What has been your creative background and history before entering the fragrance industry?
I earned a B.S. in Environmental Earth Science and M.S. in Geomechanics at Stanford University and then passed the oral exams for the PhD program. At that point I took time off to work as a technical writer for Sun Microsystems while contemplating possible careers. I started blending essential oils and studying perfumery for fun, and what began as a hobby gradually bloomed into a business. Perfumery had an instant appeal for me because I like work that combines technical and creative sides. I learned to appreciate artisan products when I was young, and I always had numerous crafts projects in progress. I also loved gardening with fragrant plants, so the combination of my interests and skills fell into place later in life when I discovered perfumery. My educational background might not seem pertinent to what I do now, but I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to be in the University research group to learn thinking skills from amazing professors. A diverse educational background is actually an advantage because running a small business requires skills in many areas.
Can you describe your journey into the perfume world?
I was looking for perfumes with more natural ingredients than what I had found at department stores, so I began experimenting with natural essential oils. I became involved with fragrance boards online, trying many niche lines and swapping samples with other people In the fragrance community. I then began to purchase small quantities of aroma chemicals online. I tried many niche perfumes, studied many raw ingredients (both natural and synthetic), read perfumery books, and then finally started blending more seriously.
How has the location of the wine country influenced the creation of the brand or scents?
The Sonoma Scent Studio branding evolved from my location and my personality. I wanted to create a brand that was nature-inspired, true to my love of the California outdoors, and that would reflect the high-quality artisan associations one has with the wine country. I use many beautiful natural ingredients, I designed custom packaging that is classic in style, and I created imagery for the website using photos that I have taken myself of local landscapes and flowers.
Perfumers are now well into the forefront of their creations. Have you seen a shift in the public view of scent?
I see several trends in the public perception of scent. A large group of fragrance lovers have found each other online and created the fragrance community; members of this group view scent as an art form and build personal collections rather than wearing only one signature scent. On the other hand, we have an emerging group of people who dislike fragrance, often based on negative experiences without knowing that there are many options beyond what they find in their local stores. Some of these people look to natural artisan scents as a softer, less diffusive alternative, but others have given up on scent completely or simply don’t have an interest in fragrance. We also have increasing regulations based on potential ingredient allergies, which brings up issues of safety and further complicates the public perception of scent. It will be interesting to see how we find a balance between these factions as perfumery moves forward.
Can you speak on your creative process?
I start with an idea for a scent and then write an initial formula on an Excel sheet that computes the percentages of each ingredient based on the amounts and dilutions used. I don’t usually split formulas into top, middle, and base because some ingredients serve multiple roles. Sometimes I will put dabs of ingredients on paper strips to experiment with combinations while working on the Excel formula. I then make a tiny batch, just a few grams, and smell it on my skin. I adjust the formula and make another small trial batch. When I have something I like, I’ll send a tester vial to a few friends to invite some feedback. Some formulas come together quickly and others take many trials. I seem to always have more ideas than time, so there’s no problem thinking of new projects!
What inspires you?
The inspiration for many of the scents is either a note (like Incense Pure or Tabac Aurea) or an outdoorsy theme like a forest path (Forest Walk) or a summer afternoon (Jour Ensoleille) or a night by the campfire (Fireside Intense). Sometimes the inspiration is a concept such as with Nostalgia when I wanted to create a more modern version of a vintage scent style. Once I have an overall idea, the ingredients inspire the details. For example, in Forest Walk, the hemlock and fir absolutes are amazing and dictated my direction with that scent. Outside of perfumery, I find many things inspiring, from a beautiful blue sky to the kindnesses that people bestow on one another.
Finally is there anything else that you would like to share?
I’d just like to say that it’s been a joy to take part in the online perfume community. The people are creative, intelligent, passionate, and kind-hearted. If you’re new and thinking of joining in, I hope you’ll jump in and have fun!