Sniffapalooza Magazine Interview
Dawn M. Spencer Hurwitz
Perfumer and Certified Aromatherapist
Parfums des Beaux Arts
By Raphaella Barkley
RB: Dawn, you are an Aromatherapist and a Perfumer, which came first and did the aromatherapy training help in any way with becoming a perfumer?
Yes, I am both a Perfumer and Certified Aromatherapist. I began to study perfumery before aromatherapy, so the perfumes came first, however I had been studying herbs before perfumery came on the scene. You know, I didn't actually set out to become a perfumer. Back then, I was anticipating a life as a Painter and potentially as an academic teaching art. The opportunity to apprentice with a perfumer in Boston came about and I jumped at the chance. Plus, the apprenticeship was associated with a part time job which I needed as a cash-strapped student. My formal training as an aromatherapist came a few years later and has informed many of my fragrance designs in the sense that when I compose a new perfume I will contemplate what (if any) therapeutic effects the materials might afford the wearer. (Why not have both beauty and therapy if both are possible?)
RB: You were also an artist (painter) before you became perfumer, tell us about this please...
and do you still paint?
I do still paint; yes. For many years I did more representational / figurative images and worked exclusively in an ancient technique called 'egg tempera'. This technique is extremely hands on and requires the artist to fashion their own paint by grinding pure pigments in water and then adding egg yolk as the binder to create a marvelously luminous paint. I absolutely love it (!) and still do work in egg tempera as much as I can. In recent years however, as my perfumery work has become more abstract, I have begun a series of abstract images in acrylic; as well as some mixed media works made of paint, pure pigment, ink and metal leaf (gilding also goes hand in hand with egg tempera). Some of the works are directly related to and inspired by perfumes and happily, I will be showing a few of these pieces along with some of my natural perfume designs in Los Angeles in October at Blunda Aromatics who will be presenting an Exhibition of Natural Perfumers throughout 2009.
RB: What differentiates your fragrances from other niche fragrance lines?
Well, I actually think that many, many niche / artisan perfume lines have a lot in common, so I feel that it is the artist/ creator that makes all of the difference. If you approach Perfumery as art form, then the products are less about commerce per se and more about the creation of a statement and an expression of an artist to an audience. Yes, perfumes are things you buy and use but in my way of thinking, the niche perfumer is more like a printmaker who makes multiples of the work and can sell as many as they care to make. It is the connection between the artists and their audience that make the differences, since ultimately, the materials can be exactly the same from line to line. It is just the choices made by the perfumer that speak to a new aromatic experience.
RB: Tell us about the fragrances you’ve created, you have so many...
Oh, yes...that! I do have quite a large collection of perfumes that I have created and I guess it's because I am insatiable; I NEED to create. It's like breathing. I need to explore and expand so much and these are the proceeds. (Recently, I have attempted to slow down a bit and am now writing notebooks full of perfumes concepts; I have about a dozen notebooks so far and they are growing.) Among my personal favorite creations are the ones that speak to an experience or emotion that I have had and still give me tremendous joy: Parfum de Grasse, Minuit, Cafe Noir, Rose Vert, Essenza dell'Ibisco, Ambre, Arome d'Egypte, Violetta di Murano and Oeillets Rouges. (There are others of course, that come around with the seasons, but these are perennial favorites).
RB: Your newest collection is Limited Editions by Parfums des Beaux Arts, please tell us about them.
The Limited Editions by Parfums des Beaux Arts collection was created because it was the closest thing that I could conceive of that was like the 'printmakers series'; a signed and numbered collection of finite quantity. I wanted to create a collection in which I could work with hard-to-find, rare aromatics that were of limited supply as well as conceive of themes to work in that may not be universal enough to launch as scents with a term of 'forever', but were interesting to me and so I could produce perfumes that push the limits. If the production is finite then I can move on to a new idea without much ado and if the perfume proves to be stellar, then as long as I can procure the ingredients I will make it. It's pretty simple. I also love the idea of the signed / numbered series in terms of collect-ability. I know that there are many perfume connoisseurs that collect perfumes as much as wear them, so this concept is a match for the collectors as well. With the Limited Editions, I choose a theme every year (or two, as the études and now the color series have come to be) and can develop the idea in any direction. This collection offers me the ultimate freedom imaginable.
RB: I am very fascinated by the Les Rouges Collection: “PASSION, POWER, LUST, RAGE, ECSTASY... such are our associations with RED; our wildest emotions and greatest HEAT are bound to this primal color. Inspired by the radiance and intensity of RED my Les Rouges Collection enters Perfection Connoisseur Fragrances label” Tell us about these.
The Les Rouges Collection came out of my wish to expand the Perfection collection - with some elements that would remain the same (such as the rich, classical design style) but spoke to the concepts of 'passion and all things red'. Back in 2003 when this collection launched I had been exploring the concept of color expressions in perfume and was starting with variations of red : scarlet, crimson, china red, red-oranges, fire red. And then I began to attach emotional content to the notion of color and from there each fragrance was born. Poivre (pepper) is a fiery perfume, Piment et Chocolat is deeper and richer, Oeillets Rouges is based on the blood red carnations I grow in my garden and finally Fleurs d'Oranger which expresses a voluptuous yet contented 'red-orange'. I truly love this collection; it's very well rounded, concise and full of elements to fall in love with. Not surprisingly, it remains one of my most popular collections to date.
RB: As a perfumer, where do you find your inspiration?
I find inspiration EVERYWHERE. Imagine an art form that allows you to take from a texture, color, temperature, shape, time, place(real or imaginary), any kind of story, images and of course the obvious - the most beautiful flower or tree or natural scent - to create with; the inspiration is endless, deliciously endless. Sometimes when I am watching a movie I will notice a certain quality of light and think ' that would make a marvelous perfume if I can only express it the way that I feel it'. So I will write it down and I will make a scent sketch right then and there. Then I will look at the sketch again, in a few days or a week and see if I can feel anything just from what I wrote down and if there's still something there I will go with it. Generally, in my own strange creative process, I will think of a perfume all the way through to it's completion. This may take me years to do or just days but I will have the perfume itself - the story, the nuances, the feel- everything clear in my mind before I will sit down to formulate. This way I know it when I have it; I'm sure. The only time that I sit down to create a perfume that I haven't already finished in my mind is when I create a bespoke perfume. Bespoke perfumes are pure improvisation since I am taking cues from the person commissioning it. There is another kind of freedom and inspiration there as I am trying to imagine being a person who, many times, I have never met. (It's wonderful).
RB: There must have been a defining moment that led you to become a perfumer. How did that happen?
No, actually there was no defining moment...it was much more like seeing on open door, sliding in and deciding to stay. The experience reminds me of the Margaret O'Brien movie' The Secret Garden', where the world outside is black and white but inside the secret garden door, it's technicolor. I started in perfumery after meeting a friend of a friend of a friend, who I originally met by chance on a trolley. This 'three degrees of separation' person offered me a job and the chance to apprentice with a perfumer and so I took it. At the time, I had never even sold perfume before, let alone made perfume. It didn't take long before it was obvious to me that I "get it"; on a fundamental level, I get perfume. I have a good memory and I think that I have the kind of artistic mindset that makes for a good perfumer. Plus, from the response I was getting to my work, it seemed as though I was pretty good at it, so I stayed. And here I am almost twenty years later still as engaged as ever in the pursuit of the art form and perhaps becoming a great perfumer.
RB: Were you inspired by any one perfumer?
Since becoming a perfumer I have studied the history of perfumery (especially classical, French styles) and so of course, I have influences. So many, in fact, that it is difficult to one pin down. I think I can mention three perfumers and a 'house' that continue to inspire me: Jacques Guerlain, Francois Coty, Edmond Roudnitska (who I lament to this day that I never had the chance to meet) and the House of Molinard. While the intense rivalry between Guerlain and Coty produced some of the greatest masterpieces of the 20th Century (Mitsouko, Chypre and Apres l'Ondee are utterly important to me) and the House of Molinard carries on the traditions of the Provençal style (the classics Habanita and Madrigal are two of my favorite vintage perfumes), I feel that it is Edmond Roudnitska whose visionary capabilities speak to me continuously on how to be truly creative and see the new way to use an ingredient or envision a new quality in a perfume. Actually, he is my icon.
RB: What was your favorite fragrance growing up?
When I was a child, my mother and grandmother both only wore Avon perfumes, which I never personally liked for myself, so I would save my allowance to buy musks and ambery floral perfumes at the local drugstore, only to have them swiftly confiscated ("until I was 30", my mom said). I also went through a Chanel no.5 phase in the 9th grade but it wasn't until I happened upon the re-launch of "Dans la Nuit" by Worth that I had ever fallen in love with a perfume. I was 16 when I first smelled Dans la Nuit but it wasn't until I was 19 that I managed to get some. It's still one of my all time favorite perfumes.
RB: What is the most amazing fragrance you have ever smelled?
That's easy: L'Heure Bleue by Guerlain. It is the single most 'perfumey' concept, with all of it's grace, elegance, nuance and connotation, that I have ever known. It's true perfection. The perfume, itself, is actually not for me but the concept, the idea, the name... I wish there was a way to do another 'L'Heure Bleue' without making a copy. I would love to evoke such immense poetry as 'the Blue Hour', but alas, it's been done.
RB: You also recently opened your new boutique; the ESSENSE STUDIO in beautiful Boulder, Colorado, how is that?
The ESSENSE STUDIO is terrific! I have never before had the opportunity to fully create my work space environment from top to bottom and it's been super exciting. We occupy our own little building and have created the shop, a design studio, and soon we will begin adding the first Perfume Museum in Colorado. It started with a dream I had about a shop that I was building with some extraordinary, reflective, patterned metal leaf wall paper. The very next day I found almost the exact pattern on some wrapping paper and bought all of the rolls I saw. It was an omen, I thought. The color scheme was derived from that paper that I carried around until we started building. I can't describe what it feels like to go to a place that 'manifested' out of a dream. It's like magic.
RB: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you or your perfumes that we have not discussed?
I'm at a loss to think of any area we haven't touched upon. I would just like to say that I'm so grateful to you, Raphaella, and the wonderful writers Christine, Michelyn, Felicia and Kathy, who have given me the opportunity to talk about my work and to be a part of the greater conversation of the perfumery-art form that takes place in every issue of Sniffapalooza! Thank you very much; it's been an extraordinary pleasure.
Dawn M. Spencer Hurwitz
PERFUMER + certified aromatherapist
PARFUMS des BEAUX ARTS, LLC
the ESSENSE STUDIO
the fragrance enthusiasts paradise
4593 North Broadway, space D120
Boulder, CO 80304 USA
The Road Less Traveled
And What You Can Find There
By Christine Lewandowski