MEET YOUR MAKER - DAN FROM SOMA PARFUMS
We sat down with Dan from Soma Parfums to discuss his journey and influences in the fragrance world and how his life as an influencer marries up with his role as a niche perfumer.
We’re so excited to be sharing Soma with our subscribers this month. As many of them already follow you on Instagram, can you take us right back to the beginning of your fragrance journey? When did your love for fragrance first start?
I was 13. My uncle had a pharmacy in Cape Town. He’d been hoping to visit the UK but couldn’t so he sent me a present from his pharmacy. It was a bottle of Sybaris and a bottle of Quorum. So that pretty well got me hooked from the outset.
Did you ever encounter fragrances that changed how you thought about scent as a vehicle for self-expression, and, if so, what were they?
I don’t know about anything quite as grand as self-expression. But I do remember the Egoiste TV advert from when I was a teenager. It immediately had an impact on me. Although I didn’t consciously process it in this way – the benefit of hindsight means I can see that was really the point where fragrance for me became something more than just stuff that smells good. It became something artistic and aspirational.
How long after the first spark of an idea to launch a fragrance brand did it take to get to where you are now?
It seems like about 300 years. In reality, it’s taken a little over two years to get from first thought to where it is now. You wouldn’t believe how much time it takes to sort stuff like packaging. The fragrances themselves were comparatively quite easy, I guess
Please could you tell us how you would describe Soma Parfums to your friends?
I have some trouble explaining it to my friends. They’re not really into perfume. At least not in the way I am. Most of them didn’t even believe it was real. When I posted about it on my personal Instagram, about a dozen of my mates asked if I was joking or whether it was real! Friends eh.
Were there any unexpected hurdles you encountered? What part gave you the most joy, and which was the most frustrating?
Packaging is just the worst. Having to receive modifications and samples from China and communicate design intent is really tricky. It all got made worse by Covid, where there were tons of production delays. I’d have used a UK company, but the reality seems that most of the UK companies you consult with simply back off production to China anyway, so I came to the conclusion it made more sense to do it myself.
The most joyous moment was the first sale. I wish I could tell you it was a constant stream of sales initially, but it wasn’t. I still often wonder if it’s worth it, as I still haven't made a profit yet, but I keep going because I just love it. It’s a proper follow your dream sort of moment. I always figured that was just inspirational nonsense by people on the internet, but actually, I have found something I'm genuinely passionate about, and that makes me happy. And every time I make a sale, I remind myself that someone out there thinks my products are worth buying. And that’s a gas.
Can you talk us through how you came to develop your range?
Well. I knew from the outset that I wouldn’t be the perfumer. I don’t have the knack or patience. I also don’t have the training. So I worked with perfumers to develop the fragrances I wanted. It starts with a brief and a lot of iteration until we get to the thing I think works. With 30 years of collecting perfumes and having tried quite literally thousands of different fragrances, I feel like my value add is in my ability to choose a fragrance. So that’s really the range - my experiences distilled into a handful of choices.
What do you feel sets Soma apart from other niche perfume brands? What do you hope your customers get from your work?
Oh, I don’t know, really. I know that sounds a bit dumb, but honestly, I'm not sure. I guess the main thing that’s different is that the range is entirely personal to me. I'm not trying to make the range about me or my personality – god knows that would be lethal! – but these are the things I choose. The ones that I connect with. So really the uniqueness is sort of intrinsic in that they resonate for me. And if they resonate for you too, well, then that’s all I can hope for.
What to you is the marker of a quality perfume? What does it take to make the cut?
I always struggle with this question. But there’s no single thing I need in a perfume. It can be one of many things. Scent obviously is great – something original or unique is nice. But it can also be branding or story — how a brand sets out its vision. You don’t need all the elements. But you need one or two to be truly quality.
I guess I always like stuff that’s reasonably unfussy. I don’t obsess over an abundance of naturals. There’s a trend toward virtuosity in perfumery – by which I mean a sort of grandstanding of showing how clever you can be as a perfumer. I rarely love those perfumes because they tend to be overly complicated.
How have you found the transition from fragrance influencer to brand owner? Has your audience been supportive of your launch?
To be honest, I don’t know that I’ve made that transition. I’ve tried consciously not to abuse my reviewer platform as Fragrance Weirdo to push Soma. I should probably use it to promote Soma more, but I’ve been really anxious about what that does for my credibility. At the moment, they still live in very separate compartments of my head, I think. Instead of just getting on with it, I tend to overthink it and do nothing as a result. So. Er. Long answer. But I don’t think I've made any progress on that transition yet!
Other than the Soma fragrances, what are your top 3 favourite fragrances and why?
This changes all the time. If you ask me this time next week, the odds are it’ll be something different. I have one all-timer, which is MDCI Invasion Barbare which will always be the one above all for me. I love the clash of traditional Fougere with the daring avant-garde sort of muskiness it’s got. Stephanie Bakouche just smashed it out of the park and directly into my heart with that one. Other big loves are Guerlain Derby and Balenciaga Pour Homme, but honestly, I struggle to make a top 50 list, let alone top 3. I'm a hoarder and have hundreds of perfumes. If I were better at selecting the top few I’d have a lot more free storage space!
And do you have a favourite from your collection?
From Soma? No. Well. Yes. Sort of. Ok, here’s the weirdness. I don’t like wearing them myself. I’ve been trying to figure out why that is. Part of me wants to think it’s a bit like musicians who don’t listen to their own albums, but I think the main thing is because I’ve lived through all the modifications and iterations. I can still smell the first versions of them when I wear them. So trying to disassociate that experience and memory of previous iterations and just focus on the latest iteration and whether they’re ready was one of the most challenging parts of the development. But if you put a gun to my head (please don’t) and asked me to choose, I think I’d go for Cirrus because it’s the one that’s closest to my personal style preference.