By Lee Hubbard
Zernell Gillie has been in and around the Hip Hop and House music scene in Chicago for over 30 years. The world-renowned DJ has spun records all over the world and headlined parties in London, the Netherlands, Italy, Sweden, France to name a few.
His love for music started at 14 during the early years of House music as he would listen to the Hot Mix on WBMX in Chicago. Listening to the early pioneers of House music such as Ron Hardy, Gillie generated his own style, which is called grimy. The grimy style of Rouse music mixes the rarest disco and house music together.
Gillie now heads the record label Grimy Edits and its sister label Grimy Trax and the clothing brand Grimy Gear. Now a Los Angeles resident, he saw his worldwide DJing opportunities come to a stop during the COVID-19 pandemic when he was housebound.
“I was sitting around the house kind of depressed as there was nothing to do,” said Gillie.
It was during this time Gillie came up with the idea to start his own fragrance line.
“I was and have been wearing fragrances since I was a boy, so I was always drawn to them,” said Gillie. “I had been thinking about this for a while, but [worldwide slowdown] just helped to jump start it.”
In contact with a perfumery via ZOOM about starting a brand, Gillie began sampling scents weekly at home and discussing the different notes he wanted in a fragrance.
“I had been thinking about this for a while, but this just helped to jump start it,” continued Gillie.”
The pandemic was the perfect time for Gillie to launch his line. His first fragrance to hit the market was ‘Disco’ in the spring of 2022 and his second fragrance was ‘Techno’ which was released in fall of 2022.
These two were met with moderate success and they were featured at various musical festivals where Gillie performed as the pandemic wound down in 2022.
“Fragrance kept me from going dark during the pandemic,” continued Gillie. “Just like music. It uplifted me.”
But Gillie’s newest fragrance, “Hip Hop,’ changed the game, dropping during the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop.
Gillie was on hand recently to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop and to reveal his new scent at the independent fragrance retailer, Ministry of Scent at 973 Valencia St. in San Francisco’s Mission district.
“This event is to help celebrate Hip Hop, Gillie’s third fragrance in his line of fragrances,” said Antonia Kohl, a co-owner of Ministry of Scent, which specializes in independent and niche fragrances.
Hip Hop is a boozy scent with notes of black currant, saffron, spice leather, white musk and amber with a sweet twist. It has a 50% concentration with 10 hours of longevity.
“I started the fragrance line for myself,” continued Gillie. “If I liked the smells, I felt like others would as well and if the brand didn’t work, I would just smell good for the rest of my life.”
He joins other Black perfumers who have made a mark on the fragrance scene. This includes Chris Collins, Chris Crenshaw and Pink Mahogany to name a few who have entered the multi-billion dollar industry.
“A lot of people are getting into the independent lane and making fragrances,” said Gillie. “It’s about providing a good product and taking it to the marketplace.”
Gillie’s fourth scent, ‘House,” will be coming out soon.
After ‘House,’ he said he will launch another quartet of fragrances which will be called Soul, Jazz. Blues and R&B.
“Fragrances are subjective, and they are not for everyone,” added Gillie. “But I want people to be happy and feel good and to be uplifted.”
Hip Hop can be purchases at the Ministry of Scent in San Francisco and at retailers online.