January 11, 2016
Alexis Karl of SCENTBYALEXIS
Profile: My house was flooded with scent, from the smell of cinnamon rolls and popovers baking in the morning, to garlic and rosemary sautéed in the afternoons, to sweet and bitter chocolates melting in the evenings. This was my mother’s work. She was a chef, and wound about her the aroma of spices and herbs, yeasts and sweets. These scents draped over her like her mink coat, sprayed as it was with Alexander Di Markoff’s Enigma. That fragrance intoxicatingly heady, I recall still, but not as it was in the bottle. I recall how the fragrance was on my mother’s pale skin, dabbed with vanilla extract, fingers stained with thyme, and lingering smell of warm bread clinging to her red hair. It was Enigma that one summer I sprayed on her silk robe, which I then secreted away with me to my overnight camp in Maine, where the bunks smelled of mold and pine.
Alexis and Her Mom
When I was a child, my mother would set a chair by the stove and I would stand over steaming pots of sauces, drinking in the herbaceous aroma as she quizzed me with, “ You remember the name of this herb? Now, if I put this herb with another, tell me what it will smell like… tell me how it will change the taste.” The kitchen was our domain, and we would hum along to the opera and classical pieces playing from morning to night, tasting sauces, or batters. My brother and I were entranced by the smell of butter melting into chocolate, and the mysterious alchemy, which resulted in the towering cakes emerging from the oven. When not in the kitchen, we would be outside in the yard, gathering leaves, chestnuts or acorns. It was my mother who taught me to scrape the skin of a wild lemon to release the sweet-sour smell. It was she who adorned my curls with fragrant wisteria, and collected fallen magnolia flowers from the tree my father hung a swing from. She had me collect dried leaves only to jump in the pile, and lift handfuls to our noses to take in the smell of earth.
One of my most vivid memories is my mother waking my best friend and I in the middle of a summer’s night to look at the full moon. We walked dreamily outside in bare feet and nightgowns to the scent of roses and wisteria, fresh cut grass and dirt from newly toiled flowerbeds. We danced, sang, and held hands in the moonlight, and spun in circles until we became dizzy and fell on the grass, where my mother had laid a cloth and basket of fresh raspberries.
Alexis at 1 yrs old
Another memory is one where I hid from my older siblings in a game of hide –and- seek in my mother’s closet. It was a sanctuary of silks and velvet within an old sprawling stone house that we all swore was haunted by a ghost of a civil war solider. I can still recall the scent of her Enigma-laden fur coat; the hanging pomanders smelling of orange and clove, and silken sachets of dried lavender and crushed rose petals nestled between plush boxes of stockings and leather gloves. I fell asleep in there, having pulled down her fur coat and used it as a blanket. The scent of that closet…large enough to hold a six-year-old girl comfortably, was one I would try over an over to re-create years later.
My afterschool hours were filled with the scent of tempered chocolate, caramel, rising breads, and pile upon pile of fresh herbs. My mother’s work as a caterer was artistic to say the least. She composed platters with the balance of a great designer or painter, colors and textures crisscrossing in great patterns and flavors. Black lacquered trays were dotted with starkly colored orchid blossoms, and pale cheeses, rich towering cakes were glazed with chocolate ganache and topped with winding chocolate ivy, which she made herself using a template of leaves gathered in the yard. To this day, I smell the green ivy beneath a layer of molten chocolate, and remember the delicate process of peeling away the same leaf when the chocolate had hardened.
Alexis’ book shelf and various ouds, attars, ambers
On American Perfumery: As multimedia artist and perfumer in New York City, I find so many influences – glints of the city’s glamour and grit that pave the way each day for my creations. It is being a perfumer in this particular American city, vibrating with so much life and movement that I really adore. This city and its denizens flood me everyday with ideas, encouraging creativity from its streets to museums to underground music venues, to the perfume community, which I hold dear.
Wild Fragrance Jungle Inspired Scent Sculpture by Alexis Karl
Yet always, I come back to my mother’s culinary creations as the very greatest influence of my own artistic and olfactory works. I still create fragrances with her in mind, imagining that wild haired little girl standing by the stove, and asking myself as she so often did, “What is this smell…how will it smell with this? What story does this pairing tell…? ”
The Trauma and Terror of Leaving by Ken Weaver (Alex’s husband)
Favorite American Artist: My mother’s culinary artistry, the plays of flavors, pairings of cultural influences, and pure beauty of her work made her my favorite artist. I have many favorites to be sure; painters, musicians, filmmakers, and we adored many of the same works, especially by artist Ken Weaver, who as luck would have it, happens to be my husband.
The Art of Dying Well by Ken Weaver
His epic, gothic-baroque, photo realistic paintings resonate for me in their balance of beauty and darkness, and I have created many fragrances to correspond to his Requiem For The Immortal series.
Alexis Karl, Founder and Perfumer of SCENTBYALEXIS
Editor’s Note: Alexis is one of the most multi faceted artisan perfumers in the US. Some readers may know of her name as co-founder of Cherry Bomb Killer with Maria McElroy. Her writing on natural ingredients is indeed luminous. Check out SCENTBYALEXIS Tumblr to read more
Thanks to Alexis Karl we have reader’s choice draw for a US or Canada REGISTERED reader of a special one ounce etched bottle of either Secret, Sacred, Cyphered, Harmony of Being, Requiem for the Immortal, A Body Luminous. To be eligible please leave a comment with what you find fascinating about Alexis’ path to perfumery and which fragrance prize you would like to win. Draw closes January 14, 2015
Please like CaFleureBon Profiles in American Perfumery and your entry will count twice.
We announce the winners on our site and on our Facebook page, so Like Cafleurebon and use our RSS option…or your dream prize wil be just spilled perfume