Sarah McCartney: I worked at Lush and now I create my own perfumes – sold in Fortnum and Mason

Sarah McCartney is a self-taught perfumer and founder of 4160 Tuesdays. Having worked as a copywriter at Lush Times for 14 years Sarah embarked on writing a novel involving fragrance, but while researching how to make particular smells, fell in love with making her own and 4160 Tuesdays was born.

The name is approximately how many Tuesdays you’ll have lived if you reach 80 years of age and Sarah says these days should be used to write, think, make and do lovely things.

Her quirky office in Acton is more like a front room, albeit with a swing in it, than a fragrance lab. It has high school science lab benches, mid-century furniture and bowls of sweets.

The alchemy happens upstairs, where glass beakers, pipettes, and bottles of solvents are sitting on tables next to vintage perfume bottles, exotic oils and multi-coloured tissue paper.

We asked her how she got started as an entrepreneur,what she’s learnt and overcome, and her top tips for anyone else thinking of taking the plunge.

How did you start your business?

“Friends wanted me to make perfumes that reminded them of happy times, and the next thing I knew I was a perfumer.” (Sarah has a background in maths and science, which is an essential requirement for a career in perfumery.)

How did you finance it?

“At first I only bought small amounts of materials and went on short courses and gradually bit by bit assembled a small fan club. I spent a bit of my pension to see what I could do in a year and then my parents died so I spent my inheritance on bottles and rent and that is what has enabled me to take the big step to make it in to a proper business.

“I had a strategy to be lovely to everybody unless they take the mickey then they are dead to us! Also to always make perfumes that my friends can afford to buy, never disappear where the sun doesn’t shine, be able to pay the mortgage and grow slowly at a reasonable organic rate.”

How many fragrances do you sell?

“I have 35 fragrances on the market, which are sold through our website, in Fortnum & Mason’s fancy new fragrance floor, and in indie boutiques Les Senteurs and Roullier White.”

Where is your inspiration from?

“My inspiration is from anything. Someone saying they want a scent smelling of the woods in Italy with a couple of women wearing jasmine and smoking cigarettes or the name of a song.”

You use methods that were popular from the 1880s to the 1970s. What are these?

“Modern perfumery is based on creating perfumes which smell the same from the strip both in the shop and outside, so no one goes back to the shop to complain about it smelling different.

“These companies use GC-MS or Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (an analytical method that combines the features of gas-chromatography and mass spectrometry to identify different substances within a test sample) to capture the air and analyse it and recreate it.

“I don’t have GC-MS and so use a traditional percentage of 50/50 synthetics and natural, which will smell different on different people.”

Any tips on buying scent?

“If you are in your fifties and you chose your signature scent in your twenties, that scent will be manufactured differently today and may smell slightly different. There are now more than 720 brands of scent to choose from but it may be time to pick something different.

“Be careful if you have been wearing the same perfume all your life. Your brain becomes used to it but be aware that probably everyone else can smell it. Change every now and again. Age makes no difference to the smell of scent.

“Wear different scents for different occasions. I might wear a fresh lemony scent in the day and in the evening I will wear something that projects myself so that I am noticed.

“My favourite scent is Goddess of Love, a perfume I have wanted to make since I started out, and I made it earlier this year. My favourite scent that is not made by me is Diorella.”

What mistakes have you made at 4160 Tuesdays?

“Thinking I have free time to give people advice. People don’t normally make their own perfumes so people come for advice and I can’t afford to spend half an hour how to tell someone how to become my competitor.”

Which perfume companies do you admire?

“I admire Guerlain for restoring their old perfumes back to originals, their creativity and for their shop in the Champs-Élysées. And Anick Goutall, who make their own perfect perfumes and led the way.”

Where else would you like to see your perfumes?

“I would like one more department store and shops around the world. I would like to see it worn by people who are looking for something different and to see the business ticking over nicely so every day I can smile and not think what have I got in the bank.”

Sarah’s top three tips for starting a business in your fifties

  1. We think we know everything but we don’t. It’s not like anything you’ve done before. You have to start from scratch.
  2. We have a wider view so can do what we want.
  3. Do yoga. You need to be physically fit, healthy and flexible in so many ways.–

Weekly newsletter