Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Happy Fourth of July!

Celebrate 4th of July with a good ol' (or new) American perfumes - and we live in exciting times when there is a thriving community of artisan perfumers in North America. Most are condensed in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City. And there are a few who are scattered somewhere in the middle... If you're not familiar with them, many will be showing their work at the Artisan Fragrance Salon July 8th, 11am-5pm.

Although there is a great variety in the body of work among American perfumers, I always think of American fragrances as being bold, entering with a big statement, and very rarely being subtle. Think of Youth Dew and the entire Estee Lauder line, which is louder than life - and you'll get my drift. Anne Plilska's oriental, although not loud necessarily, has that quality I'm talking about - being decisive and non apologetic, despite all its feminine softness and cozy glam.

And just as America is greatly varied and versatile in terms of climate, culture and heritage - you will find these qualities reflected in the work of perfumers working and living across the States. This little tribute would not and cannot cover all the important perfumers, and is by no means exhaustive. But I hope it will inspire you to support the perfumers in your community and choose locally designed and made olfactory pieces, rather than chasing the big imported labels (not that there is anything wrong with that - but it is true: To think globally, you must buy locally!).

In Brooklyn, Christopher Brosius creates conceptual perfumes in alcohol-free bases such as oil or water (for the spray perfumes). The scents from the "Experience Series" strike familiar memories and include scents such as In The Library, I Am A Dandelion , Burning Leaves evoke such experience with vividness and surprising sophistication. Also in Brooklyn, you'll find natural perfumers Amanda Walker's A Perfume Organic, and Charna Ethier's Providence Perfume.

In the Ohio, Liz Zorn concocts perfumes with many natural ingredients and some with what she coined "mixed media" - using some synthetic in the mix (but still with a very high proportion of naturals). Being a visual artist and a musician in her "past life" adds an interesting dimension to her creations: they have dept, complexity and originality; as well as a distinct style that you will learn to recognize after sampling some of her work. I'm particularly fond of her Waterflower, Oudh Lacquer, Vanillaville and Love Purple Smoke.

And in Boulder, Colorado Dawn Spencer-Hurwitz conceived an eclectic and vast collection of handcrafted perfumes, also imbedded with her love for natural raw materials and her background as a painter.

The Pacific Coast is known for its free spirit and creativity, as well as being green-minded. In Seattle area you will find Rebel & Mercury (founded by the talented, free spirited Nikki Sherritt - who's also the candlemaker at Gabriel's Aunt). Her talent certainly goes beyond candle making and her perfumes are original, wild and sophisticated. And they are all natural too. You won't go wrong trying any of her scent. You're bound to be pleasantly surprised, no matter what your expectations were.

Meredith Smith of Sweet Anthem also went beyond the call of duty and opened a shop last year that not only sells her own line (which is vegan, and uses a combination of naturals and synthetics), but also promotes local talent from the Pacific Coast. And she also teaches classes and hosts other classes (i.e.: candlemaking with Nikki Sherritt last weekend).

And just recently I got acquainted with Christie Meshell of Matriarch who creates all natural perfumes, also in Seattle area.

Travel south to Los Angeles area, and you'll find scent artists that combine their passion for perfume with the area's glamorous silver screen heritage and the city's strange dichotomy between bright sunny climate and dark secrets. The line between dream, reality, facade and truth is blurry in Hollywood; and that is a characteristic I find underlying the creations of the native olfactory talents:

Persephenie's eponymous line is bottled in black, bearing exotic names such as Kildren, Bedouin and Datura (her best seller); yet is balanced by a bright, cheerful lightness and an underlying complexity. Some of her creations are pure botanical, and others have a smidgeon of a synthetic accord to add a special effect.

Alexandra Ballahouti's Strange Invisible Perfumes in Venice are not any more invisible than other perfumes, but definitely walk a fine line between strange and beautiful. Her compositions are known for unusual combinations of notes, such as mint and rose in Black Rosette and magnolia and vetiver in Magazine Street (my personal favourite).

Kedra Hart of Opus Oils is also a natural perfumer, and her Hollywood perfume parlour is a place to discover Hollywood glam and fantasy world through the themed collections - Burlesque, Jutterbug, Island Girl and more.

Keiko Mecheri's stylized bottles (designer by her husband) stand out immediately, and bring together a modern, worldly aesthetic which are the perfect packaging for her niche olfactory compositions, redolent of heavy scents such as incense, patchouli and gourmands, her perfumes allude to the Orient - Japan, Arabia, the Middle East - an influence that is even more apparent in her new Bespoke line. In a way, the cultural olfactory reference across the globe are what makes it so American - the people in the USA are from everywhere in the world, and their culture influences what is "American" - also in perfume terms.

The San Francisco Bay Area is so full of olfactory creativity that there is 100% chances I won't be able to mention all of the perfumers I know in one breath... But here are a few that I know in person and adore their work as well as personality:

Yosh Han of YOSH Olfactory Sense has an amazing design sensibility, and incorporates her spirituality and clairvoyance gifts into her line in a very genuine, non-pretentious way. Each perfume in the line has also a numeric title, besides its descriptive name. If you only could try two of them - make it Ginger Ciao and Sombre Negra.

Parfums DelRae are founded by DelRae Roth, and are made in Southern France. Some of the scents were designed by Michel Roudnitska - whose perfumery style has a signature boldness that is very similar in my mind to what defines American perfumery.

Laurie Stern is a woman with a heart of gold and her Velvet and Sweet Pea's Purrfumery everything you can dream of out of a garden fairytale and beyond. If you can visit her purrfumery in person, all the better. But you will definitely enjoy her whipped body butters and kittilicious roll-ons even if you can only order online.

Hall Newbegin of Juniper Ridge wildcrafts fragrant goodies from California and Oregon's mountains and deserts, and his line now includes limited editions solid perfumes and backpacker's colognes. You can't get more American than that really - his commitment is to pure wildnerenss in a bottle; and 10% of the profits go towards protecting California's wild plants and nature. In his wildflower tours he also teaches which invasive species to destroy in order to protect the native plants and prevent recurring fires.

Cognoscenti is a new line of unisex fragrances by San Francisco architect Danielle Sergent will debut at the Artisan Fragrance Salon this weekend. Her design sensibilities are abstract and the scents have numbers rather than names (yet accompanied by a short description). If bold and subtle could be bound together they will be happily living in one of her bottles. My favourites is the tobacco & tomato leaf scent.

Mandy Aftel or Aftelier Perfumes knows no bounds in her artistic expression, which spills into the culinary world with her book AROMA (co-authored with chef Daniel Patterson). Her signature notes are recognizable in all her creations - an animalic tinge, from this ingredient in the other; but primarily indolic. In her latest creations, Sepia, indole takes centre stage, tinting all the other notes within it - including yellow mandarin, blood orange and blood cedar - with a nostalgic decay.

And here I am, for the 2nd year in a row finding myself in America for Fourth of July. I'm staying with the lovely Lisa Fong of Artemisia Natural Perfume (and her adorable family in Oakland (and also the chickens and Daisy the piglette - hard to believe we're in a city here...). My ears are still buzzing from all the illegal fireworks the neighbours have put up for Fourth of July last night. Oaklanders sure know how to put up a street party ;-) But to the point of this article - Lisa is one of my favourite natural perfumers, and her style has immediately struck me as original, well structured and just all-around lovely. I always adored her

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