Uncorked! Natural Perfumers Guild Members Blogging Event: Happy 5th Anniversary - and My Path To Natural Perfumery]

Twenty Guild members are joining me in pulling out the stopper, uncorking the stories of our natural perfumery paths. Like effervescent top notes, our stories are released, ticking our memories and sharing them as they waft out over the Internet.  I hope you love reading all of the fragrant bios as much as I do.  Links to their blogs are at the bottom of this post.  Enjoy!

I grew up thinking all fragrances were natural: flowers, gasoline, floor cleaner, deodorant, lightening bugs, hairspray, dirt, and particularly, perfumes. As a child I sniffed everything, and I dabbed myself with perfumes with wild abandon.

I was lucky that I grew up two blocks away from the biggest public park in the world, Fairmont Park in Philadelphia.  It gave a bucolic respite from the row houses and tiny yards of the tightly-packed streets where I lived. 

The street where I grew up in Philadelphia, two blocks from Fairmont Park. Memories of roses, boxwood, iris flowers flood me as I look at this photo. I pruned the three hedges in the photo, and was the one in charge of the "lawn", too. Crisp, wet green predominates in my Scent Memory of that front yard, basil and tomatoes of the rear yard. ;-)

Fairmont Park, 8800 acres of fragrant wonderland to explore as a child

Fairmont Park had pine groves, wet, muddy hillsides to clamber down, a fetid "crick" aka creek to cross, meadows and bosques towering 70 feet tall. No flowers, but air charged with fragrant, natural molecules that are still in my Scent Memory.

But this image captures my childhood memories of what I was addicted to:

Yes, I thought all scents were natural, even the strawberry and blueberry fragrance oils from the Body Shop on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, circa 1971.  After all the hippies had taken to patchouli oil like flies to honey in the 60's, and Telegraph Avenue was the epicenter of the hippie world, so it was natural.  Never questioned it.

Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, circa 2011
I collected essential oils from all the hippie head shops, but we didn't call them essential oils, they were just "oils".  In 1975, I moved to Riverside, California to attend college, and made friends with the two gentlemen that ran the Bannockburn bookstore just off campus.  They were retired salesmen from Aromatic Products, Inc., NYC and when I asked about perfume books, we became immediate friends.  They gifted me with two of their old salesman kits, and I was in heaven.  But...what is this...some of the bottles were marked synthetics?! What's a synthetic scent?


My first kit of aromatic wonders. Probably from the 50's or 60's, given to me in 1975.  Held together by scotch tape, it's a treasure to me. I had a second one, but it fell apart years ago, and I still miss it.

The salesman's kit from Aromatic Products, Inc., NYC, with the original synthetic aromatics in the center row, the two milliliter bottles from The Magic Dragon, Westlake, Los Angeles in the top and bottom rows.

The labels faded, so I wrote new labels. Concentrate Daphne, Ionone Pure, Cassie Syn. Super, Cinnamic Alcohol, Geraniol, etc. They all have a similar sickly sweetness. I knew immediately that the pure and natural oils from the Magic Dragon were "real".  They had extreme variability in scent profile, were complex and just so, so different from the synth oils.

Now my search began in earnest.  I found good suppliers, Aphrodisia in NYC, Penn Herbs in Philly, and I began my oil collection.  The salesmen turned me on to William I Kaufman's book Perfume and helped me figure out how to do the exercises in there.  I was in heaven!  In 2003, when I first wrote about this book, I believe I started a run on sales that drove up the price.  The sales/demand phenomena was even mentioned in Perfumer and Flavorist magazine!

Kaufman's book graced by a jasmine sambac grand duke of tuscany flower

I also obtained Roy Genders Perfume Through the Ages book at that time.
Study, study, study.  Experiment, experiment, experiment. Dab oils on friends, dab oils on friends, sniff differences due to skin types.

Never dreamed of being a perfumer. It just wasn't an option for an American, was it?

(Phew, as I write this, I have to close the lid of the salesman's kit, the sweet synths are a bit too much.)

So I graduated with a degree in Economic Botany, a discipline I petitioned the Board of Regents for, since it was not on the curriculum at UCR. My petition focused on fragrant plants, their cultural and economic importance.

I entered graduate school for Landscape Architecture, still focusing on fragrant plants, but now able to incorporate them in neighborhood- or subdivision-scale, due to the land planning and design aspect of my Masters studies.

1979 - read Robert Tisserand's book on aromatherapy, the first one published in English.  Who knew that the pure and natural essential oils could heal!? If I was on the path to use only natural oils, this book secured my loyalty to them.

I was buying absolutes in the 70's, jasmine and rose, for instance, and I didn't know the difference between them and EOs, since they weren't labeled as such!

The 90's were the determining years for me as a perfumer.

A photo of some of the surviving oils from Anya's Tropical Essences, circa 1991-1997 or so, on my perfume organ.
I moved to Miami, and started blending oil-based perfumes under the name Anya's Tropical Essences.  I gave the perfumes names that reflected the geographic origins of where the primary oil came from.  So, if I built a perfume around frankincense, it was East Africa, sandalwood, India Wood, lavender, Riviera, etc.   I sold the line on South Beach, going from hotel to hotel, restaurant to restaurant, selling them out of the back of my car, along with fragrant plants, like chocolate geranium and culinary herbs.  I made friends with chefs and hotel owners, and the world of perfumery blossomed for me, literally.

My catchy phrase for selling?  "These natural perfumes won't turn sour on your skin in the hot, humid climate like synthetic perfumes will."  Wow, what a saleswoman! LOL.

After a few years I slowly drifted away from Anya's Tropical Essences as a retail business because these perfumes gave me entry into the world of private label and custom perfume work, which was much more profitable, plus, I was now working PR for many Miami bands and the Bob Marley family, promoting their annual music festival.

The year 2000 woke me up.  The Millennium. Time to reinvent myself as a perfumer, learn new aromatics, put myself out there.  For my birthday, I treated myself to 50 EOs and absolutes from the glorious collection at Inner Sanctuary, an aromatherapy business of the wonderful Dianna Pierce.  I went back to my evaluation forms, and sniffed my way through the oils over and over, comparing and contrasting, committing them to my Scent Memory.

Inner Sanctuary's homepage and a snippet of a page that listed her oils.

In 2000, I started a perfumery chat group on idma.com.  In 2002, I joined the first incarnation of the Natural Perfumers Guild, run by Mandy Aftel, and was saddened when it was quickly closed before a community could develop. (I didn't have her book yet, I purchased that in 2005, but I knew it was inspiring lots of folks to get into natural perfumery.) Also in 2002, I started the Yahoo Natural Perfumery chat group, which now numbers over 2000 members, and is a big part of my life.  It was set up as an *educational* chat group, and remains so to this day.  I am very proud of this group, often imitated, but never duplicated ;-)

The homepage image for the Yahoo Natural Perfumery group, taken from John Trueman's book Fragrance: The story of Perfume from Cleopatra to Chanel.  It had scratch and sniff labels (some were natural, some synths)! I bought up a dozen of these when they were first published, and gave them to friends as gifts.  I believe it was published in 1984-85, and is out of print.

My collection of raw materials was now growing, and I was able to offer my custom perfume clients a much wider choice of scents, but I still wasn't ready to start a retail line again.  I wanted to blend in alcohol, and through Mandy Aftel's book, did discover Remet in California.  I ordered five gallons. Yep, just the right about to start a microbusiness, LOL.  

Then I discovered organic alcohol suppliers, and launched Anya's Garden Perfumes in 2006.  And here I am. Long, naturally-fragrant road, yes?

Mandy Aftel gave me the Natural Perfumers Guild in December 2005, in her words "because you know how to run a group and build a community", and I launched it on June 1, 2006, and here we are.  The Guild has grown and thrived, mostly due to the energy and beautiful products of the members.  We're now moving into a more responsible, focused stage in our growth, becoming a trade association that will address standards, guidelines and policies, to help our industry self-regulate and have self-determination as much as possible, with minimal government interference.

In 2007, due to demand from members of the Yahoo Natural Perfumery group, I began offering a course in natural perfumery.  Over 90 students have entered the Natural Perfumery Institute, and I delight in their enthusiasm, and I constantly challenge myself to add to the knowledge base of natural perfumery, balancing the alchemic with the scientific, two factions that have not always been at peace with each other.  

Who knew the little girl running through the meadows of Fairmont Park, splashing Chanel No. 5 on herself, stealing the neighbor's roses, and sniff, sniff, sniffing her way through life could evolve into a perfume instructor, association president and natural perfumer? It was in the cards, I guess, but mostly in the bottles, bottles that contained the most glorious, rare and delicious scents, all natural.

ETA:  Now I live surrounded by my fragrant garden, where I grow many rare, beautiful flowers and plants that I use in my perfumerie.  What a nice path through life I've had!  To view many photos of my garden, please visit my Facebook page, and "like" the page to see when I post about perfume and gardens and life.

And now, here we are, celebrating the Guild's fifth anniversary.  It's truly a wonderful day, and I am humbled at the wonderful people who have joined the Guild, and I can only hope to continue to guide the Guild as a community of like-minded souls that want natural aromatics to continue to be available, to have the demand for them grow in human consciousness, as we educate folks about the difference between them and synths, and most of all, to grow in our skill of blending and creating new, exciting natural fragrances to offer to the world.

Please take time to visit the Guild member's blogs today.  We are all Uncorked!  Our stories are intimate, and many are revealing their path to natural perfumery for the first time.  I can't wait to read them all.

Due to different time zones, the Guild bloggers may post on May 31 or June 1, 2011.  If you are reading this blog in the future, and wish to visit the Uncorked! post, just search for those dates on the respective blog.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy my naturally-fragrant bio.

PS: check out my blog post from yesterday because there is a membership special through June 15.  New members can get 25% off their annual fee.

Lord's Jester Inc  http://lordsjesterinc.wordpress.com/
Being Led by the Nose  http://aleclawless.blogspot.com
Anu Essentials Blog  http://anuessentials.com/blog/

Providence Perfume  http://providenceperfume.blogspot.com
A Little Ol'Factory  http://alittleolfactory.blogspot.com/
DSH Notebook  http://dshnotebook.wordpress.com/
Perfume Journal http://perfumejournal.blogspot.com/ 
Bellyflowers  http://bellyflowers.blogspot.com
The Western Cape Perfumery http://www.roseenbos.com/category/blog
Ca Fleure Bon  http://cafleurebon.com
Les Parfums d'Isabelle  http://lesparfumsdisabelle.wordpress.com/
Natural Perfumes  http://www.joannebassett.com/natural_perfumes
Aromatics International  http://www.aromaticsinternational.com/blog/
Olive and Oud  www.oliveandoud.blogspot.com
Blossoming Tree Bodycare  http://blossomingtree.blogspot.com
Ellenoire  http://ellenoire.blogspot.com/
I'm Just Saying  http://roberttisserand.com/blog/
Olfactory Rescue Service  http://olfactoryrescueservice.wordpress.com/
Aromatherapy Contessa  http://aromatherapycontessa.com
Absolute Trygve  http://absolutetrygve.blogspot.com


  1. What a tale !!!
    I'm so glad you regaled us.
    It's a long journey, full of surprise , wonder, naivete.
    Happy to know the backstory ;-0

  2. Anya - this was so much fun to read and I love the photos! Thanks for putting this all together, it's been a great experience.

  3. Thank you Anya for continuing with the Guild after all of these years. I really enjoyed reading your story. Great to share in this Uncorked event.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story. So much fun and look were it has led. Thank you for continuing with the Guild. Many more years to come... blogging events...and perfumes to create. JoAnne

  5. A great story Anya. The old aromatics kit from the salesman is incredible! How I'd love to sniff all the old aromachemicals to see what has changed and what has stayed the same over the years. I smiled when I read your sales pitch for your tropical essences--I'll bet it worked! Thanks for sharing your journey with us and coordinating this project so we can all get to know each other better.

  6. Anya, your story is so great and fascinating and your knowledge is difficult to match!
    I just could recognise the old 'Patchouli' oil in your kit... It was a must-have in the 70's and my parents hated it when I was wearing it...
    I do hope that the Guild will grow to become an internationally recognised professional association.
    Thank you for the work you do to promote natural perfumery.

  7. Thanks, Anya, for putting this event together. I loved reading your story.

  8. How cool was that to move cross country and happen to connect with two people who worked in an area you are interested in. It was just meant to be. :) Congratulations on another successful year!

  9. Hi, my name is Sigrun and I've just started my very first perfume creation project at home in my kitchen. Thanks for your story and for those blog links. What a great source of inspiration!


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