September 15, 2022
In the early ‘90s the world was obsessed with mass. The fragrance – the only fragrance – was CK One, niche was not a thing. Yet, in the bustling back streets of Fitzroy, Victoria, amongst the art, food, vibrant culture. one woman was quietly laying the groundwork for a niche scent revolution. That woman was Andrea Birnie, the founder of Melbourne icon, Kleins Perfumery, and its collection of eponymous scents that have become icons of their own. Here, we speak to Andrea about perfume oils, celebrating art, and how it all began with a florist.
Tell us the Kleins Perfumery story…
It begins with the Perfumery at 313 Brunswick St, Fitzroy. In 1992 I met an incredibly charismatic and talented woman who owned a florist on the street and after developing a friendship she asked if I would like to become a partner in her business. Brunswick St was quite boho back then and a great place to hang out. The fridge was full of French champagne and flowers were delivered in a red charger. How could I say no?!
We worked hard for a number of years until one day my partner told me that she had met a man and was moving to Byron! The floristry arm of the business was taken over by our head florist and I decided to stay on. Before I knew it, Kleins was born. We were the very first store to stock Aesop and I sourced many niche fragrances as well as scented treasures from all over the world. Kleins was once described as a “perfumed Aladdin’s cave”. Customers enjoyed the creativity of the store as well as the fabulous staff.
Did your pre-Kleins career pave the way for opening your own store?
Not really! Before starting Kleins Perfumery, I worked for Badger Antiques which specialised in decorative arts and jewellery. The owner and the store were both eclectic and eccentric – I loved the job and the people I met. Prior to that, I worked as a florist which was a wonderful introduction to scent. The interesting part was that I was a terrible florist and always felt like a bit of a florist fake.
The first product that we launched with was a Sea Salt & Lemon hand wash (called Good Vibes) as well as a Tangelo Hand Cream (Called Surfer and Two Girls). We loved Rennie Ellis’s ‘70’s surfing pictures and his ‘80s urban photography. We felt that Rennie’s work would look great in Australian bathrooms and handbags.
Your visuals have always been stunning. Why was that important to you?
Our visuals are distinctive and so far we have sought to only work with artists. It just kind of happens. We admire an artist’s work and then another and another and then we can’t resist working with these talented artists. There is also much artistry to be found in fragrance so we find it just makes sense.
How does one of your scents come to life?
Kleins Perfumery has retailed perfume oils for decades both instore and online). In the early days, once a customer chose a fragrance we used to decant our perfume oils into little bottles from Egypt. We are very excited to finally be expanding this range.
We only work with “noses”, mainly in France and Tahiti. We start with a brief describing the nature or personality of the fragrance that we hope to create. The Perfumer then interprets this brief and sends samples – the process may continue for some time. It can be difficult to finally decide when a perfume is just right.
What are your best fragrance tips?
DON’T be seduced by brand names. Close your eyes and gently inhale the fragrance, feel the sentiment of the perfume.
DO apply the perfume on to your skin. Try to let the fragrance sit where the skin is naturally warm before deciding. Sometimes notes can be muffled and you may miss the spontaneity of another note.
DON’T limit yourself to only sampling a fragrance family that you know you like (eg: rose). You may be surprised that you are fond of a perfume that is the complete opposite to your taste.
The last text I sent was… Karen’s is booked out tonight. Do you want to make it tomorrow night?
The best smell in the world is… Those which are hard to grasp – violets, thunderstorms.
On my bedside table is… A stack of books around Spiritual Teachings and Yoga.
My dream dinner guests are… William Shakespeare, Elton John and my friend Bruce Bradfield.
My coffee order is… Almond Latte
When I’m creatively blocked I… I stare into space for a while.