indie perfumers: 14 posts

California Dreaming

Alyssa Harad is the author of Coming to My Senses and here is her contribution to the Women in Perfumery series. You can learn more about Alyssa’s work and read excerpts of her book at alyssaharad.com.

When Jessica, a.k.a. the Perfume Professor directed my attention to the July Allure article  on the “new frontier” of indie American perfumers—that is, perfumers who create and sell their own brand—and their “solitary, rugged, luminous,” distinctly American perfumes, I was struck by the absence of California as much as by the absence of women.* Few states better embody the fantasy of America (sit down, Texas). California is the eternal frontier, the last stop on the push from east to west. It’s also home to a well established indie perfume scene dominated by women who are deeply influenced by the culture and landscape of their home state. Here are a few of my longstanding favorites. This is by no means a complete list. If you have others please say so in the comments.

Natural perfumer Mandy Aftel has been creating her lush, complex natural perfumes for more than thirty years now. She surely deserves credit as an early pioneer of the American indie scene if not its progenitor. Aftel’s home studio is located in Berkeley, one block from Alice Waters’ famed Chez Panisse. Like Waters, Aftel’s innovative work marries French sophistication to a Berkeley obsession with eschewing the synthetic and highlighting the glory of natural materials. But while Waters could draw on a living tradition of French techniques, Aftel had to invent her own.

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Parfums Retro Grand Cuir : Fragrance Review

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Elisa on breaking with the niche formula and on the masculine retro glamour.

There is a prevailing trend in niche perfumery toward unisex scents. Often, the “unisex” quality is communicated through a combination of (supposedly masculine) woody notes, such as sandalwood, cedar, and patchouli, and (supposedly feminine) sweet notes, such as vanilla and benzoin, to the point that when mainstream scents hit on this combination, we say they “smell like niche.” I love sweet woody scents, but this formula is starting to look like a niche cliché – mix up booze, tobacco, resins, a touch of leather and some vanilla until it’s the color of cocktails in a cigar bar. Does it smell good? Then ship it!

grand cuir

Parfums Retro is a new niche outfit that seems to be taking a different approach. Their first three scents are all clearly targeted at the men’s side of the aisle. And yet, Grand Cuir (a sample of which I received as part of an Olfactif gift box) doesn’t smell like the typical men’s offerings at department stores, radiating powerful synthetics like sexual-chemical warfare. Instead, it truly smells retro: reminiscent of the dry, bitter leathers from the first half of the 20th century, when women comfortably wore perfumes like Lanvin Scandal and pre-reformulation Caron Tabac Blond.

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Aftelier Cuir de Gardenia Extrait : Perfume Review

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Elisa talks about gardenia, tiare, and leather as she reviews Aftelier Cuir de Gardenia Extrait.

Searching for a natural gardenia perfume is a little like hunting for unicorns – gardenias, notoriously, don’t release a natural oil. As Victoria once put it, “gardenia, temperamental flower that she is, does not give up her essence to any distillation methods.” Accordingly, gardenia in perfumery is necessarily a re-creation, using other materials to approximate the flower’s scent: sweetly tropical, but with an earthy element often likened to dirt or mushrooms.

gardenia

I was surprised, then, when I heard that Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes was releasing a gardenia scent, since Aftel is known for her all-natural creations. As it turns out, Cuir de Gardenia is based on the Tahitian gardenia, or tiare flower, which can be made into a (costly) enfleurage (termed monoi when using coconut oil). Aftel has bolstered this material with jasmine and benzyl acetate, an isolate that occurs naturally in jasmine and ylang-ylang and is also used as a solvent in plastic and resins.

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Vero Profumo Les Voiles d’Extrait : Mito and Rubj Perfume Reviews

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Although I make accords of various materials as part of my work, they’re not what I would call “perfume.” Most of them are meant to explore combinations of specific ingredients or to showcase a raw material. Even so, I often return to some of my favorites well after the project is over to add a little touch here or there. Imagine how much more tempting it must be for a perfumer to revisit her creations down the line, but also more frustrating, since loyal clients don’t want their fragrances to change.

vero-profumo

For indie perfumer Vero Kern the solution was to present Rubj, Mito, Kiki and Onda, the quartet that makes up her Vero Profumo collection, as three different concentrations–Eau de Parfum, Extrait de Parfum, and now Voile d’Extrait. As I quickly discovered, they could easily be different perfumes, and so I’ve waited with anticipation for Les Voiles d’Extrait.

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Suleko Albho, Vy Roza and Djelem : New Perfume Line

Suléko is a new indie perfume line created and designed by Anastasia Sokolow, a graduate of the Institute of Perfume, Cosmetics, and Food Flavouring (ISIPCA). Inspired by Sokolow’s Russian heritage and the tradition of Russian perfumery, Suléko features fragrances corresponding to different seasons. The name Suléko, which means “soul” in Georgian, also refers to a popular song about a young man looking for his beloved.

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Suléko’s fragrances are “inspired by Russian culture, painting, music, literature and, as works of art, are contained in sculptures created by contemporary artists – visual and tactile reflections of the olfactory compositions.”

The line currently includes three perfumes, which were composed in collaboration between Sokolow and perfumer Cécile Zarokian: Albho, Vy Roza and Djélem.

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