals and perfumers in all of the various houses that no one ever contacts to ask for their opinion. These are some of the additional resources we want to tap into.

What do you see as fragrance trends in the near future?

In the past few weeks, I've noticed several brand new fragrances released all centering on sandalwood. This is something we haven't seen in a few years, ever since Indian Sandalwood became massively and rightfully restricted and Oud then took hold of the luxury fragrance market. I like Oud fragrances, don't get me wrong, but I think it has gotten to the point where every luxury company feels they need to release an Oud-based fragrance to stay in the game. They put synthetic Oud in a bottle and market it with a price tag that suggests that they not only used real Oud, but that the bottle is lined with pure gold. I would love to see a resurgence of Sandalwood and Tuberose. 

Mainly, though, the trends in the fragrance world are dictated by the primary industry players. There is a tremendous amount of redundancy on the market, today. I do hope that more companies will be willing to deliver something to the consumer that pushes the envelope a bit more. I know this is a numbers game, but once-in-a-while, one has to trust that the consumer wants something different, something unlike anything currently on the market. The consumer doesn't know what that something is until the industry gives it to them.  It is difficult to predict what might be coming next from our stand point, as you know. But I know that until more companies are willing to take a few more risks, we can continue to expect the same thing again, just in different packaging. I know that, historically, every legendary fragrance became legendary due to a giant leap of faith. I would love to know which company is going to be taking the next jump.

I also would love to be able to wear a celebrity fragrance that I find stunning and not something that was created just to make a profit. I found it interesting that designers seem to be making a successful comeback with popular releases such as Ellie Saab, Vince Camuto, Judith Leiber Night and Topaz, and Douglas Hannant. These are beautiful and very well made fragrances and I am sure this will continue for the next few years. 

Finally, I recently read a report from the UK suggesting that Florals and Floral Orientals are making a comeback. I personally would love to see this happen. I think Tom Ford’s recent Violet Blond and Santal Blush made a huge statement. I can’t wait to see what the industry in the U.S. predicts. It sounds like a good interview for us to do with the Fragrance Foundation! 

In both 2009 and 2010, 201 & 2012 The Perfume Magazine has been among the top five finalists for a FiFiâ Award in the Editorial Excellence in Fragrance Coverage Blog category. Tell us about that. In your view, what qualities define “editorial excellence?”

It has always been extremely exciting to be acknowledged for our work, especially by the esteemed Fragrance Foundation. To work as hard as we do and then have our wonderful contributors place in the Top Five is the highest reward. The Editorial Excellence in Fragrance Coverage Blog category is truly a ground-breaking gesture on the part of The Fragrance Foundation to recognize the quality of work found on online fragrance blog sites, legitimizing them as editorial vehicles. This type of recognition is a great step forward and we are honored to have been a part of it. I believe “editorial excellence” defines the truth in what you write about, weaving a story that people can relate to, whether it is about trends or a private personal journey. The articles that place top five, I think, are defined by that characteristic because everyone can relate to each story or article in a universal way.  

Do you think your magazine influences the industry and, if so, in what way?

We affect how our readers and some segment of the public views the industry. We all know that, at times, the industry and some professionals in it are spoken of unfavorably on some blogs. I think it is shameful that some of these blogs feel the need to voice their opinions in what is often a very unprofessional manner. The industry will do exactly what it wants to do and no amount of dissatisfaction expressed by any blog will change the fact that the industry ultimately has the power. 

This is a question we always ask because the responses are always revealing, fascinating, and different. Everyone has a favorite “scent memory” – an aroma that evokes memories of a special person, a place or an experience thought to be forgotten. What’s yours?

My very first scent memory was combined with a visual memory when I was around three years old. I had left our yard and wandered next door into a field of wild flowers. I remember the sun on my face and marveled at the beauty of all the individual flowers. I remember my nose went deep into all of them, sniffing happily away. There I was inhaling the essences of flowers as if I could be one with them. I do wish I had been able to study perfumery years ago, as I love alchemy. As a child, I used to grind flowers in my grandmother’s pestle and mortar and I would then dab the crushed juice onto my self. I have always had my nose in flowers and today it plays a huge spiritual part of what I love about fragrances. I love the soul of flowers. My first scent memory was when my mother broke her Shalimar bottle back in the fifties. I remember her crying as she knelt on the floor; frantically trying to sop up her precious perfume with a handkerchief. I just remember the room filled with the gorgeous parfum of Shalimar mixed with her tears. It made me deeply sad because I could not help her. It was many years before I was able to shake off the “mother” connection to Shalimar. Now I can wear it simply for what it is, a gorgeous classical masterpiece. 

As a fragrance aficionado and consumer, what influences your fragrance choices and purchases? Do you have a favorite – or would that be a deep, dark secret?

I have many, many favorites, way too many to name here, but I love each of them for their unique qualities. I have purchased fragrances since I was a teenager but started purchasing niche back in 2003. Unfortunately, I did become a bit of a perfume snob for a few years and would tout that I only wore “niche”. I swore off all commercial and mass fragrances at that time, which I now I admit was a bit silly and narrow- minded. I have purchased hundreds of fragrances.

I realized that I needed to revisit the many classics and mass market scents again because there are many beautiful mass fragrances out there. I have come back full circle and for the past few years am visiting many other fragrances that I ignored because of the niche movement. Today, a niche fragrance has to pretty special to catch my attention. I tend to lean towards Florals, Floral Orientals, Orientals and Soft Orientals. I also adore rose fragrances and Amber scents and have a large collection. Now my collection ranges from the classics, to 80’s iconic fragrances, beautiful mass fragrances to the prestige fragrances, some designer and the many aspects of luxury. My collection has averaged around 500-600 bottles. There is always something that will interest me. Right now I am most attracted to Tuberose fragrances and Sandalwoods. 

In your view, what is the importance of The Fragrance Foundation and how do you think it influences the industry?

The Fragrance Foundation is very important to us because they are an important non-profit organization that serves to educate the consumer and the public. It also provides a fantastic and positive environment for industry people and affords them the opportunity to win important awards. These awards acknowledge their achievements in the fragrance industry, which in turn mirrors the importance of fragrance, back to the consumer. The Fragrance Foundation is the pulse that moves forward in a positive direction. I personally am very impressed that the FF has many types of continuing education programs and the Certified Fragrance Sales Specialist is a valuable resource for businesses. I think everyone should take one of these courses if one has a blog or wishes to learn more about fragrance. The Fragrance Foundation Directory by Michael Edwards is an outstanding resource that everyone should also take advantage of. 

What does the future hold for The Perfume Magazine?

Perhaps the most exciting thing for us is the realization that the potential is huge and the possibilities are endless. How to harness that potential may be another matter. We want to cover fragrances that may be overlooked by many other publications and blogs. I am currently working on another installment (Part Five) of a series that I previously created for the magazine, Raphaella’s Roses, a huge collection of rose fragrances. We are very excited to continue to present the views of the Industry, as well as offer our readers an opportunity to learn things about the Industry that they may not have already known. Our goal is to be “pro-fragrance” and a neutral source in the eyes of the public for the industry and the consumer; as a liaison, so to speak.