About a year and a half ago, I was aggravated enough by an article in a women's glossy magazine to write a response on my own blog and to encourage a few fellow bloggers to do the same. This article proclaimed the rise of American indie perfumers (imagine that!) and noted their tendency to create fragrances inspired by wide open spaces (because of their "pioneering spirit," apparently). It also seemed to be laboring under the impression that only men are currently crafting, creative-directing, or critiquing perfume in the United States.
More recently, I was intrigued by the launch of a perfume boutique in Louisville, Kentucky dedicated entirely to American fragrance brands. American Perfumer, as it's appropriately named, takes an almost gallery-like approach to showcasing its brands and giving the perfumers themselves a voice through blog posts and podcast interviews. And, unlike the above-mentioned article, it includes a mix of male and female perfumers.
American Perfumer has also begun commissioning a series of limited edition fragrances, beginning with Colorado by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz and Desert Flower by Maria McElroy of Aroma M. Both are olfactory evocations of specific place-memories. I've smelled both over the past few weeks and enjoyed my "travels" with them.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz describes Colorado as the"fragrance of sunshine through the trees and fresh conifer needles warmed by the sun mixed with the sugary, maple-d amber of the Ponderosa pines." Its composition includes top notes of bergamot, lemon, leafy green accord, blue spruce and neroli; heart notes of jasmine, immortelle, oak, black spruce, sandalwood and cedar; and base notes of pine bark, pine amber, pine moss, fir balsam, tolu balsam, fossil amber and cade.
That sounds like a lot to process, but Colorado feels very legible and, yes, spacious. If it were a film clip, it would zoom out from details to the overall view. It starts off with a very syrupy note of pine sap seeping out from the Ponderosa pine's inner bark and being warmed by the sun. (If you like immortelle, you'll be in heaven.) Then the fragrance "backs up" a bit to share the needles, branches, and towering trunks of the trees, with a smoky wood note and a spot-on evocation of pine bark. Colorado's drydown is a wider olfactive sweep of warm earth, more resins (a gorgeous sweet-yet-dry balsam) and a breath of fresh air and sky over this imagined forest.
Maria McElroy's Desert Flower, the second limited edition in this series, is a floral chypre composed of "rare, vintage Arabian oils," with notes of lina (desert flower), honey, cedar, muguet, flower of honor, oud, vanilla, violet, chypre and amber. Desert Flower's inspiration is a pair of desert memories: a family trip through the Mojave and a later visit to the Sahara. Of the latter, Maria McElroy writes, "I imagine wandering into the endless desert; its violet shadows and silence, its sand and sweet flower aroma swirling and lifting to cloak me with mystery and nostalgia."
Desert Flower is sensual yet diaphanous, with its delicate white floral notes balanced by a base that reminds me of sandalwood incense. Many white floral scents feel too prim and soapy, too overblown, or too animalic for me, but Desert Flower is none of the above. There's a hint of honey along with the namesake desert blooms and the "sand" is fine and cool; this is definitely a desert at twilight, not in the heat of midday.
Desert Flower has a 1970s vintage feel, something that's hard for me to articulate exactly — in fact, this fragrance itself is hard for me to describe. It's linear yet nuanced, understated but definitely not dull. Like Colorado, Desert Flower is impressionistic in the way it conjures up a specific locale, yet it's more intimate and meditative.
Both these scents suggested their locations so well to me that I felt the need for a change of wardrobe: Colorado seems to require a comfy (yet durable) flannel shirt and hiking boots, whereas Desert Flower really should be paired with a Talitha Getty-style caftan. Even though I'm more of a homebody, I've been enjoying these "travels." I look forward to seeing and smelling American Perfumer's next venture with another indie scent-creator.
American Perfumer + Dawn Spencer Hurwitz Colorado is available as 30 ml Eau de Parfum ($125.00, edition of 50); American Perfumer + Aroma M Desert Flower is available as 30 ml Parfum ($150.00, edition of 25). Both are exclusive to American Perfumer.
1. For full disclosure: Maria McElroy and I first met years ago when she was showing her line at a shop in New York. I liked her work, so I kept showing up at her store events and studio events. We've come to know each other through ongoing contact in New York's tight-knit circle of perfume-lovers. As usual, however, I wouldn't bother to review this fragrance if it didn't truly appeal to me and/or give me something to think about.