Choosing Your Own Scent Doesn't Have to be Rocket Science

"May I anoint you?" asked the owner of a little perfume shop on Newberry Street in Boston. Sarah Horowitz, a freshman at Emerson College, nodded in agreement and thus began her love affair with the mysteries of blending essential perfume oils.

Last week I wrote about the visit I made with my daughter, Gretchen, to Sarah Horowitz-Thran's company headquarters. We met in the fragrance journey room where Sarah blends custom scents for private clients. Sarah's private clients pay $500 for the privilege of consulting with a master in perfume design. I have been dropping heavy hints to Bob, "Wow, I'd love a private appointment. Imagine having Sarah construct a perfume just for me. I could have my own scent in bath oil or body lotion. What a wonderful gift."

The girls and I signed up for the online fragrance journey, now that we know the process really will produce a truly personalized scent. Maybe not as perfect as Sarah could create in person, but darn close. At $25 for three samples and a revision, how can you go wrong?

(Visit www.creativescent.com or call 597-9000).

As soon as my friends read last week's column, they asked me, "What's the catch?" I reassured them: There is no catch. Your formula goes into the Creative Scentualization data bank. You'll end up being a customer for life, ordering products with your personal scent. For those who aren't computer savvy, a print version can be ordered by mail. I first heard about this unique concept in an e-mail newsletter, The Tip Jar (www.thetipjar.com).

In Boston, Sarah haunted the perfume shop until she was offered a job there. She continued her college studies in communication, but perfume became her true passion. Just as Sarah graduated, the owner decided to sell the business. At 22, Sarah found a partner, borrowed money and bought the shop. "I had no business classes and no idea of what I was getting into, but I had to do it."she explained. Sarah continued to hone her skills at blending, and her self-education in the history, chemistry and business of perfume.

The cold winters and pressures of retailing took their toll. Sarah longed for the sunny beaches of California and felt that her fragrance journeys required peace and quiet. The interruptions in a retail shop weren't compatible with the privacy she needed.

The partners sold the shop and Sarah migrated to California. "Believe it or not, I bought a tool box from Sears. I put my vials inside and literally walked up and down the streets visiting shops," she said. Sarah ended up at Fred Segal, where she worked part-time for several years, while building a local client base. Many Boston customers continued to order by mail. Sarah also began to design fragrances for private labels, which she still does occasionally.

A good friend invited Sarah to come to a Valentine's Day party at Gameworks. Sarah arrived with her tool box and blended personalized scents on the spot. The illustrator who sat next to Sarah's friend asked her to design a perfume for his girlfriend. The two became friends and the young man arranged a fragrance journey for his mother. Mom was pleased with her scent and even more pleased with Sarah. "You should marry that girl," she told her son.

Five years later, he took his mom's advice!

Sarah's husband Greg Thran grew up in La Crescenta and graduated from Crescenta Valley High school in 1990. The couple have one daughter, Jessica, 16 months. Greg works as an illustrator and helps Sarah with customer service and Web design. The family recently visited Greg's brother, Geoff, in Arizona. Geoff's daughter, Savannah, is a month younger than Jessica.

The Thrans love to entertain. The day we visited, Sarah was planning a casual Italian-style dinner party. She e-mailed her recipes for our readers. I also promised to pass along Sarah's tips on successful perfume shopping at a retail store.

If you read the New Yorker article I recommended a couple weeks ago, you already know that modern commercial perfumes are designed to be sniffed on a paper strip. The scent will burst forth brightly and quickly from the paper. Then it disappears. You could be disappointed if you buy without testing the fragrance on your skin.

Respect others in the workplace by avoiding perfume or try a light scent. Apply behind the ears or on wrist sparingly. No one at work should know you're wearing fragrance, unless they kiss you. I've never been kissed at work, but I've always been prepared, just in case.

When selecting perfume, look for the expert behind the counter. The expert will ask a few questions, make suggestions and let you sniff on paper. Pick two or three favorites. Dab them on wrists and inside your elbow. Make a note on the paper strip that matches the perfume to help you recall name/location. (I use l, r, e, for left wrist, right and elbow.) Continue shopping. Sniff occasionally. After 20 to 30 minutes, you will know how the perfume mixes with your body chemistry and you can accurately assess the scent's lasting power. Then go back to make the purchase.

On the other hand, as the shop owner said to Sarah, when he anointed her that first time, "You're unique. Shouldn't your fragrance be unique, too?"

Write Duvall at boblynn@ix.netcom.com or in care of the Valley Sun.

Basil Appetizer

1. In a large heavy pot, saute chopped vegetables: 2 cloves garlic, 2 carrots, 2 stalks celery, 1 yellow onion in 2 tablespoons olive oil, until golden brown.

2. Add 1 pound lean ground pork, 1 pound ground lean beef, 4 Italian sausages. Saute until golden brown.

3. Add 1-2 cups of white wine, and salt, pepper and thyme to taste.

4. When wine evaporates, add 2 tablespoons tomato paste, and 2 quarts tomato sauce. Cover and simmer over very low flame for 3 hours, stir occasionally.

5. Serve over ribbed penne.

Tuscan Meat Sauce With Penne

1. In a large heavy pot, saute chopped vegetables: 2 cloves garlic, 2 carrots, 2 stalks celery, 1 yellow onion in 2 tablespoons olive oil, until golden brown.

2. Add 1 pound lean ground pork, 1 pound ground lean beef, 4 Italian sausages. Saute until golden brown.

3. Add 1-2 cups of white wine, and salt, pepper and thyme to taste.

4. When wine evaporates, add 2 tablespoons tomato paste, and 2 quarts tomato sauce. Cover and simmer over very low flame for 3 hours, stir occasionally.

5. Serve over ribbed penne.

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