It took over twenty years to finally get Onycha into ‘clear enough’ focus to start work on a formula.  One of the things that made it clearer was the arrival of traditional ‘Choyas’ on the aromatics market.  I am sure that in India and many parts of the ‘olde world’ these fragrant beauties were nothing new but to western artists, they were something exciting and new coming our way.  Choyas, like traditional ‘attars’ or ‘ittars’, are co-distilled essential oils.  Whereas, attars are generally co-distills with Indian sandalwood (Santalum Album) as the partner to flowers, herbs, and the like, choyas have charred Himalayan cedarwood (Cedrus Deodora) partnered with incense / resin materials, and in the case of Choya Nahk, seashells.  Yes, that’s right: roasted seashells.   🙂  The first time I saw this oil offered I immediately began considering it for Onycha.  Perfect, right?  Well, part yes, part no.  Choya Nahk has it’s beauty, but it is dry…really, DRY.  Intensely so.  I don’t generally like sugary perfumes, but this was a bit beyond the pale.  It was going to need some help.


partial: shells in a clay sculpture c.1992 – DSH

As I worked in some resins that I thought would balance the intensity of the charred nuances, and of course high doses of benzoin and labdanum as the other two notes in the “onycha” triad, I wondered if there were any aromatics sellers that had the actual seashells that were used, before they were roasted.  A quick internet search found some incense purveyors with something they were offering as ‘onycha seashells’.  SOLD.  I ordered them and began tincturing.  At this point in the formulating, I decided to make this perfume an ‘all naturals’ project instead of mixed media.  Not just because it’s depicting an ancient concept (the Secrets of Egypt collection is all mixed media, with the intent on creating updated interpretations of the ancient designs) but using an all botanical palette seemed to give the ‘antiquity’ feeling I wanted to convey and I wanted some of that murky, slightly inky quality that many all natural perfumes have.  (It’s not a bad thing to be murky / inky, at times).

After introducing the seashell tincture, I vacillated between a densely smoky incense perfume like being in a temple filled with burning censors…but this just didn’t work (nope, too much in the vein of Axis Mundi, which I also released last year) plus, it is way too easy to just make ‘smoky smoke and more smoke’.  And a sweeter, purely resin-based kind of incense scent seemed kind of bland.  Then the whim to just push it toward woods and amber came and I followed the impulse.  Choya Loban (cedarwood and frankincense) and Choya Ral (cedarwood and sal tree resin) both made their way into the design in subtle proportion as well as precious woods (eagleswood, Siam wood, more Himalayan cedarwood, and amyris) and ambery resins ( more benzoin, labdanum, and oppopanax).  Yes, this push of the ambery aspect brought out even more of the salty / umami and subtly briney aspects of Onycha that I was hoping for.  As well, I love what the woods did to build the space to allow the resins, smoke, and oceanic pieces to move around and ‘swirl’ in the way I later envisioned it.

“family” egg tempera on panel 1992, DSH

In creating Onycha, I had to dig deep into my past and remember all that had inspired me about the concept when I was first falling in love with fragrance and seeing it as the art form that it is now, generally, recognized to be.  It’s also allowed me to examine some of my early work, universally, and bring it full circle.  ❤

This post gives me the opportunity to give thanks for some of the lovely reviews of Onycha:
Thank you Trish at Scenthive for her wonderful words for Seve de Pin and Onycha;  and the immensely poetic review from Lauryn Beer at CaFleureBon.  I am blessed by your beauty.









Something interesting is happening…  it’s not the first time that I’ve experienced this phenomenon of having some fascination or inspiration from my past circle around and make its way into relevant, “in the now” creative endeavors and projects.  Last Summer, when I started the design and development of Onycha, it was the coming to fruition of a perfume that I began contemplating way back in 1993 when I first read about it in some esoteric book on Kabbalah and aromatics.  (I was crazy interested in Kabbalah back then, before it became trendy, but that’s a story for another day).   I had just graduated from Art School and had begun my first perfumery with Sarah Horowitz-Tran (Gaia Perfumers – since we were both earth signs – known to everyone else as Essense on Newbury Street), and I was into reading anything that I could get my hands on about aromatics, essential oils, wacky New Age whatnot, Aromatherapy, Perfumery, Incense… I mean ANYTHING that had any info to be had about fragrance, I was into it.  So, this Kabbalah ‘perfume’ book was (and is) dog-eared all over the place.  The only thing that has stayed with me and commanded my imagination long-term was Onycha.

First off, I was just blown away at how the word LOOKED and how do you say it anyway?  In the days before the internet you’d either have to screw it up, make it up, or find a scholar who could tell you for sure.  Now, you can just go online to see (and hear) it.   Amazing.   I also loved how the book spoke about some rare mollusc from the Sea of Galilee being used as an aromatic in…perfume?  WHAT???? Hold on, I love the ocean and sea air and Calvin Klein’s now infamous Escape had just launched to great success, but seashells?  Um, that sounded fishy to me (bad pun intended).  I really had to push the boundaries of what I thought perfume must have been in the ancient world, and what it could be, to imagine it.  ( I still couldn’t … which is part of why it stuck with me.  I really wanted to create a fantasy that fit how I was trying to imagine it ).




Yet another piece to this story is that during 1992 – 1994 I was painting lots of still life images with seashells.  Kind of like ‘family’ units.  I was into Sacred Geometry and the spiral was a big influence.  Ammonites, and seashells from the beaches of Cape Cod, found their way into my visual art and was moving, oddly, into my perfumery art.  At that time, there were WAY fewer materials to work with; especially as an indie perfumer.  The artisan / indie perfumery movement hadn’t really begun yet (that was later in the nineties) and there were essential oils, some absolutes, and perfume compounds to work with, if you were small-scale.  Now, there are more wonderful boutique distillers, distributors, and specialty molecule purveyors than you can imagine and it’s an INCREDIBLE GALAXY of nuanced ‘colors’ and textures to create olfactory art with.  It took over twenty years of ruminating around the idea (and waiting for the right materials to arrive) for “Onycha” to come.

Ok, I’m going to end there…with more to come of course.  Soooooon.  Have a great rest of your weekend ❤





in the studio


{filters that look like flowers. i love those.}

Mondays are supposed to be one of my ‘days off’.  😀  LOL.  I’m not only like most business owners who never have enough time to do EVERYTHING that 1) needs to be done 2) you want to get done 3) you think should get done, but I’m like most artists I know who are always ‘working’.  This isn’t bad or unwanted; I like to work.  In fact, I love my work.  (Well, all of it except accounting and filing reports.  B.O.R.I.N.G.).

Mondays are instead my ‘creative day’ in the (aroma) studio; I relish them.  I think about and write down ideas all week just to get a day when no one can come in and I don’t answer the phone.  It’s bliss.  I make a mess.  I spread out…wide…all over the place.  Then I come home smelling like a million things and scare my family.  (AWESOME).


I guess I’m getting excited about what’s coming out next and it’s too soon to start talking about it in detail but I’m nevertheless wanting to share.  So, for now I’ll just add some pics from the day and keep jotting down ideas.


(You can also see my working notebook so far for 2017.  I’ve had one of these every year since 1994.  I think I’m gonna need a library soon ❤ )

Hope you all had a great start to your week ~ oxox



By now I’m sure that most of you have heard about the “new animalics” trend that’s been gaining speed for the last few years.  In case you don’t have a clue as to what I’m talking about, fragrances “of ” and inspired by animals are kinda hot right now.  I’m not at all surprised since the strong interest in vintage / vintage style perfumes has been gaining traction for quite some time and many (most) of those older fragrances are laden with animalic aromatics.  It gives them that luscious body, and sensuous warmth that we’re hard wired to crave.  Certainly some densely animalic perfumes can scare the bejeezes out of the wearer while others seem to purr and softly seduce bringing you ever closer… like moths to a flame, when they smell that olfactory ‘siren song’.  I am definitely one of those vintage perfume lovers who couldn’t be more delighted with this renewed interest in what some might call ‘poopy’ or ‘cat pee’ fragrances.   (I’m sure that warmed you up, right?).



It occurs to me that another avenue into animalic fragrances, especially of the ‘retro-nouveau’ variety, might be the prolonged fervor for oud / oude / oudh perfumes which depending on the quality and the amount of natural aquillaria wood oil used, can be mighty fecal.  Yes, some are down right ‘poopy’.  Not a bad…well, that’s in the nose of the beholder.  Anyway, it seems that if these particular aspects that can be found in botanicals are to your liking then true animal notes (real or synthetic) are not that far away as you journey through fragrance. It’s only a hop, skip, and a furry jump from the more intense oud perfumes to that of the cultivated critter.



There are a number of fabulous vintage fragrances and houses that specialized in more animalic scents but I’m only going to delve into one right now: the House of Weil.  Their main affair was furs.  The fragrances that they are known for came later but most were inspired by, and meant to be worn with, their furs.  Their most famous and longest selling perfume was Antilope and I believe their most sought after fragrance is Secret de Venus (sometimes fetching well over $1000 per bottle on ebay).  Secret de Venus actually started as a bath oil and came in a number of ‘fragrances’ such as Antilope and Zibeleine, but there was later a Secret de Venus perfume developed that to me, feels like the House of Weil’s “Guerlainade’; their fragrant signature base.  It’s warm, ripe, sensuously animalic, and lushly floral in that early – mid – twentieth century kind of way.  Aldehydes are present but not very loud at all which allows the base to rub itself around you like a cat hoping that you’ll scratch it’s ears and belly.  A lesser known Weil fragrance that has long intrigued me is Chinchilla.  Of course, I *LOVE* the name.  And the beautiful silken creatures, so soft and sweet.   I had had this name and some scribbles in my notebooks for some time before the real impetus came to push me toward creation.  Last summer, a lovely young woman came to work part time at my studio whose family name is also Chinchilla.  That was it!  A sign… that the time was right to get to work.




Especially when making retro-nouveau style perfumes, I love to leave little trails to historical perfumes in my designs.  It’s fun.  And I hope that those that know vintage fragrances will pick up the trail and find my clues.  So, too, with my Chinchilla, I thought about the House of Weil as well as the original ‘Shocking de Schiaparelli’, with it’s dominating CIVET note and honey heart.  Most importantly, though, I wanted to really evoke the texture of fur.  That would be something new that these beauties from the past didn’t do.  The furriness and the kind of ‘dusty honey’ quality that came together really sang to me… and I have to admit that I fell in love.   And to my amazement and delight, many others did, too.

So, that was last Summer into Fall… and now I’m working on a couple more to fill ‘my little petting zoo’.    They’ll still be the more contemporary retro-nouveau designs with the vintage calling cards.  I’m having a ball creating these… some a bit more whimsical, some more sophisticated.  All with a little growl, and a purr.


I’m really happy to share some links to reviews for Chinchilla (with many thanks) to Lauryn at CaFleurbon, Samantha at IScentYouADayCynthia at The Fragrant Journey, Victoria at EAUMG, and Steven at the Scented Hound,

credits: aquillaria aromatic link to wikipedia.org; image for arabian oud perfume found here; house of weil links at fragrantica.com, shocking de shiaparelli link at fragrantica.com; image for weil furs found on pinterest; chinchilla de weil extrait image found on our instagram. (please feel free to follow! 🙂 )








It’s another new year and with it there are resolutions and intentions to be set.  I have found since about 2011 that each year I have resolved to find more time to blog.  After many fits and starts, I think I’m finally ready to attempt something like regular writing.
One thing that I found rather inspiring was the fact that I had started almost 150 posts over the last couple of years, so I’m going to revisit these posts.  It’s actually kind of exciting to look at works through the lens of time.  And lord only knows that I have a pretty crazy list of perfume concepts, paintings, drawings, and gem art pieces in my notebooks to get to work on this year.  I hope to get it together and share it all.   {We’ll see}.

For now I am wishing you a wonderful new year filled with new beginnings, creative endeavors, and most of all, LOVE. ❤

ps: Oh yes, and this is perfect timing for a New Year post: Happy year of the Fire Rooster!

fireroosterimage credits: all images found on the web



i just might barf


I don’t usually just blurt these kinds of things out (well, I do if you’re someone I know quite well and feel very comfortable with) but I just can’t fight the compulsion to cyber scream it. (!!!)  Why, you may ask?

It’s. This. SMELL.

I find it so upsetting when things, especially medicines, have added absurdity; like dyes, weird flavors that do not mask the medicine taste, and the worst:  horrid perfumes that give you a migraine and instantly make you feel queasy.  Why, why, why, why, WHY?

Of course, it’s spider season and as I’m allergic to most of the natural world I’m also allergic to spider bites.  Every year my reaction gets just a bit more severe.  This morning I awoke with multiple bites that are huge, swollen, and itchy.  Calamine!  I need Calamine.  Apparently everyone in Boulder also needs calamine lotion as well since most was sold out at the store.  I had to get this one:


There are no words to describe the enormity of how awful I smell.

And what’s worse, the scent is growing.


I have noticed this phenomenon with a number of mainstream perfume releases in the past few years where the scent is pretty bad but not too strong when it first goes on.  Then it snowballs into the fragrance blob that ate Manhattan.  Poorly created rose accords do this frequently, as do weird musk compounds.  This horror has both and some kind of floral bouquet bug spray mixed with weeds and decaying fruit.   I say again: WHY?  I’d like some medicinal smelling medicine please.   There needs to be a skull and crossbones symbol on this can next to the words : Fragrance.  It’s worse than the smell of a walk in my neighborhood on Sunday afternoon when every college student is doing laundry and the entire world smells of tonalide, berryflor, lyral, and floralozone.  It’s this sort of thing that gives “perfume” a bad name and drives me completely insane.

image credits: found on the web.  skull and crossbones found here; environmental hazard pictogram found here.




Mixed Vegetable garden with broad beans, cabbage, chive herbs, carrots, sweetpeas


It’s really summer here.  June went from still quite wet and cool at the start then jumped right into the deep end with 100+ degree (F) heat.  Instead of making me completely crazy it seemed to stimulate a very, VERY creative flow and NEED to work in the studio.  And for the first time in ages I just let myself have it – scheduling whatever time possible to be in the studio designing.  My usual way these days is to write notes in my notebooks (and laptop, and ipad, and iphone..) you get the picture.  It’s a blessing really as sometimes I need the psychic relief to just DO IT.

The main theme that’s emerged is some kind of serious vegetable obsession.  Is it that I started a small garden again this year?  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s a combo thing of the ‘retrograde / looking back’ thing that I mentioned in my last post and what I need in the absolute NOW.  Veggies have always been important to me ( being a “vego-pescetarian” for most of my life ) and with this heat all I think about wearing are eau fraiche/ eau de cologne designs.  What I do find fascinating is that suddenly some inspirations and concepts that have been bouncing around in my imagination for years are coalescing into a kind of collection, well, actually a series centered around the vegetal note.  One design feeds into the next.  It’s kind of fun and I like the idea of a serial.




Of course, most people have at least run into or know about the classic ‘eau de cologne’ style: fresh and refreshing; citrus based with some herbal notes and maybe some soft woods and musk / ambergris kind of structure in the drydown.  It’s generally a pretty simple formulation and it’s really fun to play with twists on the theme using more modern styles or modern materials that do novel things (like Albino, which can do a very surprising creamy textural thing while still remaining fresh).  The eau de cologne style is also one of the most ‘historic’ as it comes straight out of the first European distillation / medicinal / beautifying ‘tonic’ ideas.  King Louis XIV wore a version of it as did Napoleon (who made it famous).  It’s the first style or family of fragrance that I teach my students when they begin perfume classes / internships.  What’s really got me going now, though, is a kind of idea that mixes the eau de cologne family with vegetal / edible notes which could be considered a rather strange ‘gourmand’.  {fun!}




A few years ago, (actually 8 years ago…) I was playing around a bit with this concept when I released my first version of Wasabi Shiso.  As an avid fan of sushi, Japanese food and culture, and a gardener growing shiso, I was in love with the scent and taste of it.  {I still am}.  But at the time, I didn’t have access to true essential oil of shiso (or perrilla ) nor was I able to get anything close to wasabi essential oil so I made accords for of both of these notes.  What came out was playful, green, leafy, spicy, cool, and a little musky.  I really liked it.  And I guess that I could describe this re-launch of Wasabi Shiso the same way but oh!  is it so much more what I wanted it to be just by the virtue of having many, many more materials at my disposal today.  It’s really like having a whole new palette of paints, pigments, and mediums to work with.   What’s come out this time is a more cohesive, true shiso (because yes, I was able to get real shiso essential oil!) and there are better notes to compose that spicy, piquant, earthy green wasabi accord with as well.  I’ve added even more yuzu to the top and lemon to give the shiso even more pop and brightness.  This has been June’s release and I’m soooo loving it!

{Wasabi Shiso is the first installment of the series and since today is July 1st, the next installment is coming right around the corner on July 4…  Oh YES!}


image credits: many images found on the web:  Vegetable Garden image found here; Eau de Cologne image found here; Shiso leaf image by me.




%d bloggers like this: