Scents With Sensibility

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

So, you've scoured the fragrance counter at Nordstrom, searching high and low for a perfume that calls out your name. You've sniffed so many, you can't tell one from the other, and now your splitting headache is begging you to make up your mind.

Regardless, you forge on, finally deciding on one that's unique--or so you thought. Little did you know that your best friend, the neighbor across the street and two women you work with wear it too.

The clients of Sarah Horowitz, a Malibu perfumer who creates customized scents from scratch, never have that problem.

"Wearing a fragrance is more than just about smelling good," said Horowitz, whose business is called Creative Scentualization. "It should evoke who you are and where you are in your life."

Could it be true? In a beauty world filled with potions and lotions promising you lips like Angelina Jolie and a dimple-free derriere like that of Jennifer Lopez, Horowitz has taken the focus away from emulating the celebrity du jour and put it back on being yourself.

By guiding clients along an involved question-and-answer session that she calls a "fragrance journey," she bottles a personality into something that is just like you, one of a kind.

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Horowitz works at the end of a Malibu canyon road in a cozy rented guest house overlooking the water. She sits her clients in front of her "fragrance organ," an apothecary-style piece of furniture with wood shelves containing more than 200 essential oils.

She asks questions: Where did you grow up? What's your favorite flower? Favorite time of day? Favorite foods? What scents did your parents wear while you were growing up?

"Your sense of smell is directly linked to the part of your brain that holds memories and emotions," said Horowitz, 30. "I've had people start talking about their childhood memories in association with a scent, and then I'll show them the scent, and it will trigger that memory so deeply that they'll start crying."

Not that she wants all her clients to have an emotional breakdown in her office, but she does feel that the best fragrances are produced when someone is truly in tune with themselves.

"It's like therapy," she said. "In order to make someone a fragrance that represents who they are and what they love, you need to know about them." A successful scent, she added, "exemplifies all the things a person loves, so when they smell it, it floods them with positive, empowering thoughts."

Once Horowitz acquires a sense of her client's taste, she pulls down several bottles from her kit and groups them into families (tangerine will sit with other citrus scents, cedar goes with the woods, and gardenia with the florals). She asks her subject to pick out the ones she likes and dislikes. Between sniffs of the oils, clients clear their "palates" by inhaling the aroma of coffee beans.

It takes between one and 1 1/2 hours to create a perfume, which the client then has the honor of naming. (Her fee is $255 for a quarter-ounce of perfume oil, the most concentrated scent available, which can last up to a year. Refills cost about $60.)

Should someone catch the scent and decide they'd love to wear it, too, Horowitz requires written permission from the owner.

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Lisa Guerin, a Los Angeles psychologist, has been to Horowitz for three customized scents, which she has named Journey, Purr and Growl.

"I wanted them to punctuate something that was going on in my life at the time," Guerin said.

Mariaschelle Inonog, a feature film coordinator who has been a faithful customer, echoed the sentiment.

"I've strayed once or twice [to the fragrance counter] since I've known Sarah, and every time I come running back," she said. "I'd rather have something that is strictly mine, made from scratch."

Horowitz has been interested in the art of perfume blending since she was a freshman at Massachusetts' Emerson College and stumbled across a perfume "blending bar" in Boston. She went to work there, began studying the art of perfume making, and eventually bought the business with a partner.

"I didn't know what I was getting myself into, running a business fresh out of college," she said. Six years ago, looking for a change and better weather, Horowitz moved to Malibu, where she set up shop.

Besides her custom operation, Horowitz makes a less expensive "ready to wear" line, called Perfect Perfume, that she sells at Fred Segal Santa Monica and through her own Web site, at http://www.creativescent.com.

She also offers private-label fragrances to boutiques and is hoping to launch a daylong spa retreat in Malibu, offering yoga, massage, reflexology, a fragrance journey and lunch.

The Long Island, N.Y., native hasn't given up the East altogether. Once every six to eight weeks she sets up shop at Manhattan's Shoreham Hotel. Twice a year she works with British clients at Harrods in London. She estimates she creates about 225 scents a year.

"This has been a labor of love since I was 17," Horowitz said. "I love sharing the education of perfume and creating fragrances, so the fact that it's manifested into this huge thing is truly amazing."

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