“I’m from Buffalo, New York, but my parents immigrated from Pakistan. I think a lot of my love of flowers comes from being Pakistani. My mother grew all these tropical plants, even though we were in Buffalo—lilac bushes and honeysuckle vines, and stephanotis plants that wrapped around the staircase leading to my bedroom. All summer, I would open my bedroom door and walk downstairs, and there’d be this explosion of white floral fragrance. My parents are both doctors, and immigrant parents usually want you to be a doctor or a lawyer—mine were not like that at all. My parents really encouraged my creativity. In a way it served me really well, but at the same time, I think they maybe could’ve taught me a little bit more about reality. I literally moved to New York the day that I graduated. For the first couple of years my parents helped me out while I worked a ton of random jobs, just figuring out what I wanted to do. I made some friends who went to NYU film school and Columbia film school—I started acting in their short films, and then would help them write short films. I ended up making my own short films and video artwork, and then I moved to LA to be a production assistant on independent films.
A couple weeks after I moved to LA, my roommate said her friend Ezra [Woods, Régime co-founder] was going to come over. That first time we ever met, we talked for two hours about perfume and flowers. We became friends, and later we threw this dance party together in LA. We called it Indole, which is a funny, nerdy thing. Indole is a molecule in white flowers that’s the decaying part of the smell, and we were fascinated by that. It makes them smell over-the-top heady, and gives people headaches, and makes people think they smell barnyard-y. I had actually been making video artwork about it—the fact that these flowers that we all find so beautiful have this smell of mortality and decay and rot in them.
A few years later, I had a show in a small gallery in downtown LA where I showed those videos. But with them, I wanted to have a big bowl in the middle of the room filled with fragrance, and just have the fragrance emanate. That’s when I really started researching perfume. What is perfume? Who makes perfume? What is it made out of—it’s not just flower juice, right? I had always been such a perfume consumer and a perfume lover, but I never knew anything about it. The industry was really secretive, too. I started researching and buying materials and ingredients, and set up my own mini lab. One day during that process Ezra came over. We hadn’t seen each other in a long time. This was in 2013—so, seven years after we met. He walked in and saw all these bottles and droppers and ingredients on my table, and got really excited. After my show was over, I stayed with him at his apartment for what was supposed to be a month, and we started working together and blending fragrances. It turned out he had a bunch of ingredients he had been collecting, too.
We started with mood boards—scent is a whole little movie, you know? Ezra’s background is in fashion styling, and mine is in art and film, so we approached perfume from this really visual place. We both had a lot of references and things that we were excited about—historical eras, aesthetic movements, etcetera. Even though I’ve always been obsessed with 18th-century Europe, and court culture, and all that stuff, I didn’t want to do a brand that was trying to recreate that period. And even though Ezra and I grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s around this aesthetic of bright color, and Esprit, and Generra, and Benetton, we didn’t want to have the brand be just that either. When we put our references together, it created something unique. That was really exciting. The biggest challenge was really seeing ourselves not as purely creative people, but as people who could make a business. That was the learning curve. It’s really difficult to get investors or venture capitalists or private equity firms to support you when you’re just starting out. Plus factories want huge orders, and we have super custom packaging—hand painted, everything is custom. We went through periods where we were more confident, we went through periods where we felt dejected. One of the things that starting this business has really taught me, and has really meant so much to me, is the support from my friends and family. I couldn’t believe it. I was so moved. I thought, if these people believe in me, then I can believe in myself.
I had flirted with wearing my mom’s perfumes when I was little, and bought perfumes from The Body Shop when I was in middle school. I was also obsessed with the smell of Finesse shampoo, and I thought that if I washed my hair three times in a row the scent would be stronger, which is not how that works. In the summer of 1995, I came to New York with some of my friends, and we took classes at Parsons and lived in New York for two months. I was 16 years old, it was the best summer of my life. I was walking around the West Village and I discovered this store called Aedes—it’s a legendary New York niche perfume store. The owner, Karl, was this really handsome Austrian man. I started smelling stuff, completely fascinated, and Karl paid attention to what I was smelling. He told me that everything I was responding to had the same notes, gardenia and tuberose. Tuberose is a tropical white flower that blooms at night. It has the headiest, strongest, most intoxicating smell—I like to call it the medusa of flowers, because it’s really powerful, really feminine, and people either hate it or really fall hard for it. Carl convinced me to buy L’Artisan Parfumeur Tubereuse. It’s a really simple scent—just a buttery, heavy, tropical white floral. When they discontinued it, I bought a ton—I have 12 bottles. It was a formative perfume for me.
Everybody still associates me with blooming white flowers. Actually, I have a funny story—my friend Christopher Niquet was talking to our mutual friend Chan Marshall, and she said, ‘The first 10 or 20 times I met Alia, I couldn’t concentrate on anything she was saying because she reeked of tuberose and gardenia.’ That was in the late ‘90s, and she still remembers it.
I like to call [tuberose] the medusa of flowers, because it’s really powerful, really feminine, and people either hate it or really fall hard for it.
I don’t want to wear foundation, but I kind of have no choice because I have rosacea. The best foundation for me is this Amorepacific Color Control Cushion Compact. I use the palest color—I used to have to order it from Korea, but now they sell it everywhere. It covers my redness, no one can ever tell I’m wearing it, and it’s SPF 50, so it covers all the bases. After that, I put on two little swipes of the Givenchy mascara with the spiky ball wand, which I think is the best. I wipe it with a tissue because I like my lashes to be separated and clean, not thick or clumpy. On a daily basis, that’s it. I’m not really into color, because my features are already kind of bold. That being said, if I’m getting really dressed up I will put lipstick on. The ideal lipstick is Serge Lutens—I know it’s really expensive, but I just think it’s the best one out there. The color hugs your lips. It’s not too shiny, it’s not too matte, it doesn’t dry you out, it stays put, all the colors are perfect… It’s my favorite lipstick by far. I like M2 the most. Chanel is always good, too, and I like the brand Kosas. At night I use the Serge Lutens foundation, because I don’t need SPF. It’s a little bit paler, and a little more dramatic.
I think that daytime is about protection, and nighttime is about treating. In the morning, I’ll cleanse with Biologique Recherche cleansing milk. I have the Lait EV and sometimes I use Lait U, but I can’t really tell the difference between them. They both leave a little moisture on my face. I had read about Biologique online, on Into The Gloss and other websites, but I was always scared of it because everybody said how bad it smelled. Then, Rescue Spa started carrying Régime. I went in to meet with them, and I ended up getting a really great facial—and it was all Biologique. That’s what converted me. After cleansing, I like to use this Amorepacific Vintage Extract Essence. It feels really calming and soothing, and I like that I can smell all the real green tea in it. Then I use the Augustinus Bader face cream. I was doing a press event at Galleries Lafayette on the Champs Elysees, and Clara Cornet introduced me to that product. I knew it was a $300 cream, and I was reasonably skeptical about it. But Clara said it was really good, so I got it, and I honestly love it. I feel like it’s so thick and rich that it’s holding my face together. The last step is lip balm. The perfect lip balm is not too shiny—the Weleda lip balm is super matte, but Biologique BioKiss is a little more hydrating. The Amorepacific lip balm [Ed note: discontinued] works great in the driest weather. Sometimes in the winter I’ll put on the BioKiss and the Amorepacific over it to seal it in. If I’m on a plane, I like to layer the hyaluronic acid from Skinceuticals under a thick layer of La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume. It’s really greasy, but you land looking better than before you left.
I think that daytime is about protection, and nighttime is about treating.
At night, I like a deeper cleanse. First I use Bioderma Sensibio micellar water, and then the Bioderma Sensibio cleanser. If I feel like I need an extra cleansing, I’ll do the Biologique cleansing milk again. If I feel like I need something active, I’ll use P50V 1970—I think V is the gentler one. I use the 1970 because I love the smell of phenol. I look forward to using it. Isn’t that weird? I think it’s the yummiest smell in the world. I wet a cotton pad a little and put a few drops on it, which dilutes it a little bit so it’s not too strong. Maybe two times a month I’ll use these Instant Peel packets from Earthen. I don’t like face scrubs because my skin is sensitive, and these remove dead skin without scratching it. After that, I use the Augustinus Bader cream again. Or, when it’s really dry and cold, I use the Biologique Colostrum serum mixed with their Hydravit’s cream, which both smell a little bit bizarre. Rather than being unpleasant, it makes them seem nurturing. When a product smells too good, I just think about how the fragrance is there to make it sell better, not to help my skin.
I see Dr. Lisa Airan, mostly for my rosacea. She gives me a prescription cream, and she also recommended some lasers that I’ve been too much of a wimp to try. Sometimes I see pictures of myself that make me think it’s time to try Botox, but so far I’ve resisted. If I do get it, I would trust Dr. Airan. I know people who go see her, and they look great.
When I’m in a hotel, I always request a room with a bathtub. It’s my travel ritual. I love to put colloidal oatmeal in the bath, which is a finely-powdered oatmeal that totally dissolves into the water. It makes the water milky and moisturizing, but doesn’t leave any residue. If I’m showering in the morning, I love Paris-Deauville by Chanel. It’s the most refreshing, brisk shower gel. In the evening, I like Annick Goutal Gardenia Passion [Ed note: discontinued], which is really opulent smelling, or Frederic Malle Carnal Flower, which basically smells like luxurious root beer. I find the scent in body wash doesn’t usually linger, but I stay away from scented body creams because I prefer to let my perfume do the talking. I love the Augustinus Bader body cream—it’s super thick, and it takes me forever to rub it in, in a good way. I like Epicuren—usually the unscented one, but occasionally I’ll use their orange blossom one because it doesn’t clash with floral perfumes. ShiKai is a good body lotion for summertime when it’s really hot out. And for everyday, I do Trilipiderm SPF 30 on my hands, neck, and chest. It’s moisturizing and it’s got a lot of antioxidants in it that are good for your skin. I also try to stay indoors from 11AM to 2PM if I can, and I’m actually known to carry an umbrella. I’ve never been a classic beauty, but at least I can have a say in how my skin ages.
I was also obsessed with the smell of Finesse shampoo, and I thought that if I washed my hair three times in a row the scent would be stronger.
My hair is fine, but that’s not what bothers me. There’s really no reason for it to be weak—I avoid sulfates, I brush it with a Mason Pearson brush, I don’t color it or blow dry it—but it is. I have a feeling it’s just genetics, and getting older. I’ve taken Viviscal and BioSil for years, but I don’t think they’ve really helped the health of my hair. I’m thinking maybe I should try PRP. People say it can make your hair better. Anyway, long story short, I’ve tried everything. I like to use the Leonor Greyl shampoo with honey, and they have a jasmine conditioner that I like, too. The Shu Uemura shampoo is great, Christophe Robin is really gentle, and Philip B. makes a peppermint and avocado shampoo that I like once in a while for deep cleansing for the scalp. Smell is really important for hair products. The Volu shampoo from Davines has a beautiful jasmine gardenia scent, and sometimes I’ll even use it as a shower gel.
I get my hair cut at Andy Lecompte salon in LA maybe once or twice a year. Once in a while I’ll let them cut six or seven inches off, but for the most part I just want a trim and a deep conditioning and maybe a scalp treatment. I want my hair to be simple and messy—I like the ritual of going to the salon, but I could probably just cut it myself.”
—as told to ITG
Alia Raza photographed by Tom Newton in New York on August 9, 2019.