Life & Culture

Creating perfumes helped me cope with post-natal blues

Olivia da Costa’s scents reflect her Jewish roots and were crucial when lockdown took its toll


Having interviewed many Jewish perfume creators over the years, the one common thread is their “more is more” approach. Perfumes that knock you for six but also envelop you like an incredibly glamorous comfort blanket (or a mink coat, without the cruelty).

Think Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds created by Moroccan-Jewish perfumer Carlos Benaïm, or the leathery wonder that is Tsarina concocted by Ormonde Jayne’s Linda Pilkington.

Now throwing her hat into the ring is Olivia Da Costa, founder and creative visionary behind Olfactive O, whose perfumes definitely pack a similar punch to those of her predecessors.

“I think [Jews] take a similar approach to perfumery as we do to food,” she tells me from her home-workshop in north-west London, where she lives with her husband and two small daughters.

“The last meeting I had with the perfumer I work with, we were creating our next fragrance — which is going to be spicy — and we ended up having a conversation about honey cake. Not just the spices and the flavours, but what this kind of food represents: it’s rich, warm and welcoming, and feels exotic, but familiar at the same time.”

Da Costa had a fairly traditional upbringing, where food played a key role. “When I was growing up, there was a hard-and-fast rule that we would all have Shabbat dinner. It was only as I got older, I really appreciated how lovely and special that was.

"We don’t do it so much any more. But we do always have a challah on Fridays. Probably a lot of my culture and heritage has subconsciously seeped into my perfumes!”

If you sniff your way through Olfactive O’s scents, each one is kind of cosy and familiar, as well as being extremely wearable. There’s Woody, a sensual and enveloping blend, while Fruity is a jazzy number with cheery top notes of strawberry leaf and raspberry. And Gourmande is totally addictive, oozing sweet notes of fig, honey and dark chocolate with milk and vanilla.

And Skin… well, that is something else altogether. Created by accident, there aren’t any ingredients you can really bring out — it’s more of a mood. (Da Costa tells me, it was the most expensive to produce.) Smelling almost indecently intimate, it can be layered over the other five scents to give them some added allure.

Da Costa also regularly hosts events where guests sniff their way through her perfumes, with accompanying food or wine pairings with each one. (You can buy tickets on her website.)

While she doesn’t actually make the perfumes herself, she works closely with the perfumer (who, she says, prefers to remain anonymous), something which is fairly common in the industry — but not always spoken about in honest terms.

The perfumes are nonetheless strong reflections of her personal journey. Fragrance was something she used to wear as a child, almost like armour. “It’s actually embarrassing the perfumes I used to wear as a kid,” she recalls. “I was this total geek and got bullied at school.

"So perfume was just so forgiving. It didn’t matter that I had braces and couldn’t wear makeup, or that my hair was this frizzy mushroom ‘fro, because perfume made up for all that.

“I think the main one I wore was Dior Poison and sometimes Guerlain’s Shalimar. I remember making myself feel sick off Angel [by Mugler]! I wore quite ridiculous big, bold, ambery scents back then.”

Her latest scent, Gourmande, was launched during lockdown, following a period of post-natal depression after her second child was born. “Coco was born in November 2020. So we were just about to head into the next lockdown,” she explains. “I just remember it was very cold and miserable.

"The poor thing was allergic to dairy, which we didn’t find out about until later on as it was difficult to see a doctor at the time. So she just screamed and screamed… and I just felt trapped and quite sad at home. You don’t realise how sad you’re getting until you actually come out the other side of it and realise you weren’t yourself at all.”

Her job became a lifeline during that dark period.

“Working on that perfume was my biggest saviour,” she says.

“It allowed me to be creative outside of just pushing a buggy around the park, trying to soothe my baby. I think also I was just surrounded by milk at the time, which ended up as one of the key notes in the scent.

"And talking to the perfumer on Zoom, while rocking and feeding Coco, was such a wonderful form of escapism. Plus the launch for Gourmande was really fun because we did it in collaboration with a patisserie company, which designed a sweet, sticky bun to match the notes.”

Another “happy” scent is on the horizon, this time with citrus notes, which Da Costa and her perfumer are currently working on.

After a few tumultuous years, a lot of us are still looking for a bit of sunshine after the storm, and perfume is a great place to start. If you’re after something a little different yet comforting, Olfactive O is definitely worth sniffing out.

Olfactive O is available at Les Senteurs or online at

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