Jamie Frater Is A Self-Taught Perfumer. Here’s How He Does It.

By Lucy Slight
Jamie Frater, self-taught perfumer and founder of Wellington-based luxury fragrance house Frater Perfumes. Photo / Supplied

‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ is a figure of speech that in no way applies to Frater Perfumes founder Jamie Frater.

In every facet of his vast career portfolio, the Wellingtonian seems to excel. He’s an opera singer who studied at the Royal College of Music in London. He has worked for the MetService as a software engineer and is a self-taught computer programmer. He has song recordings at the National Library, has had five books published and was the founder of trivia website Listverse, the world’s first online platform dedicated entirely to top 10 lists. But through the ebbs and flows of his life thus far, one thing has remained constant — a love, nay, an obsession, with perfumery.

“I have an incredibly strong sense of my senses in general, not just smell. But smell especially, I guess, really does spark incredibly strong memories and meaning,” explains Jamie. “If I smell Chanel No.5, I’m transported back to being younger, with my mother.”

Angel by Thierry Mugler has him visiting England as a 16-year-old for his brother’s wedding — “every airport I went to was absolutely soaked with this perfume” — and there’s a fragrance from each decade he has lived that can instantly take him back to memorable times. Beyond that, Jamie says he’s always had a penchant for the unusual, and finding magic in the world of unique fragrance notes has pervaded every part of his life since he can remember.

“When I was programming, it gave me the financial means to be able to look for more unusual perfumes, which led me to buying vintage perfumes — very, very expensive luxury perfumes — because I wanted to see what was different,” shares Jamie.

"I hope someone, somewhere, will open a bottle and spray it, 100 years into the future, and they will be smelling something that no one else has smelled except for me right now," says Jaime. Photo / Supplied
"I hope someone, somewhere, will open a bottle and spray it, 100 years into the future, and they will be smelling something that no one else has smelled except for me right now," says Jaime. Photo / Supplied

It was a spilled bottle of L’Origan by Coty from 1905 — broken in transit on its way to Jamie — that was the impetus to his personal journey of olfactory creation. As he opened the damaged package his nose was hit by notes blended an entire century prior, and in this moment, he was inspired to discover exactly how the fragrance was created so that he could concoct the very same juice again, for himself.

“It really ignited something in me, the fact that I was smelling oils that had been in flowers growing in the fields of France before World War I had happened, before World War II, before the bombs on Hiroshima. It was almost like a little magical part of history was locked in that bottle,” he explains.

“The last person who smelled it was a person who never knew that there was going to even be a world war. That was the person who mixed it and put it in the bottle. It connected me in a way to that part of history. And so, my perfumes are often me trying to reconnect myself to the history that I’ve experienced.”

“Self-directed education,” as Jamie puts it, has been the key to his success in all the areas he has excelled in throughout his life, and perfumery is no different. In this field, too, Jamie is entirely self-taught. He uses lateral and analytical skills to conceptualise his formulations, producing unique blends through categorisation and structure, grouping scents together with impeccable organisation — and a spreadsheet.

“My favourite part of making perfume is in front of the computer writing the formulas, because I don’t mix the chemicals to make a perfume. I sit at the computer and I write the formula based upon my recollection of the various essential oils. Then I mix that to see if I’ve come close to what I was sort of wanting, and then I start tweaking. One of the perfumes I’ve got was seven years in the making, another was 55 iterations; 55 completely different versions before I finally got what I wanted. But they all started with me sitting in front of the computer with a blank spreadsheet in front of me, and I just start typing.”

After selling Listverse in 2020, Jamie was able to take his passion and talent and turn it into a full-time endeavour. In September 2022, he launched his own luxury fragrance house, Frater Perfumes, after almost eight years of research and formulation. Each perfume comprises the finest essential oils from the world’s best producers, and with no expense spared, Jamie has been able to revive many historic perfume bases that are seldom used today due to their cost or rarity. His perfumes are all matured for three months and carefully turned by hand daily before they are ready for bottling.

Infanta, by Frater Perfumes. Photo / Supplied
Infanta, by Frater Perfumes. Photo / Supplied

Frater Perfumes’ first stockist was World, where the perfumes sit alongside an eclectic and carefully curated selection of internationally renowned luxury fragrances and skincare. Jamie had naturally always been drawn to World and its fragrances, and in the creation of his own brand, he instinctively knew that Frater would have a place there.

“We are such a good match for World, for their love of exotic and unusual things as well. I just knew it would be a good fit,” says Jamie.

“At the launch at World in Wellington, a young lady bought a bottle and said that when she smelled it, she was instantly transported back to a childhood growing up in Tahiti, where she fell over in her grandmother’s garden into a bush of gardenias,” Jamie recalls.

“I’ve had people in America say that smelling Menagerie transported them back to a childhood circus. And I feel like my job is done when I make a perfume that, to me, transports me back to a circus, and then someone on the other side of the world has exactly the same experience when they smell it.”

It’s evident that of all the marks Jamie Frater has made over the years, Frater Perfumes is the one that will be the most indelible.

“I hope someone, somewhere, will open a bottle and spray it, 100 years into the future, and they will be smelling something that no one else has smelled except for me right now, as I put it into the bottle here in Wellington. This is my legacy.”

Frater Perfumes are available at World, Angel Divine and Frater.com

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