If You’re Curious About Custom Fragrance, You Have to Visit Olfactory NYC
Tynan Sinks—beauty writer, makeup experimenter, fragrance aficionado. Ahead, he shares his experience creating a custom fragrance at Olfactory NYC.
What fascinates me about fragrance is how personal it is. I love how everyone’s relationship to fragrance is just as personal as their relationship to the scent they wear (or don’t wear.)
And when I say fragrance, I’m not only talking about fine fragrance—you know, the perfume or cologne you put on in the morning or before your night out. I’m talking about the scents that we know by heart without even realizing it. The scent of your shampoo, the clean smell of fabric softener being blown out of an apartment’s vent onto the sidewalk in big billowy gusts, the way cigarette smoke hangs in the air around you on a hot summer evening. We can choose the scents that we love, but we’re at the mercy of scents we respond to.
As much as I love fragrance, I know that choosing a scent can be next to impossible when you don’t know where to start.
And how would you know where to start? You’re either:
- Walking into a department store, bombarded by glass bottles on glass shelves, with nothing more to go on than the shape of the bottle and the fragrance ads that loom over the cash registers.
- Relying on brand loyalty. You’ll will often buy a scent because you like what the brand sells, or the idea that it’s selling. Or maybe you like the previous scent the brand put out and you’re going on faith that you’ll like their new offering.
- Buying a scent online. With more and more brands selling you scents without ever giving you the chance to smell them, this is truly a leap of faith. Instead of you choosing the scent, it often feels like the scent is chosen for you.
I’ve always been surprised at the lack of customization options when it comes to mainstream fragrances. I understand that such a concept is easier mentioned than executed and that there are many factors at play, like cost of goods, location, and accessibility, to name a few. But hey, that’s not my job to figure out! It’s my job to smell the fragrances and tell you about them.
I’m obsessed with scent and I’m obsessed with myself, why shouldn’t I have a scent made especially for me? I’ve taken it upon myself to absolutely exhaust every custom fragrance situation that was available to me over the years, some with great results, some not. I thought I had worn out all my options, which is why I was very interested when Olfactory NYC invited me into their studio to create a custom fragrance. Custom fragrance, you say?
Nestled in between bars and restaurants on Mott Street in the heart of Nolita (can you tell I’ve lived in New York for a total of three minutes) you will find Olfactory NYC, a clean, bright fragrance studio with bright pops of color that make the whole place very inviting.
I should say from jump you can also customize and buy their scents online, but what’s cool about their brick and mortar is that they illustrate their process to you in a very easy to understand way.
Let me see if I can break it down for you.
They start you off with their core scents, 14 in all, which they rotate through seasonally. Nine of those were displayed in store during my visit.
Visually, they break down everything you need to know about each core scent in a way that’s easy to understand whether you’re new to fragrance or an expert. The notes are listed out with a few visual references, as well as the person who created the scent, and a couple standout fragrances from their resume.
The store is a masterpiece from a visual perspective. In short, they help you understand what you’re smelling before you even smell it.
And it’s worth mentioning that the people who created these core scents are some of the most lauded perfumers in the industry right now. Honorine Blanc, the nose behind Yves saint Laurent’s Black Opium, Harry Fremont, of Tom Ford’s Tuscan Leather, and oh yeah, Frank Voelkl, who did Le Labo’s Santal 33 and Glossier You.
Frank is God Tier, but you knew that.
Next are the Accords, which they use to customize your scent. Typically accords are a few notes combined to make a new scent that can live on its own or be incorporated as a larger part of a fragrance. Olfactory NYC has created 21 of their own accords from notes that they know work beautifully together.
Now, this is where I got skeptical. Instead of crafting a scent note by note in front of you, like they do at Aroma Workshop in Chicago, Olfactory NYC takes their core scents and combines them with their accords. “Customization” is a matter of matching the right core scent to the right accord to make your perfect fragrance. There’s a dating analogy somewhere in there but I’ll spare you.
This seemed a little “turnkey” to me, in other words, a little too ready-made, too easy, and maybe it was. But when I was immersed in the process, all my skepticism fell away and I was really down for the ride.
They let me pick my two favorite core scents of their nine. The first one I chose was a fragrance I knew I’d love. Hunter, a warm, very “me” fragrance comprised of wood, ambrette (a sweet musk,) and raw vanilla. The second was a fragrance I thought I’d hate but found surprisingly attractive. Taylor, made up of French jasmine, Indian jasmine, and tuberose. It was light, airy, not nearly as floral as I thought, and dare I say almost sporty?
Next came the customizing. They took me to their little fragrance bar situation where they blended each of my two chosen core scents with six accords each, for a total of 12 scents each on their own little testing paper.
For each of the two core scents I chose, they already have six suggested accords to blend it with and a description of each, so you know where to start, what’s being mixed, and why the end result smells the way it does.
It was interesting to see how each accord pulled the original scent in such different directions, how a blend of grapefruit and pepper could make a scent brighter, while a blend of wood and tobacco could add warmth and familiarity. It was fascinating to see a scent that I knew that I already liked, and watch it be transformed into six completely different versions of itself.
Of the 12 blends in all that they made right in front of me, I picked the four blends I liked most, which they then applied directly to my skin so I could get a preview of how they’d smell when mixed with my body chemistry.
Anyone that knows me will tell you that I’m a very indecisive person by nature, so taking four fragrance blends that I liked and narrowing them down to one that I loved was anxiety-inducing. There were three blends of Hunter and one blend of Taylor. Taylor was the first to go. I liked it, but it wasn’t the one.
The first Hunter blend I nixed was a very wood-forward one that I loved, but really reminded me of something else. It was too familiar, so it had to get the chop. Picking between the final two was a nightmare, but in the end I went with the one I found most interesting, the one that kept me there a little longer.
My custom blend starts off with Hunter, which, for those following along, is made up of cedarwood, ambrette, vanilla, and a touch of bergamot. The accord we mixed it with had cardamom, tobacco, and even more vanilla. It’s warm, softly sweet, woody, and spicy. I love it.
I was skeptical, but Olfactory NYC has pretty much made me a believer. Their product is very high quality, their scents are all unique, and while their process may not be the most customized from the ground up blend you’ll ever come across, to me, the whole process felt especially tailored to me. They got to know what sort of scents I did and didn’t like, took the time to help me find an accord that would really enhance everything I loved about the base scent while breathing some new life into it, and I walked out really feeling like my scent was customized to me.
One of their core scents, which are lovely on their own, will run you $55, where a custom scent (and you have to get a custom scent) will run you $85. To me, this is competitive for a fragrance full stop, but a custom scent? It’s a steal!
I had such a good time at Olfactory NYC. It was such a nice way to spend a little quiet afternoon all to myself while the world is beginning to blossom out of quarantine. It would be a really great place to take a friend, a date, or your parent, too. I’m definitely going back, and I can’t wait to see what scent I leave with next.