Scents & Serendipity; Ayala & Persephenie Part I


BlundaAromatics in Los Angeles is an exquisite olefactorium/ artisan enclave/ scent school/ alchemical collaboration run by Persephenie Schnyder. Blunda’s website describes its store hours as Saturday: 11-5, Monday – Friday: By Appointment or Chance. It truly was a magnificent accord of chance, serendipity, a dash of divine intervention, and a dear college friend that dispatched me to Blunda a couple of Saturdays ago to experience natural perfumery in the flesh and to hear Ayala Sender describe her Ezra Pound haiku-inspired scent Hanami.

As I slipped out of the blazing SoCal sun and into Blunda(a Swedish word meaning “to close one’s eyes”), I was greeted warmly by Persephenie herself and an ethereal enclave packed with natural perfume devotees.  The walls were replete with sculptures, art, and shelves — shelves teeming with delicate glass vials of essential oils and jars of all sizes containing exotic substances; Ayala refers to this as a perfume organ.

The desserts Ayala and Persephenie prepared for our motley crew were other word-ly. Neatly stacked rows of sakura mochi (Japanese rice pastries filled with Azuki bean paste and wrapped in pickled cherry leaves) greeted us along withAyala’sperfumed teas, fresh and tiny tea sandwiches with cucumber, watercress, minted radishes, carrots, ginger and cream cheese, and wickedly delicious marble-sized handmade perfumed White Potion and Guilt chocolate truffles. As I tried to control my primal instinct to hoard and/or devour, I wondered how have I missed this genius; this cool lounge-like sliver of smell-hounds in LA? This brilliant speak-easy of taste, intelligentsia, and performance scent-art?  Thank chance and the prodding of Trish for this revelation!


Ayala’s presentation was a wonderful introduction to natural and organic fragrance for the botanically naïve. After describing her personal inspiration for Hanami and reciting the rich Ezra Pound lyrics that inspired the perfume and Heather Ettlinger’s  poetic perfume project:

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Ayala began by passing around scent strips dipped in her base notes of Vetiver, Tonka Bean, Cassie, Siamwood, Vanilla CO2, Copaiba Balsam and Bakul Attar. (For photos, check out her own SmellyBlog post here). As we passed and considered each note through the group, it felt surprisingly beautiful, holy and communal. There with Persephenie’s perfume organ as a back drop, we exchanged musical nose notes in quiet revelry.

Breaking Hanami down note by note seemed especially appropriate given the deconstructive nature of the tradition up-ending haiku written by Pound. With its unpredictable metrics (the musical notes/cadence of a poem), the poem shifts between hard clip urban consonants and noun images, and the gorgeous seductive nature of soft dark s’es and sh’s, p‘s and b‘s. Ayala’s base ensemble captures this brilliantly.

Cassie, as she explained, is a type of mimosa used in tanning leather and appropriately, it speaks with a musty earthen, even industrial and honeyed depth. Vetiver, a simple grass root with an incredibly rich and complicated wet woods and marshland scent, bowled me over. Vanilla CO2, she used because it is shearer than Vanilla and has a half milky half watery sense. Ayala identified these choices as a desire to pull a deep metallic, dark and dusty –even gloomy — smell.  The final woodsy, metallurgical accord is spectacular.

Then Ayala moved to the heart notes allowing us to appreciate the individual notes of Pink Lotus, Magnolia, Tuberose, Violet Leaf, and Oleander, before providing the scent strip fan of the Sakura Accord in its entirety. Again this process, especially for a novice like me, was extraordinary. There is something truly mystical and transformative to sit (or stand) in a jam-packed room and reverently pass these deep, dark woodsy and floral scents among one another. And finally, for Hanami’s top notes, she purposefully steered away from citrus and turned instead towards earthy-wooden florals — Cabreuva, Frangipani, Mimosa and Rosewood.

There is a hard softness in the core underpinnings of this perfume that beautifully echoes the elegiac quality of the poem itself.  This heavy metal base creates the perfect enduring and quixotic caesura (pause) in one’s mind, a kind of olfactoric undertow. The floral tip opens up a deep and resonant space for that urban anonymity, the alienation and intimacy of modern living, to transpire in all its crushed complexity.  It is a lot like that final image Ezra Pound leaves us with – Ayala’s final fragrance looms like the enduring apparition of our lives, of our faces, anonymous, mysterious, individual, as petals on that wet, black bough. Ayala’s composition is not just a perfume, Hanami (and Ettlinger’s entire poetry project) should be installed in MOCA or MOMA, as an art experience. It is a stunning and sublime fragrance.

Much to our collective joy, Ayala brought several of her other signature perfumes with her as well as small samples of her entire collection.  I was immediately taken with Bon Zai, another Japanese-derived scent. It is minimalist, woodsy, and the Juniper is fabulous. Juniper! Juniper! Fete D’Hiver I found bewitching as well, although totally different from Bon Zai. It is described as “Spicy roses with incense and amber dries down to a powdery snow on fluffy fur” on the website, and this really says it all.  Now to start saving up so that I may purchase all THREE.

Please come back to Scent Hive on Tuesday for Part II of Scents & Serendipity, Ayala & Persephenie

Hanami is available at Blunda Aromatics.

Written by guest contributer ~duVergne Robert Gaines: a neophyte to the odor order, is a professional feminist and occasional poet.  She lives in Los Angeles near the La Brea tar pits with her partner David Riley Shackelford and their two cat children, Trotsky and MadX.


Red Flower Ambrette and Guaiac

A few days ago I reviewed Red Flower’s organic perfume Champa and gave a brief overview of the company’s founder Yael Alkalay. Today, I will continue with reviews of Ambrette and Guaiac. Like Champa, Ambrette and Guaiac are USDA certified organic and have no petro-chemicals, phthalates, or synthetics.

Ambrette begins quite citrusy. 16674-300A well blended, bitter orange that is a bit spicy with no hint of sweetness. As the name suggests though, this fragrance is not about citrus, it is all about ambrette, the seed of the hibiscus flower. The oil of these seeds has a musky, slightly ambery odor, and that is right where we are headed with Ambrette.

As the drydown progresses the citrus disappears, and the muskiness takes over. I must add a disclaimer here, I do not like musk. And while Ambrette is not a skin musk, or a white musk, or a clean musk, it is a musk. I know that many will love this fragrance because it is a different take on musk. The rose and geranium give it a soft floral quality and the ambrette oil endows it with a vegetal, green muskiness. If you do love Ambrette, you are in luck, this fragrance has great throw and lasts all day, especially in the perfume concentrate form.

david-murray-calamondin-orange-october-ronda-spainGuaiac is vibrant, zesty orange rind. Not the juice, or the pulp, but the rind. As if you were actively grating an orange and rubbing its vivacious oils onto your skin. It’s fresh and spirited, but in a new way. Guaiac is a citrus fragrance that I have never smelled before. It’s not floral (although rose absolute is listed in the notes), therefore, not akin to neroli or orange blossom. I had to do some research regarding copaiba, cabrueva, and elemi, the notes listed on the Red Flower website. I had already looked up elemi for my review of Pacifica’s Spanish Amber. (It’s a tree native to the Philippine Islands and its resin has a sharp lemonish scent). Both copaiba and cabrueva are resin oils from trees that hail from South America. The former having a warm honey-like scent and the later a sweet woody, floral aroma. It was certainly interesting to learn a little bit about these resin oils, and while I’m sure they add some supporting body to the fragrance, it truly is the orange rind that predominates.

Unlike Ambrette, whose name is very descriptive, Guaiac does not become a woody fragrance as its name would suggest. The guaiac tree is indigenous to South America, where Ms. Alkalay’s mother is from, and its oil has a woody fragrance.  Guaiac remains within the citrus range, morphing into the bitterness of grapefruit as the drydown emerges. I was able to test Guaiac in both its forms, the perfume roll-on which is an oil base, and the perfume concentrate which is in an organic wheat-grain alcohol base. Both have excellent staying power and wear close to the skin. The main difference between the two, is that the perfume concentrate allows a hint of the woody aspect to surface while the roll-on perfume oil remains citrusy throughout.

Out of all three Red Flower perfumes, Guaiac is my favorite. It’s clear and sparkling and unlike anything I have in my perfume collection. Each Red Flower perfume has something to offer, but Guaiac gives me the perfect citrus fragrance that is never sweet and never boring.

Red Flower is available at  Beautyhabit

posted by ~Trish

photograph by David Murray at