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, C√©cile Hua was 2003’s FGI Rising Star, and look at her now: the nose behind Arielle Shoshana! ūüėČ)

I have the privilege of being one of several women¬Ļ 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 firms¬≤.

However, like many industries, that figure becomes much worse for women of color. There is no official data for perfume industry ethnicity demographics¬≥, but of the 434 perfumers‚Āī 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.

Ver√īnica 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. 

¬Ļ Please enjoy the other responses by¬†Alyssa Harad,¬†Bois 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.

‚Āī 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.


Quarter-Life Crisis

As of July 26, I have officially hit late twenties! (Which makes Scents of Self eight years old, y’all. Scents of Self is A THIRD GRADER. If she’s following in my footsteps, next year she’ll have to switch schools after a few “recess incidents.” Eight year old Ari had not yet quite mastered that most crucial of lessons, “hitting is bad.”) Staring down the harsh reality of never again (or, uh, before) qualifying for “25 under 25” lists, I gave in to my quarter-life equivalent of the mid-life crisis red convertible: a new perfume display shelf! (I had a college roommate whose mom celebrated getting divorced by buying a helicopter. She ended up selling it almost immediately, because “there’s just no place to park a helicopter.” We’ve all been there, girl.)

Shall we stroll down perfume storage memory lane to see just how extensive the upgrade is?
The mini-fridge stage! Pros: protected the perfumes from a newly-adopted Zelda. Cons: it was actually a wine cooler, so the perfumes kept falling through the intended-for-wine-bottles slats.This bookshelf loyally served me from high school all the way through my first post-graduation apartment. That apartment, however, was located in New York, and just a few trips to The Strand quickly exceeded its capacity.A very cute step shelf from Target. Not even close to enough room for the books.

Back to the fridge! Yes, it’s the safest place for a perfume to be (protected from heat and light), but now no one else can see all my beautiful bottles!The most recent storage solution, an eight cube Ikea Kallax. There’s finally enough room for both the perfumes and the books, but it’s not the most elegant piece of furniture.

My previous perfume organizational systems were always pretty much just “prettiest bottles up front,” but I feel like I should be taking advantage of the shelf’s segmentation. Any advice on the best ways to sort a collection?

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.)


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. 

An Economic Anxiety Diary

Two weeks of national chaos, as charted by my retail therapy.

January 22, 2017

Retail Therapy: Everlane Sweater Dress

My beautiful friend Katri stops by the shop for tea. I¬†show her my pictures from the Women’s March on Washington the day before. “You look just like your mom,” Katri says. My mother’s smile in the picture is as wide as her “Feminist” sticker.

January 26, 2017

Retail Therapy: Crazy Sexy Wool in Stonewash Blue, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #15, Snotgirl #2

My current nervous habit, brutalizing my cuticles with tweezers, has one fatal flaw: eventually you run¬†out of cuticles. Knitting seems like a healthier way to keep my hands busy, even if the only thing I currently know how to knit are increasingly long rectangles (“scarves” seems overly generous). As rumored, Looped Yarn Works (a very cute yarn shop in Dupont Circle)¬†is 100% sold out of pink yarn.

My favorite D.C. comic book shop, Fantom Comics, is just a few blocks away, and today they’re donating 15% of the days’ sales to Planned Parenthood in honor of the March for Life downtown. I pick up the new Squirrel Girl and a back-issue of Snotgirl. (Don’t let the gross¬†name scare you away from a¬†delicious murder mystery!)

January 27, 2017

Retail Therapy: The Ordinary Retinol 1% and 100% Cold Pressed Virgin Marula Oil

Woke up to¬†an¬†executive order banning Syrian refugees. Donated to the ACLU between bites of cereal. Both sets of grandparents are WWII refugees; my father’s father from Ukraine, my mother’s mother from Sicily. Are we still the country¬†that welcomed them? I¬†decide that I will face the coming days with clear goddamn skin.¬†Will report back on the retinol.

January 28, 2017

Retail Therapy: Jane Mai Motivational Notebook

The first day of the Lunar New Year. The shop is pleasantly busy all day, and my boyfriend and parents meet me for shabu-shabu after work. Life feels more full than I could ever deserve.¬†Apparently pomelos¬†symbolize¬†abundance and prosperity during¬†the Lunar New Year, so I make sure to hose myself down with Atelier Cologne Pomelo Paradis.¬†It’s a charmingly familiar tradition as a Jew; pomegranates (with their many seeds) are a Rosh Hashana symbol of¬†abundance.

January 31, 2017

Retail Therapy: Bond No. 9 New Haarlem

A lot of my first fragrance loves have drifted back onto my radar recently. Lipstick Rose, the first Frederic Malle I ever tried, sweet-talked me into bringing it home¬†at Aedes de Venustas last month. And when New Haarlem, which I wore to freaking prom, dropped below $100 on FragranceNet, I had to click “buy”. Is it nostalgia? An¬†escape to years that felt less troubled and uncertain?

The night of the inauguration, the unsinkable Alyssa Harad visited¬†Arielle Shoshana for¬†a reading of¬†her memoir, Coming To My Senses. The last passage she chose was¬†a¬†list of inalienable rights to which every perfume wearer is entitled, which ends, “The right, when she wants it, to take up some space.” New Haarlem, for better or¬†for worse, sure does take up space. This brazen frappachino of a perfume¬†is a talisman around my wrist,¬†a reminder that I have space to fill and ground to hold, too.

Alyssa Harad + enraptured audience.

Disclaimers: This post is not sponsored (could you tell?) and does not contain affiliate links.

Tom Ford Ombre Leather 16


Tom Ford gets a fair amount of sass¬†here on Scents of Self (see: “grody mustache” and “unworthy of a Drake verse“), so it’s nice to get to do a positive review this time! (Don’t think this means I’m softening on the stubble, Tom. I know you’re capable of beard greatness.)

Why would you not look like this if you could look like this??
What do I have to do to make you embrace the beard, Tom? Do I have to buy a bottle of Tobacco Vanille? Okay, you talked me into it. 

Ombre Leather 16, the new Private Blend inspired by Tom’s 2016 fall runway,¬†is a superbly plush leather. It’s not a rough, tanner’s leather (think Tauer Perfumes Lonestar¬†Memories, or Tom Ford’s own Tuscan Leather), and it’s not a delicate, handbag suede (Cuir de Lancome, Bottega Veneta). Ombre Leather 16 is a sofa leather, as smooth as the finest leather upholstery. Other notes listed include violet leaf, jasmine sambac, and cardamom, but they keep their heads down; it’s really all about the leather. Is Ombre Leather 16 worth $225 for 1.7 ounces? Only you can make that call. Does it smell like it could be? I have to say it does.

Disclaimers: This post is not sponsored and does not contain affiliate links. I tested Ombre Leather 16 at my local Nordstrom.