Episode 49

 

Never in a million years (his words) did Joseph Quartana picture himself working in fashion or fragrance, but he went on to do both, and to serious acclaim. With no background in fashion, he founded Seven New York, which became one of the most influential retail destinations in the early aughts, stocking designers that would become today’s major names, like Raf Simons, Haider Ackermann, Peter Pilotto. After shuttering that business, he created another hit with Parfums Quartana, an idea that came to him after watching, of all things, Breaking Bad. Could his success be attributed his outlier status? You’d better hear it straight from him. Hint: Make sure you listen all the way to the end of the episode, where he recounts a can’t-make-this-stuff-up tale of experiencing two life-changing moments in a single 24-hour period.

Announcer

Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty, hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.

Jodi Katz

For all of our listeners, I’m excited to say that today I’m joined by Joseph Quartana. He’s the founder of Parfums Quartana. Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty.

Joseph Quartana

Thanks for having me, Jodi. It’s a pleasure.

Jodi Katz

I want to give a little background to our listeners about how we know each other. This is a little bit of an oddball for our podcast, but we actually went to high school together.

Joseph Quartana

Yes. We got reacquainted. I was just thinking about it, about four years ago was our 20 year reunion. So it’s already been four years. Which is kind of mad.

Jodi Katz

I know. We could have a 25 year reunion in 2018.

Joseph Quartana

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We should. Why not? Yeah, it’s crazy how time has been flying.

Jodi Katz

We knew each other in high school, and then disappeared from each other, and then we’re at our reunion, and reconnected, and for sure we’re the only two people in that room in our industry.

Joseph Quartana

Yeah. And also that left that area, I think. Re-situated to New York. There’s a few others, actually, but for the most part, it seems like they all set up shop there. Perfectly content in suburban New Jersey, which is fine. Hey! No judgments. But I had to get out, and I think you did, too.

Jodi Katz

Well, I went out, and now I’m back to suburban New Jersey, and I love it.

Joseph Quartana

Well, you’re still based in New York City. So that’s-

Jodi Katz

Yeah, it’s my heart and soul. Yeah.

Joseph Quartana

Yeah, exactly.

Jodi Katz

I think it’s just so cool, because when we were fifteen and sixteen, we never would have known what the future had for us-

Joseph Quartana

I mean, I never in a million years would have imagined, firstly, I’d be working in a creative industry, let alone perfume of all things. It was not ever part of the possibilities. And the fact that I worked in fashion, too, for 13 years. That also was just not even on the radar screen when we were at West Essex High School.

Jodi Katz

That’s in North Caldwell, New Jersey. For anyone who’s curious.

Joseph Quartana

Yeah. Famous alumni David Chase, creator of Sopranos.

Jodi Katz

Oh, I didn’t know that.

Joseph Quartana

Joe Piscopo, from Saturday Night Live.

Jodi Katz

I didn’t know that either!

Joseph Quartana

Yeah. Yeah.

Jodi Katz

How do you know that?

Joseph Quartana

He grew up around the corner from me, weirdly enough. Yeah, we have a few. Josh Saviano from The Wonder Years.

Jodi Katz

Went to West Essex?

Joseph Quartana

Actually, he went to my elementary school at North Caldwell. I think he only did one year of junior high in West Essex. Like West Essex Junior High.

Jodi Katz

Right. He would have been performing, his high school years.

Joseph Quartana

Yeah. I knew of him because he also, he lived in West Caldwell, which is the town I grew up in before I move to North Caldwell. So we moved the same time to North Caldwell, and I was friendly with him, because he was on commercials, and then he got The Wonder Years, and blahblahblah. Anyway, yeah. It’s not completely anonymous. There’s some people that are interesting that came out of that place.

Jodi Katz

Well, I’m sitting with one of them right now. So let’s talk about life in the fragrance business. How did this happen? You said it was an accident, or a surprise.

Joseph Quartana

Yeah, well, I was a buyer in the fashion industry. Designer-level buying, like I said, for more than a decade. It was fun. Great experience.

Jodi Katz

Where were you working?

Joseph Quartana

I founded my own shop, actually. It’s called Seven New York. I began that in 1999. It was conceived to be a laboratory of sorts. Miguel Adrover’s shop had just closed down at this time, back in ’99. He went on to become quite famous, so the industry really blew him up. He became actually a victim of sorts, because he crested there, and then they pulled the rug out from under him, and he lost his financing.

Anyway, he had a great multi-label shop, and it had just closed down. And also, another boutique that I was really inspired by called Charivari, which was, I want to say like up here on 57th and Park. Something like that. Madison … I forget the exact area. I really sweated that place, and they had just closed.

I saw some room in the marketplace for interesting, cutting-edge fashion, but more on the experimental side. No one was really doing it back then. Because we were awash in that Tom Ford decadence, or Gucci stuff he was doing. I was already good friends with threeASFOUR. They were actually my wife’s mentor … Gabby. Anyway, and so I saw what was going on from the inside, and from their perspectives, and they needed good retailers that would take chances on them.

At the time, I had just finished, this is totally strange, but I did a degree in finance in college, and my parents somehow entrusted me to a lot of money to invest for them. This is during the tech boom, and I had made them a small fortune, so they gave me seed-

Jodi Katz

Really!

Joseph Quartana

Yeah. We got so lucky, and we got out before the bubble burst in, I guess it was ’99. But, yeah. I made them like 100% return. In retrospect, it was completely bonkers! It was totally mad. I would never have … It was akin to gambling, doing momentum investing.

Anyway, that’s how I got seed money. I’ve never had to answer to anyone, really, because my parents trusted me. They were like, “Do what you want.” From the get-go, Seven New York was always very independent. We were-

Jodi Katz

How old were you at this time?

Joseph Quartana

’99? Yeah, 24. I was doing all the investing from maybe 22, 23. That period. Yeah, so I’ve never had to answer to anybody. We started it and had a nice little stable of designers-

Jodi Katz

Wait. You didn’t have any experience in the fashion industry? You just watched-

Joseph Quartana

No. I had-

Jodi Katz

… and admired.

Joseph Quartana

… a business degree, and I likened putting together a stable of designers to managing a financial portfolio. It’s the same exact thing. You’re going to make money on some, not on others. So on, and so forth. As long as your net return, in the end, when you add it all up, is okay, then you’re in good shape. Then there’s intangibles, obviously, but not to complicate things.

Anyway, I had some stars right from the get-go, back then, I guess I saw, that others didn’t. Then we grew with them, and-

Jodi Katz

Who would have that been at the time?

Joseph Quartana

Well, I was not the first, but the second shop in the U.S. to carry, for example, Raf Simons. He’s now at Calvin, and he was at Dior. Jil Sander before that. We became pretty tight friends in the 2000s. But yeah, I worshiped his work. My God, I still do, to some … not as much today, but I think he’s a genius. I was just surprised that no one else was really seeing it. So I picked his collection up back from 2002. It sold well from the get-go for me.

But a ton of different designers over the years, like Haider Ackermann. Peter Pilotto, I was first to have. Gosh, right, hang on a second. I’ve got to think, because it’s been a few years now. Let’s see. There were a lot. Let’s put it that way. If you look up Seven New York, you’ll see.

Anyway, the point is that I was getting bored with that. Things were rolling, and by 2007, I was looking for a new side challenge, because it was full-time work, but it really wasn’t. It was keeping the wheels spinning.

Jodi Katz

Was it profitable? Were you rolling in it?

Joseph Quartana

Yeah, at that time, we were finally making money. And then, of course, the recession hit, so everything changed. The first challenge came along. And then our landlord started to bully us, and put up scaffolding to harass us to get out of the space. Those rooms were worth a lot more than what they had committed to. So we went through this bullshit of four years of dealing with scaffolding, and we sued them, and we lost. That was really the end of my shop, unfortunately. It was horrible. Very distressing.

Anyway, in 2008, a friend of mine approached me. We had done some charity work together. His name was Kaya. He was consulting for Coty, doing fragrance work for them. He had an opportunity to develop a little boutique collection of fragrances. Anything he wanted. They would give him the talent to develop the formulas.

He had no ideas, so he was like, “Joe, do you have any ideas?” We had this opportunity, and I’m like, “Yeah. Why don’t we do fragrances for the indie superstars of the fashion industry?” Those that are big enough, and influential enough on the industry that they should have a fragrance, but they’re maybe not necessarily big enough to actually have a fragrance. Because you have to be doing at least $50 million business to really justify having a fragrance, and all of the time, effort, and investment that goes into it, blahblahblahblah.

That was our little shtick, and by having six designers instead of just one, we were able to reach factory minimums and stuff. So that’s how Six Scents was born. It was that concept. We did a first collection of six different designers that I, from a buying perspective, thought were really superstars and influencing the trends. And they were.

Jodi Katz

Who was that?

Joseph Quartana

For the first collection, it was Alexandre Herchcovitch, Bern Wilhelm, Cosmic Wonder, Gareth Pugh, Jeremy Scott, who’s actually quite famous now. He’s one that really blew up. And Preen. I had this nice little geographic distribution, like one is Japanese, one is English, one is Brazilian. Alexandre. German. So on. So it was a nice balance of that.

They’re all super creatives. I was expecting to have mind-bending fragrances from them, because I told them, “Just don’t hold anything back. Just apply your vision, instead of to apparel, to scent. Let’s see what happens.”

Jodi Katz

How would they do that? How would they know how to do that?

Joseph Quartana

We created a system, basically, to get that out of them, and then working with the nose. Sharing that information. It was a lot of questions we devised, basically, to steer the whole process. Of course, it was showing runway imagery, and all sorts of inspirational material that the designers work with in order to conceive their collections. How they work, so on. Favorite music, blahblahblahblahblah. Different media, and so on. Just to give the perfumers as much stuff to work with as possible. To carve something out of thin air.

Kaya and I tried to take a back seat and let things happen. We just wanted to ensure it would be … the wow factor was there. And then, of course, we designed all the packaging and stuff. We took care of that, and the marketing, and the PR. The nuts and bolts. The operations, and stuff like that. We didn’t really get involved in what … and actually, it was … Sorry. The designers and the perfumers backed and forthed it for a few months, until both were happy, and they only got us involved if they were like, “Listen. We like this one, and we like this one. Which do you guys like more?” We’re like, “Okay. That one.” But otherwise, we were hands-off. Totally laissez-faire.

Anyway, we launched it in, gosh, that would be the end of 2008, I guess. Yeah. From the get-go, it was a big hit. We got a ton of press, to our surprise, all over the place. And a lot of accounts. Colette picked it up straight away. A lot of good concept shops. Everywhere. Not so much perfumeries. Not so much department stores. But a lot of fashion concept shops.

Which was what I was expecting, given the relationships that I had with those buyers. I knew a lot of them anyway, and I just thought it resonated, anyway, with that kind of client. Plus, I didn’t know anything about perfumeries back then. Honestly. I didn’t know anything about the perfume industry, for that matter, really, other than I liked it, and I think it’s a legit medium that has some potential to do interesting things. So-

Jodi Katz

How funny, though, isn’t it? That you’re such an industry outsider.

Joseph Quartana

Well, I think that’s half of what makes it interesting, is because I’m not classically trained by any stretch. You have that ability to think outside the box. To ask the question, “Does it have to be this way? Maybe not.” And that’s a great creative brainstorming technique, is the method of questioning assumptions.

Jodi Katz

But why do you think these designers trusted you?

Joseph Quartana

Well, I had a track record of having a very successful boutique that was known around the world, so getting that first slew of designers was easy. They all said yes. They were like, “Cool. We love the idea.”

Jodi Katz

Because they’re friends at that point?

Joseph Quartana

Yeah. We have professional relationships, but there was a trust element, certainly. They knew I have their best interests at heart. I’m not going to skin them for money or something. Honestly, we didn’t make anything the first collection. We barely covered our costs. We weren’t intending to. It was really about getting something interesting out there. And it was for charity, anyhow. So all of them, always, we gave an amount of money to charity.

But, for the designers, it was really a chance to create a fragrance, because no one really gets that chance. Or at least back then. It was not commonplace at all. It was a way of getting their feet wet and seeing how it works. Come on. What fashion designer doesn’t want to create a freaking perfume? That’s their dream.

Also, it’s how a lot of them, especially the more creative ones, make a living, anyway. Think about it. Issey Miyake, Thierry Mugler. Thierry Mugler relaunched their collections with Formichetti, what is it now, it’s eight years ago or something, strictly to sell perfumes. That company is a perfume company. And they do collections just to create hype to sell the perfumes. Then they’ve got David Koma, who I think did a marvelous job. And now it’s that guy from [inaudible 00:14:50]. I was surprised at that appointment. I forget. But he’s not really as famous as some of the other ones.

Anyway, Miyake, Donna Karan, for sure … A lot of them, that’s their bread and butter. Commes des Garcons, certainly. I can tell you, from having worked in the fashion industry for so long, that unless you’re really, really, really, really big, and you’re owned by Kering, or LVMH, they don’t make money. Making money, for them, is breaking even. That’s successful.

There’s so much overhead, and it’s very expensive to develop collection after collection. And to show it. Especially in Paris, or anywhere in Europe, because you can’t just trade a model for clothing. They have to get a minimum of, it’s like 1,000 Euros salary. They’ve got all these labor laws and stuff. It’s a hobby of the wealthy. Put it that way.

Jodi Katz

Okay. So you had this successful collection, in the sense it was well-received, and-

Joseph Quartana

And we put out another. And we put out another.

Jodi Katz

All right. How many of them were there?

Joseph Quartana

Four. Total. And the second one-

Jodi Katz

And otherwise, it was innovative designers that you felt an affinity for.

Joseph Quartana

Yes. Exactly. The second series had Philip Lim, who went on to become quite big. Damir Doma, who’s big in Europe, but not so well known here. Great creative. Henrik Vibskov, who’s Denmark’s biggest designer, hands down. Henry Holland, who’s a UK designer, who’s a lot of fun. Richard Nicoll, who sadly passed away a few year back. And then TOGA, who’s one of the better designers from Japan. That was the second series.

That, I think, was our strongest, actually. That got nominated for a FiFi prize. They were called FiFis back then. It was the Fragrance Foundation Award for Best Indie Series. That helped to put us on the map. We didn’t win, but being nominated, like, “Hey. Suddenly we’re somebody.” We got-

Jodi Katz

How did the award show even know of you? Did you have to do a PR push, or is it just-

Joseph Quartana

No, no! We got a letter, or an e-mail, or something. Actually, for the first series, we won a Bronze Lion for the Cannes packaging awards. It just showed up in the mail. Literally-

Jodi Katz

So you weren’t campaigning for these awards.

Joseph Quartana

No, no, no. I mean, we had a very big PR campaign for editors, in North America, and in Europe, and in Japan. Yeah. It was, I don’t know, a side effect, I guess. But back then, thing worked differently. You got a lot more traction with high end publicists back in 2009. Now you don’t.

Yeah, it just happened, and we were surprised. It was nice. We got more shops, obviously. For the second series, we picked up 10 Corso Como in Milan, and Seoul. We did the launch party for it in their Korean store. It was beautiful. A beautiful shop. And then we did a third one, and it got nominated again, and that time, we won Best Indie, to our surprise.

That was a crazy story, because Kaya, even though he’s in New York, he couldn’t make the … I wanted him to go. We’re actually both quite shy people, and we don’t like the spotlight at all. I happened to be in Singapore. I was an invited guest for Singapore Fashion Week. So I was there, on the other side of the planet, and I had three free days, so I was like, “You know what? I want to go to Bali. Go chill out on the beach.” I actually got invited to DJ there. I got invited to DJ for the opening of the W Hotel. So that’s really why I was there-

Jodi Katz

You’re a DJ?

Joseph Quartana

I do that. I moonlight. I moonlight. But I’ve gotten some interesting gigs over the years. Anyway, I DJ’d at a club there, too. So it was the W and that. But it was really, really a holiday, to decompress. I’d just finished the whole buying cycle of six weeks. Anyway, Kaya’s like, “You’ve got to come back and attend the awards at Lincoln Center, because I’m busy.”

And I’m like, “What do you mean, you’re busy? You’re in New York. Just go! I’ve got to fly around the world. Give me a break!” And he’s like … He was just very stubborn in that way, and he would just be like, “Nope! You’re going!” And hang up on me. And I’m like, “I know he’s not going to go, so I have to get my ass on this plane and go.”

Jodi Katz

So he knows that you know that he’s not going to go?

Joseph Quartana

I go, and this is the best, okay? We can’t afford a ticket to get in, okay? The tickets to get in to the FiFi Awards are freaking $1,200 dollars. So all we could afford is a gardens ticket. You get to sit outside and watch the awards on television. Okay? And it’s a cash bar. I couldn’t even get wasted after my ordeal of flying back.

Our category was coming up. It was close to the end. Best Indie Fragrances. So I went up to the security guard manning the entrance to the whole festival, and I was just like, “By the way, we’re not going to win, but in case we do win, can you let me in to accept the trophy? I basically flew here from Bali. So would you mind?” And he felt bad, because he was like, “Just come in now.”

I didn’t have a seat in this theater, so I was just hanging out at the bar, and getting sauced. I was like, “You know what? Screw it! I’m just going to chug wine. Numb my pain.” So our category comes up, and lo and behold, we win, and I have to go up and now accept this prize. I was just like, “Oh, my God. This is so fricking surreal.” So I go up, and I’m sitting there staring at Mary J. Blige and Halle Berry. They’re all out there staring at me from the front row, and Paz de la Huerta was the host that year.

I was just scared poopless, and just reeled out some whatever. “Thank you so much. Blah,blah,blah,blah.” To get off that stage. Done. And I went, and I hid, and then slept for 36 hours.

Jodi Katz

And by this time, are you making money? Or it’s still just trying to break even?

Joseph Quartana

It was starting to turn the corner, actually. Our revenues were really growing by leaps and bounds. The problem, is, okay … Initially, Kaya had invited me on to really be the business guy in the arrangement. The problem is that I had my big fair share of problems with my boutique, because at the time, we were doing the lawsuit against my landlords, and we were getting killed by the recession. Although we were hanging in there. I mean, we would have survived if it weren’t for that cursed scaffolding that was deliberately keeping customers out of my shop.

So I had my hands full with that, and I couldn’t mind all of the nuts and bolts of the fragrance company. So I basically entrusted Kaya to deal with it all, and he wasn’t really doing that. He’s the great marketing guy, but when it comes to nuts and bolts, paying bills, and all that, he let things go. He didn’t file taxes. I mean, things like that. I blame myself as much, so I’m not going to come down hard on him, because I should have done it, but I was too busy.

Jodi Katz

Do you still have a relationship with him?

Joseph Quartana

I’m getting there. Getting there. We were bringing in a lot, but pissing a lot away. We did a New York launch party to the first series, where we spent 25 grand renting a space at the New Museum. In my world, that would never happen. Because that’s just dumb. But Kaya likes to walk tall, and stuff, and I get it … When I find the bill out, I let him have it. I was like, “Are you kidding me?”

It’s this friction of that sort that starts to accumulate over the years. It was just not common sense at all. I believe in the lean business model of running things tight. So anyway-

Jodi Katz

Who was in your fourth series.

Joseph Quartana

Okay, the fourth series. That was the trickiest one, because at this point, we had chipped away at all the designers that I really thought had a lot of long term potential. That I thought were also making a big wave and impact. You have to understand, this was like 2012. And already the shakeout from the financial crisis was happening, so a lot of designers had gone out of business, and it was a shakeup …

Long story short, we got reamed over by our European distributor. It took me four years, up until really two years ago, to get new financing, and then to develop a new collection altogether, to get the ball rolling again.

I want to put out Four properly, because it deserves to see the light of day. It got good press acclaim, but yeah, it just never saw the light of day. Obviously, some of the designers were a little bit sore. Our distributors were sore. I was sore, because it should have gone out.

Jodi Katz

You talk about this, and it really is one obstacle after another, with some awesome sauce in between-

Joseph Quartana

It was a rollercoaster. Truly.

Jodi Katz

Yeah, but you seem so at ease with the fact that it’s a rollercoaster. Are you?

Joseph Quartana

Well, I’m used to it, just from having, again, dealt with the fashion industry, and all the ups and downs of that. I don’t like it. I wish there was a lot more stability, but not at the compromise of the integrity of the project. I’m still going to throw caution to the wind, take chances, and take risks creatively.

But I know how to do it now. Whereas before, it would be, “Let’s see what happens!” Now, it’s a lot more calculated risks that I’m more comfortable doing. It’s just experience. You know what I mean? And also the whole concept of validation. After I read the book The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries. I read this back in 2013, and that just changed the game in terms of how to go about developing any project. Let alone a creative one. That book applies to how to develop software, really. but with a little bit of meditation, you can see how it applies to anything, whether you’re doing candles, or eyeliner, or apparel. Whatever.

Anyway, finally I got financing … let me back up. Firstly, I got the chance to develop another new collection. What happened, unfortunately, so since Six Scents Series Four never launched, Givaudan pulled their support out from developing any more fragrances for us. They were pissed. As they should be, because we never produced it. We failed. I was like, “Lovely. Now I have no fragrance partner to develop anything else. I’m really left holding the bag here, in the worst of ways.”

I happened to run into two former executives from Givaudan, who had decamped over to Symrise. I ran into them January 2014 at Elements, which is a fragrance trade fair here in New York. They’re like, “Joe! You have any good ideas? Because we are looking to back a new project. Lay something on us.” And I was like-

Jodi Katz

So really? You see somebody in the hallway, and they’re like, “Hey!” That happens?

Joseph Quartana

Yeah. I mean, it doesn’t happen often. Literally, that day, the stars lined up. It was just a super lucky break. I happened to have been meditating on a new idea, so I was like, “Yeah. Poison flowers. What do you think?” And their eyes popped out of their heads. They were like, “Oh, my God! That’s genius. Why hasn’t anyone thought of this?” They were like, “Come in the office Monday. We’re totally doing this. This is amazing!” I was like, “Well, that was easy. That was the easiest elevator pitch.” I didn’t even pitch. They just asked me. I was truly in the right place at the right time. So lucky. My fortune reversed that day. Truly, that day.

I had just gotten the idea as I was watching Breaking Bad. In that show, Walt, the protagonist, as we all know. The chemistry teacher. He used lily of the valley to poison someone in the show.

Jodi Katz

Oh, I didn’t know it was poisonous.

Joseph Quartana

Yeah, so did I! I didn’t know lily of the valley was poisonous. I knew it was a big fragrance accord, and I knew there was plenty of old lady fragrances done with lily of the valley. And it got me thinking, “Wow! What if we spun lily of the valley as a poison flower?” That makes it kind of badass. Because it’s like grandma scent otherwise. It’s so-

Jodi Katz

Right, it’s like a doily.

Joseph Quartana

… boring. Ugh. It’s horrible. Who would be caught dead in it? So I was like, this is an interesting way to spin florals. So it was like, “A scent list like this, it must have been done.” I started to do research, and it turns out, it really wasn’t. There was scraping the surface, like we have Poison by Dior. But that’s this amalgamation of some Snow White folklore, and fairy tales, and stuff. Is it belladonna? It’s not clear. It doesn’t even smell poisonous. There is, of course, Opium by YSL. Which was really just about a drug. I mean, a psychoactive drug, but it is a poison flower. And it has been used for poison purposes.

So I did the research, and I compiled this whole list of really compelling poison flowers, and I presented them to the noses at Symrise. And of course, the executives who had asked me. All of the perfumers volunteered for the respective poison flower that resonated with them. It was a volunteer thing, which is cool, because that means they were excited about that particular one. And yeah, we got the ball rolling from there.

The back and forthing on that … Usually, when I would develop a fragrance series, we’re talking three to six months. It’s done. Because I wasn’t doing validation. It was really like, “All right. The designer’s happy. The perfumer’s happy. It smells pretty freaking awesome. Let’s throw it out there and see what happens.” That was the old, naïve way of doing things. With this one, and it’s not like we forced a round peg in a square hole. I wasn’t trying to shape it, per se. I wanted it to be amazing.

I told the perfumers, I was like, “Just take the gloves off. Anything goes here. Whatever you want to use. If you’ve been thinking about an accord that you’ve had on the backburner, throw it in there. Let’s see what happens. I’m not going to put a timestamp on this project. If it takes five months, or five years, it doesn’t matter. This has got to be perfection. Perfection. Okay?”

Anyway, I had pitched the perfumers eight fragrances. It was supposed to be six, and then two as options, and they were like, “We want to do all eight! And we want to do a ninth, because David Apel has this great idea for foxglove. Digitalis. If you want to roll with that.” Digitalis, or foxglove, was not really part of my shortlist, because it didn’t have a naughty enough backstory.

Jodi Katz

I don’t know anything about it.

Joseph Quartana

All of the poison flowers, I should say, that I initially developed, I wanted them to be … Evil’s not the word, but wicked. Okay? They all have been used for really nefarious ends. Assassination. Suicide. Black magic. Things like this. There’s a lot of, for lack of a better … wicked stuff. It really epitomizes the truest sense of the femme fatale. That woman who’s gorgeous, and a manipulator, and she wears all black, and she’s deadly, and you don’t want to mess with her, kind of thing. Really trying to capture the essence of that. And trust me, I’d met a few in my day. So I know what they’re like. And there’s men, too. Not to cover off the other sex.

Digitalis, actually, foxglove was the only really innocent one. It really didn’t have any notorious poisonings attached to it. Really, what it was used for was, by Pagans, to summon fairies actually. It’s actually quite a beautiful thing. So that’s where we went with that one. We made it really sparkly and ozonic to suggest these fairies dancing around you. It’s super ozonic, actually. Set along a nice wooded creek, with crisp, flowing water. It’s quite aquatic.

Jodi Katz

What word did you just use? Hezonic?

Joseph Quartana

Ozonic.

Jodi Katz

Ozonic.

Joseph Quartana

Like ozone.

Jodi Katz

Ozone. Got it.

Joseph Quartana

Yeah. Think about that feeling in the atmosphere after the thunderstorm. That static in the air? Ozone, or an ozonic accord captures that. It’s very interesting. It’s really one of those fascinating accords.

Jodi Katz

We’re running out of time, so I want to fast forward a little bit, because you had both a work high and a personal low all in one day, around the fragrance industry awards, recently, with Quartana. Can you walk us through what happened there?

Joseph Quartana

Oh yeah, so it’s kind of crazy. Anyway, I launched the collection of poison flowers. It’s called Les Potions Fatales, and it’s by Parfums Quartana. I launched that, technically, in September 2016 at Pitti Fragranze, in Florence. Out of the gates, it did really well. I got a lot of distributors, and pretty good press, and stuff. I’m pleased. It’s been slow going, but steady. It’s the most I can hope for. I’m grateful.

The nominations then came out in February of this year, of Best Indie Fragrances. You have to understand. I put my heart and soul into this collection. Literally two and a half, three years of work, compared to just, say, six months for any of the prior Six Scents. I was convinced I would get at least a nomination for Best Indie Fragrance. So the nominations came and went, and I didn’t qualify. So I was a little bit crushed. I was like, “Ah! Well, whatever. You win some. You lose some.” And anyway, I’d won it already once, and I was nominated two times, so lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place, right?

As it turns out, and this is only announced two weeks before the actual ceremony, because it’s a totally different type of prize, I got nominated for Parfum Extraordinaire.

But it’s a total blindfold test, where all of the big development houses, so Samourai, Givaudan, Terasaka, Coty, blahblahblah. All of them. They evaluate in house what their favorite fragrances for the particular year. All of their noses, all of their evaluators go through, and they’re like, “This is our best one.” And it’s blindfold, too.

So Samourai is contacting me. They’re like, “Listen, congrats. We’re nominating Poppy Soma, which is yours. That’s a big thing. Maybe you’ll win Parfum Extraordinaire. It’s not a big chance, but we’re putting it out there.”

Anyway, the awards happened. I show up. The category of Parfum Extraordinaire comes up, and I was up against some biggies, and I didn’t really think I had a snowball’s chance in hell. And I won. And I almost fainted, and whatever. Deja vu. Go back up to the stage, all freaking out.

Jodi Katz

This time, did you have a ticket? Could you afford the ticket this time?

Joseph Quartana

Yeah. Actually Samourai was very kind enough to buy me the ticket, because once again, I can’t afford $1,200. We’re tight, still.

Yeah, I won Parfum Extraordinaire for Poppy Soma, which was the fragrance, the poison flower, that was loosely based on the whole folklore of opium, and this magic drug of relaxation, and dream, and sleep, and hallucinations, and warmth, and sensuality. That’s really what it’s about. It’s a smoky, warm, sensual one.

Anyway, the craziest thing is that that very night, by the way, I was abstaining from drink for that particular month. I thought it was time to give my liver a break, because I do enjoy wine. For a month, I was sober. Didn’t drink at the awards. I went home that night, like 1:00 a.m., and my wife was already sleeping. I was relaxing by the TV to come down from the high of having won. And I started to get this most horrible cramp in my stomach, that I didn’t recognize. It was one of those cramps that like, “Well, it’s not normal. Something’s a little strange here.” And it just kept getting worse and worse and worse and worse, to the point where I was down on all fours in agony.

By 4:00 in the morning, I had to wake my wife up. I was like, “We gotta got to the emergency room. Something is not kosher right now. I don’t know what it is.” And I was sweating, and literally, my face was ashen. I was like, “Something ain’t right. Let’s go.” We go out there, and at this point, I’m screaming. They had to give me a morphine drip as soon as I arrived at NYU. They do sonograms, MRI, x-rays, blahblahblah. They’re like, “Yeah. Guess what? Your gallbladder is basically exploding. Have you had waited another hour to get here, you’d be a dead man.”

Jodi Katz

That’s crazy.

Joseph Quartana

Yeah! And I was like, “What?” I almost died the same night I won one of the biggest prizes in perfumery. And here’s the crazy thing. Here’s the clincher, is that I don’t believe that things … Everything happens for a reason. I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe in synchronicities. And I think that during the course of my doing this project, all based on death and poisons, I think I looked at death. I looked into the darkness, and it looked back at me. I think I tempted fate. What are the odds? Especially that there was no symptoms that presented itself. It’s just really strange. Really, really, really strange.

But I can tell you, this whole collection came from a very authentic place. It was very cathartic for me, because the frustration and the venom that I had built up from having lost my boutique, and 13 years of my life doing that, having lost everything related to that. Having almost lost my fragrance company during the divorce with my business partner. Having been totally screwed by my European distributor. It all culminated in me, and I was walking around with some darkass energy, that I needed to release. So it basically manifested as this poison flower collection. It’s real.

Jodi Katz

Right. And also inside of you. They had to cut it out.

Joseph Quartana

Oh, yeah. And believe me, once I finished the collection, I felt much better. I was like, “Ah, I got it out.” It’s kind of like painting a black painting. You get it on paper, and you’re like, “Ah! Now it’s there. It’s not in here. It’s not in my heart anymore. I got it out.” It’s real. It’s authentic, and you see the poison flower fragrances, they smell slightly toxic. There’s a wickedness to them, for sure. A real wickedness.

So, yeah. Anyway, I had to get two surgeries, and fortunately, today, I’m in recovery. I’m good. I didn’t die yet. Touch wood. Yeah, it was pretty major, because yeah, the surgeries take six months to recover from. I had to learn how to digest food again. Anyway, it’s all a blessing.

I thought it would affect my creativity. It’s been the opposite. I’m just flowing. It’s really amazing. Not without its challenges, but it’s all for the best. It’s weird. It was like chapter two of my life had officially begun that night when I won the prize and almost died.

Jodi Katz

Right. Thank you for sharing that story with us, because the symbolism of it is pretty intense, but also-

Joseph Quartana

It’s nuts, right?

Jodi Katz

Yeah.

Joseph Quartana

I mean, you can’t make this stuff up.

Jodi Katz

But you’re just so honest with the rollercoaster ride that you’ve been on, and I think that for someone who’s a stranger to you, looking in, they think everything’s so easy. Right? And fabulous, right?

Joseph Quartana

Oh, Jeez, no!

Jodi Katz

And it’s the opposite.

Joseph Quartana

Quite the opposite. There’s no fabulous [inaudible 00:45:57].

Jodi Katz

So we probably could spend another hour talking together, but we’ve reached our limit for our podcast.

Joseph Quartana

There’s always next time, isn’t there?

Jodi Katz

That’s right! So thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and honesty.

Joseph Quartana

Absolutely my pleasure.

Jodi Katz

I know a lot of people who are really fascinated with what you do who are going to enjoy hearing the behind the scenes of all the-

Joseph Quartana

I hope so. I hope I can color their day positively.

Announcer

Thanks for listening to Where Brains Meet Beauty with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

 

 

Scroll to top