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When we caught wind of Olfactif, a subscription perfume discovery service, our nostrils certainly perked up. To have multiple vials of niche fragrances, sourced from all corners of the world (none of which include the department store counter), delivered to your doorstep each month for just $18 is more than a treat—it's a form of self expression. And further piquing our interest was the perfumer behind July's Perfect Coconut Milk scent, Sarah Horowitz, who has local roots. We talked to the Emerson alum about her career launch on Newbury Street, the smells of Boston, and why she partnered with Olfactif.
Tell us about your experience at Essence, the fragrance boutique you worked at on Newbury. Where did it fit into the scene at the time?
I wasn't really looking for work. I went shopping in between classes at Emerson, and I don't know if it's still like this, but I can tell you that when I lived there it was an amazing experience. From Arlington it was Tiffany's and the park and down at Mass Ave. we had Tower Records and Allston Beat. It was a little more grungy and rock and roll. I felt like there was this progression from very Rodeo Drive, sort of Fifth Avenue toward that middle section where it was more like the Village. It was where the worlds met. Essence was between Exeter and Fairfield. It was eclectic and artsy. It was 1989 and I walked into the store because it sounded cool. There were all these beautiful bottles and a man said "Can I anoint you?" I had no idea what that meant but I said "Sure!" It was very new age, it was sensual, and it smelled amazing and I ended up staying there and missing my next class. Eventually they gave me a job.
I worked there through college and the year that I was graduating he was going to sell the business. So myself and another Boston University girl working there bought it from him. After that I knew I wanted to move to California and do more one on one custom fragrances.
You call your process a "Fragrance Journey." Why is fragrance a journey?
I called it the fragrance journey because when I create a fragrance, we talk about not only perfume history but also my client's personal history: What their childhood smells like, what fragrances they've worn in their lifetime, where are they now? And then we smell a variety of fragrances. Life is a journey, and fragrance is a part of our everyday life. And it changes, it evolves just like your other tastes. I used to wear shoulder pads in the 80s, and now I don't—the same goes for my fragrance.
As a theater major, how did your classroom training intersect with your decision to pursue perfumery as an entrepreneur?
I joke with my parents about how I went to Emerson for theater and philosophy, but I do actually use it quite often. When I work with a client, there are a couple of things. First of all, when you're doing a fragrance journey you need to connect with your client, and that's about being present. A huge component of what I do is being able to listen to people and read their facial expressions and body language as well as their words. It's a lot about reading cues, and I definitely use my Emerson educate in working with clients. I also do a lot of public speaking now in teaching. I am very grateful for it.
How does interpreting a sense of place or a feeling (like the July Olfactif scent) differ from interpreting a personality?
When you're with a person, you're taking into account all their likes and dislikes. For that particular fragrance I wanted to capture the essence of August, that moment when you're standing on a beach with sunscreen on you, maybe holding a tropical cocktail. I love that too, it definitely elicits an emotional response in people.
What is the scent of Boston?
That's really hard for me. In the North End you've got garlic, Newbury Street is eclectic with a lot of different things. But if I had to say one thing, it would be lilac. The lilacs that bloom in the spring are amazing. And you know what else? The first snow, that cold smell.
What drew you to participating in Olfactif? What's the appeal of the program to you?
I really connected with Tara [Swords, founder] and her approach in regards to fragrance. I love the presentation, I love the fact that the packaging does not interfere with the person's perception of the fragrance. I also love the idea that it has such a broad audience. The people that sign up are interesting, they're engaged, they want to receive it. Tara does a great job with the profiles. This was a fresh approach, and they do it like retailers. From a vendor's point of view, she's very respectful of the vendors and understands from a business aspect.
How does Olfactif's take on niche fragrance fit into your own vision of personalized fragrance?
I've been doing this for over twenty years, and there's nothing more niche than custom. But not everyone can come in for an individual fragrance, so the next step is handcrafted, niche fragrances. Something special, made in small batches. I think Tara is trying to elevate and bring that sort of awareness to a larger base.
How many different fragrances do you keep to pull from?
I have over 300 oils, both naturals and synthetics.
Finally, what are your three favorite scents in the entire fragrance spectrum?
Night blooming jasmine. I love it, especially in real life. Right at dusk it's at its most heavy and blooms for three weeks. Oak moss reminds me of the fall, sort of withering leaves and earth. The last one is going to sound so pedestrian, but it's vanilla. Almost all of my compositions have it in them, it makes everything creamy and warm and sexy.
· Sarah Horowitz Parfums [Official Site]
· Olfactif [Official Site]