Lionel Richie Says He Was a “Frustrated Perfumer” Before Creating His Own Fragrance — Interview

I was very careful, upon starting my conversation with Lionel Richie, to say hi, not hello. If I was going to talk to one of the most prolific, talented, and influential figures in the last half-century of music — a man whose songs, like 1984’s hit ballad, “Hello,” make up a significant portion of my childhood’s soundtrack — I wasn’t about to open with what could be construed as a pun.

Turns out, however, that he wouldn’t have minded.

“I have people that walk up to me and they go, ‘Hello,’ and they apologize a lot. ‘I didn’t mean it like that,'” he tells me. “That’s exactly why I wrote ‘Hello.'” And it’s why he named his new eau de parfum and eau de toilette after the song — the Grammy-winning legend thrives on encouraging connection.

Richie is responsible for writing and singing some of the most amorous songs in pop-music history, so while it may seem like a lot of celebrities launch scents just because it’s what a lot of celebrities eventually do, it actually makes perfect sense that he would consider scent a natural extension of his romantic brand. And aside from perfume’s ability to influence our moods and memories, Richie has long appreciated the impact of fragrance in his day-to-day life.

“I’ve probably been a frustrated perfumer for years,” he says, explaining that, while he has always loved fragrance, he didn’t have the knowledge or tools to create his ideal scent — in stark contrast to his music mastery.

“In my business, I play with my ears. My ears tell me exactly when the vibration is correct,” Richie tells me. And while I would never dare suggest that his musical creations are simple, he laughingly suggests that creating a beautiful fragrance is a much more complicated endeavor. “In the music business, there are only 12 notes. In the fragrance business, I could drive myself crazy — they’ve got more notes than I want to deal with it. And being a Gemini does not help matters any because you can’t give me too many choices.”

So when it was time to start working on the two Hello scents, to help him narrow down the notes he might like to include, the perfumer he worked with offered a brilliant suggestion. “He said, ‘I tell you what — to make this easy for you, you have a garden in the backyard. Let’s walk through your garden.'” There, they pinpointed scents he loved like that of flowers such as tuberose and night jasmine and fruits like grapefruit and pear. But at the time, as much as he loved each individual smell, he couldn’t fathom them combined.

“They’ll put together a combination that makes absolutely no sense at all,” he says of the blends his perfumer’s team suggested. “How would you want to mess it up with a sour thing like grapefruit? Because cause I’m thinking literal grapefruit — but then when you put it together, the combination is exquisite.”

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