Ruby McCollister is a NYC-based actress who reminds you some people are inherently destined for fame and glamour. Several of her characters explore this pursuit, including Mona DeLiza in the prolific web series McCollister co-wrote, Zhe Zhe. The hysteria and camp of this show are some of the reasons Ruby has become known as a downtown legend. She is the embodiment of the term ‘sublime drama,’ so naturally fragrance has woven throughout her life both on stage and off. From a young age she knew that perfume could be a “psychological tool for fantasy,” and she wields this power rapturously. In our interview we discuss the smell of sexual struggle, her favorite perfume ads of yesteryear, and why she is finally an unapologetically passionate floral girl. If you ever wanted to know who Robert Piguet’s Fracas was meant for, it is without a doubt Ruby.
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 or forming a memory around?
My mother is a fragrance head, so it all began with her… as it always does. I remember she had an Annick Goutal fragrance with the scalloped gold top. It was a classic with a distinct apple note. I believe, upon further research, it is called Eau d’Hadrien. She’s always had a vanity covered in bottles which I would admire lovingly. However, when she was out of the house I would cover my toys and small baby rocking chair with her fragrances. When I was five she bought me a bottle of perfume. A child’s fragrance by the French clothing company Oily. It was a small bottle with a pink and blue plastic top—who knows what it was called. With no vanity of my own, I had no idea what to do with it or where to put it. I think I eventually put it on my mom’s vanity because I knew it had to go SOMEWHERE. I loved it and never dared to spray it. My mom probably thought I fucking hated it, but I didn’t. I revered it. It was such a grand present. It was so terribly glamorous, I didn’t feel ready. Perfume, very early on, was so clearly a psychological tool for fantasy. My mom giving me this bottle of perfume was like a dare…it was like she was telling me to “Dream big kid!”
What was the fragrance that defined you in middle school, high school, and early adulthood? Bottle acquisition stories are encouraged!
As a rule I was NEVER allowed to smell like something you could eat. This was a golden rule in the house. So absolutely NO Victoria’s Secret body sprays. This crushed me during middle school. I fucking YEARNED for that Strawberry Champagne shit. My mother was such a snob for being so middle class. When I finally reached high school I was given bottles of perfume. My mother was always open about sex in a very graceful and non gratuitous way. She told me about her abortions, her love failures, and first kisses. So when I began forging my own sexual history, somehow my mother knew to buy me bottles of perfume—like birth control or something. We’d go to the South Coast Plaza, or Bergdorf’s on annual trips to New York. I would smell stuff and I guess my mom would notice because bottles just started showing up. Jo Malone was my first real love. Her orange blossom and lime blossom fragrances were ALL THE TIME. I was literally a walking cloud of Jo Malone in high school. Unfortunately, I was never a kleptomaniac, probably because of my hair. My bags were always searched in high school, and I think it’s because red-haired women always unconsciously make security teams suspicious so I have always laid low. I think this is due to ingrained associations with the Devil… who knows?! But I soon became that bitch with perfume in her bag at school. I was THAT chick. Later, after my parent’s terrible divorce, I graduated to Diptyque’s Philosykos. It was a way more serious and depressed teenager scent for me, yet still fresh.
What would the signature scent be of some of your characters, particularly those in hot pursuit of being a famed starlet? How important is fragrance in your character development?
Perfume is indicative of insanity/sanity as well as one’s libidinal urge. My crazy, sexually psycho on stage persona is certainly always doused in perfume. On stage I always wear something insanely floral and intense. Off stage, I like wearing oils mostly. Something more subdued or deeper and close to the skin.
You recently directed a delightfully goth series for Claudia, a perfume by @escape_lou in collaboration with @wyrd.co. What was your inspiration for the videos?
Goth is a culture of romanticism, which perfume naturally compliments. You can’t have romance without perfume… RIGHT?! The perfume Claudia was named after the child vampire of the same name from Interview with the Vampire. Me and my collaborator Leah Hennessey, drew major inspiration from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and early Nick at Nite ads. We got to shoot in the Freehand hotel. Hotels are another of my greatest muses. It was screaming for a sexy fashion ad!
Perfume commercials are historically ridiculous—what’s a favorite of yours to indulge in for the camp?
All Serge Lutens and Enjoli ads from the 80’s. I love any fragrance ad that spells out the fantasy both blatantly and horrifically.
Do you have any favorite notes or notes you’ve come to love over the years?
Rose and disgustingly, sickeningly floral scents. My mom HATED florals growing up, especially roses. She also wouldn’t let me buy any body mist with vanilla notes especially. A major rule in the house was “Never smell like something you can eat.” My adulthood has been a glorious rebellion against that rule. I am in a constant process, among many things, of standing loud and proud as a passionate floral girl.
If you could scent any movie (ie. what fragrance would define the mood of the narrative, characters, etc.) what would you choose and how would it smell?
I would scent The Last Picture Show by Peter Bodgonovich with Bandit by Robert Piguet. That movie is devastating! It takes place in a dusty Texas town shot all in black and white, where all the characters struggle with their sexuality, repression or otherwise… so you have to pair it with the first leather-based scent in history! A story about a struggle with sex should always be paired with a leather scent. Leather is the fragrance of sexual struggle.
What’s in your current collection?
Claudia by WYRD is truly in my bag at all times. It’s a small vial of oil, so it’s terribly transportable and my boyfriend LOVES when I wear it. He always comments on it! He will smell it and say, “oh my god you’re wearing Claudia!” I never know when I’m gonna see him or have to make an impression. As we crawl out of lockdown, the best libido enhancer is fragrance. If you’re feeling like shit, get a little tester of a new perfume. Besides that I always have a bottle of Anbar By Commes des Garcons and Fracas by Robert Piguet. I can’t plug ROBERT PIGUET enough!
What’s on your wishlist?
- Moon Glory by The Harmonist
- Radish Vetiver by Commes Des Garcons
- Cowboy by Mondo Mondo
- Carnal Flower by Frederic Malle
Check our more of Ruby’s work here.
Interview and all visuals by Elizabeth Renstrom.