Sustainability has become an essential goal across the fashion and beauty industries as brands and consumers alike realize the true impact of their actions and imagine ways to lessen their environmental footprints (and surround ourselves with better ingredients in the process). Perfume is no exception to this new movement, with the latest to join the growing world of clean fragrance being Holly Tupper. Her new brand, Cultus Artem, launched at Bergdorf Goodman this past September and guarantees you’ll be misting yourself with the cleanest ingredients out there. And beyond its olfactory expertise, the high-end collection displays Tupper's skills as a luxury jewelry designer. The perfumer uses her designs and natural scent memories from her childhood as inspiration for Cultus Artem’s dreamy fragrances, creating a sentimental, unforgettable experience. Read on to learn more about Tupper's process and the innovative perfume collection that has emerged from it.
You’re an artist, a designer, and now a perfumer.
All that I approach in the design process is seen through the prism of color, form, texture, and shape. When I am composing fragrance, I am allowing the olfactory ingredients the same prominence in the creative process as I do gemstones when I am designing a piece of jewelry. In fragrance composition, I start with the base materials and essentially allow the notes to construct themselves through the massaging or alignment of their core elements—their shape, color, texture, and form. It might seem odd as clearly perfumery materials aren’t as easy to hold in one’s hand as stalactite rhodochrosite from Uruguay or a sawn diamond crystal, but for me, fragrance materials have shape and form and in composition, magic occurs as the ingredients start to blend and the maceration process begins.
Cultus Artem is an all-natural, clean fragrance line.
I have been blending fragrance materials for myself for as long as I can remember. I have been fascinated with fragrance since I was very young. Why I decided to make a clean fragrance really ended up being a by-product of wanting to create a natural fragrance collection.
Frequently, notions of "clean" or "transparent," "sustainable" or "natural" are thrown around to incite anxiety instead of educating. Aside from preferring my petroleum products in my car instead of on my skin, the single most defining reason I embarked on creating a natural fragrance collection was my disappointment with how the loveliest fragrance experiences had been so diminished by the rush to reformulation with synthetic molecules. The magic in natural perfumery ingredients is their nuance and soul being made of multiple molecules created in nature, grown in the earth, defined by wind, rain, terroir—instead of single molecules created in a chemist’s laboratory.
Safety is paramount and to that end, we have a full-time chemist on our staff and additionally pass all of our individual ingredients and final formulations to an independent toxicologist for review and approval.
There are eight fragrances in your collection.
The Lucky Eight! I lived in Southeast Asia in Singapore for almost 20 years. The word for eight in Mandarin sounds similar to "Fa,” the word for Prosperity, thus the number has positive connotations.
The process of creating and launching a fragrance collection when someone like me drills down into every single aspect of not only the fragrance but all of the aspects of the Cultus Artem experience, including packaging, marketing, and all the storytelling to share the fragrance, takes forever! [It took a lot to create the synergy surrounding] the fragrance—golden tassels at the cap handmade by a village cooperative in Northern India, handmade textured paper on the box, and poems crafted by renowned American poet Barbara Ras that invite a personal relationship with each fragrance instead of a torrid marketing script dictating one's supposed relationship to the scent. Thankfully, our partners at Bergdorf Goodman have a deep appreciation [for our work] and recognized the magic when they took us on as a global exclusive.
You have a fabulous workspace in San Antonio, Texas.
You mean atelier paradiso! We are so lucky to be based in San Antonio. As a native New Yorker who has lived and worked on three continents before returning to the US after almost thirty years, [I find that] San Antonio affords a calm lifestyle that's really conducive to creative endeavors. Housed in a former Southwestern Bell Telephone exchange building, not too far from my own home, we have a marvelous building for all aspects of our business. It’s a really big red brick building with concrete floors, 18-foot ceilings, and a dry, cool basement. Inside our atelier, we have our laboratory, a cool room for storing fragrance materials, rooms for chilling, filtering, and bottling fragrance (which allow us to manage all of our production in house), our creative offices, a salon for private appointments, a conference room, a roof deck, and a garden, in addition to my jewelry-making studio.
What is your first memory of a perfume?
My mother was a rose. Thorn-less. Throughout her life, she wore various rose fragrances, which on her were magic. She was a highly regarded floral designer in New York City, and when not in town, she was an avid gardener and a good one. All of my other fragrance memories are of places. Rhode Island and the briny ponds of snails and seaweed in buckets, the moss on the old American Indian trail where we used to camp on summer nights, the floor polish of the boarding school I attended in England, dye at the batik factory in the village close to Chennai in Tamil Nadu, detritus from wet markets in Singapore in the 1980s, and white brush in bloom on our ranch when the drought breaks with just a little rain. These are my fragrance memories.