4160 Tuesdays’ Sarah McCartney: Blazing her own trail

2024 . 05 . 16 | written by Karen Marin

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The People of Niche Perfumery




A lovely little box filled with fragrant treats found its way into my mailbox. From the looks of the packaging, it could have been a box of chocolates, and indeed some of the goodies within smelled of chocolate and other delicious gourmandises. This little treasure contained the samples I’d requested from 4160 Tuesdays, the niche fragrance brand created by Sarah McCartney back in 2012, and who I was about to interview. Before I tell you about the fragrances, let’s meet Sarah and find out more about how she got to where she is today.

4160 Tuesdays

You have had an interesting career path, creating your brand as a result of a book you wrote…. Tell me how you got into the world of fragrance?

I slid into this field. When I was very small I made potions in the garden – I wasn’t interested in making perfumes but in creating magic spells. I ended up being Lush’s writer after doing a collaboration with them and the Guardian who I worked for at the time. I spent fourteen years writing the Lush Times during which time I had to learn about the aromas and properties of essential oils so I did a lot of research. Then I wrote a novella about a perfumer who makes fragrances for people to get through difficult times by reminding them of happy ones (The Scent of Possibility). The perfumes I wrote about didn’t exist, and that’s when I thought, I’ll make them!

You make it sound easy, but I’m sure it was quite daunting?

If I’d known it would be so daunting when I’d started maybe I’d have done something different. (Laughs) It was a bit tricky, but there is so much more information on the internet now. However, so much of it is rubbish. I was from a family where we always made things, so going out and making something was part of my upbringing. I started mixing things up in an artisanal way, I made what I wanted. I smell things in sound, maybe because I trained as a musician. I can hear which things will harmonize in a blend, and it just seems to work.

Sarah McCartney mid creation

Your brand is called 4160 Tuesdays – what does it mean?

Originally this was the name of my blog, but when I decided to have a company I didn’t want to name it after myself. In my head I had calculated 52 weeks a year, 80 years as a lifespan, and that equals 4160 weeks. It sounds like so little. I started writing a blog about doing something different every Tuesday, a day where we tend not to do much special. It’s also a word I always misspelled as a child. My thought was, even if Tuesday is a work day, let’s do something different every Tuesday. Let’s make them memorable.

Discovery Set

Now, on to the fragrances. How do you group them? Let’s talk about a few as they all have such fabulous names!

Initially I had collections, such as the Crimes of Passion which was kind of like the 7 Deadly Sins. These are perfumes that would inspire people to create crimes of passion that they would never otherwise have thought of doing if they weren’t driven completely nuts by the fragrance.

Maxed Out, for example is one of the Crimes of Passion. It’s the aroma of a wild night out in NYC in 2003. It’s the smell of marijuana cigars, rum cocktails, cheap hookers and passing out. I created it for a friend who had this crazy idea of making a scent that brought back memories of days – or rather evenings – from his past. The fragrance went straight to LuckyScent. I think it was the most unusual scent I’ve created.

But these days I don’t tend to work that way, creating collections, because I have so many fragrances and I have too many ideas! I group my fragrances by the dry down, and when I find that nearly 50% of my fragrances are ambers, do I care? No, I don’t feel the need to balance it out. I make what I want to make. We have gourmands and ambers and woods, but we mess with the categories - shuffle them around a bit - to make them tell stories. What I Did On My Holidays might have been the first aquatic herbal gourmand, but it makes more sense to describe it as a sunny day at a British beach rather than to try to stick it in a box.

A popular one is Mother Nature’s Naughty Daughters which is named that because it has lots of naturals which are highly restricted, but then there are safe synthetics in it as well. It’s got cedar moss, rose, broom, opoponax, and citrus fruits like bitter orange. People describe it as sweet without being sticky.

I Make What I Want to Make

Let me tell you about Up the Apples & Pears. I had written several short stories and then I decided to invent the perfumes to go with them. In my imagination, this is the smell of a small pub in the East End of London in 1933. It does smells of apples and pears but also gin, beer, cigarettes, bread, hops and other things. I imagined this pub on a tiny plot of land that’s been there forever, run by two elderly sisters. An evil property developer wanted to get a hold of this land to take it over and build a big office building. Well, Dottie and Cissy inadvertently murder him and plant him in the ground where their apple and pear trees grow. It’s completely bonkers.

One of my favorite fragrances is Complicated Shadows. It’s from a series of fragrances called Clouds which use almost the same materials for the scents but in different proportions, so some are darker and some are brighter. This one is a slightly darker version of Fluffy Lemon Top and Both Sides of Clouds, which precede it in the series.


How do you approach fragrance creation?

I generally think about what I want to do for months, even years, and make 4 or 5 trials and that’s it. If I start working on a fragrance and it isn’t going well then I start again. Because if you keep adding things to make “corrections” you use far more materials than you need to. It’s better to go back to the beginning and start all over again. Likewise, if you can’t have something, and I mean a raw material which is restricted, discontinued or under patent, you either work around it or you make something different. This is where constraint can be a glass half full/half empty issue.

Expense doesn’t make beauty in perfume, expense makes marketing. You don't need costly materials to make something beautiful. But I think naturals do extra things we haven’t measured yet. They may have superpowers which synthetics don't. I think it’s there, it’s not inexplicable, it just needs research. This is where the magic is in perfume, because we don’t know yet.

I get a constant delight from making things. I never make something because other people have a fragrance in their collections and I need to have it….I make what I want to make.

Sarah and The Perfume Companion
Sarah in a workshop

What have been some of the biggest pain points in product development?

There are a few that come to mind. Overcoming the “performance” problem, with people wanting everything to last a day and a half, and thinking that’s important. It’s that belief that something should last forever, that perfume should last for hours. That actually confines your creativity to a narrower band of materials. And trying to explain all the science to people who think they know but they really don’t...like the belief that naturals aren’t unharmful...

Fragrance is a feeling, and there’s a delight in getting to where you meet someone’s expectations. It’s why language is so important in the whole process because when it doesn’t convey the feeling, you’re stuck. People know what they like but they don’t know how to describe it. I had a client who thought deep, dark and heavy would have the smell of musk. And so it’s key to understand what the client wants. People only know in relation to what they know: when they say they want something light and transparent, it may not at all what they really want. “That’s strong” in English could mean, “I don’t like it,” whereas in another culture it means, “I love that”. Think about it. What does “powdery” mean, for example! It means people need to try before they buy. You can’t tell from the words no matter how brilliantly someone describes the fragrance.

The Sexiest Scent on the Planet. Ever (IMHO)
4160 Tuesdays assortment

You are UK based. Tell me about your customer.

The people that have the courage to discover something for themselves without having to make a statement about it – these are the people coming to me. They aren’t afraid of being judged for their choices. For example, I got involved doing an exhibit at the Courtauld Gallery to scent the Manet painting, Bar at the Folies Bergere. I was involved in making the fragrance for this. So you see people often come to me through other artforms. I get people who often aren’t otherwise interested in perfumes.

Where is 4160 Tuesdays sold?

We are distributed in the US, the UK, Australia and in Korea.

In addition to the brand, the blog and the books you’ve written, you also offer classes and workshops.

More people are interested in doing workshops now, especially after COVID. I have a workshop I’ll be doing in central London which sold out in a day. And I try to set expectations for the client correctly. We tell them you’ll be able to create something nice today that you can wear. When people come here, they’ve got just six hours to make something. You have to remember it took a master perfumer 30 years and probably hundreds of tries to do what they do.

What ingredients or notes do you think we’ll be smelling more of in 2024 and into 2025?

I don’t take much notice of what happens in other people’s perfumes, but what I see are interesting co-distillations of naturals. Beautiful new absolutes using a biodegradable solvent. The push is to be more eco-friendly, to use naturals and molecular distillations of other naturals. The ultimate quest was always for the power sandalwood molecule, but now it's for sustainable, biodegradable materials.

How do you utilize social media to promote your brand?

I use it incessantly!!! I quite enjoy it, we talk about perfume on the YouTube channel, I have a lovely Facebook group, and then there’s Instagram of course. I don’t pay any Influencers, I think it’s a little duplicitous to pay for the posts, and you can tell when it’s happening because all of a sudden there’s a cluster of posts all on the same product. Fortunately, we have so many consumers who post about us. We’re lucky because we don’t really need to grow, we don’t have investors looking for their money back.


Which part of what you do is the most rewarding?

There are many people out there creating more unusual things. I wanted to make fragrances for me. It’s rewarding though when I make something that I want to wear and others really want them too, so then I’ll make more and let them wear it, and even share it with our retailers.

My lovely sample box courtesy of 4160 Tuesdays

And aren’t we lucky that Sarah shares her creations with us? In my little box, each vial was individually wrapped in cheerful tissue, labeled and placed in the box along with a brochure. What a pleasure it was to unwrap then test each scent. The Dark Heart of Old Havana certainly conjures up a vision of walking through the town at night while your nose is tickled by the smell of tobacco intermingling with coffee, rum, sweet desserts and fruits. I was skeptical about The Extra Sexiest Scent on the Planet. Ever. (IMHO) However, I have to say this is an irresistible gourmand delight, like the best lemon tart you can ever imagine. A sugary citron confection. With A Walk in the Forest I left the gourmands and found myself in nature, surrounded by tall trees, sitting on the soft mossy ground and inhaling serenity. These are fragrances that bring joy and happiness to the wearer. Well-being with a smile on your face.

Sarah enjoys the freedom to create without being dictated to or told what to do. She relishes the liberty to make what she wants to make at a pace that suits her. Her approach is completely in line with what you’d expect from an indie, disruptor, challenger brand. Bravo to her for blazing her own path and may she inspire others.

Sarah McCartney has authored several books including The Scent of Possibility, Four Fragrant Mysteries and The Perfume Companion, for which you may read our review on the link.

Fragrance at Your Fingertips: A Book Review of The Perfume Companion: The Definitive Guide To Choosing Your Next Scent (essencional.com)

*See The British Approach to Perfumery for more information