The Scent Sorcerer
“Comme des Garçons was the brand that sparked my obsession for perfumes,” says Nicole Miller, the owner, founder and creative director of Seattle’s award-winning fragrance and skincare design house Blackbird. “I’d spent 15 years smelling commercial perfumes but rarely finding anything that smelled exceptional or unique. Once I found niche perfumes, I wanted to smell everything—I was compelled to find raw ingredients and make scents myself.”
The mysterious and evocative scents Miller concocts for Blackbird are transporting as well as being visually bold while calming. Obviously, as soon as we heard she might be opening a store in Seattle in the upcoming months, we rushed to pick her brain first. Here, she reveals the delicate process of conjuring a new fragrance, her take on Seattle style, and where she loves to hang in her hometown.
How do you develop a fragrance?
Broken Glass came from the idea that we needed to develop a “feminine” perfume since Blackbird is generally seen as a male brand due to its history in menswear and our gender neutral branding. Geranium and Jasmine first came to mind as contrasting yet complimentary notes and then we played with layers of candy like ingredients such as opoponax and vanilla mixed with spices like cardamom and pink pepper. When we ran it by our test group the girls all picked up on the spice and thought it was great for men, and the men all thought it smelled like the perfect girl standing next to them on the perfect day. It’s one of our best sellers now and people like it because it smells amazing on people.
Is there such a thing as Seattle style? If so, how does the Pacific Northwest influence your design aesthetic at Blackbird?
There absolutely is a Seattle style. Generation after generation you’ll see the theme of dark colors, layers, breathable water resistant fabrics such as wool and gore tex and hats instead of umbrellas, and where you really see it is in the shoes; there is no avoiding the rain and dirt so traction, protection and durability is important.
From all darkness comes light and Blackbird plays with the idea that melancholy can be funny and that perfection overrated. Seattle is a casual place where even high design must function. None of our designs are perfectly straight or exactly the same each time we make them, and I think all of our products sound like techno DJ names or MAGIC cards. We laugh a lot when designing.
What do you love most about Seattle?
My number one favorite thing about Seattle are the ferries. They bring a romance to the city that is unlike anywhere else I know. You can catch a ferry downtown and within a short time you are on an adventure that feels like you are in a foreign land. The float planes in Lake Union are the same idea. Jump on a plane and soon you’ll be in Vancouver Canada. Where else can you do that?
Which neighborhood do you live in?
I live in Fremont but Ballard is my hood.
Can you share three of your favorite spots?
Best burger in the city is Lil’ Woody’s where the burgers taste like one my dad would make when I was a kid and the fries taste like actual potatoes.
When we see movies we almost always go to Majestic Bay Theater because it’s small, family owned and you feel truly special being there.
Lastly I love Tray. It’s silly that everyone in Seattle is all crammed up on Capitol Hill waiting for tables when some of the best establishments are tucked away in really cute neighborhoods all over the city. The way they do food is that they come around with a tray and tell you what they have made. If you want to try it, you take it and if you’d rather pass you just pass. Inside feels like you are in Sweden or Iceland or a train car. Tray is special to me. Some of my most romantic dinners have been at this restaurant.
Are there any new products or items in your line that your most excited about now?
I am most excited about our new perfume Ophir. It’s a sultry sandalwood for men or women that is straight forward yet complex with hints of pistachio and saffron.
On the incense front, Sensor (frankincense and apricot) and Ploom (tobacco and gardenia) are outstanding new creations because of their unusual yet delicious scent profiles.