How the friends behind Abel Fragrance make long-distance work

Featured in Capital #88.
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A decade ago Frances Shoemack and Isaac Sinclair put their heads (and noses) together to create natural perfume brand Abel. Now living continents apart, the pair have become masters of long-distance collaboration.

How did you and Isaac meet?

I was searching for a master perfumer to create our Abel fragrances and Isaac is one of only 50 master perfumers in the world, and the only from the whole Australasian region (ever!).

I came across a video on YouTube of him in the Waitakere ranges talking about how “perfume is like wine” and it was a eureka moment for me – this is our guy!

Seeing as we were both Kiwis, I figured we must know someone in common to introduce us, and we did. I reached out to him with my idea of creating a high-end natural perfume line, and was thrilled when I got his “sounds awesome!!!” response.

How do you manage working together from different sides of the world?

When I saw that video, I was living in Amsterdam, and assumed Isaac must have been living in New Zealand. Turns out he was in Sao Paulo! Arguably closer than NZ, but definitely not more convenient. In those days (over 10 years ago), Isaac would be in Paris several times a year so when he was there I’d jump on a train to meet him. I moved to Wellington at the start of 2020, and then the pandemic happened, so everything changed.

When we met in Tokyo this April for a perfume release it was the first time we’d seen each other in nearly four years. I think because it’s been a long-distance relationship from the get go, in many ways our creative process has been less impacted by covid than others – we were used to thrashing things out on calls, and the lag time of sending samples back and fourth across the world.

What’s the best thing about working together?

It’s been a truly rewarding creative partnership spanning more than a decade now. These days we both trust our roles in the process (and each other) and can be super collaborative.

I always thought I lucked out in finding Isaac (and I did), but after a few years of working together I overheard Isaac talking about Abel at an event in Berlin. The analogy he used was that he is like a songwriter, and all day long he’s working on blockbuster hits (his day job is working on big brand commercial fragrances), and Abel is like his indie punk rock band, where he gets to be creative, feel challenged, and really express himself. Turns out we’re both pretty thrilled about working together.


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