When did you fall down the rabbit hole of perfumery?
I started designing perfume in1991 as a part time job in Boston, while I was in Art School. I convinced the owner of the shop to hire me with no experience in either fragrance or retail. It was a bespoke perfumery and I was expected to just do it” ( ie: work with a client to make their bespoke design on the spot). I managed to get through my first clients, albeit clumsily, and continued to work to learn the skills needed to do the job. Of course, I loved it! And although I didn’t have the word for it, I began to experience smell / color synesthesia as I was learning to memorize the materials. As the “smells” were colors and shapes for me, I started a practice of conceiving and creating the bespoke designs in the same way that I would create a painting. I also developed a skill for one of the services that we provided, which was to re-create, with a unique formula, old and discontinued perfumes using just our noses. ( No GC - MS analysis ). By 1993, I had completely fallen down the rabbit-hole of perfumery and changed my life course to pursue it full time. ( I also had student loans that needed to be paid, so I went into business… )
Were you into fragrance as a child?
Yes! Completely. I used to pick flowers constantly and make “potions” in my backyard (and in the bathtub with shampoo and soap). I even saved my allowance to buy perfumes… that my Mom promptly took away as they were too adult for me. LOL.
What are you most proud of in your fragrance career?
Longevity. Perseverance. Moving to Boulder and making it work from there instead of from either of the coasts. And believing that perfumery was a true art-form from the very beginning. It’s not just about commodities.
What are some challenges you faced while starting your career or your brand?
Well, I also started my career in the ‘long long ago’ before the internet. I started with a hand made, paper catalog that I copied and assembled from kinkos. I sent it to my clients in the mail and with their mail / phone orders. When I first moved to Boulder, I used to make “house calls” with traveling boxes of materials to my clients back in Boston. I had to hustle. I knew nothing about marketing or sales, really. I just believed in the art form and in my clients’ wishes to have something different. I did bespoke designs exclusively until 1997, when I created my first collection. By that time I had already done a number of consulting / “nose for hire” jobs and had some ideas about what I’d like to make as a first collection. Then, the next and ongoing challenge came: packaging. Always packaging. I still feel it’s the most difficult part to deal with.
One of our Scent Trunk themes is “choose your own scent adventure.” How do you encourage your customers to explore outside of their olfactive comfort zone?
Slowly. I don’t push. I think of myself more as a matchmaker. I listen to my clients needs, wishes, and dreams. Then I can not only point them in the direction of the olfactive answers they seek but I can try and intuit where they might want to go next that isn’t like where they've been. Sometimes they’re truly surprised that they could go to places they've never been and love it!
You’re very prolific! There seems to be no area of art or perfumery that you haven’t traversed yet. You have perfumes that cross all the the traditional descriptions of families and also multiples in those categories. Would you say you have an affinity for a particular style of perfuming? You seem to have a lot of rich gourmands, or warm complex fragrances. Do you tend to gravitate towards those?
I have to just say from the get go: I LOVE DESIGN! I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the act of creation… of thinking and feeling new designs and figuring out how to make the imaginary real. So… I have a deep need for inspiration, and to work with creating. That feeds the end result which is a very extensive catalog. It’s my madness, my muse, and my need: to create.
Also, I feel that being well versed in every genre is important to me; not only from an artistic standpoint, but also, so that when I am consulting for firms or teaching my students, I have a true sense of what I am trying to do. I come from a classical visual background which espouses the philosophy that you must have some mastery over the classics in order to understand when you move away from them into modernism, abstraction, and the like. I have taken this philosophy to heart when approaching perfumery. I have many classical perfume styles and many that are modern / abstractions. To that end, I don’t feel a special affinity, design wise, to any particular genre or style. I want to be able to swim in all waters and cross boundaries as I feel it.
You seem to have a lot of fragrances with Japanese or French names. Why is that?
I love the poetics of language. I love the way some words sound and the way they look. I’m always interested in wordplay and the use of words to convey more than just what they say. ( If that makes sense). I chose “Pamplemousse” over “Grapefruit” because Pamplemousse is so much more beautiful to look at, and to say. I realize that choosing words and phrases from other languages can be challenging for english speakers, but I feel that the titles need to express some of the poetry of the perfume. It’s a first impression that matters.
Your cross-over with Art seems really natural. Do you view your fragrances like an art piece? Or is it more multi-dimensional compared to a painting or something?
For me there is no separation between making visual art and making olfactory art / perfumery work. They are synonymous. I am a classically trained painter with synesthesia… so I “see” aromas in colors, opacities, shapes / relational designs; I “see’ them spatially; I sense their textures on my finger tips. This experience of aromas allows me to apply the way I would design visual art pieces to making a fragrance design. I think about them in the same way.
I always aspire to make art pieces, in all creative endeavors. Whether or not they are viewed / perceived that way is for my audience to decipher.
Do you keep everything in your collection because you have adoring fans or do you have a challenging time discontinuing certain fragrances?
With everything listed at my website, it might seem as though I never discontinue anything, but I’ve actually discontinued many designs over the years. I keep so many designs because, happily, I do have fans for them that get quite upset at the mere suggestion that their signature scents could go away. I have many clients who have been wearing the same scent for over twenty years. They’re very attached.
Also, I first started in perfumery, I developed a reputation for making unique formulas that ‘re-create’ a beloved, discontinued scent that my clients couldn’t let go of. (I still get queries for this service multiple times a month, but I don’t do this work any longer…). Through doing this work and meeting those clients I realized just how attached people get to their favorite scents. So, with my own collection, if I can make their design, I will, rather than discontinue it.
What is the best advice you’ve given or received?
Best advice given to me for first starting out: “Whatever you can do well yourself, do it. For the rest, hire a professional.”
Name: Dawn Spencer Hurwitz
Brand: DSH Perfumes
Year founded: 1993 (first incarnation of her brand); DSH Perfumes was founded in 2003.