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Sarah McCartney
Rob Greig

Quit your job, become a… perfumer

By Time Out London contributor
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Sarah McCartney, 55, owner of 4160 Tuesdays 

What did you do before you went into the perfume business?

'I wrote for Lush's in-house publication for 14 years. They have their own perfumery, so I learned a lot about the materials they use. I really wanted to make my own scents, so I began dabbling a bit. I let people smell them and they wanted to buy them, and shops wanted to buy them. I started my own company. I've been doing it for ten years.'

So how do you actually make the stuff?

'It's just me in complete silence. I don't even have music on. I mix up different essential oils in little bottles and make samples. No one will call me and very few people will email. And I'm quite happy like that.'

At the risk of getting flowery, do you enter a particular 'zone' when you're perfuming?

'I do sometimes. I have sworn never to disappear where the sun don't shine, because you get people who just talk the most ridiculous bollocks about the creative process. But I do think it's a bit like composing music - you're putting perfume "notes" together to make something that smells harmonious.'

Ever been asked to create a particularly unusual scent?

'I got talking to an American perfume vlogger and one day he said he'd really love his own perfume, which included smells of - and I quote - 'freshly rolled blunts, buckets of rum cocktails, blackouts and regret'. So I made it. It smells partly of lime because he wanted cocktails, and we use real cannabis sativa essential oil in it. He loves the perfume so much. He says it smells like his jacket from 2003!'

Are there common traits among perfumers?

'We're driven by creativity. We need to get these ideas into bottles. We find ourselves rather annoyed that we have to sell them in order to be able to make others! That's a way in which independent perfumery is different from big-business perfumery: they have big businesses to run and have to make perfumes in order to run them; we've got perfumes to make, and we have to run a business in order to make them.'

Hours: 45hrs p/w

Starting salary: £16,000 p/a as a chemistry graduate

Qualifications: A chemistry degree or an apprenticeship

Interview by Sammy Robson

Or why not become a journalist?

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