Few brand founders are as hands-on as Margot Elena. Designer, product developer, marketer, merchandiser, stylist, and nose are just a few of the creative roles she fills at her company, ToykoMilk. But despite the active presence she takes in every aspect of her brand, not much is known about Elena, who’s so private the most recognized photo of her is a silhouette portrait. In rare fashion, the brand author stepped out of the shadows to share with The Sephora Glossy what inspires her and why wearing fragrance is an intimate art form. BECKY PEDERSON

Do you have a first beauty memory?

I have many memories about being influenced by the beauty industry early on, but my mother likes to tell the story of when everything seemed to “click and turn on” for my brain regarding fashion and beauty. I was in 7th seventh grade and there was either a cover or an ad in a magazine of a girl dressed in an all blue, very “80s”, “cool” layered outfit blowing a gigantic, pink, bubblegum bubble. Something about the styling, accessories, and photography must have captured my imagination because I made my mom take me to the mall. I bought all new clothes and converted my bedroom into a mini retail store complete with hanging rods, shelving, and displays for merchandising. It was the beginning of me being really conscious of fashion and beauty with a 360-degree awareness, specifically with regard to branding and presentation.

What led you to start your own beauty company?

I had been creating little brands and retailing products with my designs from a very early age, literally starting in about 3rd grade. All through junior high and high school, I would create, make, and sell products, including an underground newspaper and even hand-painted apparel and shoes in retail stores! It was how I made money to go out to clubs on the weekend (it was the ’80s!). So, now looking back on it, designing, creating, and starting my own entrepreneurial beauty company was a completely natural progression; it seems in retrospect there has never been a time that I have not been designing and branding for my own fashion or beauty company!

How did you come up with the name “TokyoMilk”?

I wanted to create something striking and memorable…something that instantly feels slightly off-kilter and curious. It is a funky juxtaposition that simultaneously manages to feel chic and yet doesn’t take itself too seriously. It has a chameleon-like nature that is the essence of the brand.

And what led you to develop TokyoMilk Dark?

When I envision new companies, I like to explore character and how we express ourselves. TokyoMilk Dark was created as an expression of the seductive and strong side within every woman. It is also about discovering new parts of oneself and being who you are in the moment, from moment to moment.

You’re especially known for your TokyoMilk Dark Femme Fatale collection. What do you personally love about this line?

It is a collection that embodies a spirited woman. I love that she is sexy and strong. The packaging is graphic, and the fragrances are beautiful and graphic as well. There is a fearlessness about Femme Fatale that is intoxicating, very seductive, and powerful.

Can you talk about your vision for the brand, and what you’ve done to realize that vision?

I wanted TokyoMilk Dark to feel strong and curious. There will always be characteristics of seduction and intrigue. One should feel, when they venture down the TokyoMilk Dark path, that they are a part of the story that is unfolding. There are many layers; there is always something new to discover. Every woman can embody more than one of the TokyoMilk Dark perfumes. These perfumes are created to be “accessories” of sorts, to put on to match different moods and inspirations at different times. Every woman can be a part of the continuing TokyoMilk story because the nature of the brand encourages experimentation, spontaneity, and self-discovery.

What inspired you to first start creating perfumes?

I was about 21 when I started creating perfumes for my first store. I can look back now and see that my mother influenced my awareness and fearlessness regarding fragrance making. My mother, a fine artist, created her own natural fragrance perfumes based on old Victorian formulations when I was about 12. Funny thing is that what I remember about those fragrances is that they didn’t smell contemporary to me. This was about the time I was becoming really aware of fashion and commercial design as a kid. I think this was the beginning of my developing a sense of how fragrance relates to current culture, and more importantly, I was exposed to the idea that one could create his or her own fragrances.

Then, when I was in college, my mother started creating her own bath and body products for friends based on her grandmother’s recipes from the old country. The products were so beautiful that I opened my own store designing, hand blending, and creating all of our bath and beauty products, including my custom-blended perfumes. I read many, many books, both for the layperson and technical, and amassed a large collection of raw materials and oils. I began to work with some of the most skilled and talented perfumers in the industry.

But I fully believe my sensitivity to composition I owe to my father. He was a classically trained musician who taught me to hear composition and to “feel” music. Fragrance has many of the same beautiful elements as music: top, middle, and bottom notes, and dramatic pauses. A song can affect the soul and psyche—so should a fragrance. Music never stops being an instant, mood-setting inspiration for me. I can create entire new collections when immersed in the perfect playlist.

Where else do you find inspiration?

Anyone who knows me knows I have a gigantic, super crush on books. For me, nothing will replace the tactile world of beautiful photographs on crisp pages. I can lose myself in stacks and stacks for hours on end.

What do you find to be powerful about fragrance in general?

Fragrance is alive and the most intimate “accessory” we can select. It is never the same scent on any two people, and it is never the same exact fragrance from day to day based on the interaction with one’s body chemistry. Is there any art that is more intimate and beautiful than that?

Unlike many beauty company founders, you stay out of the public eye. Why is that?

To me, perfume, perhaps more than any other fashion and beauty product, is about the wearer. Once a person puts on a perfume, it becomes a part of them and their chemistry. Because of this intensely personal relationship between perfume and wearer, I have felt that when I become more public, the focus shifts. I prefer to step aside to allow the wearer to draw their own conclusions and associations, to find themselves in their own perfume story. When I step out of the picture, it lets the wearer be the only character in the story. I kind of love that.

SHOP TOKYOMILK>

TokyoMilk Dark / Femme Fatale Collection - Arsenic No. 17 
$36.00

TokyoMilk Dark / Destiny No. 79 Body Souffle
$40.00

TokyoMilk Dark / Fate & Fortune - Chance No.18 Body Souffle
$40.00

TokyoMilk Dark / Femme Fatale- Bittersweet No. 83
$0.00

TokyoMilk Dark / Fate & Fortune - Wisdom No. 26
$22.00

TokyoMilk Dark / Femme Fatale Lip Elixirs
$7.00

TokyoMilk Dark / Femme Fatale - Tainted Love No. 62
$36.00

TokyoMilk Dark / Femme Fatale - Everything & Nothing Handcreme
$22.00

TokyoMilk Dark / Femme Fatale - Excess No. 28 Handcreme
$22.00

TokyoMilk Dark / Femme Fatale - Everything & Nothing No. 10
$36.00

TokyoMilk Dark / Femme Fatale - Tainted Love No. 62 Handcreme
$22.00

TokyoMilk Dark / Femme Fatale - La Vie La Mort No. 90 Handcreme
$22.00