How does a perfume fanatic find out about the latest upcoming niche perfumers? At Sniffapalooza, a twice yearly event that brings fragrance lovers from around the world to New York for a weekend of spritzing, sniffing and shopping. Day one is jam-packed with up to 100 perfumes to try, a dizzying experience but loads of fun. On day two the pace isn't nearly as frenetic, and there's more time to enjoy all the new scents coming your way.
The most interesting part of the day is lunch, when the "Eau de Sniffapalooza" forum takes place, where emerging indie brands launch and present their concepts and scents for the first time to this group of passionate perfumistas. Startups in the niche perfume industry are invited to debut their lines to the group, each giving about a 10 minute presentation to tell us who they are, what they are doing and the inspiration behind it. Mark Behnke, managing editor of the fragrance blog CaFleureBon introduces each speaker. The theme, he says, are words with "in" in them -- like innovation or indefatigable.
Indefatigable is the word Mark uses to describe Nomad Two Worlds, based in Australia. When Joyce Lanigan teamed up with photographer James Russell to collaborate with the Aboriginal people to showcase their art and culture, perfume was not on the radar. As they began getting to know more about the Aboriginal communities "we were exposed to interesting ingredients and things that were being used in remedies for medicinal purposes and we realized fragrance is just another expression of art," says Joyce.
She learned about fire tree, native to western Australian, which is burned when new people join the community or for events, releasing a sweet, smoky, fragrance. Joyce learned the fire tree is special to the Aborigines who she says believe their bodies vibrate and the fire trees helps amplify that vibration, which in turn helps attract like minded people and love to them. Thus, the first scent for Nomad Two Worlds, Raw Spirit Fire Tree was born.
Then she was involved in the Aboriginal communities working along the South Sea pearling route. They discovered it was possible to extract an essential oil from pearls that had an aroma. Working with noted nose Michel Roudinitska, the next scent, Sea Spirit Pearl was created, which Joyce describes as "the best day at the beach I've ever had." We were the first people who got to smell the scent, which is milky, creamy while at the same time smelling of salt water and ocean air. It's pearl white in the bottle and goes on your skin in an opalescent spray.
Joyce's mission is a collaboration, to provide economic aid through sourcing raw ingredients to help the indigenous communities help themselves. It's an untapped resource for innovative scents too. Who ever would have thought to extract fragrance from a pearl? Look for Sea Spirit to be introduced later this year.
Innovation is the word Mark uses to describe Perusa, the brainchild of Sherry Sebastian of the niche perfume line Sebastian Signs. She wanted to do a line of naturals but was hesitant because natural fragrances don't last that long on the skin. But instead of letting that obstacle get in her way, Sherri went looking for a solution. "I was looking for a new all natural fragrance carrier to address this problem and this issue of staying power with natural fragrances. I came across a new patented green technology that transforms argon oil into a highly occlusive gel." Thus Perusa Natural Perfume Gels were born.
Sherri loved how these gels glide on skin. She explains that some of the scent will be absorbed by your skin, but some of it will also stay on top of the skin, allowing the fragrance to last longer. In developing her line, she wanted to address the most common question she hears as a perfumer: what does it mean for a perfume to be natural? Her answer, "what part of the plant does the oil come from? Does it come from a leaf, a petal, a root or a seed? If it comes from that part of the plant then you know it's natural because in nature that's where the aromatic portion of the oils naturally reside."
This shaped her concept, as Sherri has named the four debut scents in Perusa Root, Seed, Leaf and Petalum.
One favorite is Petalum, which has osmanthus, Moroccan jasmine and davana. Seed is my absolute favorite, thanks to the cardamom and cumin. You'll find pettigrain, violet and bucchu in Leaf and Root has Madagascar vetivert and ginger oil. The gels are soft and luxurious, and you just need a little dab to enjoy. It's an innovative way to experience perfume.
Agnieszka Burnett of Nomaterra is someone Mark calls indomitable. He says she was determined to have him try her line at a recent Elements showcase, literally grabbing his hand and guiding him to her booth. There she was debuting her line that she developed with her husband Benjamin.
She had quite a journey to create Nomaterra. "Noma stands for nomad and terra is of the earth. I'm very much a nomad, I came from Poland, communist Poland. In 1986 I moved with my family to America; we basically escaped Poland on illegal passports." They were nomads of sorts, exploring America, traveling to Miami, Washington, D.C. and beyond, a freedom they did not have in Poland. In creating Nomaterra, Agnieszka uses the cities she traveled to as inspiration, tapping into "that scent memory that I found when I was traveling there when I was very young."
Sure there are many scents inspired by travels and cities, but what makes Nomaterra unique is that Agnieszka also does research on what grows indigenously in that place or city, and then incorporates that into the perfume as well. She says, "it's not just what we think of Miami or we think of DC, it's grounded in fact and grounded in research and what is authentically that place."
For Miami, that means a blend of beachy aromas like coconut and exotic florals like Ylang Ylang and jasmine, with a little bit of spice from pink pepper. For East Hampton, where Nomaterra is based, that means a scent inspired by ocean breezes, crisp and clean, with fresh cut flowers in the mix. Washington D.C. was inspired by Benjamin's childhood, growing up near the McCormick spice factory and memories of the aroma of Old Bay spice wafting through the air.
Nomaterra is packaged for travel convenience. I love the fragrance wipes which are especially TSA friendly.
The next two debuts aren't scents, but they have everything to do with expanding the world of fragrance. Take ScentTrails, a new online destination for perfume lovers to find out about fragrant events and to also find perfume shops in cities around the world.
Ed Libassi, aka Frunkinator on YouTube, where he shares his personal fragrance reviews and has gained quite the cult following, developed ScentTrails to help people find out where to shop for perfume when they're traveling. Before ScentTrails, you had to spend a lot of time googling fragrance shops, and often they weren't the kind that sell the interesting, artisan indie scents. ScentTrails is based on user contributions - so when you discover a great perfume boutique you can add it to the ScentTrails list. I have a lot of places from a recent trip to Italy that I need to add (promise I'll do it!).
Perfumers can also add their events to the site, and retailers have started to catch onto ScentTrails and are contributing as well. It's a one-stop resource that was greatly needed, and thanks to Ed, we will have an amazing database of our favorite perfume shops around the world.
If you've ever wondered what it is like to get involved in the perfume making process, this next debut is for you. Becoming a member of the Fragrance Republic is like becoming a perfume insider. Founder Francois Duquesne says, "this community offers you access to fragrances that have never been released before, fragrances created by master perfumers, independent perfumers, very well known noses. You get to discover new creations being made exclusively for the club members." Sign me up!
Fragrance Republic gives the perfumers carte blanche to create scents that may not be commercially viable but may appeal to the niche fragrance lover. As a member, you get a monthly shipment of a new creation and if you love it you can buy it, and you can also rate it. Depending on your level of membership, you can also interact with the Fragrance Republic perfumers and also with other members - there are events, lab visits, and you could even sit on an advisory board where you help determine future fragrance releases. It's an interactive way to take your perfume obsession to a new level and be in the "nose" so to speak.
Follow Mary Orlin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/WineFashionista