Crafting Signature Scents with MISSBISH Julia Zangrilli, Founder of NOVA
Finding the right scent is undoubtedly one of the hardest tasks a girl's got to do. Lucky for us, we've got Julia Zangrilli, Brooklyn-native and owner of custom perfumery NOVA, to help make the process a little less overwhelming. After attending the renowned Grasse Institute of Perfumery in France in 2011, Zangrilli began making personal scents for friends. She had an incredible understanding of perfuming basics and an innate talent to craft beautiful fragrances, so the next step for Zangrilli naturally was to start a company that builds custom fragrances based on a person's taste and skin. A year later, in 2012, she founded NOVA and has quickly made a name for herself as your go-to for high-quality, one-of-a-kind perfumes in New York City. Recently, we talked to her about the art of perfume-making. Read on to find out how she builds a signature scent, what lessons she's learned in business, and who she would love to construct a fragrance for (hint: it's not who you think).
Did you always have a love of perfume?
Definitely! It always triggered my imagination.
What lead you to attend the Grasse Institute of Perfumery in 2011?
I was looking for a way to enjoy myself and registered for an intro class. Knowing that I had a strong nose and knack for remembering fragrances, I thought I would probably enjoy myself. It wasn’t deeper than that at first but it got deep quickly when I actually began the learning. I’d never connected to an activity that strongly before. I had been taking individual classes and learning on my own for a while in New York and wanted to take it to the next level.
You started NOVA back in 2012. How did this come about and what inspired you to start customizing perfumes?
I started NOVA as a custom fragrance company - no one was offering custom fragrances in affordable price points/with the aesthetics I had in mind. I wanted the client aspect to be narrative and interactive, so I started a blog which documented each person’s “life scent journey,” if you will. By the end of 2014, for multiple reasons, I needed to raise the price point for an intensive formula; so in 2015, I created the #NOVAScentBar, which is the next level/streamlined version of my custom fragrances. Based on my experience with hundreds of custom clients, it’s a “best of” ingredient curation that rotates seasonally. It allows me to work with more clients at lower cost, while still using the highest quality absolutes/materials, and is simple enough structurally that I can now work with groups.
What is the hardest thing about constructing scents specific to an individual?
The language. It’s very difficult for people, especially if they have never thought about scent before, to describe their goals/likes/aversions. It’s difficult for clients to express, and for me to understand, exactly what they have in mind when they ask for a particular flower or say they don’t like a certain olfactive family.
What is the biggest lesson you've learned so far in your career?
Map out everything in writing at the start of any project, draw up an agreement and then begin your process. Skipping this step because a job seems "small" or "casual" can be a huge mistake and waste of your time/resources. I've also learned the importance of finishing strong on a logistical level. Simple things, like shipping, for example - don't wait until the last minute to look into the details. Undershooting this technical phase can be the death of all your hard work.
What are some of the biggest mistakes people make when wearing perfume?
Wearing too much can be off-putting. I think sticking to what you know can also be a mistake... I’m all for having staples but people miss out by not expanding their palette. It’s enriching, like anything other aesthetic!
“Be who you are, be excited, and sacrifice whatever is stopping you from taking off.”
All the perfumes from NOVA are personally constructed by you. That’s a lot of work! How do you stay focused?
When I’m focused, I’m editing and prioritizing clearly enough that I can execute without thinking. Even if I’m really busy, I’m organized and calm. To get there, I have to meditate and take good care of my body. The former doesn’t happen without the latter.
During your downtime, when you're not constructing one-of-a-kind perfumes, what would you usually be found doing?
Going to Prospect Park with my husband and dog then having a lazy whatever kind of day, probably doing some shopping. Catching up with friends and family, weekends away and trips, eating good meals, seeing art, movies.
If you could construct a perfume for anyone in the world, who would it be and what would it smell like?
Jack Nicholson. Don’t know what it would smell like I would want to go by his taste.
What advice would you give to someone starting their own business?
Be who you are, be excited, and sacrifice whatever is stopping you from taking off.
What are three hidden gems in New York?
Hop Kee - amazing traditional Cantonese place, super tasty and cheap. Open late night. It’s been around for over 50 years, the place has so much character. Love that the waiters still wear serving jackets.
Apizz - I used to work here! Under the radar but not. This place is critically-acclaimed, Michelin-rated Italian restaurant but hidden on an unfrequented block with no windows to the street. The food is spectacular - just some of the best Italian in the city. Everything is cooked in a wood fire oven. They’re known for their small pizzas (hence Appiz), and their meatballs - two large meatballs, stuffed with ricotta, covered in marinara, topped with more ricotta, wood fired. The ambiance is cozy and romantic; they have an amazing wine and drink selection. A favorite fall/winter spot.
Kathe Jewelry - the old man who runs this place gets the coolest stuff. Really great gold and sterling silver in a lot of different styles, precious and semi-precious stones, and beautiful vintage pieces. It's a family run operation; they have an old school vibe. Feels like New York.
What does MISSBISH mean to you?
Bad bitches far and wide!
Photos by: Carmen Chan