Kimberly Waters wants to change your mind about smell. As founder and creative director of Modern Urban Sensory Experiences (MUSE) she has created Harlem’s first retail fragrance company and destination. Run out of a historic brownstone, MUSE is a space to bring people together and shift perspectives on perfume. Kimberly offers a beautifully curated collection of niche, indie and luxury fragrances from all around the world right to your wrist for a sniff. Smell is one of our deepest ties to memory and Waters wants to highlight that significance by steering people away from trends and bringing a focus back to the emotional side of fragrance. If you were ever looking to find a unique signature for yourself, now is the time to head to Harlem and create an authentic connection to your future scent. Below we discuss Kimberly’s path to opening MUSE and her hopes for the business and the fragrance industry at large.
Let’s take it back to the beginning—tell me about the start of your fragrant journey. What was the first perfume you remember smelling and forming a memory around?
The first perfume I remember smelling that left an impression on me was Keiko Mecheri’s Grenats—a floral fruity beauty. It’s one of the few fragrances I’ve repurchased over the years. It reminds me of that night in Soho when I met Keiko at a fragrance event. I was intrigued. She was so down to earth and engaging just like Grenats.
What were the fragrances that defined you in middle school, high school, and early adulthood? Bottle acquisition stories are encouraged!
In high school, I kept a job so I always had my own money to spend as I pleased. During that time I was a body splash type of girl. I’d rack up on Victoria’s Secret’s fruity splashes and anything with Amber in it. I wanted to smell youthful and grown at the same time. I had Cool Water in rotation and Gucci Rush was a staple, if I recall correctly.
Do you feel like your fragrance personality aligns with your own? If not, what do you want your fragrance to say about you?
I’m not a “signature scent” type of person. The notion of having one scent scares me. I guess this approach aligns with my personality which is forever on to the next-never want to feel or be routine-don’t want to feel familiar to anyone-remain unpredictable-free-non committal. I wonder will this evolve as I do? I guess the answer is yes, my fragrance personality aligns with my own.
What was your inspiration for MUSE (Modern Urban Sensory Experiences) ?
My inspiration for MUSE evolved around my desire to take others along this journey with me as I figured out my voice in this space. I believed, if I showed people, rather than told them how cool the fragrance space was, they’d be curious and want to take part somehow. I wanted to create access to perfumes that my community wasn’t aware of and educate them along the way. Not in a technical way that can make one feel isolated; instead, in a way that was authentic, cultured, and original. That’s how MUSE started. I wanted to share this world because I knew how it made me feel the moment I was introduced to it.
You were the first retail space in the USA to carry Maya Njie and many other talented niche perfume houses. I’m curious, what considerations do you make in the curation of your shop and how do you seek out and discover new talent?
Yes, I reached out to Maya after discovering her page on IG. We were brown women with short hair cuts and a love for scent—we had that much in common off the back. I had started MUSE with some amazing brands, most of which came by way of my distributor friend. However, I’m a seeker so when I came across Maya Njie’s brand, I was curious and wanted to learn more. Her story and background intrigued me most. I wanted to know more about HER. I’m big on connections, whether to people, or my fragrances. I give them both time to evolve and see if the connection is there and if so, it’s magic. Maya and I spoke by WhatsApp and we shared so many similarities, it was a beautiful vibe. I expressed my interest in the brand and with some trust on the table, passion in our hearts, and the desire to make it work, we forged ahead. The first consideration is always connection and that can come in many forms. For Maya Njie, it was our personal/cultural connection along with the brand’s aesthetic. I was intrigued. I’m proud of Maya Njie’s success and her exposure stateside. I’m even prouder of MUSE for initiating the conversation and having the vision and intuition to see the opportunity.
MUSE builds amazing community around fragrance through activations like #MUSEhour which offers so much creative insight into different aspects of the field—what are some of your hopes for MUSE in 2021?
My biggest hope in 2021 is talking and engaging more with my audience and client base. I can not seem to get this desire off my mind. I work full time in the healthcare industry and have various aspirations both professionally and entrepreneurially so my time is often limited. I’m determined to figure it all out so thank you for inquiring about the #MUSEhour. It makes me happy that you found value.
On that note (no pun intended) what trends have you noticed at the end of 2020 coming into 2021? Do you feel like more people are embracing fragrance than ever before as a transportive experience?
2020 forced many to go within themselves, including me. Wearing fragrance daily became a familiar and very personal act of self-kindness. As we slowly adjust to this “new normal,” I believe people will desire, more than ever before, those fragrances that make them feel safe, connected, and original.
What’s in your current collection?
What’s on your wishlist both personally and for MUSE?
My wish for MUSE is that it becomes not only a shopping/retail destination, but a company focused on development and the sourcing of raw materials. I want MUSE to be inclusive and represent the diversity of thought that the industry desperately needs. My wish personally is to return to Grasse for formal fragrance training. Nothing super technical, but a program that allows me to tap in, learn, be present, and expand upon my passion.
What do you want to see change in the fragrance industry?
I want the fragrance industry to evolve with the times by globally recognizing places like Haiti and Madagascar for their contributions to the industry. I want to see diverse marketing campaigns. Talk and show the communities that spend billions of dollars annually on fragrance. I want to see more visibility of POC that work behind the scenes at large companies. We should know them and understand their roles. I want to see the industry embrace Black talent and brands by extending their platform and resources. Sounds like I’m envisioning the future of MUSE 😉
Interview and all visuals by Elizabeth Renstrom.