Report & Pics! Artisan Fragrance Salon - San Francisco

13th July, 2012

Basenotes member Rogalal reports from San Francisco's first Artisan Fragrance Salon, which was held earlier this month.

I just got back from San Francisco's first Artisan Fragrance Salon. It was arranged by a group that organises wine and chocolate tasting salons along with Yosh Han (of Yosh perfumes), who put together a who's who of West Coast perfumers both big and small. I consider myself fairly well versed in perfumes, and I must admit that I'd never heard of about half of the people presenting, so it was a great learning experience and a chance to dive into the world of hyper-niche. Oh, and it took place in an art gallery, which is why there's some rather interesting art behind many of the perfumers in the pictures.

I started off with Ineke, who has done presentations for a couple of the SF Meet-Ups and is always a friendly face, though I managed to capture her blinking (sorry Ineke...). Oh, and I can't quite tell in my picture (I'm no photographer), but I'm think that's the back of BayKAT, who has posted a lot of reviews here, sniffing...

Ineke was there debuting two fragrances. One was a new floral for Anthropology, and the other was her highly-anticipated "H" scent, Hothouse Flower.

I expect this to generate quite some buzz with the ladies here when it comes out. It's a realistic gardenia, right down to the subtle cheesy undertones, on a base of greens, with just a touch of sweet grape (at least to my nose). Oh, and it wasn't one of those fake gardenias that smells like tuberose, which is a rarity, but a real, heady gardenia-lover's gardenia.

Of all the houses I didn't know, the one that was the closest to my personal taste had to be 40 Notes. I had vaguely heard of them because they're on Indiescents, but knew absolutely nothing of their work.

Apparently, 40 Notes is the creation of former IFF perfumer Miriam Vareldzis and is her outlet for very nice niche creations done with the experienced eye of a classically-trained perfumer. I loved Oudwood Veil, a very deep leathery oud, as well as Exotic Ylang Ylang and Spring Vetiver, though everything she had available seemed really top notch (and everyone knows I'm a hell of a picky snob, so that means something when I say it...), so I picked up a sample pack. She had created a special one-day-only perfume for the salon that was a fantastic hyacinth. I know at least one of the SF sniff group picked up a bottle, so there's at least a little hope that I'll be able to smell it again...

My other favorite pleasant surprise was Divine Life Perfume. She was only showing two perfumes (along with scented body products). One was a very dense mix of orange blossom and oud (along with a lot of other things) and the other was a really great natural rose mixed with yuzu and lemony geranium. Divine Life Perfumes is Ragna Ruffner, who many of us know as an SF Meet-Up attendee. It was great to see one of us making actual perfumes, but the talk of the lunchtime crowd was that her rose perfume was easily one of the best things at the show, even though she's a regular person and one of the newest perfumers there. I couldn't resist picking up a bar of soap in the rose scent and I know at least one other BN member picked up the rose room spray.

Then, it was off to visit another friend of the SF Meet-Up community, Shelley Waddington of Envoyage Perfumes. She presented her line to us last year and it was good to see her again. My pick was one of her new ones, A Study In Water, which was a watery floral along the lines of the new Kilians, in that it simultaneously managed to be both diaphanous and rich.

Next I met Ellen Covey, Basenotes member and founder of Olympic Orchids, pictured here with her partner Michael, as well as Felicia of Fragrance Belles-Lettres.

I knew Olympic Orchids from a Basenotes sample pass-around group a year or so ago, and found that their early fruity orchid scents didn't really appeal to my personal tastes, but her new line of Devilscent perfumes has revealed a sinister, smoky new side to her perfumery and I was enamored with basically all of them. It's a series of conceptual perfumes based on an unpublished gothic biblical erotic novel called Quantum Demonology, with 4 devil perfumes and one for a female character, Lilith. Who can resist? What kind of devil do I feel like today? Devil 1? Maybe Devil 3... Naturally, I ordered a sample pack.

One of the lines I hadn't heard of until today was Velvet & Sweet Pea's Purrfumery. Yes, their name and their image are cutesy and bejeweled, and they sample their perfumes on cute little fans decorated with cartoon cats sipping tea, but don't underestimate their scents. They're natural, based on VERY luxe home-handcrafted essences in rich, dense combinations that I could tell I wasn't even coming close to understanding on paper. In terms of smell, they remind me of Aftelier, but more floral-focused. I couldn't help but wonder if their overwhelming sense of whimsey was out of step with their hyper-luxe prices, but I was surprised to find that they had one of the largest followings at the show - just about everyone I hadn't met before seemed to be there to support them, so they've clearly got a loyal following, apparently built mostly via small private sniffing parties in peoples' homes.

One of the most interesting concept pieces at the show was Velvet & Sweet Pea's Honey perfume. It's crafted completely from things in the yard of the perfumer. She keeps her own bees and makes an essential oil from her backyard honey, then mixes it with handmade essences of the flowers from her yard that the bees eat from to make the honey. It was a dense and complicated smell, floral but surprisingly dark, with a bit of a growl from the honey.

My next stop was one that no one had heard of before today, a new line in the indie perfume scene, a line called Cognoscenti. Apparently, this was their first official day as a business, with their website going live today and this display at the salon as their first time selling to the public! Here is the Dannielle, the nose behind the brand:

She explained that she always preferred masculine scents and wanted to do a unisex line that leaned towards the masculine side. There are three scents in the line. Scent number one (aptly named Scent No. 1) is subtly dark fruits and clary sage over woods and suede. Scent No. 16 is called Tomato Leather (yes, I said Tomato Leather) and is green tomato leaf over a saffron/oud leather base. Scent No. 19 is called Warm Carrot and is a rather dark green labdanum/vetiver paired with carrot seed with a soft creamy vanilla amber giving it a more warm "perfumey" base. This smells like the kind of dark, creative niche stuff that I really like, so I happily bought a sample pack and look forward to seeing what people have to say when this line becomes more available to the public. With interesting scents like this, it seems like a no-brainer that Indiescents or Luckyscent should pick them up soon, at which point the samples will flow freely...

Next, I met Persephenie, the owner of Persephenie (seems fitting, right?). She's well known in Los Angeles for her handcrafted body products, but was here today on the strength of her perfumes.

Persephenie made two special perfumes for the event, but my personal pick of her collection was Datura, a big dramatic floral based on angel's trumpet, a smell I love. I've always thought that the best florals are made with natural flower essences in high concentration supported by carefully chosen synthetics for depth and longevity. Datura may be a picture-perfect example of this kind of perfume. Alas, she had no samples for sale, so I'll have to track one down eventually to verify...

Another line that was new to me was Leila Castle Botanical Fragrance. Here's Leila with Travis from The Perfumer's Apprentice:

Leila Castle made complex natural oil blends that were clearly inspired by her surroundings in the Northern California forests. I'm kicking myself for not writing down the name of my favorite. I thought it was called something "Fir", but I don't see it on her website. Anyway, it was a deep, dark, shadowy redwood forest in a bottle, vehemently coniferous and redolent of dirt and moss.

Then, I met Sarah Horowitz, the namesake nose of one of the few lines I was already familiar with before today. She was incredibly nice and showed me around her lines, both the "Comes From Within" line and the "Perfect" collection. Love Comes From Within was her tribute to her mother's perfumes, which I interpreted as a hybrid between Shalimar and Aromatics Elixir, a very old-fashioned (in a good way) powdery, animalic classic "oriental" scent. My favorite, though, was Perfect Gardenia, which actually struck me more as a bright, almost minty floral rather than a cheesy gardenia, but was so unique that I had to ask for a sample.

Of course, this being her event, Yosh was there. She's always been incredibly nice to the San Francisco meet-up folks, talking with us quite a few times and even giving us sneak previews of upcoming scents. She was very busy guiding discussions and was swamped with friends and press when she wasn't, but here are some shots of her table.

Yosh had some special limited editions out for sniffing. My favorite was a light, sunny tomato leaf garden smell (I should have written down the names, but was fairly tired at this point). There was one that mixed chocolate and leather that could prove to be a cult favorite if it ever appears for sale somewhere, and there was also one that smelled like watery, intelligently-done berries, as well as a fourth that I'm completely forgetting. I heard that there was originally a fifth, but rumor has it that the tester itself was bought off the table by a basenotes member, so maybe we can get a report later...

Speaking of big names that have always been friendly to the San Francisco Meet-Up people, Delrae Roth of Parfums Delrae was there showing her popular collection. She wasn't showing off anything new, but I thought the little minis of her body cremes were adorable...

I also finally got to try out all the perfumes from Sonoma Scent Studio. I really like their aesthetic, being influenced by the scents of the forest. I have tried many of their woody/incense/smoky scents and was looking forward to smelling their florals. It turns out that even their flowery perfumes have a woody outdoor vibe to them, in keeping with the spirit of the line.

I was excited to smell Forest Walk, but it ended up being sweeter and less coniferous than I was hoping, though I must say that I liked it and would love to sample pretty much their entire line now. Surprisingly, the attention-grabber of the Sonoma Scent Studios table turned out to be their Fig Tree body creme, which was ridiculously luxurious and a fantastic interpretation of the scent. There's something about a thick, expensive-feeling body creme with a complex woody scent that feels so unusual and "niche" that it was hard to resist.

Another fun table belonged to the infamous Smell Bent. Here's perfumer/owner Brent in a fuzzy teddy bear vest :)

His current feature is Little Miss Panda Gets Lei'd, a heady floral based on the smell of a Hawaiian lei. Tuberose lovers, look out! He's also got an interesting set called the Vocabulary collection, which gives examples of various perfume terms, like Floral and Woody. My favorite of the line was Green, which was, as advertised, green, very leafy with vetiver.

Yet another line I had never heard of before today was Smells & Bells Organics. They do creative natural perfumes with a unique quality to them, including one (I forgot the name) that's a mix of chocolate and seashells. But my favorite of the line was called It Felt Love (based on a nice poem about why a rose would choose to bloom) which was, you guessed it, a big natural rose perfume with spices for character. Their tiny little pots of perfume with the bells and ribbon flowers were my pick for the cutest packaging at the show, though I'm afraid my close-up picture turned out fairly awful...

Seriously, I thought I had a fairly good knowledge of small niche perfume companies before today, but it turns out I've been living under a bit of a rock. Another one that I didn't know about was Roxana Illuminated Perfume.

They're a natural aromatherapy-based perfume company from Santa Monica, who do dense, intricate essential oil perfumes. Their pick for me turned out to be my favorite, one called Chaparral, a deep green incense mix inspired by the wilds of Southern California.

Continuing with the natural perfumers, I finally met the highly respected nose (and one of my favorite reviewers on Basenotes) Ayala Moriel.

Her new scent is called Etrog and is based on a rare citron from Isreal. It was a bright juicy citrus that captivated me enough to buy a sample. I also picked up one of her chocolate bars scented with orange blossom absolute. I'm sure I'll report back on that when I eat it. As a side note, she also had a white chocolate bar scented with tuberose that was calling to me, but I just don't like white chocolate that much, so I had to go with the orange blossom.

I was also really impressed by a line called Artemisia Natural Perfumes. Here's Lisa, the nose and owner...

Artemisia had one called Eros that was a citrus rose over woods that I liked (I'm a sucker for rose perfumes made with real rose essential oils, and today was heaven for that!), but their perfume that has utterly baffled me and left me dazed and intrigued was Ondine. It's vaguely floral, but based on a whole new kind of animalic note that I've never smelled in perfume before. It's like that state fair animal barn smell, mostly hay, but with a heady whiff of animal smell. But take that smell and express it in artful "perfumey" terms and make it vaguely floral. Lisa explained that the animalic note comes from an Indian oud, but this isn't like any oud I've smelled, or else this combination is just an extremely clever way to use one of those notorious "barnyard" ouds. Oh, and it's not as gross as you'd think from my description, either - it's actually quite nice. Unusual, but quite nice.

I have to admit that, by the time I got to the end of this, I was really overwhelmed. So I'm afraid I don't know much to accompany my last pictures. This was a display for Rebel & Mercury, another natural perfume company that did deep, intricate essential oil scents.

This was San Francisco's own L'Aromatica Perfume, also a line of handcrafted natural perfumes.

I apologize for not having more information about these two perfumers. They had nice scents and don't deserve to be left out of my descriptions, but by the end of the event, the perfume stench in the space was so heady that everyone was getting a little loopy. I sincerely thought that I was getting close to feeling sick and falling over, and I just couldn't handle it any more, especially after an afternoon sniffing yesterday and an evening spent cataloging my samples here on Basenotes. So with my apologies to L'Aromatica and Rebel & Mercury, I didn't have the energy to find a favorite in your lines, not because you didn't have some beautiful scents, but because I ran out of gas.

Anyway, that was my day. It was fun to see the local (and some not-so-local) perfume junkies again. It was definitely a successful event. In addition to a ton of bloggers and collectors, I ran into local folks from Creed, L'Artisan, and Diptyque roaming the aisles.

My two lessons learned today, aside from the fact that apparently I CAN sniff too much and have to stop:

#1. If you're having a perfume event, have it in an extremely well-ventilated space. It gives me a greater respect for the department stores. Though I've never noticed, spaces like the basement at Barneys must have an enormous hidden fan system because they never smell as crazy as this did.

#2. There's a common mix of notes that an awful lot of natural perfumes share. It's a mix of dark herbs and a bunch of clary sage over dark green basenotes, with sweet, almost fruity resins and flowers on top, and this mix is EVERYWHERE. That's not a complaint, just a realization. I guess that what a chypre structure was to older French perfumery, this simultaneously dark green and sweet floral mix is to essential oil blends. Seriously, after smelling what must have been over a hundred of these in one day, some of my friends and I were quietly referring to it as "that natural perfume smell." The problem is that it's so dense and difficult to sniff through that the focus of the perfumes can get lost. "That natural perfume smell" with jasmine can smell a lot like "that natural perfume smell" with oranges, which smells an awful lot like "that natural perfume smell" with some incredibly rare Himalayan flower. It got to the point that I was actively hunting out fragrances with especially heady florals or natural-smelling woods because they stood out so much from the "natural perfume smell" masses. A bit of a lesson for me, really.

Thanks for reading, and hopefully we'll have a bigger and better Basenotes contingent next year!

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    • Mimi Gardenia | 13th July 2012 16:05

      Excellent write up , Rogalal ! Very appreciative of the pictures and the information.

      Yes, I recognise that 'natural perfume smell ' . I thought it was me and my nose. I very frequently get oranges in natural perfume too . Blood orange !

      I also never thought of ventilation in perfumery depts etc- must look for hidden fans the next time ! :D

    • Nukapai | 14th July 2012 15:38

      What a fantastic diary; thank you! Found it very entertaining. Natural perfumery is very, very tricky and most would benefit from accepting a series of natural isolates into their palettes; when you use something like rose or jasmine or tuberose you're dealing with hundreds of chemichals in the oil itself, so they tend to benefit from opening out and stretching with individual aromas. These big bad boys need space. :)

    • Roper-Hall | 14th July 2012 16:10

      It must be so not easy to write and record, photograph, chat, and sniff all at the same time, and yet you managed to pull it off Rogalal!!! Very nicely done! I am terribly jealous and wish that I could have been there.

    • Kiliwia | 14th July 2012 23:09

      Excellent write up Rogalal! So interesting to read about the new lines out there. Great job!

    • mumsy | 14th July 2012 23:33

      What a treat to read this. I must have a proper look and see what type of events like that exist in the UK. I love the way you have described all this for us. I can nearly smell it myself. Thank you.

    • shastaesscents | 15th July 2012 07:47

      I really love your reviews and appreciate how you have highlighted your favorites from each line.

      Many of us (perfumers) felt bad that we were unable spend time appreciating each others fragrances...especially the new ones. Your writing has really helped me "be there"!

      I am very appreciative of your comments on Divine Life Perfume <3

      (formerly Shasta EsScents)

      Thank you,


    • furrypine | 15th July 2012 10:40

      Great article! So many small and interesting brands are popping up that deserves more exposure and press. The great thing is, many of them have set up web shops and will ship worldwide, that way I've had the opportunity to try Smell Bent, Sonoma and Olympic Orchids.

    • BetsyMeszaros | 15th July 2012 13:25

      Great write-up Rogalal. What a treat this must have been. This sounds like a wonderful event and I would love to have been there. Great pictures too!

    • Sybarite | 15th July 2012 17:38

      Yes that typical "That natural perfume smell" is unfortunately a basic essential (if you'll pardon the half-pun) to natural-perfumery. And I blame it's ubiquitousness down to the fact that there are basically really only so many essential oils one can find. (They also tend to be the easiest ones to get hold of that actually work in accord)

      Also, all natural perfumes take a good long while to settle and 'open out', before their true character emerges. In that first half to 3/4 hour or so till they 'settle', (before even the top notes start to lift), they unfortunately all have that typical muddy/jumbled/chaotic typical-essential-oil-mix character that is very difficult to rise above.

      To get anywhere near decent smelling 'perfumes' that go beyond "mere essential oil blends" is indeed much more difficult than it sounds. I've smelled many natural perfume lines, (& sorry I really don't mean to sound harsh or insulting) BUT unfortunately I can still practically count in one hand only those I'd consider truly skilful perfumery.

      Very few can rise out of and beyond "That natural perfume smell" soup unfortunately.

    • unregistered | 20th July 2012 06:01

      Great report and I'm sorry I missed it (though my wallet is relieved)!

    • Diamondflame | 24th July 2012 04:54

      I totally get that 'natural perfume smell'. It's usually in the fixatives /base holding the compositions together.

      What a fantastic write-up, Rogalal. Many of us weren't there but it felt as though we were, thanks to the photos and details you shared. Really appreciate it.

    • knit at nite | 1st August 2012 20:18

      BUmping this excellent thread to share I received an e-mail today that there's going to be a second event like this in LA (actually Santa Monica) on Sept 23.

    • Cali | 2nd January 2013 00:31

      Rogalal! I just discovered your fabulous write-up~ Thanks so much for your mention of EnVoyage Perfumes, and thank you for liking our "A Study in Water"!

      Happy New Year! Hope to see you again at the next Artisan Perfume Salon in SF in March!