Perfumers' Afternoon Tea @ Alembique 23.03.2013

Last Saturday, on March 23rd, we hosted a perfumers' afternoon tea at Alembique - an up and coming perfume boutique in Berkeley (901 Hearst Ave) that will open to the public exactly a month from today, on May 1st.

Alembique's sign - photo courtesy of Yosh Han 

It was my dream come true: hosting a tea party for all the wonderful perfumers in the Bay Area who have been most kind to me in my countless visits to San Francisco in the past 2 years. It was my way of expressing my gratitude, and giving back to this very warm, vibrant, supportive and creative community. There was also a hidden agenda - I wanted to try out hosting a tea party with my daughter outside of my own studio space. We both love hosting those parties, and I have a vision of traveling the world with her when she finishes school, connect with new people and cultures through tea, and get to know the world. This was a very successful experiment!

Perfumers Afternoon Tea at Alembique March 23, 2013
Me and Miss T arriving in Alembique, Berkeley

Painting the shop!
Team Alembqieu painting the shop, hanging the signs...
Photo by Babak (Alembique's shop owner)

Elise Setting up the Window Display
Setting up the window display
Photo by Babak (Alembique's shop owner)

Perfumers Afternoon Tea at Alembique March 23, 2013
Put a bird on it!
Love how that big shadow looks like a perfume bottle...

Shopping for breads at ACME Bakery
Lineup outside of ACME bakery in Berkeley

Shopping for breads at ACME Bakery
They do everything at ACME - excpet slice your bread for you... SO Berkeley...!

Shopping for breads at ACME Bakery
There is more bread than a girl!

Tamya making Halva cookies
Miss T making halva cookies (tahini shortbreads)

Email break while preparing for the tea party
Social media break in the Alembqieu courtyard...

Rose Petals & Almond Biscuits
Rose and almond ice box cookies - before and after. These turned out so good that I didn't even have a chance to taste one... Will be making more for my Hanami tea party on Sunday, April 7th.

Rose Petals & Almond Biscuits - Fresh from the oven!

Ras El Hanout Fudgey Brownies - fresh from the oven!
The fudgiest, tastiest, most exotique brownies ever: with ras el hanout, and gluten free.

And here's a little glimpse into tea-party central (photo by Babak Nahid, Alembique's owner):
Behind the Tea
Making the truffles with Miss T, Bruno Fazzolari and his daughter, Lily (Babak took that one too).
Making Ylang Ylang & Cassis Truffles with Bruno, Lily and Tamya

Ragna Rostad-Ruffner & Elise Pearlstine
Ragna Rostad-Ruffner (Divine Life Perfumes) and Elise Pearlstine (Bellyflowers Perfumes) helping me at the kitchen. The preparations were just as fun as the tea itself: A true community effort, and so great to work with everyone. Did I mention yet that it was my dream come true?

Whimsical displays at Alembqiue (photos courtesy of Yosh Han)

Ayala Moriel Parfums display at Alembique - notice the new packaging!
Ayala Moriel Parfums display at Alembique - with and without the perfumer (photographed on my iPhone by the Phil, the generous and gentle Alembique landlord, who kindly let me take over his kitchen for 2 days!
Notice my new packaging...!
Ayala Moriel Parfums display at Alembique

Everyone who came to the salon was invited, but not everyone could come. And then - I did not take photos of everyone either... But there were wonderful perfumers and scent artists from all over North America - even from as far away as Florida (Elise Pearlstine from Bellyflowers Perfume/Tambela), Magie Mahboubian (Parfums Lalun), Dannielle Sergent (COGNOSCENTI), Yosh Han (YOSH Olfactory Sense), Miriam Vareldzis (40notes), Josh Meyer (Imaginary Authors), Ineke Ruhland & Bill O'Such (Ineke Perfumer San Francisco), Bruno Fazzolari, Bill and Lily (Bruno Fazzolari Editions), Mandy Aftel and Foster Curry (Aftelier), Ragna Rostad-Ruffner (Divine Life Perfumes), Mario T. Gomez (Fragrance Ambassador extraordinaire), JK DeLapp, Ross Urrere (Urrere Aromatics), who in the spirit of sharing brought his incredible loose incense blend Ocean of Night (I will have to dedicate a post to that), Jennifer Caine (Smells & Bells), Sherri Sebatian (Sebastian Signs), Lisa Camasi, Laurie Stern (Velvet & Sweet Pea's Purrfumery), Lisa Fong (Artemisia Natural Perfume), Sanae Barber (Sanae Intoxicants), Yuko Fukami (Parfum Phyto); and of course team Alembique - Babak Nahid, Erinn, Jasper, Phil, and Dodger.    
Bruno Fazzolari and Magie Mahboubian
Bruno Fazzolari sharing his debut collection that debuted at the show the next day. Everyone enjoyed it so much! In the picture above you can see Bruno proudly watching Magie Mahboubian from Parfums Lalun explore his scents. And below, Miriam Vareldzis from 40notes and having a moment of bliss while inhaling his first fragrance creation, Five. It's a classic citrus scent that was the 5th piece in an art show that included 4 of his paintings. 
Miriam Vareldzis experiencing Bruno's perfume

Bruno Fazzolari Editions pre-reveal at the tea!
Bruno's debut collection of 5 perfumes.

Perfumers Afternoon Tea at Alembique March 23, 2013
Mandy and Foster have served Aftelier's amazing scented teas - GABA Oolong with Frankincense and the Jasmine & Mint oolong.

Mario, Mandy, Foster & Miriam 
Miriam Vareldzis, Foster Curry, Mandy Aftel and Mario T. Gomez having a conversation over a cup of tea. 

 Babak Nahid and Ross Urrere - photo courtesy of Yosh Han 

 Apple Blossom wall at Alembqiue - photo courtesy of Yosh Han 

 photo courtesy of Yosh Han 

 Bruno and Bill - photo courtesy of Yosh Han 

 Dodger - the alchemical dog - photo courtesy of Yosh Han 
Erinn Nahid - Alembqiue partner and curator (and the event's ad-hoc decorator and florist) - photo courtesy of Yosh Han 

 Glowing Ineke - photo courtesy of Yosh Han 
 Elise and Yosh - photo courtesy of Yosh Han 

 Jennifer & Sherri - photo courtesy of Yosh Han 
Another stellar portrait courtesy of Yosh Han  this time of the hostess.

Mario, Dannielle and a parallel-universe group photo! - photo courtesy of Yosh Han 

Perfumers Afternoon Tea at Alembique March 23, 2013
The full spread... Was too busy hosting, so did not have time to take photos of each individual plate.

The menu was as follows:
Tea sandwiches:
Spicy Moroccan carrots with roasted pepper hummus.
Minted radishes
Cucumber & watercress
Classic egg salad

Scones: aniseed & malepi (black cherry pit) scones served with creme fresh (Berkeley Bowl did not have fresh Devonshire cream, if you can believe it!) and with raspberry jam and fig preserves.

Raw & vegan coconut macarons
Rose & Almond Shortbreads
Saffron Shortbreads
Fudgey Brownies with Ras el Hanout (my secret recipe, which really has the best spices imaginable!)
Ylang Ylang & Creme de Cassis truffles

Teas served:
Osmanthus flower tea (herbal)
Ayala Moriel's Espionage tea (lapsan suchong with jasmine petals, rosebuds, vanilla and ambrette seeds) - not yet released
Aftelier's Frankincense GABA Oolong
Aftelier's Jasmine & Mint Oolong
Thai tea (courtesy of fragrance ambassador Mario T. Gomez)

Omniscent 0.96

Omniscent 0.96 (Yosh) is a nearly all-encompassing scent that is a little play on a potent word *, and defies categorization as it feels like a few perfumes in one. It's colourful, free spirited, comforting, familiar and yet at the same time intriguing and full of surprises.

It all begins with a shrinkingly familiar yet mysterious accord of aloe-vera hand & body lotion my mom used to have eons ago (and shared with me very generously), and Opium parfum combined. There's also the pink pepper note set against vanilla that made me fall hard for Ormonde Jayne’s Ta’if the moment I smelled it (but no roses or saffron here). If there is any basil in the top notes, it's only imparting a spicy, eugenol note that gives it that immediate "oriental" feel.

And there's also the thick, nearly overpowering presence of khus oil, which is a popular oil perfume from India that you would find in folk festivals or on Haight street (or Commercial Drive if you're in Vancouver - which is where I first found all those rich, oriental single note oils such as amber, Egyptian musk and Khus). It's not ruh khus (the traditional distillation of vetiver oil), and it's also not cannabis or vetiver fragrance oil, but kind of a mix of both, which eventually smells just very sweet, woody, rich and intoxicating.

Floral notes are lurking in its midst - big ones such as gardenia, tuberose, and also the quieter, soapy and demure lilac, accompanied by milky, powdery fig accord. But it is by no means floral – these notes rather amount to an abstract, imaginary orchid impression, something that might have been taken out of a mother-of-pearl tinted floral illustration of lotus and peonies on a lacquered Chinese treasure chest. Sandalwood fans in the background release a creamy-woodsy scent that weaves in and out whenever it gets a chance to peak through the stronger personalities involved.

A couple of hours in, the vanilla gets amplified, and it slowly mellows down until the drydown, which is subtle and delicious: sandalwood, vanilla, musk and patchouli, staying close to the skin and having a sensual, dry-yet-sweet appeal that is perhaps what I like the most about Omniscent. This phase will last through the day (or night) and feels like its has a very clean finish.

Omniscent nearly escapes the completely headshoppy categorization simply because there is more to it than just this one single note or another. It has evolution and tells it's story in the Yosh style - which I came to know as free spirited, and humorous: it never takes itself too seriously, this way or another, which leaves just enough room for you to create your own narrative if you wish.

You can find Omniscent at Barneys, Scent Bar or online on LuckyScent.
This review is for the eau de parfum, which is lighter and less dense and dark than the parfum oil (in the numbered flacons).

Top notes: Aloe Vera, Basil, Pink Grapefruit, Pink Pepper

Heart notes: Tuberose, Gardenia, Lilac, Fig, Violet

Base notes: Sandalwood, Vanilla, Musk, Khus, Patchouli

* Omniscient means having total knowledge, knowing everything, and is often one of the attributes of God.

Blind Tests at Barneys

Since I haven't had enough time the day before to smell much at Barneys by Union Square, I had to pay them a second visit before heading to wine country (poor me...). I took the bus down Geary street, which was an interesting people watching experience on its own right, and slowly but surely made my way to the corner of O'Farrel & Stockton. The cosmetics/fragrance department is downstairs, and some of the sales reps already recognized me from yesterday, so I couldn't go incognito, which is my favourite way of perfume shopping.

I wanted to take another look at Yosh's lovely display (which I'm showing you again here) and also explore a few lines that I wasn't familiar with, including the only organic line that seemed to have survived there - Horst Rechelbacher's new company of organic lifestyle brand Intelligent Nutrients, which is basically an organic version of Aveda (even seems to use the same font), released once his non-compete agreement with Estee Lauder expired. Nothing about it is significantly different - similar packaging, similar scents - line certfied organic multi-functional aromas of more complex, aromatherpeutic-smelling perfumes in the likes of the former Aveda Chakra scents (there are also 7 of them...), with names such as Awaken, Attune, Nurture, Restore, Focus... And the other perfumes are very simple single notes - Jasmine or Mint.

The other line I explored was Le Labo, for the first time really, as I've never been any near their retail store since my visit to Blunda in West Hollywood, and at that time I was too busy with the Hanami perfume exhibition to make it down there. I liked what they did with some of the scents Iris 39, Pathcouli 24, Oud 27, Labdanum 18 were the easily most memorable, which shouldn't be a surprise as I love these notes; and believe it or not - their Calone room spray also left a positive impression on me, though I doubt I'll ever buy or use it - it was certainly intriguing. But the highlight of the counter for me was the opportunity to blind test myself with some 45 or so raw aromatics (most of them natural). The bottles are lined up in a little silver case, and only numbered, not labeled. Thanks to Jonatha, the helpful rep at the Le Labo counter, he told me if I was right or wrong.

I get very little chance to test my nose like I do to my students (the only times when I truly was able to get "blind tested" was when I went to a week long course in Grasse, France), so it was a fun and internesting experiment (and also quite a relief that I got most of them right). The ones I didn't guess right among the naturals I'm familiar were a little "off" from sitting in the alcoholic solution in a bottle for too long, or were just such different specimens from what I work with that I had no clue. Even after getting the right answer they still didn't smell like I know them... the three I didn't guess right were their frankincense, which smelled very much like oregano (!) in the top; the oakmoss, which was nothing like the green oakmoss - or even the brown oakmoss I work with (it was kind of inky, vaguly animalic and woody, but without any of the distinct characteristis, which is why it smelled very "off" to me), and it only revealed its mossiness after sitting on a scent strip for a good 10 mintues or so, and the cedarwood smelled neither like Virginian nor Atlas or Himalayan cedar - but like guiacwood... In either case, it was a good lesson in using scent strips when blind testing, because even if you are smelling different specimens than what you're used to, some of the characteristics that are familir and universal to the particular raw material should reveal themselves at some point in the dryout phases.

I also re-smelled a few of The Different Company's scents, and a few of their new ones, got a sample of A Portrait of a Lady from Editions de Parfums which I'm looking forward to trying on my skin (smells very much like a big "saffron and rose" perfume), and left with one wrist adorned with Yosh's Ginger Ciao (which I remembered spicier and less floral that it is now); and the other with Kismet (quite narcissus-smelling on me, dark an exotic), and that's how I smelled for the remainder of the day in San Francisco!

Feng Shui for the Soul - Visiting Yosh + GIVEAWAY

There is a strange thing in the perfumers’ world: we don’t need any ice breakers. For those of us already familiar with each other’s work, it’s not uncommon for our first meeting to feel like reuniting with a long lost friend. Independent perfumers work in such isolated environment, that we seek each other’s companionship virtually and it is more often than never that before meeting one another, we have corresponded via email and exchanged samples of our work or raw materials in the mail.

Yosh's path and mine crossed when we discovered our mutual interest in spies. We both have perfumes that are inspired by this mysterious world – Yosh with her Ginger Ciao perfume (and fictional character…), and me with Espionage, both of which just so happen to be our best-sellers too! This was a few years ago, and I was thrilled when the opportunity finally struck to visit in San Francisco and that Yosh was not only available to meet me, but also graciously invited me to stay at her home AND throw a perfumers’ party especially for my spontaneous visit!

As soon as I arrived in San Francisco, I headed to Barneys to meet up with Yosh. I had very little time to spend with her, unfortunately, as the trip from SFO to downtown took longer than we anticipated, and also, I had a previous engagement with Mandy Aftel, of which I have just finished blogging about moments ago, so I was in a bit of a rush... We got briefly acquainted, and I got to see her lovely display at Barneys and meet the sweet people who work at the cosmetic and fragrance department there, not to return there until the next day to thoroughly explore what they have to offer in the word of scent.

I didn’t get to see Yosh again till a few hours later, at her home in a beautiful, old San Francisco building. Yosh must be a gifted feng-shui master (knowingly or not – I haven’t asked her), because the moment you enter her home, you feel welcome and comfortable. Just like the lady who inhabits it, it’s bubbling with life and so hospitable and at the same time very peaceful and serene.

When I arrived with Laurie Stern of Velvet & Sweetpea Purrfumery (who picked me up from Berkeley), Yosh’s home was full of perfumers and scent artists, gathered in her studio space around a table with many delicious treats that everybody brought and made, including beautiful salads that Yosh made, pretty red Velvet cupcakes, wine cheese, and Laurie brought an incredibly delicious plum & almond tart, and also gave me this beautiful honey she harvested from her own bees – I swear to you, it tastes a little rosy, they probably feed off geranium flowers!

Oh, and I almost forgot about the amazing homemade limoncello that Laurie brought - she made it from those HUGE variety of lemons that have very little pulp and very fragrant peel, and it tasted as if there was vanilla in it (but there was none - just lemon zest). Needless to say, it was the best limoncello I've ever had.

Among the guests were no other than Jeanne Rose - seasoned aromatherapist and herbalist, pioneer natural perfumer and world renown educator, and fellow Canadian independent perfumer Ineke Rühland and there was also a teacher from San Francisco . It was a fun surprise to meet in person Yuko Fukami from Parfum Phyto, who is who participated with me in the Midsummer’s Night Dream Scent Event, and I got to smell her creation Dreams – a delicate perfume with sweet osmanthus and an overall subtle powdery fruitiness. She also makes Neriko (Japanese kneaded incense, which is similar to kyphi), so our interests are not limited to perfume alone and I’m hoping to see her this week when she’s visiting in Vancouver! Another surprise was meeting artist Bruno Fazzolari
and finding out that he teaches a full term perfume course at the California College of Art.

Ineke brought out no less than four (!) new perfumes that she's working on to show us, and we all marveled at the beautiful packaging design and tried them on. They were all floral and pretty and inspired greatly by her beautiful garden, and quite different in concept than her abecedary collection. And I shared my last few scented chocolate bars and showed my little traveling perfume wardrobe of recent and upcoming creations such as Smiling Country, New Orleans and Oras, and a couple of other scents that won’t be released till 2012. It was a true perfume party, and there were even more perfumers in the room than there were in the party I was at in Grasse in 2009. San Francisco seems to be buzzing with creative independent perfumers that collect scents like bees do with pollen…

And despite the fact that we are all technically speaking “competitors” there was no sense of that word in the air, but the opposite – a sense of community, and one that is very supportive, inspiring and encouraging. We ran ideas about anything to do with raw materials, packaging, marketing and creative process and enjoyed every moment of it. The last of us partied till the wee hours of the night, which seemed almost effortless, despite the fact that I woke up before 3am that day to catch my early morning flight…

The next morning we woke up early enough to get some things done, but late enough to not feel exhausted; Yosh fixed up the most delicious breakfast of granola, yogurt and fresh ripe peach; and than showed me some of her perfumes.

I was instantly smitten with Yosh’s newest perfume (launched at the end of 2010), Sombre Negra – a dark, woody and spicy-warm dusky vetiver, accented with patchouli, tobacco, choya loban opoponax oakmoss, davana, pink pepper and mushroom. Experiencing this very “serious” perfume was of course contrasted with Yosh’s sense of humour as she sprayed it on a “moustache” – her funny invention of scent “strip” that makes you look as if you’ve just grown a Groucho Marx moustache every time you smell something…

Than I set off to Barneys by Union Square (the photograph you see is of her beautiful display there, of both her parfum oils in the flacons, and the new EDP spray bottles, which have invisible spray tubes – ever so elegant!), before I headed to my ultimate destination – Sonoma County.

Last but not least - what is your favourite Yosh perfume, or any perfume from the San Francisco perfumers mentioned in this article, and enter to win Ineke's Vol. 2 deluxe sample collection (of her first 5 perfumes).

* Photos courtesy and copyright of Yosh Han, unless stated otherwise.

P.s. All these events took place June 29-30, and recounted after I got safely back to my home in Vancouver :-)

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