In his Northeast Portland basement, Josh Meyer lifts a scent-drenched paper blotter to his nose and shifts from foot to foot. From a desk crowded with small jars, he often leaps away to ride his skateboard around the basement’s cement floors. He may be 32, but he exhibits the nervous energy of a teenager.

Meyer is the nose behind Imaginary Authors, a perfume brand launched in September. Blogs in the US, Italy, and Britain have heralded Meyer as a cut above most self-taught perfumers, who tend to embalm customers in unsubtle, overly musky scents. He’s also gaining notice for his intriguing branding gimmick: each of Meyer’s perfumes is based on a particular novelist, and each bottle comes with notes on how the scent within evokes the author. 

The plot twist: Meyer invented all of the authors himself. 

His scent Soft Lawn is described as an olfactory reflection of a book by a fictional preppy author with the winning name Claude LeCoq. A muscular concoction of rose, tobacco, and “black musk” he ascribes to a Spanish matador and calls Bull’s Blood. Meyer’s Orchidee Terrible—orchid, honey, and white musk, woven into a retro floral scent—supposedly captures a 1950s Parisian authoress named Audrey Blavot, and a novel of an ingénue’s  “insatiable lust for trouble.” 

“I fell in love with the idea of perfume as art.”

—Josh Meyer

Meyer sold real estate until two years ago. His desire to present a smooth-shaven face led him to an online group devoted to shaving. That led to the use of a straight razor, which led to colognes, aftershaves, and a collection of 300 different fragrances. When professional burnout hit, Meyer devoted himself to making scents of his own.

“I fell in love with the idea of perfume as art,” Meyer says. He built storyboards with colors, photos, and notes to pin down each perfume’s “vibe and tone,” and sacked his savings, ordering nearly $6,000 in raw materials. After a year and a half, he had seven unisex fragrances.

Meyer received a warm welcome. The new Institute of Art and Olfaction in Los Angeles invited him to join its board. A filmmaker staging a performance in New York City commissioned a fragrance called “Cult” to spray on participants. (Meyer developed a scent “like clean, crisp linen with BO” to both seduce and rattle the audience.) He’s custom-making scents for Portland boutiques.

Will his creative well ever run dry? “I don’t think so,” he says. “I still have so many ideas.”