Whole Body

Make Your Own Perfume

The only custom botanical perfume bar in the United States is around the corner at Wayland Square

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What do I have in common with Sarah Jessica Parker, the Olsen Twins, and Rihanna? We’ve all created custom fragrances. What sets mine apart is what it lacks – besides a household name and an enormous marketing budget, my perfume is missing chemicals. I’ll call my signature scent Elyse, after all I never can find anything with my name on it; Elyse has no synthetics, petrochemicals, or dyes. I created it by appointment under the tutelage of Charna Ethier, proprietor and “head nose” of Providence Perfume Co.

The sign on the door reads, Come In We Smell Awesome, and it’s true. Unlike the sensory assault of department store counters, Providence Perfume Co. smells fresh. The luminous space is airy and pretty and stocked with bath, body, and beauty products handcrafted from natural ingredients. There is even a cache of gumball machines by the front door and for a quarter you can get a tiny sample, sachet, or sea shell.

For my session, Ethier leads me to a tall white table set with a note card and pen for recording my fragrance “recipe,” which will be kept on file in the shop’s card catalog. Like an elegant laboratory, the workspace is equipped with glass beakers, small mixing tools, and droppers. A ball of wool is within reach should my nasal palette need refreshing between whiffs.

The focal point of the table is the three-tiered pedestal holding cruets of colorful oils sorted by their “note” or staying power. We begin with the bottom tier of base notes, the last fragrance to linger on skin after the other notes have evaporated. Ethier has me sniff from each cruet in a game of this or that to pick favorites. This first intense group includes scents like patchouli (nope), frankincense (that’s real!?), and honey (yes).

The process of elimination continues to the second tier of heart or middle notes where I surprise myself by favoring tomato leaf over sweeter options like raspberry or apple oils. Finally the top notes, where I want to select sunflower essence upon learning it’s produced by a little old man in France, but opt for lemony
bergamot instead.

Prior to the final blending, I’m asked if I want my perfume to be alcohol or oil-based (spritzed and smelled by others, or rolled on and kept close to the wearer)? I select the new-to-me roll-on oil. Sourced from around the globe using laborious techniques, essential oils are expensive and so I’m careful. Drop by drop the oils are added to the small beaker followed by a gentle stirring and the dipping and sniffing of test strips. Once the smell is where I like it and deemed sound by Ethier, she pours the potion into a slender bottle and advises giving the contents a few days to settle. I’m so pleased with my bespoke fragrance that smells garden-fresh: kind of leafy and green with a hint of roses. If you happen to see me around town sniffing my wrists, you’ll know why.

Providence Perfume Co.
13 South Angell Street • 455-2325