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A Conversation With... Leo Gibbon & Tomi Ahmed at IIUVO

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Nov 03 2019

Pioneering a new method for fragrance creation.


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The brainchild of two young London-based entrepreneurs with a penchant for luxury fragrance, IIUVO has quickly established itself as the unexpected one to watch for the seasons ahead. Widely known for its insularity, the global fragrance industry is not an easy one to crack, but with a well-developed concept and an indisputable eye for compelling imagery and visual communications, founders Leo Gibbon and Tomi Ahmed have carefully dismantled the barriers to entry to bring their products to market with determination and integrity.

The primary benefit of small-scale independence in an industry all-but swallowed whole by a small group of international conglomerates is the ability to play by your own rules, respond quickly to changes in the market, and to innovate solutions to existing problems or processes. Here IIUVO has found its niche, working holistically across the senses to develop scents that transcend just smell to trigger emotions, conjure memories, and satisfy the wearer on a deeper sensory plane.

Highly conceptual, and driven by a slew of artistic and multi-media inspired references, each IIUVO scent comes hand in hand with a well-defined individual narrative that informs each and every part of the scent's development. We sat down with founders Leo and Tomi to learn more about their vision, and unusual approach to fragrance development.


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END.: Tell us a little about the brand’s origin and what inspired the concept behind IIUVO?

Tomi: I guess the brand's origin stemmed from conversations between Leo and I about what product could be, I guess us both being in our early twenties at the time we were consuming a lot of product, but everything that was around us was still really pedestrian and didn’t really resonate with us. In the beginning, it was an uphill struggle trying to communicate the concept and narrative to the perfumers. Our approach was more poetic and not so pragmatic.

Leo: IIUVO derives from the Latin word ‘iuvo’ which means to aid, assist, gratify, please or delight and I want IIUVO to be exactly that. For me, it was about expression through the medium of scent and scent-based products that’ll help elevate any situation they're involved in. Each scent we develop comes from a personal place with our own inspiration, but the real beauty is how others interpret and enjoy it.

END.: Leo, you’re the son of a florist and an interior designer and Tomi, you honed your skills and knowledge at Dover Street Market and Comme des Garcons. As a result, the experiential aspect of luxury product is embedded in your combined DNA – how do you think that has translated to IIUVO?

Leo: Growing up in a rich olfactive environment, naturally you are way more responsive to the aspect of scent. From an aesthetic point of view, it definitely helped me figure out what sort of visual language resonated with me. I think from function to aesthetic to the story behind each scent, IIUVO is a very thought out and personal journey for us both. One thing we both agree on is staying true to what we like and what we perceive to be beautiful. I think both of our backgrounds help us establish what it is we feel about products and brands. I feel this has definitely translated to IIUVO.

Tomi: Comme and DSM changed my perspective on a lot. It opened up my language, helped me in understanding specific processes, and especially taught me the importance of having an uncompromising vision.


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END.: You’ve spoken in the past about forging your own process in fragrance development to pioneer a more holistic method that’s about more than just an amalgamation of chemical compounds and molecules. Tell us a bit more about that process?

Tomi: I guess the narrative has to be more than just an ingredients-based conversation. The nuances need to create something unique so I guess that influences our approach. We really try to curate things that lend themselves to what we are trying to say with each scent, so if music or art or film aid in explaining the scents' narratives, then those are the things we will use.

Leo: Not being professionally trained in the art of perfumery actually worked in our favour with regards to how we approach the creative process. As well as a selection of top, core, and base notes – we use music, photography, art references, film, colour etc. to really create a 360 story touching on every nuance we can. Each scent has a 10 track playlist as well as extensive narratives and visual mood-boards that really create an experience. Scent is synonymous with music in the sense that a track can evoke so many personal memories, and you can love or hate a track so deeply for reasons only you know. Scent is the same and we really try and combine every sensory element we can when creating our products.

END.: This 360-sensory approach to the development of your scents has fed into the creation of IIUVO’s visual identity. What was the concept behind the brand’s visual communication, and how have you found the challenge of marketing a scent-based product using visual platforms?

Tomi: I guess our marketing is about focusing on everything that is reminiscent of the scent, like architecture, sounds, or textures. For instance, the colour black has dark connotations, and you would naturally be drawn to a darker scent like patchouli. Colours and directional imagery allow us to market the ideology without actually marketing the scent itself.


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END.: Where did the names for the Edition One scents come from and how did these names inform the scents’ development?

Leo: Soigné’ is an old French word used to describe someone who is very elegantly presented, with flawless attire and grooming. A person “prepared with great attention to detail” would be labelled ‘soigné’. When we came across the word, we instantly thought of people in bygone eras who we’d label as soigne. Sinatra, Miles Davis etc. All people who carried this air of soigne in everything they did. We wanted to create a scent that encapsulated this era and the people who defined it. It is a warm, opulent, woody scent with a soft delicacy to it that I feel sums up what soigne is to us. Notes include Sandalwood, Cashmere Wood, Cyclamen and Ceylon Cinnamon.

Gilot’ comes from an incredible woman called Francoise Gilot who was the partner and muse of Pablo Picasso. She was 21 when he met her and they moved to the South of France where a lot of his work started becoming a lot more vibrant with light blues and cool greens very reminiscent of the Mediterranean. Picasso later labelled Gilot his ‘Mediterranean inspiration’ due to the direction of his work under her influence. Gilot eventually left Picasso with his 2 children to become her own artist despite his threats. When I dived deeper into the story of Gilot, she became our own Mediterranean inspiration for a scent that is very fresh and uplifting with floral and citrus tones including Neroli, Freesia, Bergmot and Bitter Almond.

When creating ‘Fonteyn’, we used a lot of Stanley Kubrick references. He is someone that is able to create a body of work, shot in the most beautiful way with the darkest undertone and message. We wanted to create a scent that had both dark, earthy notes combined with beautiful florals to create a scent so complex that you couldn't work out what it is that drew you to it. We used a video of Margot Fonteyn (Frederic Ashtons Nocturne 1970) as I felt it was so reminiscent of a really ominous Kubrick production and it summed up how I wanted the Perfume to feel from a visual aspect. The Nose loved it and really understood the nuances we were trying to purvey, from this it got known as Fonteyn. The complexity of the Fonteyn concept saw us use notes such as Papyrus, Cardamom, Blackcurrant Buds and Virginia Cedar.


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END.: The concept of nostalgia and the transportive properties of scent is hard-wired into IIUVO's DNA. If you could develop a scent to take you back to a specific moment in your life, what would it be and what do you think the main notes would be?

Leo: When I was younger waiting at a station near my Nan's house to go to Arsenal with my dad. An old coal-fired steam train came through the station, and I remember the smell like it was yesterday. You heard it from miles away and you saw the smoke before you saw the actual train. I suppose the main notes would have to be burning coal, creosote, and tar.


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