Recently Allure published an article in their July 2017 Diversity/”American Beauty” Issue, “The American Perfumers Modern Approach to Fragrance” by Liana Schaffner that briefly covers the rebellious spirit of American niche perfumery. I’m always delighted to see my interest introduced to a broader audience; however, there was something so curious about this article. Out of all the brands and perfumers interviewed¹, none were female. There was a total erasure of women in perfumery. Which is so unfortunate because I feel like there would have been no niche or indie perfumery in the US if it weren’t for women!
I’m responding to this article with an article that I was currently working on. There is some major overlap in the topics.
In my post I’ll be asking (and answering) questions that as a perfume blogger I’m asked frequently and have yet to formally answer in a blog post:
Do you remember the first niche perfume you ever smelled? Do you remember the first indie perfume you ever smelled? How did you get *into* perfume?
Here’s Victoria’s Personal Timeline of Niche Perfumes:
Part A: Shop Girl & Student – Niche
I don’t know if this really was the first niche I ever tried, but I remember it being the first niche I ever tried: Annick Goutal. Before I even knew about decants, a professor at Tennessee State University gave me decants of Ce Soir Ou Jamais and Grand Amour. These decants started my obsession of both niche perfume and rose fragrances. At this time, I was working at a department store selling perfume as I went to school. Annick Goutal Parfums were the the first perfumes that were “classic perfumes” that I had tried that weren’t under a designer’s name. Annick Goutal perfumes were created by women. Sadly, at this time, this was not that common. The average consumer doesn’t realize how male-dominated perfumery has been. For a long time in traditional perfumery, women weren’t even allowed to study to be Noses. This may have been because women weren’t encouraged to attend school or study chemistry. I’ve also read that there were some weird cultural baggage dealing with how women couldn’t be perfumers. Oddly enough, perfumery was a boys club for so many years. Today Annick Goutal Parfums is owned by the Korean-brand AmorePacific, I still think of Annick Goutal as a niche brand owned and operated by the Goutal/Doyen women. I know I’m wrong, but I can’t help to have a soft spot for the brand because of how they fit into Victoria’s Personal Timeline of Niche Perfumes. Then I ventured into Serge Lutens and so many more… Annick Goutal really started something.
Around this time, I was also venturing into cult-favorite perfume oils. Without really fully processing this, it was my backlash of what I saw as “corporate perfumery”. I didn’t want to smell like the things that I sold. This was during prime “pink juice” era and none of those perfumes really appealed to me. I couldn’t relate to the designer ad campaigns of women in bikinis lounging on Ibiza beaches. I wanted something completely different. This was also an extension of my high school years where I only wore things like patchouli oil because that wasn’t “norm” (and was also all I could afford). Online forums² introduced me to more sophisticated oil blends than the ones I was buying at witchy stores. I started to wear cult-favorites from Californian based perfumes brands like Kai, Susan D. Owens Child, Sage Machado and Sarah Horowitz. These women and their brands were such a contrast in comparison to traditional perfumery. In my mind, the women that created these perfumes were like me. They were also sick of corporate perfumery and were creating the sort of things women that wanted to smell good without smelling like “designer du jour”.
While we’re still on this portion of Victoria’s Timeline of Niche Perfumes, the only real designer stuff I wore were classics. When I wasn’t wearing “skin scents”/oils, I was wearing classic perfumes, the sort of perfumes that I felt went with my burgundy lipstick, Dr. Martens and tweed blazers. I later found out that a lot of my favorite classic perfumes (Piguet Bandit, Piguet Fracas and Balmain Vent Vert) were created by Germaine Cellier in the 1940’s. It was like I was subconsciously attracted to perfumes created by non-traditional, rebellious perfumers.
Part B: Graduate & Blogger – Indie
When I started EauMG in 2008, I had no idea that I’d still be talking about perfume in 2017. I started this blog when I moved from Nashville to Western Washington/Seattle. When I started, I wrote posts that I didn’t expect a single person to read. I wrote for myself, a way to talk about perfume when I started working my “professional” job (and as an exercise to get myself to write daily). I didn’t realize that blogging could turn into something where people send you stuff; I was so naive! Within a few years of (poorly) writing about perfume, someone reached out to me, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes. Her perfumes changed how I viewed perfume. Before DSH, I saw niche as something that happened in Europe and indie as something that happened in oil-based “rich hippie” blends in California. Here was a woman with a massive catalog of interesting perfumes. Some were traditionally pretty. Some were delightfully vintage-y , like they came from the Osmothèque vault (recreations). Others were daring unlike anything I’ve ever worn before. DSH Perfumes changed how I thought about perfume and perfumery.
Not long afterwards, I was introduced to Mandy Aftel’s Aftelier. Her perfumes introduced me to the world of naturals. Before that, I only thought of naturals like those oils you’d buy at those witch-y stores or something you’d buy at a grocery store where I couldn’t afford to buy food. I never really knew naturals could smell like anything other than aromatherapy until I tried Aftelier. With classes and books, Mandy has influenced natural perfumery and indie perfumery more than anyone else. She broke down the barriers. I truly do not think indie perfumery in the US would be wear it is at today without Mandy. How many brands has she indirectly launched?
There’s something in the West that encourages entrepreneurship and risk taking. I think it’s a geographical and mental disconnect from “Old World” that gives people a more experimental attitude. In the Pacific Northwest, I was introduced to many of those pioneer spirits. There’s a delightful indie scene there, many of the brands are owned by women (but there are plenty owned by some great guys too): Christi Meshell of House of Matriarch, Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids, Karen Gold-Reinke of Pirouette, Nikki Sherritt of Rebel + Mercury, Meredith Smith of Sweet Anthem. This was a group of mostly self-taught women perfumers that helped to promote indie perfumery and provide support for one another (be it through supply chain questions, feedback or questions on how to operate your own business). Outside of fragrance blogging, this was the first time I was seeing a sense of community within perfumery.
Throughout years of blogging, I’ve been exposed to so many wonderful indie, niche and artisan brands. I started to view perfumery like a source of contemporary female shamanism. They were taking materials used for centuries to treat the spirit, body and mind and making perfume. Charna Ethier of Providence Perfume Co. makes some of my favorite natural perfumes. Roxana Villa of Roxana Illuminated Perfumes, Irina Adam of Phoenix Botanicals, Ayala Moriel of Ayala Moriel Parfums and Anu Prestonia of Anu Essentials all create beautiful perfumes using an all natural palette and their own unique professional and creative backgrounds.
Indies working in mixed media (synthetics and naturals) were introducing me to scents with inspiration that you wouldn’t find from mainstream perfume houses. They have compositions inspired by subjects like dead writers, tea ceremonies, pop culture…Maria McElroy of aroma M and Kedra Hart of Opus Oils make some seriously sexy perfume oils (and alcohol-based scents). Amber Jobin of Aether Arts makes some unusual (and wearable) perfumes. Laurie Erikson of Sonoma Scent Studio makes some of my favorite rose and woodsy perfumes. Vero Kern of Vero Profumo makes bold compositions that made me fall in love with vetiver (and other notes I didn’t know that I liked!).
There are women that are classically trained in perfumery creating niche perfumes (and many running their own businesses). Ineke Rühland of INeKe and Viktoria Minya of Viktoria Minya Parfums both create gorgeous, ethereal florals. The late Mona di Orio created complex, swoon-worthy scents. Over the past few years, Cécille Zarokian (Masque Tango and Majda Bekkali Mon Nom Est Rouge) and Cécile Hua of Mane (Charenton Macerations Asphalt Rainbow and Arielle Shoshana EDP) have become some of my favorite current niche perfumers.
There are of course so many great people in niche/indie perfumery and it’s not just limited to women. However, these are some of the women that have really influenced how I experience and think about fragrance.
Part C: Grad Student & Now What?
Niche and indie perfumery has really changed over the past few years (so has my own life – I’ve moved to the NYC metro area, I’m in grad school, etc.). Big players like Estee Lauder and L’Oreal are focusing on investing in and buying niche fragrance brands. Popular publications routinely include niche perfumes in their articles. Stores like Sephora carry brands that at one time were difficult to obtain within the US. There’s more brands on the market than ever. As someone that writes about perfume, this is overwhelming. But, at the same time, it’s exiting. It seems like people, now more than ever, have an interest in perfume. Yay!
I have a few predictions of how indie/niche perfume will change or evolve in the future, I’m probably completely wrong but that’s why after 9 years I still find perfume an interesting topic to write about. It’s always evolving. I do have a few hopes for the future of perfumery.
- I hope that the women in perfumery (creative directors, perfumers and writers) won’t be overshadowed by men. That sounds harsh, but it’s frustrating. It’s like how women in culinary fields are often seen as “cooks” vs. men doing the same thing are “chefs”. It’s like when women do anything in sensory mediums it’s seen as a hobby and if men do it, it’s taken more seriously.
- I hope that this trend of super expensive “luxury” perfumes dies down. I’m sick of $300+ being the new average price for niche perfumes.
- I hope we’ll start seeing more diversity of perfumers, writers and brand owners within indie/niche perfumery.
As far as Victoria’s Timeline of Niche Perfumes, I’m still sniffing and I’m still writing about perfume. I’ll keep doing that as long as it seems interesting. I’m more into florals and green scents these days (which would have shocked pre-2009 me) both designer and niche.
Thanks for reading my long response to how I was introduced to niche/indie perfumes. (I really didn’t plan on writing something this long, sorry). Thanks for reading and supporting EauMG for all these years!
¹Some great people in the industry were interviewed, it’s not that I’m upset they were interviewed. I only wish it wasn’t such a male-focused article. It really made it look like there are no women involved in American indie perfumery!
²Online changed perfumery. When e-tailing grew, so did niche/indie perfumery. When social media grew, so did niche/indie perfumery.
Please take the time to read how a few fellow female perfume writers are responding to that Allure article:
*Annick Goutal perfumes from Now Smell This, Vintage Piguet Bandit ad from hprints.com. Adriaen van Utrecht, “Still Life with Bouquet and Skull,” WUSTL Digital Gateway Image Collections & Exhibitions, accessed July 30, 2017, http://omeka.wustl.edu/omeka/items/show/7747.