Peer Portraits: Frederick Bouchardy, Joya
Frederick Bouchardy is the founder of Joya Studio, the Brooklyn based fragrance and design studio, established in 2006. I got a chance to chat with the native New Yorker one rainy afternoon in December. We sat together in the lab at Joya; a cosy, dimly lit room surrounded by a library of scent references and inspiring objects.
I was interested to hear about Frederick's early years and the experience of growing up in New York City.
"I’m an only child. I grew up in the Upper West Side of New York. It was very different at that time. I don't know what that generation was called. I'm in the generation that was adult enough to remember not having constant contact and internet but it happened at that same time as well. I feel like my generation is sort of on a weird city limit where we know all these old fashioned things that the earlier generations really know well. Things like New York being more dangerous and quite mixed. Now places that I never would have imagined could have been gentrified are full on gentrified and it’s lame and kind of upsetting to see. I think one thing that is so special about this place is all the different inputs and how many different kinds of people there are. What is New York going to be when broke artists can't afford to be anywhere near here. That's the kind of energy we are going to miss a lot. Now the block that I grew up on is so commercialized. I was there relatively recently and a tourist stopped me and said, ‘Hey, do you know where I can get a good slice of pizza?’ and I said, ‘No, you cannot. You used to be able to.’ It used to only be slices of pizza and now it's very commercialized. As a kid, I used to take the bus or walk to school and I don't even know if you can do that as a little kid anymore.
I’m used to the intensity of close proximity and noise and a lot of aggression and weather and the smells in New York. My dad is French and his family is from the Alps and I am also familiar with that. We used to do these long trips there in the Summer so I’m used to the respite. My folks have a house upstate and we used to go there on the weekends starting when I was a teenager. I'm used to the contrast. As I get older, I seek out more of the quiet. A lot of the French stuff marked me, although I’m a city kid. I remember a lot about that; the smells, the flavors and most of my strongest memories are from that. I think growing up in New York is so intense, especially in a small family. The memories can get mashed together and maybe some of them are so much for young people. Some of them you don’t remember because you choose not to because it is a lot. Of course, I loved growing up here. It is such a cool way to be because you’re exposed to all kinds of different things and people. If you’re open to it and you’re raised that way, and I was, by my parents and my peers and teachers and stuff, you let yourself be open to a lot of things and there are a lot of cool things to discover."
I was telling Frederick that we are raising a family in New York now and we think about the impact this environment will have on our son.
"Oh yeah, a lot of people ask me because I didn't even think about this until I was quite literally in college. I would meet people and they would say, ‘Wow, you grew up in New York. What was that like?’ Up until then, and this is the danger of being a native New Yorker, is that it is very myopic. I was like, ‘Oh wow, right, not everyone grew up in New York,’ and it is the most intense possible way to grow up but it builds character."
Preceding Joya, Frederick worked as a journalist and the theme of storytelling and connection seem to weave throughout the different eras of his work life.
"I was always very interested in story telling and editing and so I was always really close to my English teachers. I ran the Art and Literary magazine as a senior in high school and the whole idea of writing and expressing myself was also a way of organizing information. The funniest part of being so old fashioned and kind of a luddite in my old age, is that I still want to connect with people. We work with so many different people. Our perfumes are meant to go around the world and I think my way of connecting with people is a little different. As an adult and a dad, a husband, I realize that in fact probably the whole idea of storytelling, trying to connect and the way I lead my life now, I basically want to learn more about myself. I think that if I am able to learn about myself, I am able to be a better listener and learn more about other people. Especially, the people that are close to me. I think that in turn makes me more open minded and maybe more receptive to other points of view. That ultimately lets me be any kind of connector. I like words. I like reading them. I like writing them. I like understanding them. That seems like a natural job for me. I was also mostly interested in poetry, verse writing and editing. That always begets the funny thing of when someone says, ‘Oh, I bet that was really useful.’ But in fact, I think it is really useful because you start to distill information differently and you consider things that come your way differently. You don't need to teach a thing that you’ve learned to make it useful, I think. I mean in a lot of cases, what’s the saying, those who can, do; those who cant, teach, which is not true. I don't want to be a teacher. I want to just keep searching and researching and expressing myself. I thought I had the perfect job as working for French/German TC station called Arte. At the time in Europe, they had very few channels, like 6 or 7 channels. That is much better because they are all automatically edited. There is a reason for them to be as opposed to having all this junk and then you say, ‘Oops, I just watched five hours of the world according to Ray J,’ and what happened to my whole night. That was a really interesting job but I was super junior. It wasn't my first job but it was my first real job and I was so junior that I was doing everyone else's stories. It was very hard and grueling and I just wanted a change."
I wanted to know what the transition was like between journalism and Joya.
"There was a lot of overlap. In a lot of ways, I was extremely lucky. I had a good friend who was working in graphic design. I had a family friend who was a perfumer. I had another family friend who was a buyer at a department store. I have a parent who is a designer and I have a parent who is a manufacturer. I was able to learn a lot of things. At the same time, this industry is tough. There are a lot of barriers to entry. I think e-commerce and social are the perceived barriers to entry but there are still massive barriers to entry. It is quite hard to have a business in this industry and there is so much regulatory and there is so much to learn. It is also like any other business in America; it seems like the ultimate liberty, but it’s not. If you start a business, as everyone who has started a business knows, you are just taking on an extra job. You’re still doing the job that you had, or the technical skill that you thought you were exemplary enough in to start this, but then your other job is running a business. I don’t mean it in vague speak, but everything from admin and paperwork and stuff. I just had amazing advisors and confidants and that, I think, is the magical, incredibly fortunate thing. I think it’s hard to find people in life that you trust and I luckily had a lot of people that I could trust to help me early on. It is so crazy valuable but there is still a ton of learning. Then it’s like, how do you even do this stuff, how do you make it, how do you market it, how do you connect with the fragrance companies that are making molecules, how do you ship a thing from here to Spain or here to the UK and how do you find people who specialize in this. Especially now, there are not a lot of people making scent stuff.”
Before I worked in fashion, I was in healthcare. During the transition between the two industries, there was a steep learning curve and at times I felt a little like an outsider. Of course with time, I found my footing and gained confidence and security in my new career. I asked Frederick if he had any imposter syndrome as he moved from journalism to running his own fragrance studio.
“There has always been new learning and growing so I don’t think I’ve ever had time to feel imposter syndrome. I also never really claim to be anything. I set the plans and strategy for this place and I make a lot of the decisions in terms of the fragrance profiles but the rest is very much a team effort here. Also, we work with a lot of outside perfumers so I never wanted to be a perfumer. I don’t want to be a perfumer. That’s so hard. It is such a long term play and the scent part alone isn’t my only interest. It’s a big interest of mine because I think it’s an incredible and different way to communicate stories and ideas but I want to touch the other parts too. The discovery tools and the packaging is just as important. Good product and design is all one. To me, it’s about making something that we are going to be proud of and that will hopefully move people. All these elements need to come together. To be an exceptional perfumer is kind of like being a great architect; you cannot be. You can, but there are certain things you cannot do. You have to have lived through some stuff to express certain things and that is true for this kind of discipline, I think. There are awesome young perfumers and one of them was working here for a year from Canada. It’s just different. It’s a different style. It's automatically more modern, more minimal, which can also be good. Basically the way perfumery touches me, practically speaking, is either, I can quickly identify the needs of our B2B clients or what I think our target audience is going toward. By working with other fragrance companies and perfumers, I can really jump start those conversations because I do know the raw materials. I basically cut out three, four, five steps which include the junior perfumers, marketing people, all the corporate hierarchy. Now I know the raw materials so well that in some cases, if a thing is meant to be minimal then I can do it. But it's a mix and again, I don’t really care about labels and titles. They’re important in so far as the roles here need to be clear but otherwise, I just want us to have a strong point of view and to make things that other people cannot and the labels don’t matter."
As an entrepreneur, one has to wear a lot of hats in order for different counterparts of the business to come together seamlessly. I wondered if Frederick found any one role to be the most exciting.
“They are all wrapped up into the same thing for me. I like seeing our process get better here. I like seeing people from different backgrounds communicate better and better and I like to see us making improvements whether it is internal, raw materials or suppliers. I think when we can really properly nail things, that’s fun too.”
We chatted about our names and what they mean to us. Frederick shared how his relationship with his name has changed over the years.
“I have such a long name. My first name and my last name both have nine letters each. I feel a lot of ways about my name. One of my grandfathers had my name. My parents gave me this name and spelled it this way. I think they thought at one moment that they were giving me the French spelling but then they blew it, which is good. Yeah, you go through your life, especially with long names or names like ours and people shorten them and then you come back around to liking the whole name. Now I like the whole name and I think it’s kind of an old fashioned name. I like that there is a carried on family thing and I like that there are not that many people with my name. My wife also has a long name so we decided to give our son a very short name to make it easy. It was funny, he’s three and at a new school and his current favorite peer is called Frederick. He told me the other day that from now on he was going to be called Frederick and I would take his name so we will see. We will negotiate that. One of my best friends is called Cash and the way that has shaped him. They really do—they mean something.”
I asked Frederick one of the questions in this series that spawns some really great conversations: is there something you believe that everyone should experience?
"Is there is something I believe everyone should experience… This is a difficult question. My default answer is always going to be that I think people should do exactly what they please as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. I generally stay away from things where I tell people what to do. Again, the business part of this, there is so much going on in the world of scent and the regulatory and the conversation of this is natural and that’s niche and so much of it is not true. I want to take us to a place where we are expressing ourselves just based on our own standards.
For me at least, coming back to being a native New Yorker and a city kid, we are raised a little bit tough. But if you’re brought up a certain way here, it’s kind of easy to be scared of stuff. I think sometimes it’s important to admit when you are scared or confront your own fears. This is something that was not natural for me. I think it’s important. It’s how you learn the world. Again, by yourself and then that is how you in turn learn more about other people."
Both AJ and I have daily rituals that we own and enjoy and that bring peace or structure to our days. It is nice to reflect on the impact that these practices have on us. Frederick shared what works for him.
"Absolutely. I have so many rituals its bordering on weird. But I have given up on some of the parts that I think are controlled. I do a lot of this slightly manic wellness regimen, eating and exercise stuff. Meditation. Reading. I am always entertaining a lot of ideas at the same time and I enjoy this. Like minority report and the screens moving around. I feel I need to put in a lot of, if not rules or structures, a lot of routines. These are the things that help me concentrate and give me tools to concentrate my efforts. Then I can really be efficient when it comes to knocking out practical important initiatives but also then shifting into creative stuff. That’s a fun thing about this place. Here, those two things can't happen at once (practical and creative). I come to this room [the lab] to do this and if I’m doing paperwork, regulatory, accounting, it’s over there [he motions to the office area at the far side of the studio]. It needs to be explicit. I am not good at multitasking. Multitasking is basically taking the focus away from one thing. There is just no other way I can look at it. That’s a very long answer and the answer is, I have a lot of routines. Not like full OCD like I have to do certain things a certain number of times but I do have favorite numbers that do appear. I take my boy to school everyday and we do story time at night every night. I spend a lot of time with him and like we said before, there’s flexibility with having your own thing. Although, it comes at the price of something else. You can take a long weekend but you’re going to make it up sometime. I’m trying to get back into reading and completely bailing on digital media like Netflix. Go back to reading, it feels better. I’ve watched everything on Netflix. That stuff isn’t good anymore."
It is a privilege to hear what someone’s favorite moment of the day is. Most often it is a simple moment of presence. Since we have a young child ourselves, I connected to Frederick’s response.
"I think today, the best moment was probably - well, it was a combination - the best and the worst moment was waking up early, in bed with my wife, son and dog because everyone had a rough night and we all ended up in there, late at night. That has to be it. That we are all waking up with neck aches and back aches and it’s fun."
I asked Frederick for his city recommendations for someone visiting New York for the first time.
"Oh yeah. Well, it depends what they like to do but for sure, Katz Deli, New York Public Library, Bryant Park, Central Park, Prospect Park, Fort Greene Park. They’d probably have to go to Soho and see that. I really like this area of Brooklyn. This is sort of in between and is good for family. It’s good to catch a breath. Museums and galleries - I used to do that a lot when I had some more time. I’d go through all the galleries with headphones on cause they are free."
I then asked him what his city recommendations would be for a someone that already lives in New York.
"I think the parks here are things that a lot of people don’t know. You know Prospect Park and Central Park were designed by the same people but they have completely different impacts. Prospect Park feels so wild although, neither of them are wild. They are completely manmade. They are really what makes the city go. There are really a lot of great cities in the world but the reason why New York is the best is because of those parks and the way they are integrated into it. That’s why Hong Kong could never be New York. For people in Brooklyn, you gotta get up to the top of Central park where there are waterfalls, almost at Morningside and for people who don’t really come to Brooklyn, you gotta come to Prospect park and see the wilderness there. I think also Alamo Draft House. That place is awesome. It's the movie theatre where you sit and eat and drink, it is really good. They have a really good milkshake. Just recently we got back into the Bronx Zoo and the Botanical gardens. Those are really good. There is so much to do here that it is very easy to not value the slow things and I think there are a lot of really good slow things here."
Photography by Julie Goldstone