Beau Rhee talks daily color coding, balancing science with inspiration, and the precision in perfume.

Beau Rhee is a choreographer, perfumer, and designer based in Chelsea, New York. She launched her studio and brand, Atelier de Geste, in 2013 and her choreographic work has been exhibited internationally at MoMA PS1, la Maison Blanche de le Corbusier, and Kunsthaus Baselland, among many others.

Q / Hi Beau! How you start your mornings? What does a typical day look like for you?
A / I like to start the day by waking my senses. I do a quick five minute floor stretch — nothing too vigorous as in the morning the body is tight — just light motions to wake my limbs and get the blood circulating. I love coffee and like to the start the morning with it’s scent, so I usually grind fresh coffee beans and use a Chemex. I actually steam my face over the Chemex pot for 30 seconds — the intense scent wakes me right up and the steam gives the skin a nice warm up. I am spritzing The Good Earth from my line, which is an uplifting but earthy green perfume (made in a historic perfumery in Grasse with no nasty chemicals) that works great for hot summer mornings. My days are pretty different from one another because I am juggling so many different aspects of my work: administration, design, PR, production, financial, and sometimes design consultant projects I take on for other clients! I try to take the morning to organize my tasks, and am very purposeful to NOT spend the entire day in front of the computer. I am very color sensitive, so I have a new organization process I do in my paper Leuchtturm calendar where I assign different colors with colored pencils to different categories of work: design, production, admin, financial, etc. This helps make the scheduling a fun and hands-on process and it helps me see very clearly how I am spending my time. I can see immediately if I am addressing all the important factors of my projects and business, or if I am falling behind on a certain category.

Q / How do you structure your work day to stay productive?
A / A typical day is probably:

7:30am rise/stretch, wash, breakfast and coffee.

8:30-9:30am task organization and brainstorming the most efficient way to spend my day.

10am is when I start really rolling and dealing with people, emails, calls, and admin stuff.

I have a ritualistic salad lunch I try to make at the studio, just fresh greens, seasonal veggies, protein and lots of water all the time. Lunch is an important break and very good to have a solid breath of time to recharge! I hate buying lunch out and it’s distracting to my day, so I try to keep lunch in-house.

After 1PM is when I like to do more of the running-around: meetings, checking in with production, material sourcing, discussing projects with collaborators, etc. I try to be done with this kind of work by 7PM or so, and if I need to hop into an opening or event for work, I try to make this a habit to stay connected to my community and industry.

I like to design, sketch, read and dream later in the evenings when people stop calling and emailing! I like solitude a lot. I have dinner pretty late in NYC as the work day seems to always go until about 8 or 9pm. Usually twice a week I will swim at my gym, which is a really zen activity for me and helps to empty out the head and clear out the cobwebs.

Weekends are reserved for movement, dance, rehearsals. I need to stay connected with the people I love so I try to see close friends on the weekend, call my family, recharge.

Q / Have your days changed significantly since you started your business? Are there any things you absolutely need to get you through the work day?
A / I think I approach work more organically, as there is so much work that needs to be done, but it is always shifting and dynamic. Its a lot like growing a living thing. I try to spend more time really brainstorming how to effectively and efficiently solve problems vs. just doing tasks to get them done. I definitely think my days have gotten more full in every way – so much more to think about, more people to talk to, more projects to oversee. The more complex things become, I find that the most important thing for me is actually to be disciplined enough to make empty time in my day, and to say no to things. The “empty” hours are usually the most important in making me perform effectively the rest of the time (early in the day, lunch hour, swimming) and keep me fresh. Saying “no” is something I have gotten better at. In the beginning of the business I was just excited to try everything, but I try to be more focused now in how I spend my time. It’s like a baby, too, you begin to know more about its personality so you say, ok Jonny will absolutely hate lacrosse camp but will thrive at Le Cordon Bleu. 🙂

Q / When do you do your best thinking?
A / Out in nature, in the shower, and in the water!

Q / Dance plays a huge part in your work, can you discuss how that discipline parlayed itself into your other projects and businesses?
A / Dance has taught me that every day matters, and waking up every day and doing repetitive motions but giving it your 150% is what makes something OK into something amazing. The glamorous moments of the performance are great, but the real art of dance is about daily gritty efforts accumulating. An amazing thing about dancers and choreography is that you also spend the NOT rehearsal time just thinking about choreography, going over movements, and “marking” material, so that when you are in rehearsal it’s really in your body and mind. This practice has helped me a lot in my work, where I mull over projects or conversations or tasks before I actually am performing the tasks. It’s like a piece of choreography where I have already internalized it a bit so it makes it much much easier to actually perform. There are studies that show how going over movement in your head is just as effective or more effective than actually doing it over and over. Dance and design/visual creation are very similar to me because the “god is in the details” in both cases, and you really have to pore over each detail. However, if you don’t have that spirit or that energy that engages people in a magical way, the cause is kind of lost. So it’s a balance between being really rational and scientific (Dance: if I rotate at this particular angle at this millisecond in time I can achieve this spin and then land on my knee and hand on a diagonal / Design: MM, Protractors, measurements, etc) and then being inspired on the inside enough so that something unique and artistic shines through.

Q / What is the best advice would give someone about work?
A /  Work on being the best you, because nobody else can be you. Especially if you are doing creative work, finding that unique voice and a unique combination of skills that really sets you apart from the crowd is really important.

Q / How do you balance your work and personal life?
A / I make personal life a pretty big priority on the weekends and try to take an extra day or two off and retreat somewhere closer to nature every 2-3 months to spend with family, loved ones, and just recharge myself and detach from work.

Q / How long have you been based in New York? In what ways does the city shape your life?
A / I came here for college is 2003, so it has been a while, ten years on and off! I did my MFA at the University of Art & Design in Geneva Switzerland, so there was a 2.5 year break from 2010-2012. The city has constantly shifted depending on where I lived, but now I am based in Chelsea. It makes it easy to (in good weather) bike around and save time commuting to meetings in Manhattan. I love the bike paths and the West Side highway bike road and parks, summer sunsets on the West side are divine. I love the proximity of galleries, museums and all kinds of cultural institutions. They are great ways to keep inspired. The bricolage of people, cultures, and food is something that I am really grateful for (Europe is beautiful, but it’s very old world in that way, also Seoul is like that, more homogeneous).  The city definitely affects my wardrobe and design – it allows for glamour, but it definitely needs to be practical and versatile because the NYC working lady is constantly moving around and needs to have one outfit that can work in ten different situations. Deep down inside, I am a nature girl from Massachusetts 🙂 but I am grateful for all the opportunities and the Mondrian-electric-connectivity and clashes of city life.

Q / What do you do to relax? Do you have a favorite place you like to unwind?
A / In NYC and easy place to unwind is the Hudson River Park – Piers 62 & 64 are gorgeous and quiet with endless views of the river, jogging, biking, and beautiful sunsets. In the summer it is great to picnic with a bottle of wine, and it is likewise beautiful all throughout the year with flowers in spring, foliage in fall, and…yes icy cold in winter but still a beautiful frozen wonderland. Chelsea Piers is my gym spot which has kept me healthy and happy in NYC chaos.

If I need visual inspiration and quiet, the Met Museum late nights during the weekends is a must (chamber music, the Egyptian wing) – there are less crowds and you can get a glass of wine there and unwind.

I dont know if this is a place, but I love sheet facials at home which force me to not do anything for about 10-15 minutes. Very effective!

Q / Do you keep any collections?
A / Rulers and drawing utensils, perfumes, a closely edited shoe & fashion library for inspiration, art (especially sketches and drawings).

Q / What are your favorite objects in your office?
A / My Plants, my whole drawing set (pencils, rulers, colors, protractors) & color/inspiration boards, my fragrances (I spritz for a pick me up during the day).

Q / Do you have a routine that keeps you grounded?
A / Always keeping my Brita on my work desk for me is really important – hydration means better thinking. My physical routines of swimming, dance and yoga are very important. This year I have made it a point to try to absolutely not skip lunch. (This means I still do approximately once a week). That 30-40 minute break during the work day to nourish body and mind has been really great.

Q / What has been the proudest moment of your career thus far?
A / The most meaningful proud moment so far has been when I realized this year that I am making a living off of what I love and excel at doing. Every little connection I make with a client who loves an ADG piece is a mini-victory. The bubbly champagne moments were when I got a British Vogue blurb write-up and when I got to do a custom order piece for W magazine. I also will never forget these email moments when I wished people still wrote snail mail or faxes (so I could have a memento!):
-5 months into launching the line I was in super anxious-business-mom stage, and I got an email in our inbox titled “Inquiry from Vogue.” It was just the boost I needed.
-This summer, before our big performance, a critic who I have looked up to for years (she writes for ArtForum and all the art magazines) wrote us and wished us luck on the show and said she was sad to miss it! Those moments when your idols become your colleagues are big.

Q / What has been the most difficult part about pursuing such a multi-dimensional career?
A / The most difficult part about running Atelier de Geste is being really focused on expressing the macro studio vision: performance inspiration, movement, geometry, colors – all the while creating really beautiful and thoughtfully designed objects and pieces. It is difficult to be simultaneously big-idea person & then micro-anal designer (somehow I am both, it might be the Libra thing. I also grew up in a pretty details Virgo family…) I do believe the Mies van der Rohe quote that “God is in the details” but I think the Atelier de Geste appeals to my clients not only because of the execution, but because of the big ideas. They are aesthete-intellectuals, looking for that something else, the je ne sais quoi, the idea that sparks their imagination. So I have to stay concept-driven to tie it all together, but be informed and precise about different industries to execute properly. (Ie. bottles, packaging, rehearsal spaces, textiles, pricing…etc. I joke with my friends that I have early onset Alzheimers because I am juggling so much constantly…)

Q / How did you start creating perfumes? What is the process that goes into creating scents in such personal limited editions?
A / I started creating perfumes in school in Geneva as a project linking movement notation (how choreographers notate their pieces for others to read) and how scents are codified or notated. This was natural to me because in dance classes I often used different perfumes or oils to help remember movement phrases better! I began working with a perfumery, and it was a very intuitive process to layer notes. Harmonic and temporal, like music and dance. The process always has  to do with figuring out what feeling or movement I want to express with a fragrance, and then doing lots of research on the different notes, how they could fit together to create a whole picture. Once there is a short list of ingredients, it is a lot of mixing to find the golden formula.

Q / Do you travel for work often? Where is the most exciting place you’ve visited?
A / I love travel! I try to build long-weekend trips into my life at least every 2-3 months. I think it’s almost better if it’s not for work, since your mind is free to be inspired and wander. This summer I took my family to the Berkshires and we visited The Clark Museum, which was absolutely breathtaking…

The last couple years I have traveled mostly to the South of France for perfumery work & I love visiting small towns there like Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and getting lost in the oceanic forests. The nature there is glorious and the wilder the better for me. Los Angeles was very exotic to me, having grown up on the East Coast. I went there because Blood Sweat Tears was nominated for the Art & Olfaction Award last year. I loved the architecture, the burgers, and mostly biking on Venice Beach was surreal and beautiful (Romeo & Juliet scenes were playing in my head).

This fall, I will get to travel to Milan, South of France, and Paris for production/design work. I am really excited for this. However, if it were up to me, I would choose to travel to wild nature (Northern Lights, Deserts, Iceland, etc) and just get caught up in the smells, textures, vegetation and each different part of the earth…

Q / What are your biggest inspirations?
A / My biggest thematic inspirations are what I built Atelier de Geste around: the human body in movement, nature, geometry, colors, olfaction.

I am always inspired and invigorated by moving in the studio with my dancers. Music is foundational. I love museums and galleries for illustrations, photographs, paintings and sculpture, but I have a harder time finding movies or books that I really love. But when I do, I am always super inspired by them time and time again: Charlie Chaplin, Simone de Beauvoir, Joyce, Virginia Woolf. These days my top references are Sonia Delaunay, Eileen Gray. I try to source out women artists and designers because they are not as well known.

People’s stories inspire me the most. These days with Facebook and Instagram everyone puts on their perfect face, but I know that my friends and family persevere. I know the blood, sweat, and tears they put into their daily struggle or battle, whatever it may be. My circle keeps me inspired and motivated.

Q / Are there any exciting new projects you are working on this year?
A / YES! New scent project with all new packaging – involving stone, leather and even more exclusively limited edition than the first 3 fragrances. 🙂 Very excited for this and will keep you posted!

Interview & Photography
Catherine Litke

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