Say Yes by John Foley

John and Belle, Hollywood 2016.

John Foley has been involved in our Scent of Mystery project since the very beginning, designing and sourcing costumes for all the revival events as well as a Nosey Night in Copenhagen. John feels lucky to have worked in the arts all his professional life. Trained as a costume designer at The Players Theatre in the 80s, John went on to work for The English National Opera and the Royal College of Music. Followed by a freelance career including theatre, commercials, film and TV. John Foley Perfumes is his latest venture.

You can follow John Foley Perfumes here.

John, currently in NYC is interviewed here by Tammy:

John and Tammy, NYC.
My own philosophy in my life and my career and in most things is to say “Yes.” – John Foley.

Tammy: How did you get involved in the Scent of Mystery project?

“A mutual friend gave me some emails to read about this project and I took them home and read them, then immediately got onto Tammy in Australia and said yes, I’m in on this one. This is really the kind of project that I want to do. It hit two things for me: It hit smell, because I’m obsessed with perfume and it hit costume. With a very specific costume brief.

I’ve always been obsessed with smell since I was a child because I was brought up on a farm. I used to hit leaves with rocks then I started combining them to see if I could get different smells. I always seemed to know how to make perfume, the idea that it had to be preserved. So this project had both things going for me.

Peter Lorre and Denholm Elliot, Scent of Mystery (1960).

I love a very specific brief. The brief was to source the costumes as near as I could to the 1960 film (Scent of Mystery). What that means to me is that you can go back slightly but you cannot go forward. It’s the rule of costume. If it is set in 1960 you can get costumes from the late 50s but you cannot get something from 1962 and hope for the best because it doesn’t look right.

Elizabeth Taylor, Scent of Mystery (1960).

I’ve been doing costume since 1987 and here I am still at it! I’m one of the oldest ‘Stitch Bitches’ in the world. That’s what we’re known as backstage in the big theatres, we’re basically people that can do costume. So, I did an apprenticeship in the 1980s when we were actually paid to do things like that, not an internship.

Saul, John, Kelly, Bradford 2015.

What I was asked to do on the film was to dress two actors, one of whom was playing two roles, as near as possible to the characters those actors were playing in the film. The one that concerned me most was the Elizabeth Taylor costume because it’s very very specific. Fortunately I know a lot of vintage traders, dealers who are friends of mine in London because I’ve gone to them endlessly over the years and I tend to use the same people. I just hunted the rails until I found the blue costume. Then I had to make hats. And I say “hats” because every time we travelled I had to make another one! You try going through customs with a massive veil and a picture hat and see what happens to you!

Olivier and John and Bel, Hollywood 2016.

You always have to teach someone how to be in a costume. have to teach them how to walk in them. To Walk Like You Are Elizabeth Taylor: You shove your back as straight as you can and you drag your navel under your spine and look straight ahead- you’re Elizabeth Taylor, you’re not going to look at people.

Saul, Tammy, John and Kelly (AKA Mystery Lady), Bradford 2015.

The menswear was easier because I know a very good vintage menswear guy in London. Then of course this was the harem scarem bit of it I didn’t get to see Saul until about three days before going live at the museum in Bradford, which was our first show. So what I got him to do was to send me measurements and I always get actors to send me pictures of themselves. I have to see the actor before I can design for them. You have to see in a way, their personality. And their body shape, the proportion of the body you know, the size of the head in proportion the body, you need all that sort of information.

Saul channelling the Bad Guy.

Saul was playing the good guy and the bad guy, which was good fun for him. And we got everything we needed that afternoon for Saul. And it was the first time I met you (Tammy), about three days before we were going live as well! I remember emailing you – perhaps I didn’t read the emails properly because I was scanning them for the information I was looking for- and I remember emailing you back and I said yeah, I’d love to do this project and then I said, can we meet? And you said, well I live in Australia! And I live here (in London) so I guess not! So we just did the whole thing through email.

Bradford, 2015.

That was the amazing thing about Bradford. It was the first time I met Saskia, and Antonio… It was the first time the whole team actually came into one space together. I think what really made the project work, and it’s only really looking back on it, is that everyone involved was at the top of their game. Everyone who came in- you from Australia, the actors and I from London, Dave and Saskia from Los Angeles and we were all just really competent at what we did. And we were confident at what we did. And we just did our own bit which is actually the essence of a good production.

Rasmus, Copenhagen 2016.

We’ve done … the Cinema museum in Bradford, the next one was Copenhagen, then Hollywood, then Cornelia Street Café, then I did Copenhagen Nosey Night then now. So six. NYC will be the sixth one.

Nosey Night, Copenhagen 2018.

I’m so excited that what we have been doing has been recorded, has been preserved. For me it’s a very emotional thing. People like Carmen Laube, Saskia at the Institute for Art and Olfaction, Lizzie, Jas, Dave and Randy, Micah, Varcha, Rasmus at the Danish Film Institute, all the Cornelia Street Cafe crew, all the Good Guys/ Bad Guys and all the Liz Girls.

Dima, Tammy, John, Robin at the Cornelia St Café, 2018.

Great projects are about great people for me, yeah. When I look back over my career it’s always the great people who made great projects. Great artists make great projects. And usually artists love working with each other. Everybody was at the same level in their careers when we all met in Bradford and that is why we got on. Because everyone could trust each other. And artists tend to like artists”.

Tammy: What’s next for you?

By the time I got onto Scent of Mystery I was about 54, 55 years old – I’m quite vague on the subject- give or take. So I really had been to the rodeo several times and I was thinking well I don’t know if I want to do this until I’m in my mid 70s. So I was looking around at other things and people kept saying to me “Why don’t you do perfumes? Do perfume events? Why don’t you just get on with it?” And of course when we were in Hollywood my friend Odette Toilette- Lizzie- was there and she asked me if I would take over a workshop that she wanted me to do. And I said “Well I’ll have a go Lizzie, yeah?” So I did a workshop for her. At that workshop I met an artist called Sarah Krauss. Sarah and I did something at the Tate. The Tate led to something else and that’s what I mean, great projects are about great people and just say “Yes”.

Sarah Krauss and John, Tate Gallery.

I do a lot of events; I teach an awful lot. I started teaching in community. People with mental health issues, people with autism and so on. And I always do that because I owe them big time because they taught me how to do it. I didn’t teach them, they taught me. And then the museums started getting interested. I now do scent for when you walk into stores. I’m getting ready to do some commercial ones. This project completely changed my life. Now I only very rarely do costumes because this thing has taken over my life. And for that I am deeply grateful to all the people I met on the project because they gave me the confidence.

People always ask me “How did you get started doing this?” And I went well, and this ties into the Bradford thing- I didn’t realise when I said yes to this project that I was dealing with people at the top of their game and they mentored me, emotionally as well as giving me advice. The scent community are very generous. We are all working outside of the main industry and we all support each other because we’re not in competition, that’s what makes it work. And also the invention of the internet, it’s now much easier for me to find things out and to share my information on forums and it is a very supporting community. Also it’s like beekeeping, there aren’t many of us!

I just know that this is not the end of the line for Scent of Mystery for us, I just know.”

John Foley, Tammy, Molly and In Glorious director John Anderson, NYC 2019.