Sarah Baker is a London-based artist whose art project became a de facto luxury fragrance brand. Sarah studied in the USA and UK and her work has been shown internationally. Her art plays with popular media and she often stages interventions within these media forms, such as the 2019 Versace Holiday Saga for the Italian luxury brand. An art project that saw her creating a perfume acquired a momentum of its own and she founded her house in 2015. SARAH BAKER today boasts two lines of luxury fragrances. Available online worldwide, the fragrances are also carried by top specialist retailers such as Luckyscent, Los Angeles/NYC; The Perfumery, Barcelona and House of Perfume, Kuwait City, among others.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I’m a professional artist. I was born in San Francisco, grew up in Buffalo, New York and returned to San Francisco to study art. Later, I studied at Goldsmiths in London. I settled here; did all the things you do to build a career as an artist. My company came about serendipitously from an art project about perfume. In my case, this isn’t as crazy as it seems. There were already a lot of entrepreneurial processes to my practice as an artist.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
It was more a matter of me coming to the company because of an idea. I was working on an art project that involved me making a perfume that would be both an art work, but also a true luxury perfume. When the project was shown at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, the lines between art and a functioning perfume house were blurred. People really wanted the fragrances so I faced a choice: did I keep them entirely within the realms of the art world— too expensive for most to access as art owners—or did I go another route? I went another route.
How did you achieve awareness?
Much the way many new businesses do; word of mouth, social media, events, etc. Today’s artists aren’t rarified Bohemian souls in some Parisian garret. To advance as an artist—I already had experience—you do the same things other businesses do; network, make contacts, try to gain media visibility and try to get what you do out there.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
We haven’t gone down that start-up route of pitching to incubators and investors. Andy Hsu, also an artist and my husband, and I decided if we were going to take the fragrances, it was going to be an artist-run, family-owned business. I’m not saying we would never consider investment—or partnerships—but being something we share as a family is really important to us. I invested my income from my art and creative work for commercial brands into the business and we’ve also had great support from family and friends inspired by what we’re trying to achieve. In many ways, we’re a contemporary “Mom and Pop” business.
What are the key successes?
Exactly! I think I’m on a journey to answer that very question. Perhaps the journey is the answer itself. I think the key to success is never getting complacent about success. Sure, there are achievements of which we’re really proud as an independent fragrance house and we are really proud of what we create.
I think my track record as an artist has really helped me gauge success and keep perspective. Being an artist or creative is a process of overcoming endless assaults. When you study, you have to defend everything you make against critical interrogation. Then, if you haven’t already lost your nerve, you have to put what you’ve laboured hard to create out there for judgement. You might think you’re a great talent, but until those more established than you affirm that, you’re nothing. Let’s just say I was well prepared for the new challenge. Yeah, it’s been tough at times, but I’m no longer the new kid on the block.
Maybe the key to success is simply standing by what you do; perseverance, being able to accept criticism and be self-reflective, even when it’s painful.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
Where do I start? Seriously, we face challenges every day. But many—though not all—tend to be technical, practical or logistical. Fragrance is regulated and that requires all sorts of compliance and paperwork, Brexit has been a nightmare and the pandemic even saw us running low on bottles. But we’re still here. Most of our challenges are mundane but very, very real.
What are your plans now/for the future?
Growing new markets, consolidating existing lines and introducing new products. That might sound weird for a brand that already has a lot of fragrances, but new products are really important in our sector.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
Start there: it’s going to be a journey. Along the way, you’ll work out how the things you’ve already learned help you but also identify vast areas where your learning curve will be steep.
Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?
Smile, be polite and answer slowly while you read the room.
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
In no particular order… Jackie Collins. I have admired Jackie since my teenage years and I was lucky enough to interview her as part of a work I made. Donatella Versace. One of my all-time highs was working with her on an art project for Versace. Lil Kim. Vivienne Westwood. Tracey Emin.
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
“Leopard makes me feel exceptionally hot, skinny, and rich.” This is a quote by a user on the perfume world’s biggest online title/forum. I have no idea who s/he actually is. These days I’m motivated and inspired by quotes from real customers about the fragrances we’ve created.
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