The Sunday Story

Ask your mother: labor for a second pregnancy tends to be faster than the first, but no less difficult. As a mere cat mom, I have absolutely zero business making this comparison, but the process of delivering Arielle Shoshana’s second fragrance into the world followed a similar pattern. Sunday was developed more quickly than our first fragrance, Saturday (16 mods vs. Saturday’s 23), but came with its own exciting labor pains.

Sunday’s inspiration was my favorite drink from my favorite Sunday brunch spot: True Food Kitchen’s matcha horchata, an addictively delicious blend of matcha tea powder, creamy rice milk, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. When our perfumer Cécile created our first fragrance, Saturday, we were working with shared reference points. We both knew what passion fruit smelled like. We both knew what saffron smelled like. But as a New Yorker, hundreds of miles away from the closest True Food location, Cécile had never tasted matcha horchata. Not a single one of the adorable Manhattan cafés I Googled offered it. So when the first Sunday mods arrived, they were total horchata heaven- sugary, rice pudding-y goodness- with almost no matcha.

As delicious as these early versions were, I was committed to the matcha horchata concept. There have been rice pudding perfumes before (Kenzo Amour and Bath & Body Works Rice Flower & Shea come to mind), there have even been a few scents with matcha notes (Urban Outfitters Matcha Té, By Kilian Princess), but no fragrance had attempted both. I was determined to create something new, something innovative, something that would make anyone who tried it say, “I’ve never smelled anything like this.” (They do say that, almost every time, and I’m really very proud of it.)

I finally ended up mailing Cécile a packet of Rishi Sweet Matcha, the closest matcha match I could find to what I had in mind for Sunday. A few weeks later, a much more multi-dimensional round of mods arrived at Arielle Shoshana: 9, 10, and 11. 11 was the immediate standout. It was a gorgeous, glorious mug of matcha horchata, beautifully balanced between the delicate bitterness of matcha and the milky sweetness of horchata. Cécile declared it “groundbreaking” and “one of [her] favorite things [she’d] ever worked on.”

(The absolute insanity of hearing that from Cécile Hua, Vice President of the American Society of Perfumers! I still can’t quite believe I get to put the Arielle Shoshana name on two of her incredible creations. Please never leave us, Cécile.)

I adored Mod 11, but was a little less ready to commit than Cécile. Was it almost too balanced? Was the matcha effect really strong enough? Was there a touch too much cinnamon? I begged for more matcha; Cécile generously humored me for another five mods. Those five were wispy, evanescent beauties, weightless matcha meringues that unraveled thirty minutes in. It became very clear very quickly that the only way to make the matcha top notes more prominent was to subtract from the horchata-y base, resulting in compositions that fell apart long before the drydown. By mod 16, I was finally ready to admit that mod 11 clearly couldn’t be improved on. Without a single “I told you so,” Cécile finalized the formula that we now know as Arielle Shoshana Sunday.

I know that every new mother thinks her new (human) baby is the most beautiful cherub to ever grace the hospital bed, but I really do think that Sunday is something very special. It’s such a cozy comfort scent- every time I smell that creamy rice milk note, I feel like I’ve just wrapped myself in a luxurious terrycloth robe monogrammed with the logo of a hotel I can’t afford. And then the delicate dusting of matcha elevates it to, in Cécile’s own words, a groundbreaking green gourmand. Arielle Shoshana Saturday earned four stars from Perfumes: The Guide; I wholeheartedly believe that Sunday is a five-star fragrance. I so hope you’ll love it as much as I do.

Photography: Wade Jeffree and Leta Sobierajski. Model: Diana Messah.

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The Arielle Shoshana Training Method

The Arielle Shoshana training method, recently solidified in the process of welcoming our fourth employee 👆, will not help you lose 15 pounds in 30 days for only three small payments of $19.99. But it should qualify you to discuss perfume with the very best customers in the world. (And please feel totally free to send us three small payments of $19.99 anyway.)

Step One: The Flashcards

The first stage of training is to create flashcards for every fragrance within each brand- a little contradictory for a shop that organizes our fragrances by category rather than by brand. Brands don’t mean much at first to our customers, the vast majority of whom have never heard of niche fragrance before they walk through our door. But once they do begin to have questions about the (now 25!) brands, our employees need to be able to share the stories and context behind them.

So we line up all of the fragrances in a given brand, pick up a bottle, smell it together, and then make a flashcard for it. The flashcards include the fragrance’s key notes, a word or two about the inspiration behind the scent, and the perfumer. Once we finish a brand, I administer a pop quiz on the products we’ve just covered: “So which of these scents have a vetiver note?”; “Which is the sweetest fragrance in the line?”; “Can you arrange the scents from lightest to heaviest?”

Step Two: The Posters

We map out each fragrance category on poster board, using whichever axes the trainee feels would be the most helpful (Light-Heavy and Fresh-Sweet are the most common so far). We label each fragrance on the graph with its key notes to further reinforce that information. Every trainee creates their own set of posters, the idea being that they’ll retain more from their own sticker placements and handwriting than they would from glancing over someone else’s work.

Step Three: The Cartoons

This last portion of the training method is inspired by the deeply unfunny cartoons I drew for my college biochemistry class in a desperate attempt to memorize the Krebs Cycle. These cartoons introduce trainees to some of our most frequent customer questions/requests, and their Arielle Shoshana-approved answers. As in Step Two, trainees make their own set of cartoons for maximum information retention. I ended up getting a C- in Biochem, so maybe disregard this step. Maybe disregard this whole post, actually. Who let me have this blog?

Congratulations! You are now official Arielle Shoshana trainees- hey, can you ring this guy up? 😉

If She Can See It, She Can Be It

Members of ISIPCA’s Class of 2018. The fragrance future is female!

“As soon as we started smelling, I couldn’t imagine this was actually a career path. With my Asian background, a perfumer pathway was just not on the radar!” -Linda Song, Issu Magazine, February 2013

Linda Song wasn’t sure what to do with her Boston University biology degree until she came across a New York Times article about a beauty industry chemist. That article led her to prestigious perfumery school ISIPCA, where she caught the attention of Givaudan, the world’s largest fragrance firm. After eight years as a Givaudan perfumer, Song was named a Fashion Group Institute Rising Star Award finalist last year. (And we all know what a coup that is- after all, Cécile Hua was 2003’s FGI Rising Star, and look at her now: the nose behind Arielle Shoshana! 😉)

I have the privilege of being one of several women¹ posting a series of responses to an otherwise excellent recent article on American perfumery. Of the seven fragrance experts quoted in the piece, all seven were men.

“If she can see it, she can be it” is the official slogan of the Institute on Gender in Media. The idea is that when women achieve, they show other women that a given career or pursuit has a place for them. Visibility is far from the final step, but it’s a crucial one. Women can’t apply for jobs that they don’t know exist! Think about that Linda Song quote at the beginning of this post: “A perfumer pathway was just not on the radar.”

The Allure piece could have been a catalyst for the women who read it, like the New York Times article that set Song on her “perfumer pathway.” Instead, by depicting American perfumery as completely devoid of women, it fails to acknowledge the increasing diversity of this traditionally male industry that female perfumers have been working for decades to achieve. As of 2016, women make up 38.2% of employees at the three largest fragrance firms².

However, like many industries, that figure becomes much worse for women of color. There is no official data for perfume industry ethnicity demographics³, but of the 434 perfumers⁴ in Fragrantica’s “Noses” database, 28 (6.4%) are people of color, and 14 (3.2%) are women of color. To put this into perspective, there are 15 perfumers in the Fragrantica database named “Pierre.” (20 if you count “Jean-Pierre”s.)

I find these numbers unacceptable, as should anyone who loves perfume. A perfume industry without diversity is a stagnating industry, lacking in diversity of thought and ideas. So this post is intended to highlight the women of color whose successes are changing the landscape of perfumery. If she can see it, she can be it, so let’s see it!

Pissara Umavijiani

Thailand-born Umavijiani is both the founder and perfumer of Dusita Paris, which just received an Art and Olfaction Award (awarded to just four brands each year) only two years after its launch.

Ruhi Patil

The nose behind several Clean fragrances, Patil is still relatively unknown outside of her fragrance firm, IFF. But after her Fashion Group International Rising Star Award in 2014, we know we can expect great things from her. (Like a Ruhi/Linda/Cécile #girlsquad, please and thank you.)

Tanwi Nandini Islam

If this indie up-and-comer looks a little familiar, it’s probably because we’ve been seeing the novelist-turned-perfumer’s name everywhere from Elle to Racked. Islam has grown Hi Wildflower from a one-woman operation in a Brooklyn studio to an ever-expanding line of perfume oils, nail lacquers, and vivid cosmetics.

Verônica Kato

Since becoming the in-house perfumer for Natura Cosmeticos, the $4.1 billion Brazilian giant that recently bought out Aesop and The Body Shop, Symrise-trained Kato has created over one hundred Natura fragrances over the past decade.

Anne McClain

Within a month of graduating from Grasse Institute of Perfumery, McClain founded MCMC Fragrances, catching the attention of industry giants like Birchbox and Anthropologie.

Adriana Medina-Baez

Over 23 years at Givaudan, Medina-Baez has worked her way from perfumer trainee to junior perfumer all the way up to Vice President perfumer. She also created Prince’s official perfume, and if she’s Prince-approved, she’s us-approved.

Shyamala Maisondieu

Malaysia-born Maisondieu is an utter chameleon of a perfumer, careening effortlessly between mainstream blockbusters like Tom Ford Violet Blonde and edgy independents like Etat Libre d’Orange Charogne.

Disclaimers: This post is not sponsored and does not contain affiliate links. 

¹ Please enjoy the other responses by Alyssa HaradBois de Jasmin, Eau MG, Perfume Professor, The Non-Blonde, and The Scented Salamander.

² As of 2016, the percentage of female employees at the fragrance firms Givaudan, IFF, and Symrise were 38.1%, 38.3%, and 38.3%, for an industry average of 38.2%.

³ France made the collection of data on race/ethnicity illegal in 1978 (for laudable, anti-hate crime reasons), and the perfume industry remains very French.

⁴ This methodology is imperfect for several reasons:

First, although Fragrantica is by far the best resource of its kind, its “Noses” database contains both perfumers and perfume brand owners. I went through each “Nose” one by one to separate the two; while I believe the margin of error is extremely small, if I was unable to determine whether a perfume brand owner was also a perfumer after extensive Googling, I did not count them as a perfumer.

Second, Fragrantica “Nose” entries only include perfumers who have created at least one fine fragrance. This means that there are many functional fragrance (body products, home fragrance, dish soap, etc) perfumers who are not included in this data. This is truly unfortunate, but there is currently almost no publicly available information on functional fragrance perfumers.

Finally, during the early stages of a perfumer’s career, . For example, Linda Song has worked at Givaudan since 2007, but her Fragrantica “Nose” listing was not created until her first credited fragrance was released in 2016. This suggests that there could be many perfumers at the beginning of their careers who do not yet have Fragrantica “Nose” entries.

Jo Malone Whisky and Cedarwood

Pack it up, organized religion! Jo Malone just handed us definitive proof of reincarnation. Glory, glory, hallelujah!

The Arquiste for J. Crew saga is one of the great tragedies of our perfume times. In 2014, Arquiste created two excellent fragrances as a special collection for J. Crew. There appear to have been some major packaging issues (I bought a rollerball only to find that half of the perfume had already leaked out), and the line was rapidly, unjustly clearanced and dropped. My favorite of the duo was No. 57, a sultry whiskey fragrance with more spice than sweetness.

Three years later, Jo Malone taps Yann Vasnier, the dashing longtime Arquiste nose, for their new Bloomsbury collection. Yann must have missed No. 57 as much as I did, because lo and behold, his cinnamon-flecked hot toddy of a perfume has been reborn as Jo Malone Whisky and Cedarwood! As a whole, this is actually one of Jo Malone’s most solid collections in quite a while. (Yaaaay! We’re rooting for you, you crazy kids!) The hyper-realistic Blue Hyacinth is definitely not to be missed. But Whisky and Cedarwood is the one that I feel most compelled to wear myself.

The Bloomsbury collection is limited edition, so Whisky and Cedarwood is actually only the briefest of respites from fragrance oblivion (dang, that just got dark). If you were sorry to see No. 57 go the first time around, Whisky and Cedarwood offers a second chance at a lost love. (Although I have to say I much preferred the elegant Arquiste for J. Crew packaging to Jo’s tissue paper stained glass art project vibe. I’m also not 100% sure why “whiskey” needed to be misspelled. It’s always something with you, Jo Malone.)

Disclaimers: This post is not sponsored and does not contain affiliate links. I sampled Jo Malone Whisky and Cedarwood at my local Nordstrom. 

Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge 540

Standard perfumista wisdom warns against wearing one of your favorite perfumes on first dates. That way, if the date goes badly, you don’t risk tainting one of your tried and trues with a negative association. (I still can’t touch Lush Tuca Tuca after a particularly rough OKCupid date at a Lord of the Rings-themed restaurant, during which I was lectured about the Singularity for longer than Return of the King. EXTENDED EDITION.)

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In keeping with this principle, I decided on Baccarat Rouge, a scent I had spent very little time with, for the first date with my now-boyfriend Garrett. (This is the first time I’ve mentioned a boyfriend on the blog since college. I will be so mad if he dumps me tomorrow.)

No turning back now- meet Garrett, everyone!

Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian has described Baccarat Rouge as “burnt strawberry jam”, and that’s wonderfully accurate. Baccarat Rouge opens with a mouthwatering caramelized effect, candied with just a touch of savory. Fascinatingly, Baccarat Rouge is based around a very common ingredient, ethyl maltol, the sweet core of mainstream blockbusters like Thierry Mugler Angel and Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb. But where Angel and Flowerbomb are massive, hulking fragrances, Baccarat’s sweetness is airy, streamlined. It’s candy, but it’s polished, subtle candy, like a delicate toile of sugar on a Michelin-rated dessert. The burnt strawberry jam never fades away, but it’s gradually given depth by a quiet, fresh jasmine note, which just so happens to be the only kind of jasmine I can tolerate.

The ultimate proof of Baccarat Rouge’s allure? After a few months, Garrett ordered his own bottle.

What are your go-to date fragrances? Any scents you’ve had to banish after bad first dates?

Disclaimers: This post is not sponsored and does not contain affiliate links.