Maggie Mahboubian of Lalun Naturals
Can you tell us about your back ground and history?
I became interested in perfumery by way of creating essential oil blends for my skincare formulas back in the mid 90’s. I would come up with a gorgeous blend and think how nice it would be to wear it as a perfume. So I would put some on, but half an hour later the scent would be gone or very faint. Wondering how I could get around this issue was what led me down the rabbit hole.
At first, I mistakenly thought the reason the scent didn’t last was because the blend wasn’t a perfume and that one couldn’t make perfume with naturals. So I purchased a bunch of oils which I later discovered were fragrance oils and started working with them. I ended up throwing them out because they gave me migraines and I didn’t care for their scent. I took a break from blending while I was pregnant in 2004. After I gave birth I revisited the idea of making perfume with naturals and eventually stumbled on The Natural Perfumery Yahoo group run by Anya McCoy.
I read Mandy Aftel’s Essence and Alchemy (and a whole bunch of other books on perfumery) which I purchased from Persephenie when she was in her studio on Edinburgh Street. I wanted to take a class with her, but kept missing the dates. Instead, I attended her salons, where she introduced individual perfumers. I met Laurie Stern at one of these events. I also discovered Roxana Vila at a local Waldorf school event as I had just enrolled my daughter in the parent/child program at Pasadena Waldorf School.
When my daughter started preschool I enrolled in Lyn Ayre’s natural perfumery home study course. I was drawn to Lyn because I loved her gentle, supportive spirit. I would drop off my daughter and spend my mornings studying perfumery in the ornate rooms at the Pasadena Public Library. It was heaven! This was in 2008 after I decided to stop practicing architecture. I applied the same rigor to perfumery as I had to my architectural studies at Harvard and began to see parallels between perfume creation and architecture. In 2009 I started a blog called Architecture of Perfume where I posted articles about the intersection between the two disciplines. It helped me conceptualize my perfumery work.
When did the brand start and it's inspiration?
While on pregnancy bed rest in 2010 I decided to form my corporation, Lalun Naturals. I also created a website and an Etsy shop so that I would be able to sell my work. I worked on some simple blends using oils considered safe for use during pregnancy. I was curious to see how my hypersensitive nose would perceive scent during this time and wore my blends while giving birth to my second daughter. But it wasn’t until September 2012 that I launched Parfums Lalun at the Salon in LA. I was suddenly propelled out of my ivory tower and into the real world of a nascent and developing industry.
What is your process for creating a perfume?
I view perfumes as invisible constructs and apply many of the concepts I used as an architect when designing my fragrances. Base notes form the FOUNDATION of a perfume. I then work on the STRUCTURE which holds up the DECORATIVE elements that characterize a fragrance. I often use notes to CONNECT or BRIDGE and natural isolates to help SUPPORT or enhance particular notes. They help add DIMENSION to a blend. I know and have worked with conventional perfumery rules, such as the Jean Carles method, I experiment a lot because naturals don’t always behave well or as expected in a blend and cannot be relied on.
There are so many variables that it’s best to simply start from scratch each time. I actually enjoy starting each exploration without preconceived notions. I blend hundreds of accords and have them categorized. I then see how each could intersect with another but sometimes an accord lends itself to being developed into a perfume. My perfumes are actually quite complex, comprising upwards of 20-30+ notes. I think it’s possible to create coherent structures, but there’s a lot of technique and evaluation involved. I study vintage perfumes as PRECEDENTS for my projects and have quite a collection.
Recently, I’ve been familiarizing myself with the work of contemporary (mixed media) fragrance makers and would like to take a class at the Institute for Art and Olfaction so that I can educate myself on the qualities and use of synthetically derived molecules. However, I’m not interested in creating perfumes with them. I’m committed to naturals because of my background and love for botanicals. These elements are alive and subtly nuanced while synthetics come off as too strong and forceful, having what seems like the half-life of a radioactive isotope! I prefer the delicate nature of naturals, however ornery they can be.
What is it like to be on the independent side of the industry?
I’m a huge supporter of independent perfumery, especially artisan makers who create everything themselves. I’m the founder and curator of a yearly fragrance-as-art event called FRAGments where the perfumers present their work in a group show that is located in a unique venue in the city. It has garnered quite a following, but I’d like it to remain a small art show, not a trade event. The greatest challenge a natural artisan fragrance maker faces is the sourcing and availability of high grade materials. There are some reputable sources, but not all are cost effective. My hope is that suppliers to large perfume houses will make smaller quantities available to artisan perfumers because group buys are not always a reliable way to purchase materials needed for compounding specific perfumes. It’s a great way to purchase special materials, but then the person doing the group buy has the burden of purchasing, splitting, bottling and mailing.
- Your line is all natural, can you explain on what that may means for those that wear your scents?
Natural perfumes do not have the silage or the staying power of their synthetic counterparts. But that’s not always a bad thing. I've heard the argument that if someone pays a lot for a natural perfume they should expect it to last a long time. However, I’m not a fan of perfumes that persist. For one, I wonder how these chemicals that penetrate the epidermis are metabolized by our vital organs if they don’t break down quickly. In addition, it means that one is committed to a fragrance for the entire day. I like to wear different fragrances at different times. My theory is that the morning nose is different from the evening nose and what works in the morning when everything is fresh is not going to hold up in the evening when the nose needs a heavier scent. Natural perfumes allow a wearer to layer fragrances throughout the day. In addition, I view fragrance as a wardrobe component that can be changed frequently, so no signature scent for me. It would be like wearing a uniform. There are just too many wonderful fragrances out there to enjoy and I believe in jumping in!
And what are the locations or channels one can go to, to try or purchase the line.
And finally where do you see the fragrance industry in the next 5 years or what would you like to see happen?
The popularity of niche perfumes is certainly catching on with mainstream buyers. Just this year Frederic Malle and Le Labo were bought by Estee Lauder. I think this trend will continue as fragrance users become more sophisticated and demand products that have unique qualities. On the other hand, the wave of legislation and restrictions on materials have definitely affected the industry, leading to perfumes that all smell alike (to me). I’m hoping the public wakes up to this tragedy when they realize how destructive this has been to the art of fragrance design. My personal opinion is that the restrictions are overly zealous and mostly unnecessary. There’s no way to protect every segment of the population and that labeling would be a better recourse so customers would have the choice to purchase something or not. I also would like to see the general public become better educated in the olfactory realm and recognize the significance scent has to our well-being and pleasure. Perfumes are created for their aesthetic value alone, there are no functional requirements to fulfill. Therefore I hope there will be more material explorations and olfactory experimentation and that the public will recognize perfume as art.