An American Scentist
Laurie Erickson, owner of Sonoma Scent Studio in California, is one of a handful of American niche scent designers. A former technical writer, she's also written garden articles for the San Francisco Chronicle ... but now concentrates on fragrance: "I found that my personality combines a creative side and a detail-oriented technical side, and both aspects come into play whether making new scent blends or writing articles."
Here Laurie talks about perfume and how she creates her own scents:
How did you begin? And why?
"I thought it'd be fun to try blending note combinations that I'd enjoy and that I could use to make gifts for friends and family at Christmas. It really started as a creative outlet -- and I've been playing with essential and fragrance oils for about four years now.
I think we can all create note combinations to please our tastes, but it takes a bit of obsessiveness to test lots of oils and an investment of time and money to acquire all the ingredients. And if you want to create a special group of blends that will have a wider appeal than just to your own nose, you have to hunt even harder for a great group of basic ingredients
I started by buying small amounts of essential oils and absolutes to learn notes. I was so excited to smell pure rose and jasmine absolute for the first time! I then started blending essential and fragrance oils, and I gradually found more ingredients that I liked and could afford. I also read books on perfumery, including Mandy Aftel's book, which was very helpful conceptually.
At first I played with making soap, body butter, and perfume oil. Later, I purchased perfumer's alcohol and adapted my fragrances to edp."
Who influences you most?
"I just go by what my nose likes, but all the perfumes I've tried over the years have helped me learn my preferences, and trying many lines of perfume oils helped because I started making oils before edp.
I love many Dawn Spencer Hurwitz oils. Dawn is a true artist, with many years of blending experience.
I'm also in awe of many Serge Lutens scents; I was amazed when I smelled them for the first time and really appreciated what could be done with a great concept, artistic creativity, and quality ingredients. I have so much to learn, but that's half the fun!"
What is most satisfying about creating your own scents?
"I'm always excited when I do a new scent blend that I really like -- some blends come together easily, while others go on the back burner for a while. I also love getting a new oil ingredient that is exactly what I'd hoped it would be."
What most frustrates you in your scentwork? What is your biggest challenge?
"It seems like I try about 20 oils to find one winner; the initial investment in testing ingredients is so high. The best fragrance oils are really wonderful, but a lot of them are not good for perfume, being better for soap or other applications where lasting power is not an issue.
I'm looking forward to doing some new scents with more expensive essential oils (I'm thinking about adding a deluxe line); I've just acquired a sandalwood EO that's really yummy, as well as a beautiful citrus EO blend that I'm using in a couple of summer fragrances."
Will you do custom scents?
"Sure! I love tweaking existing scents to taste for people. As for custom blends, I'm always open to requests, but it depends on whether I have the right ingredients. If I don't think I have the oils currently to do what someone has in mind, I can keep my eye out.
I can also get a better idea of the blend someone wants if I know what existing perfumes are closest to their imagined scent. If someone wants to give me an idea for a new blend and I have the ingredients, I'm happy to tuck in a couple of custom samples with an order. I'll be able to do more of that as my oil inventory grows (and takes over my little studio!)"
Do you have a fragrance family that's a personal favorite?
"I'm all over the map. I love spicy orientals, but I also love florals and some gourmand scents.
Floral note favorites include jasmine, orange blossom, lily, and violet.
I also love woodsy notes of sandal, cedar, incense, amber, and patchouli. And I love vanilla, honey, almond, warm spices, coconut, and some fruity notes (especially black currant, mandarin, blackberry, peach, and apricot).
Rose scents have a special place in my heart, with some of my favorites being Creed's Fleur de the Rose Bulgare, Rosines' La Rose, and Agent Provocateur.
In some ways, my broad range of fragrance likes is useful because it's less limiting when I'm making blends, but it also gets me in trouble because I love a lot of perfumes!"
And now Laurie's part of MY addiction -- er, problem. My own Sonoma Scent Studio favorites -- which I think are especially notable for their delicacy -- include:
Tranquility, a beautifully done incense and amber blend with an unusually light texture, a contrasting airiness as if you're just catching wisps of scent as they rise from the incense stick. A pale incense with a surprising orange blossom note at drydown.
Mellow, a translucent amber/vanilla/incense blend that is comforting without being heavy ... very, very pretty.
Spiced Autumn Woods: softly spicy sandalwood and vanilla, with a whisper of patchouli, and a tinge of smoke. Perfect for cool summer evenings.
Mayan Gold: citrusy bright and spicy with patchouli and a bit of woods ...
...and I very much like her Ambra del Nepal type, an incensy amber blend with a touch of cardamom on a vanillic base.
If you'd like to see more of Sonoma Scent Studio, you can visit Laurie at
It's the End of All Strain/ It's the Joy in Your Heart
Jim motioned to me to take my earphones off and listen ... to one of my favorite versions of "The Waters of March," a ballad by Antonio Carlos Jobim (originally sung in the Portuguese -- beautifully -- by Astrud Gilberto).
Today's was an exceptionally graceful English-language version sung by Susannah McCorkle, a jazz vocalist who took her own life May 19, 2001 at age 55.
The Waters Of March*
a stick a stone/ it's the end of the road,
it's the rest of the stump/ it's a little alone
it's a sliver of glass/ it is life, it's the sun,
it is night, it is death/ it's a trap, it's a gun.
the oak when it blooms/ a fox in the brush,
the knot in the wood/ the song of the thrush.
the wood of the wind/ a cliff, a fall,
a scratch, a lump/ it is nothing at all.
it's the wind blowing free/ it's the end of a slope.
it's a beam, it's a void/ it's a hunch, it's a hope.
and the riverbank talks/ of the water of march
it's the end of the strain/ it's the joy in your heart.
the foot, the ground/ the flesh, the bone,
the beat of the road/ a slingshot stone.
a fish, a flash/ a silvery glow,
a fight, a bet/ the range of the bow.
the bed of the well/ the end of the line,
the dismay in the face/ it's a loss, it's a find.
a spear, a spike/ a point, a nail,
a drip, a drop/ the end of the tale.
a truckload of bricks/ in the soft morning light,
the shot of a gun/ in the dead of the night.
a mile, a must/ a thrust, a bump.
it's a girl, it's a rhyme/ it's the cold, it's the mumps.
the plan of the house/ the body in bed,
the car that got stuck/ it's the mud, it's the mud.
a float, a drift/ a flight, a wing,
a hawk, a quail/ the promise of spring.
and the riverbank talks/ of the waters of march.
it's the promise of life/ it's the joy in your heart.
a snake, a stick/ it is john, it is joe,
it's a thorn in your hand/ and a cut on your toe.
a point, a grain/ a bee, a bite,
a blink, a buzzard/ the sudden stroke of night.
a pin, a needle/ a sting, a pain,
a snail, a riddle/ a weep, a stain.
a pass in the mountains/ a horse, a mule,
in the distance the shelves/ rode three shadows of blue.
and the riverbank talks/ of the promise of life/
in your heart/ in your heart.
a stick, a stone/ the end of the load,
the rest of the stump/ a lonesome road.
a sliver of glass/ a life, the sun,
a night, a death/ the end of the run.
and the riverbank talks/ of the waters of march
it's the end of all strain/ it's the joy in your heart.
*The Waters of March can be found in Susannah McCorkle's 1993 "From Bessie To Brazil" Concord Jazz - 4547 and in her 2001 "Most Requested Songs" Concord Jazz - 4897-2
Today's Scripture is from Coco Chanel ...
"Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not.
It is the opposite of vulgarity."
How Badly Do You Want It?*
In the case of Ta'if, very badly indeed.
[With a bow to Robin, whose blog http://nowsmellthis.blogharbor.com/ today features an interview with Ormonde Jayne's Linda Pilkington, the perfumer responsible for my favorite fragrance in all the world ...]
This heartbreakingly beautiful fragrance is named for the Ta'if damask rose from Arabia (Ta´if, a town rising 5000 ft above the Red Sea overlooks the Arabian desert and is famous for its rose plantations. A rose plantation. Can you imagine?).
Notes are: top -- pink pepper, saffron and dates; heart -- rose oil, freesia, orange flower absolute and jasmine; base -- broom and amber.
The Ormonde Jayne site proclaims the perfume "intoxicating and audacious." To me, it is magical and contradictory. This is a non-sweet, nearly herbaceous rose scent with none of the saccharine qualities most often associated with the floral.
Its saffron, pink pepper, tree resin and broom notes differentiate it, affording unexpected richness and depth. There is also a darkness to this scent, nearly a blood-warm quality (and those who like this sort of thing may also find Czech and Speake's Dark Rose appealing).
The emotional pull of this has everything to do with its ability to transport you. It's rare that a perfume has such a strong persona that yours bends to it, rather than the reverse. But this is true of Ta'if.
In my mind at least, I become dangerously seductive -- who knows what I'm capable of, in the realm of this wonderful scent?
*quote, completely out of context, from Gracie Allen
Nigella Lawson, Eat THIS!
I'm just puttering around in my kitchen, doing my imitation of Nigella Lawson, voluptuous heiress to the kingdom of Julia Child (may she rest in peace, and, sorry, Julia may have known her way around a ganache but in terms of sex appeal, Nigella beats her all to heck).
My imitation of Nigella involves preparing a chicken for roasting while wearing a deep-V black sweater as my dark glossy hair curls artlessly around my shoulders ...
I frequently pause to lasciviously lick some of what I'm preparing from my fingertips, while looking meaningfully into the imaginary camera. (Not really advisable when preparing raw chicken, what with the ugly spectre of salmonella but oh well. It's a free range chicken and I'm hoping for the best.)
I skillfully pry the skin of the breast up with a wooden spoon, commenting to myself how very full and plump and white this breast is (no double entendre is homeless with our Nigella) and shove softened butter up underneath to ensure lubricity, insert orange halves into the cavity (no explanation necessary), sprinkle on salt, pepper and thyme ... and tie the legs to the bedpost, I mean together.
I'm working up quite a sweat, what with the heat of the kitchen and the excitement of knowing I'll soon pop this work of art into the oven ... I can feel the flush climbing up the V of my sweater (did I mention it was black?) and ... and ... and ...
Wow, that was good. If I smoked, I'd be having a cigarette now.
On to frosting the cake ...
A Tale of Seven Malles ...
In the words of my friend Ruth, "Frederic Malle Editions de Parfums are really something unique. FM apparently approached these perfumers and said, basically, 'you make your perfect scent, whatever you want to do. I'll bottle it and put your name on it.' I always thought it was neat that the perfumer's name was on the bottle, but never realized truly that they were given carte blanche to create anything they wanted. This is why there is no common thread running through all these fragrances, no 'signature.' It's so interesting, and really a unique way to approach perfumes. More often than not, I bet perfumers are approached to make something specific. You give a really top creator free reign ... and it is so interesting to see what they create."
Last week, the coveted small box from Paris arrived (merci, Aurore et Tiphaine!) and I continued my own exploration of Malle fragrances.
I already love UNE ROSE (per my review on a much-frequented fragrance board):
"'Truffle accord,' hm. Well, there is a rich fermented scent to the first sniff of Une Rose, Edouard Fléchier's creation for Frederic Malle. But that could also be the "wine dregs" stated in the fragrance notes, which include Turkish rose absolute and geranium. Une Rose is a complicated mix deserving the "heady" label. There's a fecundity to this perfume, a fertility. No girliness here. A serious rose scent that demands respect. It's beautiful but requires thought. That's ok. I'd like to be perceived that way. Nice."
...and I have great affection for Ralf Schwieger's LIPSTICK ROSE, the ladylike confection that reminds you of your mother's scent as she bent down to kiss you before her big night out. (Notes include rose, violet, musk, vanilla, vetiver and amber.)
I had previously struck out with Michel Roudnitska's NOIR EPICES (although his DelRae Debut is a contemporary classic and holy grail for me). Although I very much like spice/woods fragrance, I couldn't get past Noir Epices' predominant geranium. (Notes also include nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and pepper, orange, sandalwood and patchouli.)
The FM site states that if Pierre Bourdon's IRIS POUDRE were a garment, it would be a cashmere sweater, appropriate for most occasions, a grand floral aldehydic. I can't add much except to say that this is the fragrance for one who wears, or covets, Hermes. A bit of the grande dame, exceptionally ladylike. And, of course, not really me, except on days when I'm playing dressup. Its notes: tonka bean, musk and vanilla, sandalwood, vetiver.
MUSC RAVAGEUR. Like half the civilized world posting on our frag board, I ADORE this fragrance by Maurice Roucel. An earthy citrus that transforms into a your-skin-but-better scent that is the absolute best to wake up to (actually it does have a bit of male animal smell to it. Even better. As if someone left a bit of himself with you. YUM.) Notes: bergamot, tangerine and cinnamon, vanilla, musk and amber.
Jean-Claude Ellena's L'EAU D'HIVER is said to be a fragrance of winter and warmth. Those who love it find it reassuring, comforting ... it is too transparent for me. There doesn't seem to be any there, there; I cannot find enough heat in it. I feel about this fragrance the way I feel about minimalist decor: beautiful but how can people live there? The notes of this fragile fragrance include white heliotrope, iris and honey.
The biggest surprise: the eroticism of Dominique Ropion's UNE FLEUR DE CASSIE. It takes a woman to know a woman ... and this is the uptown Gallic cousin of Vivienne Westwood's Boudoir. Even FM declaims it "intoxicating, bestial, bordering on coarse," its notes including mimosa absolute, jasmine absolute, cassie absolute and rose absolute, with carnation as counterpoint and a vanilla and sandalwood base. The FM site also says this fragrance is homage to scents of a woman in the 1930s, voluptuous, unafraid. HOOWAH! My grandmother would have worn this to catch one of her five husbands.
So ... four out of seven: the Frederic Malle stats. A wonderful line; the four that are winners to me are exquisite. And, for a change, the noses get the credit.
In this Passover/Easter Season ...
I share a phrase with you associated with the psychoanalyst Carl Jung.
Although it did not originate with him (it is thought to be repeated from an ancient Delphic oracle), he felt the truth of it so strongly that he had it carved over the doorway of his home in Zurich.
The Latin text is: Vocatus atque non vocatus Deus aderit ...
Bidden or unbidden, God is present.
Whether we invoke it or not ... whether life follows our wishes or not ... whether we can understand the outcome or not ... God is here.
Whatever your beliefs, I hope there is comfort in this thought ... and I wish you a joyous holiday.