Every scent obsessive has a gateway scent, the one that started it all for them. For me, it was OLO’s Dafne — a scent that found me in the dead of winter, much like the daphne bloom itself — and reminded me that life will return soon.
So it was a special surprise for me to discover last winter that Heather Sielaff, the nose behind OLO, had opened a studio and shop on Belmont, one of my favorite streets in Portland.
Visiting a place like this is a pilgrimage of sorts because the decision itself is a value statement. You are saying: I want to give myself half an hour or even a few hours engaging with my sense of smell and imagination in a place free of distraction. I want to stand in the space with the person who created these scents and open myself up to experiencing this person’s way of ordering the world artistically.
It’s a shame there is no corresponding olfactory word for “artist’s vision” that doesn’t rely on seeing.
OLO’s shop, Milk Milk Lemonade, is artfully laid out to feel like a curated space while appreciating the pleasures of a historic building. There I was able to meet Heather for the first time (we had chatted by phone a few years ago), and smell her growing line of artisan perfumes. Sielaff is an artist through and through, giving considerable attention to each choice in the creation and marketing of her scents. She has no interest in holding classes on how to blend and really, I sense, doesn’t like interacting. I say that because it is refreshing, in an age of forced connection, to meet someone who insists on interacting through the creation. She has a nice story about the time she asked a gaffer to create a perfume bottle shaped like a breast, but which was much to expensive to bring to creation commercially.
These are some of the standout scents I took home with me that day.
This is a happy blend of floral and citrus that nevertheless feels new and fun, like a polka-dot dress on a bright, sunny day. Bergamot and jasmine almost shake off their connection to their natural origins with the addition of a lightly pungent and sassy patchouli. It dries down sweet and mellow with a vanilla note, but overall the effect is to conjure the same feelings as the Innocence Mission song: Bright As Yellow.
Erastus: Tobacco, Whiskey, Wood
Erastus is a Portland scent if there ever was one. Think: drinking whiskey in a library with ironic taxidermy. My problem with this scent is that the images it conjures feel so well established. The whiskey and tobacco scents are excellent, leather-elbowed colleagues. You can almost sense them shaking each others’ hands in an old library. But like all of her scents, it feels authentic, drawn from reality but at the same time curated for effect. For me, the dark nostalgia of this one would feel compelling on a partner but not for personal use.
So here’s something that concerns me about perfumes. If you seek them out, you experience the name first, which is bound to affect how you experience the scent. Imagine the different between picking up a bottle on a counter or just smelling something amazing off someone’s neck? With Wyeth, I was drawn in by the name — I’m a PA girl at heart and Andrew Wyeth’s stark landscapes that somehow allow us to see our world at the same time as experiencing his reality are tattooed in my brain. But this has nothing to do with that. The pine resin is somewhat strong in this but never feels anything less than the aroma generated when walking through a dried Oregon forest. If you want a true geographic scent this is it, though if you tried to pinpoint its point of collection on a map you’d have to find a campsite, in the Oregon coastal foothills, the fire burned down, and you’re walking a path nearby, morning mist departing. That’s right, it’s the Matt Love of perfumes!
Pepper and flower notes seem to go so well together, soft and sharp meeting to make a full shape, much as a young lover might fall from someone from the other side of the tracks and realize they fit like puzzle pieces. Here it is instantly intriguing, a reminder of what I am drawn to about independent perfumes in the first place. It confounds expectations, gives you a little razzle dazzle at the beginning before leading you by the hand to a place that is more comforting. There, as the scent develops, it wraps you in something more familiar — floral, warm cinnamon and geranium.
Have you tried these or have another favorite? Please share in the comments! Follow Emily on Twitter @emilygrosvenor