Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series – Hiram Green of Hiram Green Perfumes

thirteen-thoughts-v2_800_shadow1Thirteen thoughts from perfumers around the globe. Each perfumer profiled at Perfume Polytechnic has been presented with the same set of thirteen questions that probe into scent memories, imagination, education, history, the creative process and philosophy. How each perfumer answers these questions, and what form the answers take, is up to them. Tune in each week for a new instalment to learn more about the olfactory arts and how perfumers think about smell.

Today’s interview with Hiram Green is the final in Series Three of Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series. There have been five instalments in this series. Hiram is a Canadian-born perfumer who lives in Gouda in the Netherlands. He produces small batch perfumes using natural materials.

Last week, I interviewed Yosh Han of YOSH Perfumes. The week before that, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes answered the thirteen questions. Prior to that, Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors was interviewed, and in week one, Dana El Masri of Parfums Jazmin Saraï started off the third series of Thirteen Thoughts.

You can catch up with Series One of Thirteen Thoughts here, featuring interviews with Emma Leah, Mark Evans, Angelo Orazio Pregoni, Paul Kiler and Sarah McCartney.

For Series Two of Thirteen Thoughts, I interviewed Mandy Aftel, Ellen Covey, Shelley Waddington, Andy Tauer and JoAnne Bassett. You can read those interviews here.

As the intention of Thirteen Thoughts is to let each perfumer speak for themselves about who they are, what drives them, and what they do with fragrance, without any further ado, let me introduce you to…

Hiram Green of Hiram Green Perfumes

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Hiram Green

  1. Tell us about a significant olfactory memory from your childhood.

I don’t really have one. I can remember the perfume my mother wore, but I wouldn’t say that this was a significant olfactory memory, more of a general childhood memory.

  1. What is your “origin story”? When, why and how did you decide to become a perfumer?

I studied fine arts in Toronto, Canada, where I grew up before moving to London, England. My plan was to be an artist in London. I quickly learned that I needed job on the side to earn some money. This by chance ended up being in a perfume store. I quickly became more fascinated with the world of perfume and less interested in making art. This fascination led me to eventually opening my own perfume store in London. At that time I also started mixing fragrant oils together in an attempt to make perfume myself. Several years passed, I eventually closed my store, moved to The Netherlands and only two and a half years ago launched my own fragrance brand.

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Artwork for Hiram Green’s fragrance Voyage

  1. Do you have any formal training in perfumery, or are you self-taught? Have there been any mentors or other personal or cultural influences on your work as a perfumer?

I am self-taught. Some formal training would have certainly come in very handy in my early years of fragrance mixing.

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Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series – Yosh Han of YOSH perfumes

thirteen-thoughts-v2_800_shadow1Thirteen thoughts from perfumers around the globe. Each perfumer profiled at Perfume Polytechnic has been presented with the same set of thirteen questions that probe into scent memories, imagination, education, history, the creative process and philosophy. How each perfumer answers these questions, and what form the answers take, is up to them. Tune in each week for a new instalment to learn more about the olfactory arts and how perfumers think about smell.

Today’s interview with Yosh Han of YOSH perfumes is the fourth in Series Three of Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series. There are five, weekly instalments in this series.

Last week, I interviewed Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes. Prior to that, Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors answered the thirteen questions. In week one, I interviewed Dana El Masri of Parfums Jazmin Saraï. Next week I will conclude the third series of Thirteen Thoughts by interviewing Hiram Green.

You can catch up with Series One of Thirteen Thoughts here, featuring interviews with Emma Leah, Mark Evans, Angelo Orazio Pregoni, Paul Kiler and Sarah McCartney.

For Series Two of Thirteen Thoughts, I interviewed Mandy Aftel, Ellen Covey, Shelley Waddington, Andy Tauer and JoAnne Bassett. You can read those interviews here.

As the intention of Thirteen Thoughts is to let each perfumer speak for themselves about who they are, what drives them, and what they do with fragrance, without any further ado, let me introduce you to…

Yosh Han of YOSH perfumes

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Yosh Han

  1. Tell us about a significant olfactory memory from your childhood.

When we were growing up, our family would take summer holidays across the country in an RV. One particular summer, when I was about 12 or 13, we drove across from California through Arizona, New Mexico and up through Wyoming and into Canada. It was such an epic summer. I remember the smells of the Great Outdoors and how each scene was vastly different. Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico have a wet earthen smell from minerals in the cave walls. I also remember the smell of the sulphur geysers at Yellowstone National Park. We ended up at Niagara Falls, Toronto, Canada. The impact was just enormous. The velocity of the waterfall is truly remarkable and the scent of the falls, forest and fresh air is amazing.

  1. What is your “origin story”? When, why and how did you decide to become a perfumer?

The Chinese character for my name means fragrant. One could say it was destiny.

  1. Do you have any formal training in perfumery, or are you self-taught? Have there been any mentors or other personal or cultural influences on your work as a perfumer?

Straddling East-West will forever be a theme for me. There are so many nuances from my diverse cultural background that I try to bring into my professional work, yet it’s very subtle. My Asian programming is based on not being direct but that is in high-contrast with the very direct Americanness of how I’ve been educated in the school system and work place. I think this shows through in the way I create and blend perfumes. All my perfumes have clearly defined edges yet the trajectory unfolds in a less direct manner. One could say, it’s my signature.

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Some of the YOSH range of perfumes

  1. Who are your favourite perfumers or perfume houses, and what do you like about their work?

I have so many friends who are perfumers – it’s hard to say! I am drawn towards the conceptual indie artists more than commercial perfumes for sure. I’m a sucker for great packaging but I draw the line when something is over branded.

  1. Describe your brand to us: tell us about the kind(s) of perfume that you make, as well as your brand’s philosophy or ethos.

I practice vibrational perfumery. Each of my perfumes has an energetic component to them because I design using scent resonance. I don’t only focus on the olfactive but also on how scents work together synergistically to produce a specific effect spiritually. I try to teach my students how to feel when a fragrance formula is complete. Many people design their formulas from a cerebral place but for me, it’s truly about feeling the vibe of a particular scent – if one learns to listen to the raw materials, one can learn to hear the compositions rather than figuring out a mathematical equation. Of course, one has to understand chemistry, but blending intuitively is very important to me.

  1. How do you come up with the idea for a new perfume? For example, do ideas come to you spontaneously, do you work conceptually, or do you try to fill gaps in your range?

Inspiration comes randomly – emotions, flavor pairings, events, traveling, reading, conversations, ingredients, art, music, textures and collaborations. Sometimes, I have an idea for a perfume that I might mull over for months or sometimes years and they might be blended but not bottled up for commerce. I tend to work in themes so if I decide to produce something commercially, I will work on the blend, packaging and marketing simultaneously and edit and adjust until it feels right.

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Konig by YOSH

  1. What element of your perfume making process do you think readers of this blog would be interested or surprised to learn about?

I originally blended everything by hand when I first started my business. I still do the concepting and aromatic sketches by hand. In the last few years, I started working with Robertet and their in-house perfumer, Olivia Jan. For the last three launches, we worked collaboratively and won a Golden Pear award from the Institute of Arts and Olfaction for my men’s fragrance, König, a scent inspired by the Bavarian forest. We worked on three subsequent fragrances that will launch in 2016. I feel like the film director and she, the cinematographer. It is a very close relationship that is really rewarding.

  1. What are the current challenges you face as a perfumer, both creatively and in regard to manufacturing, distributing and marketing your perfume?

I abhor all the regulations. I understand the need for them, but it is stifling as a creative entrepreneur. I think retailing has become really boring and impersonal. I can appreciate an efficient check-out experience both on-line and brick-and-mortar, but I really envision Perfume as Art and hope to see more gallery or showroom settings where people can relax and enjoy perfumes as aromatic narratives rather than mere commodities.

  1. How has your work as a perfumer affected your perception of everyday smells?

I love expanding my repertoire of smells – my library of odors. It is important to me, culturally, to have a wide range of odors that come from various parts of the world. I enjoy learning about new scents – whether natural or synthetic. However, I do not like, when I meet a new person who upon learning my profession, sticks a body part in my face. I find this to be an occupational hazard that while it does not happen daily, happens too frequently!

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Yosh Han at her blending desk

  1. Many ingredients that are edible are also used in fragrance (chocolate, vanilla, coffee and rose, to name a few). If you could reverse this process and turn any perfume ingredient into an edible ingredient, what would that be? Which fragrance ingredient do you think would taste nice as a flavour?

What I think is more challenging to communicate in scent is the ability to convey textures, whereas in flavors, that’s much easier. I would like for example, whipped cream textures to be more available in perfumery. I am working on a second umami scent right now and that seems to be more challenging to express in perfumery. That might have to do more with the fact that consumers are tuned into wanting sweet, floral smells, but I hope to change that. I love savory, salty flavors and I would like to offer that more as a perfume category.

  1. If you had a time machine, which historical period in perfumery would you like to go back to and work in as a perfumer?

I would love to go back in time to the Edo Period in Japan when the Imperial Geishas were versed in various arts. I would love to be one of the eccentric artists working with incense, beauty products and perfumes. What an amazing time period when the high arts were valued and appreciated. It was also a highly competitive, politically charged climate amongst the women so many of the formulations were kept secret. I am particularly fascinated by the game of Listening to Incense where one would burn incense, ask a question and play back and forth. Much of the Japanese language is subtle and nuanced and so one would have to be an astute poet to play the game well. The fragrance scent game is also featured prominently in court during the Heian period so I would love to go back and be there too. It has been chronicled in The Tale of Genji by Tosa Mitsuoki. I love burning Japanese incense and particularly agarwood chips and feel like I am in a time machine when I burn it. It’s so narcotic and mesmerizing!

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The Evanescent collection by YOSH

  1. If you could invent a new olfactory gadget, tool or technology, what would it be and how would it benefit perfumers and/or society?

I would love to invent a way to magnify odors: like glasses, binoculars or telescopes, but for the nose. It could even be like a hearing aid or listening device where one might be able to turn up or down the volume of aromas. I would not necessarily want olfactory bionic powers all the time, but rather, the ability to increase olfactory capabilities in specific situations. It would really benefit those who lose their sense of smell as they age or those who lose their sense of smell due to an accident or surgery. I think the ability to turn down smells could potentially be interesting in urban environments as well. People are so sensitive now to odors in public spaces that it would be amazing to have that ability to just shut out displeasing odors. As I write – on the plane – I am interrupted by the scent of nail polish, and to my chagrin, the woman behind me was in fact, painting her nails as if she were in the privacy of her own home!

  1. What is the purpose of perfume?

Sensuality, inspiration and enjoyment. We still need olfaction to ascertain danger especially when something intuitively smells fishy but perfume is an elevated art and should be enjoyed as such.


I hope you’ve enjoyed the fourth interview in this third series of Thirteen Thoughts and reading Yosh Han’s answers.

My heartfelt thanks go out to Yosh for taking time out of her busy schedule to conduct an interview with me for Thirteen Thoughts. I find Yosh’s intuitive, vibrational approach to creating perfume really interesting and unusual, and her ideas about textural perfume are so fascinating! Japan is one of my favourite places, so learning about the importance of scent in culture in the Edo and Heian periods has been interesting to me too, and is something I want to explore further.

If you’d like to find out more about Yosh and her fragrances, visit the YOSH perfumes website. Yosh has some really interesting information on her website, so you can learn more about her practice and the ideas behind her perfumes there. YOSH perfumes are stocked at various retailers: online, in the US and around the world. You can also find information about these retailers on her website.

YOSH perfumes are listed at Fragrantica and Basenotes.

Next week:

Stay tuned to see how perfumer Hiram Green answers the thirteen questions in Thirteen Thoughts, a Perfumer Interview Series. Follow the blog here or over at Facebook so that you don’t miss out!

Intellectual Property:

All interview answers and photographs were provided courtesy of the perfumer, and remain their intellectual property. All interview questions remain the intellectual property of Perfume Polytechnic. Please do not reproduce interviews or images without permission.

Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series – Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes

thirteen-thoughts-v2_800_shadow1Thirteen thoughts from perfumers around the globe. Each perfumer profiled at Perfume Polytechnic has been presented with the same set of thirteen questions that probe into scent memories, imagination, education, history, the creative process and philosophy. How each perfumer answers these questions, and what form the answers take, is up to them. Tune in each week for a new instalment to learn more about the olfactory arts and how perfumers think about smell.

Today’s interview with Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes is the third in Series Three of Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series. Last week, I interviewed Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors. In week one, I interviewed Dana El Masri of Parfums Jazmin Saraï. There will be five, weekly instalments in this series. Other perfumers to be interviewed include Yosh Han and Hiram Green.

You can catch up with Series One of Thirteen Thoughts here, featuring interviews with Emma Leah, Mark Evans, Angelo Orazio Pregoni, Paul Kiler and Sarah McCartney.

For Series Two of Thirteen Thoughts, I interviewed Mandy Aftel, Ellen Covey, Shelley Waddington, Andy Tauer and JoAnne Bassett. You can read those interviews here.

Today Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of Boulder, Colorado answers the thirteen questions. Dawn is so well-known and highly regarded amongst fragrance aficionados that I hardly need to introduce her. She is a classically trained visual artist, a synaesthete, and one of the most prolific perfumers I’ve ever come across.

But enough of my preamble. As the intention of Thirteen Thoughts is to let each perfumer speak for themselves about who they are, what drives them, and what they do with fragrance, without any further ado, let me introduce you to…

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes

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Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

  1. Tell us about a significant olfactory memory from your childhood.

It’s interesting that you ask this question as I have just completed a perfume based on a couple of similar, or I should say interrelated, memories from my childhood. The Voices of Trees is a new natural perfume that expresses an experience that I had when I was 4 years old and had my first overnight sleepover. It was with my preschool summer camp and we slept in a grove of old, very tall, pine trees. As I lay on the needles in my sleeping bag and smelled the warm resin and bark I distinctly heard the trees murmuring to each other. The aroma of the trees and the sounds that they made are intertwined in my consciousness. One summer later, I was learning to swim at our town swimming pool which happened to be very near the river that ran through our town and I noticed a scent coming from a very dark, almost black thicket of woods near the river. I also heard a ‘song’ with the scent. It was mysterious, dark, and humid, layered with warm and balsamic. Much later I learned that this was the fragrance of sycamore trees. To this day that aroma stops me in my tracks and beckons me to come closer to fully appreciate the scent wafting in the air. I can never get enough of that olfactory intoxication.

  1. What is your “origin story”? When, why and how did you decide to become a perfumer?

Goodness… it’s kind of a long story but when people ask “how I got into this” I generally tell them that I fell into it. Here’s a slightly condensed version: I’m a classically trained visual artist and I had planned to become an academic; I wanted to teach art at a university. But while I was living and studying in Boston the asthma condition that I have had since childhood became very serious and I was severely medicated for it. So, I started my search to find a new way of healing and day-to-day dealing with my health which led me to herbal medicine and essential oils. And, as so often happens when you get involved deeply in something, I met someone who knew someone who knew another person who was looking for a custom perfumer for an oil / perfume shop in Boston. I applied with no experience in perfume or retail but I said that I had a good handle on aesthetics and that I had some experience with aromatherapy. I was hired with the caveat that if I couldn’t do the job that they would find someone else. Fair enough; it was sink or swim and so I swam.   It was later that I realized that I’m synaesthetic and that for me, I was applying what I had learned as a painter to fragrance design. Each material has a color / shape/ texture / edge quality, etc. that made learning, remembering, and understanding how to design with aromatics the same as creating a painting.

As luck would have it, I graduated art school and needed to start paying my student loans, so I did what I knew I could do to make money: create fragrance. That was the when and where… I had already developed a small following for my work and felt as passionate about perfumery as I did for painting. I was already talking to people about ‘fragrance as art form’ on par with the other arts back in 1991…way before that concept would become part of the collective consciousness. It’s been an amazing ride.

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Some of the DSH range

  1. Do you have any formal training in perfumery, or are you self-taught? Have there been any mentors or other personal or cultural influences on your work as a perfumer?

I did a pretty loose apprenticeship with the perfumer at Essense on Newbury Street in my Boston days, where I learned a fair amount about designer perfumes and the basics of what I might call the ‘reverse-engineering’ skill (I did my very first successful recreation of an old French perfume that was discontinued for a woman in her fifties who had worn that perfume since she was 13). I’m also a certified aromatherapist and I’ve taken organic chemistry intensives. Beyond that, I have been my own teacher in terms of a deep study of perfume history, French methods, classical vs. modern methods, and the like. I got into perfumery way before there were any real openings or ways to be classically trained as a perfumer unless you were to go to ISIPCA or another industry ‘school’, or if you held a chemistry degree and were accepted into a fragrance house for training. (I didn’t even know about ISIPCA when I got started…)

I can easily say that coming from a classical tradition in my art training, where copying masterworks in order to gain insight into the Master’s process and vision, has been invaluable. I spent many years studying, deconstructing and then re-constructing the great classics of perfumery. Through this I have learned a lot. My art school cultural background has informed my work in its entirety. And although I never had the honor to meet him before his passing, Edmond Roudnitska has been a posthumous mentor through his writings and his great perfumes.

  1. Who are your favourite perfumers or perfume houses, and what do you like about their work?

Of course, Edmond Roudnitska; as well as Jacques Guerlain, Ernest Beaux, and François Coty. I have studied their work and their concepts very deeply. They each had a unique style, however I might say that their sense of ‘symphony’ may unite them. They each made complex yet not overdone fragrances; complete with cultural, time / place references, intellectual interest as well as sensual attraction. I aspire to do the same in my own work.

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Reveries de Paris

  1. Describe your brand to us: tell us about the kind(s) of perfume that you make, as well as your brand’s philosophy or ethos.

Well, I currently describe DSH Perfumes as ‘encyclopedic’, which sounds kind of funny but if you have looked at my website, you’ll see that I kind of have a large collection. I work in all styles and genres (families of fragrance), from modern to historical, from what I would call ‘realism’ (like Oeillets Rouges or Tubereuse) to ‘abstraction’ (like the CHROMA collection). I love ‘Vintage / Retro styles Nouveau’ (like Jitterbug, Pandora, and Parfum de Luxe), and as I’m still just fascinated by perfumery all of the time, I tend to let my creative energy just flow. I realize that it’s very unusual to have so many perfumes, but I’ve come to accept this need to create and share my work.

My brand philosophy has always been to make perfumes as natural as possible, meaning that if the design can be achieved using all naturals, I would prefer it but much of my catalog is ‘mixed media’ where you find the excellent balance of the intrinsic quality of naturals combined with the gorgeous variety and structural abilities of synthetics. I also want to spend the most money on the actual perfumes (juice) that I’m creating; on what goes in the bottle as opposed to packaging. I do love a beautiful package, but if it means that I can’t have the quality of materials for the perfume itself, or if it left the realization of the concept wanting, I would always choose to make a perfume great. My brand is design driven, so telling a story, expressing an aesthetic, creating an exquisite interpretation of a classic, for example, are all paramount to me. I see the value in creating many perfumes for many tastes and offering them in many sizes (often small), so that even my most expensive designs can still be enjoyed by anyone.

Lastly, I have espoused the ‘fragrance is art’ mantra from the beginning. This is my deepest philosophy.

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Dawn in her studio

  1. How do you come up with the idea for a new perfume? For example, do ideas come to you spontaneously, do you work conceptually, or do you try to fill gaps in your range?

All of the above. I carry around notebooks and have a constant stream of notes about new perfumes or accord ideas inspired by everything around me; from a movie I am watching, a painting or music, characters or storylines in books, to what’s happening outside my window, or even my son’s toys (yes, I have a concept I’m working on inspired by his basketball). I’m also very inspired by my consulting and bespoke clients who bring their ideas to me for realization, as well as the very creative energy my students provide.

I do ask myself when considering a new perfume, “do I already have something like this in my catalog?” So in that case, I take into consideration filling holes in my range, but for the most part I go where inspiration, my clients, and students take me.

  1. What element of your perfume making process do you think readers of this blog would be interested or surprised to learn about?

The length of time that I think about my perfume designs before I sit down to formulate them, as I tend to do almost all of my design work in my head, abstractly. I also pay very strict attention to the body feel of a fragrance. The perfume that I am completing in my mind comes with sensations in my body that are unique to each perfume. I need to imagine the perfume down to its completion and then I am able to very directly formulate the concept. In my trials and testing of the formulas, I know that the design is finished when I sense the same feelings in my body. This is also the basis of how I do re-formulations of vintage perfumes without a GC (gas chromatograph); it’s all sensory. The fragrance and the body feel must match. My fragrance Scent of Hope was created this way.

  1. What are the current challenges you face as a perfumer, both creatively and in regard to manufacturing, distributing and marketing your perfume?

The biggest recent challenge was becoming a certified hazardous materials packer and shipper. The regulations are staggering and extremely detailed. It’s quite arduous and surprisingly expensive to maintain full compliance as a small enterprise.

Beyond the headache of ‘hazmat’ issues associated with shipping alcohol based perfumes, as a business I find balancing the time required to do accounting, business management, sales, etc. and finding peaceful, creative time a challenge. I would love to have more creative time.

Marketing and brand awareness are always challenges, I think, to a small enterprise. Thanks to the incredible fragrance community, connoisseurs, and aficionados that have come together via social media and all of the meeting places on the internet, small brands can enjoy wonderful word of mouth references which are invaluable. I feel immense gratitude for all of the well wishes, kind words of praise, and wonderful support that I’ve received over the years not to mention the referrals that make all of the difference.

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Dawn Spencer Hurwitz smelling sakura blossoms

  1. How has your work as a perfumer affected your perception of everyday smells?

I have always been a smeller, so everyday aromas are just as fascinating now as they ever were. One thing that happens now quite a lot is that I can’t help deconstructing most smells to their composition ‘notes’ or materials used to create them. I do it unconsciously; I have spoiled many smells / tastes for my family by telling them what’s in it. My husband can’t stand Juicy Fruit gum anymore since I told him what makes up that odd flavor.

I also have an insatiable need to know what just about everything emanating an aroma smells like in detail. To that end I have been known to jump fences, climb trees and the like to get to whatever is calling to me. While in Japan recently I was named “Curious George” by my colleagues for climbing a tree to smell a flower and came down with pollen all over my face. Typical.

  1. Many ingredients that are edible are also used in fragrance (chocolate, vanilla, coffee and rose, to name a few). If you could reverse this process and turn any perfume ingredient into an edible ingredient, what would that be? Which fragrance ingredient do you think would taste nice as a flavour?

I have wanted to drink amber essence from the day I first smelled it. That kind of almost brown sugar but not so sweet ‘vanillic-yet-tree’ thing would be amazing to taste; oh yes.

  1. If you had a time machine, which historical period in perfumery would you like to go back to and work in as a perfumer?

I would definitely choose the period from the turn of the 20th Century through the 1920’s, in Paris or Grasse. There was a renaissance in terms of fragrance art form, new materials, and collaborations with wonderful glass makers and package artisans. Some of the most exquisite examples of fragrance and packaging artistry come from this period and I would have loved to be a part of it.

Having said that, we are experiencing a wonderful renaissance now in terms of new materials, in both naturals and synthetics, that would make the early perfumers very jealous. The ability for a small, indie company to get very high quality materials to create with is unparalleled and has increased exponentially since I started back in 1991. It’s a great time to be an independent perfumer.

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Pandora

  1. If you could invent a new olfactory gadget, tool or technology, what would it be and how would it benefit perfumers and/or society?

This is probably the most difficult question. I’m not a big gadget person so I never really think about them. I suppose some kind of gadget that could perfectly translate the thoughts and feelings of clients so that there was no need for language, just the expression of the scent in mind, would be a very helpful tool for perfumers. I have spent years learning to decipher what my clients are saying and what they actually mean by the language they are using. As discussing fragrance relies on borrowing language from other senses to describe it (high / low, dark / light, sharp, dull, warm, cool, soft, etc.), there is always a learning curve with each person to know what they mean by what words they use. The upside to engaging in this dialogue, however, is that we have the opportunity to discover new possibilities along the way.

  1. What is the purpose of perfume?

To express thoughts and emotion and convey them to the world. Aroma as a medium possesses the power of communication. One can tell a story to oneself and those around them through fragrance. It can express beauty, love, joy, desire, pain, heartache, wonder, and so much more. I feel that perfume allows people to engage in the deep pleasure of the sensuously beautiful world around them; we are hard-wired to do this. It possesses the power to heal and to add to everyone’s quality of life.


I hope you’ve enjoyed the third instalment in this third series of Thirteen Thoughts and reading Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s answers.

I want to extend my warmest thanks to Dawn for taking time out of her busy schedule to conduct an interview with me for Thirteen Thoughts. I have learnt so much about Dawn’s fascinating creative process, background, training and philosophy through this interview, and I hope you have found it as interesting and educational as I have.

Dawn is also a painter and a multi-sensory, synaesthetic artist. I wrote a piece about her Giverny in Bloom collection recently, for which she created a special scent experience at an exhibition of Impressionist floral paintings at the Denver Art Museum. You can read that piece here. I hope to write more about Dawn’s synaesthetic work soon, including a review of her CHROMA collection.

If you’d like to find out more about Dawn and her fragrances (and buy them!), visit the DSH Perfumes website.

When Dawn says she has a large range of fragrances, she’s not kidding. There are 216 perfumes listed for DSH Perfumes in the Fragrantica database. Some of her fragrances are also listed on Basenotes.

Next week:

Stay tuned to see how perfumer Yosh Han of YOSH perfumes answers the thirteen questions in Thirteen Thoughts, a Perfumer Interview Series. Follow the blog here or over at Facebook so that you don’t miss out!

Intellectual Property:

All interview answers and photographs were provided courtesy of the perfumer, and remain their intellectual property. All interview questions remain the intellectual property of Perfume Polytechnic. Please do not reproduce interviews or images without permission.

Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series – Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors

thirteen-thoughts-v2_800_shadow1Thirteen thoughts from perfumers around the globe. Each perfumer profiled at Perfume Polytechnic has been presented with the same set of thirteen questions that probe into scent memories, imagination, education, history, the creative process and philosophy. How each perfumer answers these questions, and what form the answers take, is up to them. Tune in each week for a new instalment to learn more about the olfactory arts and how perfumers think about smell.

Today’s interview with Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors is the second interview in Series Three of Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series. Last week I interviewed Dana El Masri of Parfums Jazmin Saraï. You can catch up with that interview here. There will be five, weekly instalments in this series. Other perfumers to be interviewed include Yosh Han, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz and Hiram Green.

You can catch up with Series One of Thirteen Thoughts here, featuring interviews with Emma Leah, Mark Evans, Angelo Orazio Pregoni, Paul Kiler and Sarah McCartney.

For Series Two of Thirteen Thoughts, I interviewed Mandy Aftel, Ellen Covey, Shelley Waddington, Andy Tauer and JoAnne Bassett. You can read those interviews here.

Today Josh Meyer answers the thirteen questions. Josh is an indie perfumer from Portland, USA, who started Imaginary Authors in 2012. Each Imaginary Authors fragrance is based on the concept of an invented novel by an imaginary author:

“Imaginary Authors is born from the concept of scent as art and art as provocation. Like a good book, these scents are meant to inspire you. In these bottles are layered narratives that are sure to generate stirring conversation, fragrances that might be capable of changing the course of your own personal story. The hope is that they not only invigorate and intoxicate, but also take you to new places.

Each Imaginary Authors fragrance follows a compelling storyline peppered with intriguing twists. These are scents to curl up with, to share with friends, to take with you wherever you go, and to return to again and again for a uniquely transcendent experience.”

(Source: Imaginary Authors website)

But enough of my introduction. As the intention of Thirteen Thoughts is to let each perfumer speak for themselves about who they are, what drives them, and what they do with fragrance, without any further ado, let me introduce you to…

Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors

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Josh Meyer

  1. Tell us about a significant olfactory memory from your childhood.

The first few scent memoirs that come to mind are not generally good ones! When I was in elementary school a friend’s mom would pick me up for the ride to school… She always showered right before leaving for school and her hair was so fragrant with Pantene Pro V, that on at least one occasion it made me so sick she had to pull over so I could throw up!

  1. What is your “origin story”? When, why and how did you decide to become a perfumer?

I didn’t start buying perfumes until about 10 years ago; before that, I was an adamant boycotter. It wasn’t until a friend started sending me really interesting niche fragrance samples from Lucky Scent and Parfum1.com that I was immediately hooked! I devoured Luca Turin’s The Guide and started buying even more perfumes. I met Josh Lobb from Slumberhouse, who also lives here in Portland, and was so enthralled chatting with him, completely enchanted to try and make scents that were different than what I’d grown up around, that it didn’t take long before I was spending lots of money on raw materials.

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  1. Do you have any formal training in perfumery, or are you self-taught? Have there been any mentors or other personal or cultural influences on your work as a perfumer?

I don’t have any formal training and even hesitate at the term ‘self-taught’… which sort of assumes a level of knowledge I don’t want to ascribe to myself. Meaning, I don’t think I’ve even learned enough to be considered finished learning this stuff. It’s so much fun to figure out the puzzle as you go, and that process of starting from scratch is one of most exciting things about this job.

  1. Who are your favourite perfumers or perfume houses, and what do you like about their work?

So many! I started with lots of Nicolaïs, Le Labos and Montales, Parfumerie Générale, Knize Ten and Sec, and a few Lubins… their Le Vetiver is one of my faves. But of course, more recently Slumberhouse is exceptional and inspiring at every turn, so distinctive and rich. Bruno Fazzolari is killing it right now. Naomi Goodsir is really exciting, Sanae Intoxicants down in LA. Maai from Bogue is out of this world, I can’t wait to see what Antonio Gardoni does next. Each of the above perfumers are creating new olfactory palates that are a fresh treat to the senses.

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Some of the Imaginary Authors range of fragrances

  1. Describe your brand to us: tell us about the kind(s) of perfume that you make, as well as your brand’s philosophy or ethos.

I want Imaginary Authors fragrances to be unique and wearable and interesting. My hope is that it’s a line that allows people to experience how vastly fun and different niche perfume can be from what is available at the local mall. I hope when people smell the fragrances they can tell how much fun it is for me to make them. It’s pretty extraordinary to be able to share in the language of scent all around the world.

  1. How do you come up with the idea for a new perfume? For example, do ideas come to you spontaneously, do you work conceptually, or do you try to fill gaps in your range?

Generally, I think of perfume as more than the sum of the parts, like a painting or a piece of music. I have a small handful of fragrance accord ideas and concepts, and then my job is to build them and bring them together so that there is a whole new composition. Honestly, it’s completely thrilling. I love it so much.

  1. What element of your perfume making process do you think readers of this blog would be interested or surprised to learn about?

The secretive nature of the perfume world used to, perhaps, add an element of intrigue, however in today’s world, I think transparency is more valuable and interesting. I get asked a lot if I’m a chemist, and I never feel that way at all really… the idea of perfume creation is more like painting for me than chemistry. Perfume creation simply feels much more like art than science.

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Josh Meyer, finalist at the 2015 Art and Olfaction Awards

  1. What are the current challenges you face as a perfumer, both creatively and in regard to manufacturing, distributing and marketing your perfume?

There doesn’t seem to be a specific path for business success like there would be in the Hollywood film world with agents and screenings, managers and film festivals. But, I think that’s also part of the fun. Imaginary Authors hasn’t done any advertising, and yet it continues to grow. So, it’s also pretty thrilling trying to figure out what to do next.

  1. How has your work as a perfumer affected your perception of everyday smells?

I’m sure I’m more aware in some way now, however the people who I’ve met through the fragrance world, perfumers, collectors, and enthusiasts are all extremely sensual in a lot of ways. It’s always fun to chat about fragrance, but usually, there are lots of other things that tie in, such as cooking, coffee, tea, whiskeys, food of course, and other art forms like painting, photography, reading and writing.

  1. Many ingredients that are edible are also used in fragrance (chocolate, vanilla, coffee and rose, to name a few). If you could reverse this process and turn any perfume ingredient into an edible ingredient, what would that be? Which fragrance ingredient do you think would taste nice as a flavour?

Labdanum would lead the pack! Also, Eucalyptus Absolute, Tobacco Absolute, Saffron Absolute, Tuberose C02, and not to sound too strange but even Castoreum in a squid ink pasta kind of way. And spikenard, or an aged patchouli.

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  1. If you had a time machine, which historical period in perfumery would you like to go back to and work in as a perfumer?

The 1920’s. They were doing stuff then that was just utterly groundbreaking and looking back at the perfumes being released then, it seems like the mindset was that there were simply no rules as to what was possible. It’s the only time frame that feels like it does TODAY. It’s really an exciting time right now, and I’d choose today over the 20’s or any other period.

  1. If you could invent a new olfactory gadget, tool or technology, what would it be and how would it benefit perfumers and/or society?

The first thing I think of is the smelling phone or computer screen, but that entire concept would be such a travesty. Part of the fun with perfume is that it’s so tactile and you need to be present; when you smell a great perfume it’s such a personal experience that your eyes close and you get to travel to a completely different place. So I suppose my answer is the opposite of a scent telephone or computer, what ever that is… perhaps a dark comfortable room where the scent and your mind are the only things present for your mind to wander and take you to the places of the perfume. Not ground-breaking, I suppose, but tech isn’t my strong suit.

  1. What is the purpose of perfume?

New olfactory experiences to engage and delight in life.


I hope you’ve enjoyed the second instalment of this third series of Thirteen Thoughts.

I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to Josh Meyer for his very interesting and lively answers and for taking the time to conduct an interview with me for Thirteen Thoughts. I love Josh’s ideas for edible fragrance notes and would also love to eat tuberose, labdanum and patchouli!

If you’d like to find out more about Josh and his fragrances (and buy them!), visit the Imaginary Authors website. Josh also has stockists in the US and around the world. You can also read about the concepts/imaginary authors/invented novels behind each of the fragrances at Josh’s website: it’s a fun site to peruse and is a work of art in itself!

You can also find Imaginary Authors fragrances listed on Fragrantica and Basenotes.

Next week:

Stay tuned to see how legendary perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes answers the thirteen questions in Thirteen Thoughts, a Perfumer Interview Series. Follow the blog here or over at Facebook so that you don’t miss out!

Intellectual Property:

All interview answers and photographs were provided courtesy of the perfumer, and remain their intellectual property. All interview questions remain the intellectual property of Perfume Polytechnic. Please do not reproduce interviews or images without permission.

Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series – Dana El Masri of Parfums Jazmin Saraï

thirteen-thoughts-v2_800_shadow1Thirteen thoughts from perfumers around the globe. Each perfumer profiled at Perfume Polytechnic has been presented with the same set of thirteen questions that probe into scent memories, imagination, education, history, the creative process and philosophy. How each perfumer answers these questions, and what form the answers take, is up to them. Tune in each week for a new instalment to learn more about the olfactory arts and how perfumers think about smell.

Today marks the launch of Series Three of Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series. There will be five, weekly instalments in this series, including interviews with Dana El Masri, Josh Meyer, Yosh Han, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz and Hiram Green.

You can catch up with Series One of Thirteen Thoughts here, featuring interviews with Emma Leah, Mark Evans, Angelo Orazio Pregoni, Paul Kiler and Sarah McCartney.

For Series Two of Thirteen Thoughts, I interviewed Mandy Aftel, Ellen Covey, Shelley Waddington, Andy Tauer and JoAnne Bassett. You can read those interviews here.

The intention of Thirteen Thoughts is to let each perfumer speak for themselves about who they are, what drives them, and what they do with fragrance, so without any further ado, let me introduce you to…

Dana El Masri of Parfums Jazmin Saraï

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Dana El Masri

  1. Tell us about a significant olfactory memory from your childhood.

Oh I have many! This is a tough one… I’ll go with one I haven’t shared before… back when I was about 4 or 5, I was on a flight from Dubai to Beirut. There were no tunnels upon arrival, just the stairs to descend out of the plane. The strong scent of gasoline mixed in with the unforgettable Beirut air (fresh, pine, lemon, slightly aquatic with a hint of pollution) struck me. That thought brings me back and undoubtedly every time I land in that city, I feel like I am four years old again, and every time I smell gasoline, with slight rubber notes off airplane or car wheels, I think of that moment.

  1. What is your “origin story”? When, why and how did you decide to become a perfumer?

I am from the Middle East and grew up there; scents have always been a part of my life in one way or another. I moved to Montreal in my late teens with the hope of making my dream to sing come true. I graduated with a BA in Communications and felt like there was something missing. Long story short, I read a lot and had a moment of awakening: I wanted to become a perfumer. From there I did everything I could to get to where I am today and hopefully further in the future. Why did I become a perfumer? Well, it’s undeniably satisfying as an art form; it connects many different ideas and feelings… it feeds my creativity to no end. Being a perfumer opens my eyes, ears, hands and nose to the world even more vividly and don’t even get me started on how much I appreciate flavours as a result too.

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  1. Do you have any formal training in perfumery, or are you self-taught? Have there been any mentors or other personal or cultural influences on your work as a perfumer?

Yes, I was classically trained at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery (GIP). Among my very special professors, I had Max Gavarry as a composition teacher and Philippe Collet of Expressions Parfumées guided my winning perfume the year I studied. We also visited Jean-Claude Ellena at his lab in Cabris as a class. My experience seeing Jean-Claude Ellena was unforgettable; much of his advice has stuck with me. Yosh Han has been very generous with her advice along the way as well. Without my education at GIP, and subsequently a trip to Pitti in Florence, I would have never met her.

Culturally speaking, I believe that my perception of scents has been influenced by my ethnicity even if it isn’t predominantly clear in my work. The fact that I have grown up with so many people from different cultures has also helped me stay curious and aware of how others perceive smells.

  1. Who are your favourite perfumers or perfume houses, and what do you like about their work?

I have a list of that too! I’m a fan of many perfumers’ works; it’s inspiring and great to learn from others. What a group of extraordinary people!

My favourites would include Francis Kurkdjian whose work speaks for itself. As well as Olivia Giacobetti, Pierre Bourdon, Jean-Claude Ellena (his minimal approach rubbed off on me), Calice Becker, Christine Nagel (her perfumes are cohesive, romantic, with a strong point of view), Christopher Sheldrake (I deeply connect to Serge Lutens and his collection). Christophe Laudamiel is a total badass whose work I respect tremendously, this doesn’t just include his perfumes but his olfactory artwork and his championing of scent education. This is very important to me, bringing about scent awareness and channelling scent as art. A Lab on Fire, Indult, Neela Vermeire Creations, Mandy Aftel, Pierre Guillaume. In terms of old school scents, I really love Poême by Lancome, Tabac Blond de Caron, Idole by Lubin (the original and its reconstitution). I’m a sucker for most Florientals… Sophia Grojsman is a force and her view of perfumery is very interesting to me.

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The current Parfums Jazmin Sarai range

  1. Describe your brand to us: tell us about the kind(s) of perfume that you make, as well as your brand’s philosophy or ethos.

My brand Parfums Jazmin Saraï is a collection of perfumes inspired by songs. I have four perfumes and am working on a fifth. The concept is simply scent & sound. Both are invisible, connect to emotions, are authentically direct and transport us elsewhere. The idea is to approach perfumes and scents in another way, since scent is subjective and music is a universal language connecting people around the world.

I want to help change perspective and bring attention to the nose, therefore appreciating and understanding oneself through the experience of these two mediums together. Also, I want it to be a fun experience; a new way to experience scent and a shot at hearing a song/artist you might not have heard of before!

  1. How do you come up with the idea for a new perfume? For example, do ideas come to you spontaneously, do you work conceptually, or do you try to fill gaps in your range?

A little bit of both; sometimes the idea or the song chooses me almost right away and I can get the formula on the spot, other times I need to flesh out the concept or the juice itself a lot longer. I don’t look at trends to fill in the gaps; I just make what feels right. I will usually dissect the song, separate its ‘parts’ and translate timbre, pitch, melody, rhythm, tone, what have you, into scent form.

  1. What element of your perfume making process do you think readers of this blog would be interested or surprised to learn about?

I make perfumes with a very small number of ingredients. Out of the four perfumes in my current collection, the maximum number of ingredients is in Neon Graffiti, which has 30, while the shortest formula belongs to Otis & Me, with just ten ingredients. Everything is made by hand, in small batches; every single aspect of my brand, actually, is authentic and straight from the source. Part of the focus of my work involves synaesthesia (merging of the senses) and intermodal perception; so I am being quite literal with the scent and sound continuum, I think that’s cool!

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Neon Graffiti by Parfums Jazmin Sarai

  1. What are the current challenges you face as a perfumer, both creatively and in regard to manufacturing, distributing and marketing your perfume?

My biggest challenge is accessing ingredients in small quantities… anything in small quantities for that matter! It’s tougher going at it alone with limited access to supplies and things like that. In terms of distribution, the fact that perfume has been classified as ‘dangerous goods’ now has really made things a lot more difficult than they need to be (in terms of shipping). It’s a learning process though, many of the challenges from the beginning cease to get in the way as your business grows.

  1. How has your work as a perfumer affected your perception of everyday smells?

They are that much more heightened. I feel like my world is more vivid and more interesting. I feel like I am more present and more perceptive as a result of my stronger sense of smell. I smell therefore I am! Every environment I am in is a new chance to discover new smells; I seek little nooks and crannies to stick my nose in! Even with smells that are socially considered to be ‘bad’ – I now have even more curiosity and less judgement.

  1. Many ingredients that are edible are also used in fragrance (chocolate, vanilla, coffee and rose, to name a few). If you could reverse this process and turn any perfume ingredient into an edible ingredient, what would that be? Which fragrance ingredient do you think would taste nice as a flavour?

Ambroxan is interesting, I love its scent: fluid, refined, slightly ambery, cool and sexy. Osmanthus is beautiful, however I think there are already very close flavour equivalents to the scent (apricot, tamarind etc…) Most musks too, they smell so comforting, it would be like eating clouds!

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How You Love by Parfums Jazmin Sarai

  1. If you had a time machine, which historical period in perfumery would you like to go back to and work in as a perfumer?

I would like to go back to when and where ‘perfume’ was created. I want to be surrounded by ancient alchemists and resins. The transformative, spiritual aspect intrigues me. If not, then I’m very happy with this period of perfumery. We have new technologies, more respect for the industry as a whole, more transparency and more access. People are writing about perfumes and sharing scents all over the world, and it’s a good time to be a female perfumer too. Times have changed; do you see how many women out there are noses now? It’s incredible.

  1. If you could invent a new olfactory gadget, tool or technology, what would it be and how would it benefit perfumers and/or society?

I love this question! Hmmm… it would definitely have something to do with diffusion and being able to share scent everywhere no matter where you are. They’re working on this for sure… Maybe being able to express my art through laptops. I want anyone who visits my website to be able to experience the multi-sensory message that I am trying convey. It would benefit perfumers because they would save on shipping and this would give their fans/clients a chance to experience their work immediately. Scent is the only medium that requires physical presence. It’s less about gadgets for me though, I’m all about sharing the world of scent and how special it is; accurately informing the public on how perfumes work and how special their own sense of smell is.

  1. What is the purpose of perfume?

To understand, treat and express oneself, to alter perception, to feel and smell goooood!


I hope you’ve enjoyed the first instalment of this third series of Thirteen Thoughts.

I want to extend my warmest thanks to Dana for her fascinating answers and for taking the time to chat with me for Thirteen Thoughts. I connect strongly with Dana’s use of synaesthesia in her creations and love the way she works with both music and sound to create her perfumes.

If you’d like to find out more about Dana and her fragrances (and buy them), visit the Parfums Jazmin Saraï website. You’ll find information on each of the fragrances, including the musical inspiration for each perfume. You can also find Jazmin Saraï fragrances listed on Fragrantica and Basenotes.

Dana also has a blog, The Scentinel, full of interesting and regularly published pieces about her own fragrances, scent culture, and music.

I will write an article soon about Dana’s fragrances for my new Smell and Sound Series, which delves into the relationships between smell and sound that are currently being explored by perfumers, musicians and artists.

Next week:

Stay tuned to see how perfumer Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors answers the thirteen questions in Thirteen Thoughts, a Perfumer Interview Series. Follow the blog here or over at Facebook so that you don’t miss out!

Intellectual Property:

All interview answers and photographs were provided courtesy of the perfumer, and remain their intellectual property. All interview questions remain the intellectual property of Perfume Polytechnic. Please do not reproduce interviews or images without permission.

Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series – Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids Perfumes

thirteen-thoughts-v2_800_shadow1Thirteen thoughts from perfumers around the globe. Each perfumer profiled at Perfume Polytechnic has been presented with the same set of thirteen questions that probe into scent memories, imagination, education, history, the creative process and philosophy. How each perfumer answers these questions, and what form the answers take, is up to them. Tune in each week for a new instalment to learn more about the olfactory arts and how perfumers think about smell.

This is the final of five, weekly instalments in Series Two of Thirteen Thoughts. Today’s interview features Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids Perfumes. As well as being a gifted perfumer, Ellen is also a neuroscientist and a professor at the University of Washington. She also grows orchids commercially and owns the Olympic Orchids nursery near Seattle. Ellen’s beautiful fragrance Woodcut recently won a 2015 Art and Olfaction Award in the Artisan Category.

The intention of Thirteen Thoughts is to let each perfumer speak for themselves about who they are, what drives them, and what they do with fragrance, so without any further ado, let me introduce you to…

Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids Perfumes

Ellen Covey

Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids Perfumes

  1. Tell us about a significant olfactory memory from your childhood.

One of my earliest memories is from when I was about 2 years old and we moved to a new house. I remember standing on the bed in the old house the day before we moved, sniffing the windowsill, thinking that I would miss this smell and that the new house would smell different. It made me sad.

  1. What is your “origin story”? When, why and how did you decide to become a perfumer?

Becoming a perfumer wasn’t a “decision” in the sense that I didn’t say to myself “I want to be a perfumer when I grow up” and then tried to make that happen. It happened gradually without my realizing it until it had already happened. I formally acknowledged it when I started my business in 2010.

Why did I become a perfumer? There’s no simple reason. I’ve always been fascinated by scents and perfumes, and have tinkered around with them for a long time. I have grown orchids commercially for about 10 years, and continue to be fascinated by the huge variety of fragrances produced by orchids in nature. My original goal was to try to make some perfumes based on orchid flowers, but it has grown way beyond that. I am happy that I’m able to make unique fragrances that resonate with people, make them happy, make them think, make them feel emotions. For me, perfumery is like any other form of creative work – there’s something internal that needs to be expressed and communicated, and there’s a medium to do it whether it’s words, music, visuals, or perfume.

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A Red Cattleya orchid

  1. Do you have any formal training in perfumery, or are you self-taught? Have there been any mentors or other personal or cultural influences on your work as a perfumer?

I have not taken a formal perfumery class, nor have I worked with a mentor. In that sense, I am self-taught. However, a great deal of information is available online, in books, in forums and professional interest groups, so I have taken from that body of information whatever is relevant and useful for me, and left the rest to follow my own path. Instead of going by the book, I am guided by common sense, knowledge of chemistry and, most importantly, my own aesthetics and sense of smell.

If I have a cultural influence, it is my lifelong dislike of many traditional European-style perfumes and my early preference for Indian and Middle Eastern type perfumes. Over the years I have sampled literally thousands of perfumes of all different vintages and genres, and this has given me a good idea of the limitations and possibilities of the art as it currently exists, as well as inspiration for where it could and should go next.

  1. Who are your favourite perfumers or perfume houses, and what do you like about their work?

This question pops up over and over again, and I always decline to answer it, partly because it is unanswerable and partly because I see it as a conflict of interest. The question is unanswerable because the perfumes that I enjoy do not typically come from a given perfumer or perfume house, but from many different sources, and my preferences vary considerably over time. It is a conflict of interest because if I were to recommend other perfumers who are, in a sense, colleagues, that could be seen as promoting them while neglecting to promote others who may be equally meritorious.

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Some of the Olympic Orchids range

  1. Describe your brand to us: tell us about the kind(s) of perfume that you make, as well as your brand’s philosophy or ethos.

If my brand has a mission statement, it is to provide a wide variety of original and high-quality perfumes at prices that are affordable by anyone. Originality is a given, because I love to experiment and venture into uncharted territory. I always try to use the highest quality materials possible, making sure my sources are reputable, and keeping costs down by buying in bulk. I try to keep overheads low by keeping paid advertising to a minimum, using simple packaging, and offering small sizes and an extensive sampling program.

I experiment with everything from traditional forms such as chypres, colognes, fougères, and florientals to forms that do not fit into any standard genre. Most of my perfumes contain a high percentage of natural materials, and a few are all natural. I have a huge appreciation and respect for the complexity of natural materials, every one of which is like a perfume in and of itself, but I also appreciate the use of synthetics to create new accords that do not exist in nature and/or that enhance certain aspects of natural materials. To me, the judicious addition of synthetics to perfume is analogous to going from playing music on original acoustic instruments to adding electronic amplification, synthesized sounds, and studio production to what is essentially an organically created piece of music. It still has the natural human touch, but has been made more compelling through the use of technology.

  1. How do you come up with the idea for a new perfume? For example, do ideas come to you spontaneously, do you work conceptually, or do you try to fill gaps in your range?

All of the above. On the whole, though, I would say that the majority of ideas come to me spontaneously, but may take the form of a concept that becomes realized through the use of perfume. I have far more ideas than I have time to work on or space for in my line. There are always works in progress in my studio, some of which sit around for years before being finished. I have never really tried to “fill gaps in my range”, although I have felt compelled to try my hand at traditional genres just to see what would evolve within that form, and a few of these experiments have been released.

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Ellen’s perfume studio

  1. What element of your perfume making process do you think readers of this blog would be interested or surprised to learn about?

I really don’t think any part of my process is particularly surprising, because my setup and operation is pretty standard for an established artisan perfume studio. I will say that I love to tincture odd things, from seaweed to fig leaves, dried fruit, hops, and soy sauce, and a few of these tinctures get used in production of my fragrances. Up until now I have done everything myself, from fragrance design and production to filling bottles and sample vials, packing orders, label and website design, publicity, and boring stuff like accounting and paperwork. The bigger the business gets, the less time there is for the fun part of it, so I know that at some point soon I will have to get some help with routine tasks.

  1. What are the current challenges you face as a perfumer, both creatively and in regard to manufacturing, distributing and marketing your perfume?

The challenges right now have to do with managing growth of my business, becoming more efficient and streamlined as I move to bigger production batches, and looking at getting help with mundane tasks in the near future. Another challenge has to do with space. My studio and warehouse area is already a decent size, but I can see that it will need to be larger within the next few years if growth continues at the current rate.

I have not made an effort to grow my business quickly, but instead have chosen to let it develop in an evolutionary and self-sustaining way, putting profits back into improvement and gradual expansion. When I look back on where I started almost 5 years ago, I am amazed at how much the business has grown, but I really didn’t notice the process as it happened. I think this laissez-faire approach has cut back on the sorts of major challenges and setbacks that business owners experience when they try to do too much too soon, possibly with unrealistic expectations. I have not yet quit my “day job”, but now realize that I may need to do so at some point in the foreseeable future.

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Award-winning fragrance Woodcut by Olympic Orchids. Photo credit: Antonia Kohl

  1. How has your work as a perfumer affected your perception of everyday smells?

I’ve always been highly aware of everyday smells, so I don’t think my perception of smells has really changed in any fundamental way. What I do find now, when I smell other people’s perfumes in passing on the street, is that I often think things like, “oh, I smell ambroxan”, or “wow that has a lot of ionones in it”, dissecting the scents by ingredients rather than perceiving them as just a pleasant smell. It just shows that we perform olfactory analysis on multiple levels, in multiple modes, depending on what we are familiar with.

  1. Many ingredients that are edible are also used in fragrance (chocolate, vanilla, coffee and rose, to name a few). If you could reverse this process and turn any perfume ingredient into an edible ingredient, what would that be? Which fragrance ingredient do you think would taste nice as a flavour?

Many things that we think of as perfume ingredients work well in food. I cook with all kinds of herbs including lavender, I like candy flavoured with flowers, including rose, orange blossom and violet, and I sometimes flavour my coffee with resins like silver fir, fir balsam, or frankincense. There is candy flavoured with musk, which I’m sure is tasty. Many of the same aroma chemicals used in perfumery are also used in synthetic flavourings for food, so we eat them all the time without realizing it. I love to taste oud by itself. In fact, at some point I taste almost all of my perfume materials. Oddly, I find that sometimes it is easier to detect adulteration when the material is both smelled and tasted.

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Ellen Covey accepting her Art and Olfaction Award for Woodcut

  1. If you had a time machine, which historical period in perfumery would you like to go back to and work in as a perfumer?

I’m not sure I would like to go back to a historical period and work as a perfumer because I would be much more limited in terms of materials and distribution opportunities. What I would prefer to do is go into the future and see how perfumery has evolved and what new opportunities have arisen.

  1. If you could invent a new olfactory gadget, tool or technology, what would it be and how would it benefit perfumers and/or society?

I think gadgets and technology are often overrated. My studio is simple but well-equipped, and I don’t see the need for a lot of fancy gadgetry. What I really need is a 3-ml spray sample vial that doesn’t allow the contents to evaporate over time! I would rather help support a person by paying them to make samples or pack boxes than have a robot do it. One could dream of some way to “stream” perfume to customers to sample, but I think that would depersonalize the experience and take some of the fun out of waiting for those little packages to arrive. Something that might benefit people could be a system of perfume lending libraries of “perfumemobiles” that could go to hospitals, retirement homes, prisons, and other places where people lead dreary lives. It would have to be run by people who could educate the users about the perfumes and let them see how perfume can be psychologically therapeutic – aromatherapy, not in the usual sense of attributing medicinal properties to herbs, but in the sense of bringing sensory stimulation, contemplation, and joy to people.

  1. What is the purpose of perfume?

The short and simple answer? Perfume exists to give people pleasure.

Like any other art form, a good perfume is an expression of something within its creator, but will evoke different feelings, thoughts, and associations in each person who experiences it.


I hope you have enjoyed today’s interview with Ellen Covey. I would like to thank Ellen for the time she took to answer the thirteen questions, in amongst her busy life as an academic, orchid grower and perfumer! I particularly love Ellen’s idea of a perfume lending library or “perfumemobiles”; it’s such a wonderful concept. I have recently smelled Ellen’s award-winning fragrance Woodcut, and it’s beautiful. I recommend getting your hands on a sample.

To find out about Ellen’s perfumes and to purchase them, go to the Olympic Orchids Original Perfume Boutique (for the full range, smaller sizes, limited editions and samples) and to the newer Olympic Orchids Perfumes flagship store, for larger bottles and newer packaging.

Olympic Orchids has one of the best and most affordable sample programs out there, with affordable international shipping. If you’re keen to try out Ellen’s perfumes, I highly recommend checking out the range of samples and sample packs available, as well as the discovery sets.

Olympic Orchids Perfumes are also listed on Fragrantica and Basenotes.

Previous & Future Instalments of Thirteen Thoughts

Last week, Shelley Waddington of En Voyage Perfumes was interviewed. You can read her answers to the thirteen questions here.

In week one of this second series of Thirteen Thoughts, Mandy Aftel was interviewed. You can read her answers here.

In week two, JoAnne Bassett of JoAnne Bassett Perfumes answered the thirteen questions. You can read her interview here.

In week three, Andy Tauer was interviewed. Read his interview here.

You can catch up with Series One of Thirteen Thoughts here.

This concludes Series Two of Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series. I hope you have enjoyed these interviews and I would like to once again thank all of the perfumers who have taken part in this very exciting second series! It’s been a real pleasure to meet and get to know all the perfumers involved, and to note the similarities and differences in how each of them has answered the thirteen questions.

Coming Soon…

An interview with the inimitable Angelo Orazio Pregoni of O’Driu perfumes. Angelo and I have a chat about art, perfume, and the ideas behind his work. It’s a revealing and fascinating read. Open your mind and come along for the ride! Follow Perfume Polytechnic if you don’t want to miss it!

Intellectual Property

All interview answers and photographs were provided courtesy of the perfumer. All interviews remain the intellectual property of Perfume Polytechnic and the perfumers. Please do not reproduce interviews or images without permission.