“Your perfume is about you, your joy, your curiosity and your experience of the world,” says Tara Swords, founder of Olfactif, the monthly subscription service that delivers under-the-radar, often-hard-to-find indie fragrance samples directly to your door. But there’s a big difference between the perfumes you find at the department store and those that you might not ever see or sniff first-hand (and there happen to be a lot of them)…
Just how do indie scents differ from their mainstream counterparts? Swords explains, “Smaller fragrance houses have less pressure to make a big profit on every product they launch, and that gives them freedom to a lot of things. They can follow whatever creative ideas they want—there’s no finance department to say, ‘Our forecasts show this is off-trend for 2016, so we won’t be pursuing it.’ They can focus on the quality of their ingredients rather than seek out the cheapest possible materials to maximize profit margins. They can take their time to produce work that really is ready rather than constantly rush new releases to market. This all means that smaller fragrances houses tend to produce much more creative, high-quality work than big corporations.”
There’s no reason that a lack of widespread distribution will stop you from discovering the many magnificent scents out there. Here are a few ways to sidestep the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality associated with smaller, harder-to-find independent perfumeries.
Unless you cross the Atlantic, you might not know this London-based perfume house exists—and what a pity that would be. Specializing in scents inspired by places and people at a specific point in time, perfumer Sarah McCartney handcrafts each scent in small batches. If you happen to find yourself across the pond, be sure to pop in the West London studio for a custom scent, or check out one of their fragrance workshops.
My favorite: Centrepiece ($110) is a lighter, fresher version of Thierry Mugler’s Angel.
Brooklyn-based MCMC Fragrances is all about inspiration from specific people and places. With offerings for both women and men (as well as coordinating perfume oils and candles), the collection is the brainchild of Anne Serrano-McClain, who studied natural perfumery and aromatherapy before moving to Grasse, the perfume capital of France, for an intensive study of the history, techniques and practices of modern perfumery.
My favorite: Phoenix, a perfect-for-summer blend of peach, cherry blossom, neroli and vanilla.
Based in Scottsdale, Arizona, the father-and-son team of Jeffrey and Cullen Dame brings big-name fragrance experience to this niche brand. Their offerings for women and men include both single-note scents as well as innovative, adventurous blends.
My favorite: Pear, Water Lily & Amber, which is a fresh blend of precisely these notes.
How to discover indie scents
Small companies have small distribution, but there are a handful of companies that have figured out ways to deliver even the most hard-to-find scents directly to your door.
Subscribe to this service and three hefty samples of under-the-radar scents automatically land in your mailbox each month. Olfactif founder Tara Swords explains, “If you’re living in New York, you have some great opportunities to experience niche. But what if you’re living in Topeka? Or Tallahassee? Or the suburbs of Minneapolis? I started Olfactif to give people all over the country a fun, luxurious way to experience and explore the power of scent and to expand their olfactory palates.” The best part: You can apply the $18 monthly fee towards the purchase of the full-size fragrance of your choice.
If you love the latest prestige fragrance, but don’t want to spend $300 to on a full-size bottle, ScentBird comes to the rescue. They will send you an atomizer filled with a 30-day supply of even the priciest perfumes for just $14.95 a month so you can really try before you buy (or not). Options include prestige labels such as Tom Ford, Gucci and Bulgari, along with more obscure brands like Histoires de Parfums, Comptoir Sud Pacifique and Lisa Hoffman—so you can try everything that your heart (or nose) desires.
NOTE: Opinions are my own.