A Fragrant Affair in San Francisco

By Mary Orlin

Yosh.  Ineke. Roxana.  If you are a perfumer lover, you may not know these names, but you should.  These women and other artisan perfumers like them are already rock stars in the world of niche perfumery.  They’re changing the way the world smells, and their influence is building.  Think of how wine became boutique, or how we all swoon for handcrafted chocolate.  The smaller the production level, the better.  The harder to find, the more irresistible.  When it comes to perfume, there’s never been a better time for being a wearer of independent label perfumes.  Who wants to smell like Britney Spears?

On July 8 in San Francisco, a new event bringing together 20 fragrance creators is taking place.  At the Artisan Fragrance Salon, these dedicated and passionate perfumers, called noses in the industry, will be encouraging you to spritz and sniff perfumes as unique as anything you’ve ever smelled before.

Perfume events are nothing new – except that they usually happen in other countries or New York City.  There’s never been one quite like what the organizers of the Artisan Fragrance Salon are planning, especially on the west coast.  The event will showcase 20 indie perfumers.  Mass market scents – not allowed.

There’s a huge difference between fragrances created by small, niche perfumers and the scents made for the mass market, often with a celebrity name attached to it.  Just as in wine, artisan perfumers use the best quality ingredients they can find, from the raw materials to the alcohol and fixatives they use.  Their production levels are much lower – and many times the artisan perfumer does it all, from creating, making, bottling and selling.  Mass market brands use shortcuts to keep costs down, and often the perfumes produced are what I call swill (similar to plonk in wines – cheap and stinky).

“The growth of the artisan chocolate market has really taken off in the last few years,” says A.K. Crump.  He’s been producing events across the country called Chocolate Salons since 2007.   “I think that we are poised to start seeing a similar growth in artisan fragrances.”

A.K. also runs TasteTV and the annual Taste Awards which celebrate food, fashion and lifestyle programs on TV, film, radio and online.  He was inspired to create a fragrance salon while traveling.   “I started seeing that there were a number of scent-related events taking place in Europe, in Italy, London and even New York City.  It occurred to me that the demographics of our Chocolate Salon, 70% women, people who are into flavor and scent and design would be very similar to those who would be interested in fragrances.  There are a number of artisan fragrance makers out there and they share a very similar passion, how they got started, how they find ingredients, how they learned their craft.”

Yosh Han is an independent perfumer working in the San Francisco Bay Area.  She was a judge at a Chocolate Salon, and A.K. thought she’d be the perfect person to help him create a new fragrance event.  “She had a similar idea, so we just moved forward.”  They put the word out to artisan perfumers and assembled a group of 20, some who work only with natural perfumes, while others with both natural and synthetic materials.  But all work in the niche market, selling directly on their websites; some work with individual clients to create custom fragrances.  They’ll be selling their scents during the salon.  Don’t come looking for a celebrity fragrance here.

Throughout the day you can take part in olfactory tastings, panels, demos and book readings and signings.  Several perfumers plan to debut new creations they made just for the salon.  And of course you’ll be able to purchase all the scents.

It seems that Yosh Han was destined to be a perfumer.  The Chinese character for her name translates as “fragrant.”  Her mother was an Ikebana Master (the Japanese art of flower arranging) and Yosh worked in a floral boutique.  Then she worked at a perfume boutique in Aspen, Colorado and learned the art of creating perfume.  She launched YOSH Olfactory Sense in 1994, starting with the Luxury Elements Collection of beautiful perfume oils.  Ginger Ciao, her signature scent, is one of the best, with ginger and black coconut.  Her collection is now sold at Barney’s New York and online fragrance specialty shops.

She provided A.K. a list of independent perfumers, many of whom she’s met over the years.  “They’re awesome and each has his or her own vision .”  Yosh says there’s a difference between the independent and commercial perfume businesses.  “In artisan perfumery we’re not competitors, we’re collaborators and we support each other”  More than 20 perfume makers applied to be part of the Fragrance Salon, and many had to be turned down.  “We’re looking for the blend of the ingredients and the personality of the perfumers.”  Having an event where they can all come together and introduce their creations to people is great not just for her, but for all the perfumers.

Yosh also creates bespoke, or custom fragrances for private clients or public events.  She made scents for both the Maharaja exhibition and the permanent collection at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, and for PechaKucha, an event celebrating young designers and their artistic works.

Yosh will be showing her current fragrances, but she’s planning to concoct something special for the Artisan Fragrance Salon.  “Maybe something summery, although summer in San Francisco often means cool and foggy.”  She may also bring some of her limited editions, body products or candles.  You’’ll have to be there to experience it (and buy) it all.

Sarah Horowitz-Thran

“Coming together in one room with all these artisan perfumers will be incredible,” says Sarah Horowitz-Thran.  She’s based in Los Angeles and has been creating fragrances since the late 1980s.

During her college freshman year in Boston, Sarah discovered Essence, a custom blending perfume shop. “When I walked into the store I was asked ‘may I anoint you?’  I loved the concept of the store, it was a mix of an old apothecary with new age style,” she says.  Sarah would miss classes to work there.  As she learned the perfume trade, she began to design custom scents for clients.  She even ended up buying the store.  Eventually Sarah sold her business and headed to Los Angeles, where she established Sarah Horowitz Parfums.  Her first scent was Perfect Gardenia.

The Fragrance Journey is at the heart of Sarah’s perfume passion.  “I meet with a client one-on-one, talking about the history of fragrance and their personal story – their fragrance history and memories.  From there Sarah sits at her perfume organ (a piece of furniture with tiered shelves on three sides for displaying bottles of raw materials), where she selects from 300 oils.  She has her client smell them, once with eyes opened and once with eyes closed.  “You have a different experience smelling with your eyes open or shut.”  She’ll try scents on the skin and create and fine tune from there.  “I love meeting the person I created a perfume for, to see their eyes light up.  That’s why I’m hooked.”

Perfect Veil is her best selling fragrance.  It does smell perfectly like skin and is an intimate perfume.  Perfect Bliss was inspired by Sarah’s honeymoon in Tahiti, and is exotic and sensual (think tropical fruit, gardenia and vanilla).

Sarah’s also the nose behind the very successful Apothia IF, created for beauty boutique Apothia at RonRobinson in LA.  She cites natural perfumer Mandy Aftel and Jean-Claude Ellena, in house perfumer for Hermes, as influences.  “Mandy is committed and passionate, and was the first niche perfumer I ever met.  I love Jean-Claude’s story, his style and his signature on perfumery.”

For the Artisan Fragrance Salon, Sarah will be bringing her newest perfume, Perfect Coconut Milk, in a 1.7 ounce eau de parfum.  She’ll have her Perfect Perfumes and What Comes From Within collections and can talk about the Fragrance Journey, and her newest venture, Les Banque de Parfumes.  Sarah creates a limited edition scent each month available to her loyal customers.  “It’s handcrafted and will be whatever inspires me that month.”  Most of all she’s “looking forward to meeting fragrance fans and seeing their faces when they try the fragrances.”

Natural perfumer Ayala Moriel will be traveling from Vancouver, Canada to take part in the Fragrance Salon.  Growing up in Israel, “I was always very interested in wild plants and was fortunate to grow up around many fragrant ones such as sage, thyme, white mint, hyssop and broom,” she says.  “My favorite of them all were lemon verbena, spearmint and fresh lemongrass, and beautiful fragrant roses, jasmine vines, frangipani and orange blossom.”

When she moved to Vancouver in 1998, “I was deprived of these luscious scents,” Ayala says.  “Oh, how much I missed the scent of orange blossoms, sun-kissed earth and rock roses on the mountains! But most of all – I missed the scent of the earth after rain. In Vancouver there is never “after rain” – as it is so constant! And so in 2001 I began creating my own perfumes, which at first were actually incense blends, and later developed into a little bespoke perfume business.”

That little business, Quinta Essencia, was launched in 2001, but later rebranded to Ayala Moriel Parfums.  Her style and approach to perfumery has evolved over time.  “My earlier perfumes were more complex and with a more traditional evolution (top, heart, base), in compositions like Espionage and Ayalita.” she says.  These are “classic examples of oriental-leathery scent and a green chypre, only created with pure botanical raw materials.  I then went through a more minimalistic phase, when I created several soliflores (Zohar, Viola), as well as more rich yet simple concoctions (Film Noir, Immortelle l’Amour).  My style has lightened up a lot recently, and now they feel like they have more space within them, and are more impressionistic (Orcas, Zangvil) in approach.”

Ayala will not only be displaying her perfumes at the Artisan Fragrance Salon, she’ll also be giving a talk about “scent, seduction and story telling with some examples of my own line and a couple of classic French perfumes.”  She’s also holding a perfume making workshop the night before, where you can learn about and make your own natural perfume.  To RSVP – call Ayala at (778) 863-0806.

Shelley Waddington’s been creating fragrances for the past 12 years.  While she launched her commercial line, EnVoyage Perfumes only two years ago, she sells in 20 countries.  “This is my perfumer’s organ,” she says, showing me a work table in her studio surrounded by shelves that hold bottles of both natural oils and aroma chemicals (another word for synthetics).  She  points to a box of small bottles.  “These are all of my roses.  Here smell this,” and I inhale.  Even though this is a natural rose, “no one would really want a perfume that smells like this and so you decorate it and you round sharp edges and you know maybe you want more of a mossy fragrance or more vanilla in it.  You play around until you have what we call an accord.”

Growing up in Carmel, California, Shelley developed a love of perfume, and when it came time for her to develop her own scents, she based them on the aromas she remembers from living there.  “There are so many lovely fragrances there and so I started at home, with what I knew, what I grew up with what surrounded me.”  That became her Carmel-by-the-Sea collection.

Shelley came to perfumery through being a massage therapist.  “I didn’t like the oils available then, I wanted to use something natural so I started experimenting.”  During online research she became acquainted with other perfumers and eventually ended up joining a group that would meet online every week.  While she collaborates with many fellow perfumers this way, she hasn’t met many of them face to face.  Talk about perfumery for the 21st century.

She calls herself an classic European perfumer with a bent towards experimental scents.  “I’ll experiment with something metallic,” says Shelley.  “Just recently I’ve gone into a new phase of perfuming.  I wanted to make very sheer very watery fragrances,” Shelley says.  She’ll be introducing it at the Artisan Fragrance Salon in July.  Called A Study in Water, it’s not an ocean-inspired scent, but rather a shimmery fresh water perfume.  She’ll also have L’Hombre, of which she says on her website, “It is boozy (but not too much), sweet, spicy, mysterious, sexy…in short, everything a MAN should be.”

She’ll also have all 16 scents in her current collections, including Vents Arden, a smoky, complex creation and my new favorite, Makeda, a beautiful jasmine inspired by the Queen of Sheba.  Shelley will also debut The Cosmologie Collection, inspired by elements, including the spicy Chang Chang (fire), the aforementioned A Study in Water, and Durango (earth), which smells of sand and the desert.

You won’t want to miss the presentation at the Fragrance Salon by new author Alyssa Harad.  Her book Coming to My Senses:  A Story of Perfume, Pleasure and an Unlikely Bride tells of what she calls her “trip down the rabbit hole” into the world of perfume.  One night as she was researching an article she came across the perfume blog Now Smell This, and as she read the lyrical and passionate descriptions in the reviews she was hooked.

In the book she talks about her perfume closet as her obsession grew, and how her life completely changed because she had discovered perfume.  “I just fell in love with the idea that you could describe smells and that there were people out there doing it very, very well–just for the joy of it. It took me forever to start sampling the perfume itself.  It was really the stories that got me.”  After all, perfume tells a story, each one unique from wearer to wearer.

During her talk Alyssa will “share how perfume can be a way to imagine a new self, remember an old one (Even one we might think we don’t want to remember!  Oh, memories of junior high perfume wars…) or put on an invisible costume for the day.”

You’ll be able to discover these stories and more at the Artisan Fragrance Salon.  It takes place at Gallery 4N5 in San Francisco from 11 am to 5 pm on July 8.  The art gallery is a perfect setting for these fragrant works of art.  All scents will be judged and three winners will be named “Official Fragrance of the Taste Awards.”

BUY YOUR TICKETS HERE: http://artisanfragrancesalon-2012.eventbrite.com/

Mary Orlin is the WineFashionista, where she blogs about wine, food, fashion and fragrance. She is the James Beard Award and Emmy Award-winning co-founder of Orlin Media, specializing in video story telling for wineries. Most recently Mary was the Executive Producer of the NBC show In Wine Country, which she launched 10 years ago, and is now in syndication. Prior to NBC, she was a producer on CNN Travel Now, a travel, food and wine show. She was also an editor for Zagat Survey, food and wine editor for the Palo Alto Weekly and a contributor to Travelocity Magazine. Mary has earned both the Intermediate and Advanced level wine certifications from Wine & Spirits Education Trust, and will begin the introductory level of the Court of Master Sommeliers. She’s been a wine judge at the Mendocino Crab & Wine Days, the California State Fair, Livermore Valley’s Taste of Terroir and the Santa Cruz Mountains wine competitions. Keep up with Mary as @WineFashionista on Twitter.