May 16, 2013
Laurie Stern, Natural Perfumer of Velvet & Sweet Pea Purrfumery
Profile: I was born in Longport, New Jersey, and grew up about five houses from the beach. Nobody really knows where Longport is, but everyone knows Atlantic City – that’s the closest big city. Longport is a very peaceful and quiet place, and it was desolate then. I used to spend the summers working on the boardwalk in Atlantic City at my parents’ store. They had a store where they sold Spanish imports, like dolls, handcrafted furniture, perfume… My parents loved Spain and went there often. I ran the store during the summers. It was a great place to grow up.
Laurie as a pre-teen
Some of my earliest memories are of walking on the beach, collecting shells, breathing the salty, clammy air. This is where my awe of the natural world began to take shape, watching the tides come in and out and playing in the sand. And I always loved animals, especially cats! I got my first kitty when I was 6 years old. I was at a birthday party and this man drove by and asked me if I wanted a kitten. He put it in my arms and I was in love! I named her Caramel and pretty much launched my animal rescue career that afternoon. I have been an animal activist ever since, and to this day I avoid products that were tested on animals or cause harm to animals. I made a conscious decision years ago to forgo the use of animal musk or fixatives. It’s amazing how a kitty can change the way you look at the world!
There are two people who really shaped who I would become as an artist and perfumer – my Nana and my older sister. My Nana taught me how to sew when I was 10 and together we used to make the most beautiful doll clothes in the world! With her English chintzes and floral prints, she really influenced my love of textiles and fine laces. When I started my first business making one-of-a-kind lingerie for Bendels and I. Magnin, I traveled to Belgium and France and roamed the outdoor flea markets looking for lace and fabrics, just like my Nana taught me. I was just 20, wandering around Europe (I also visited the perfumeries in Grasse, never thinking I would ever make perfume!), and when I was finished shopping for materials, I would relax by making pen and ink drawings and watercolor paintings.
My sister loved art when we were growing up – we always went to museums with our parents – and she eventually became an artist and museum curator. She used to take me everywhere, and one of our favorite things to do was visit antique stores. She was older, so she always had money to buy really beautiful antiques, but as a kid, all I had was a handful of dollar bills. That’s when I began to develop my collection of antique and Victorian cat cards and ephemera – it’s all I could afford at the time, but those post cards influence my aesthetic to this day. They are so elaborate and fanciful and so delightfully silly!
Velvet & Sweet Pea Purrfumery Studio
My Purrfumery represents years of study and many of my passions. I reflect on my family and influences, my art background, my previous work as a fashion designer and my career as a wedding florist. I also draw on my love of flowers, of animals, of Victoriana, of collecting little antique boxes and making unique gifts. I am happiest when I’m in my Purrfumery, totally immersed and creating a new flower that transforms the way someone feels when they step into the world. Scent has that power. My line of perfumes, crème perfumes and eau de parfums has been very meaningful to me. And while I plan to keep that aspect of my collection going, I have gone back to my roots, back to the art of custom perfumery. There is nothing more joyous than sitting with a Purrfumery visitor, sipping a cup of tea in the garden overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, and watching them react to the palette of natural materials I have spread out before them. It is an incredible, intimate and holistic time. I absolutely love the magic that emerges from interacting with people and making their dreams come true. Pink lotus, blonde tobacco, Assam oud, antique Sandalwood… I believe that different essences speak to you at different times in your life – the scents you love or hate are an emotional signature. When I create a custom perfume, I capture that emotional signature.
And art has power, too. I want everything I make, from the perfume to the one-of-a-kind scent card and packaging to be a little work of art, and a true gift. My “adventure tours” remind me of my visits to Grasse when I was 20, but I add something more, something different – visitors see a working natural perfumery, how a natural perfumer works and how perfume was made in antiquity, with tinctures and incredible materials. And then they see all that’s available through modern technology, like co2 extracts and phytols, and how I marry the new and the old.
On American Perfumery: As a natural, artisanal perfumer, I get to work with the most gorgeous materials in the world! What could be more exquisite than working with an antique rose or an incredible Chinese osmanthus? Or infusing Tahitian vanilla beans and gardenias in alcohol or jojoba oil? These are the materials and methods that perfumers thousands of years ago used to create their scents, and I am completely inspired by their legacy of sensuality, luxury and their sense of wonder in all the natural world had to offer.
I think that American perfumers and West Coast, natural and niche perfumers are really innovative – they’re changing the game. They have thrown out the old rules, but at the same time, they’re going back to perfumery lore and creating scents from real flowers, wood, seeds, grasses and roots. It’s an exciting time and it’s all in line with the sustainability and green movements that are revolutionizing how food is grown and how animals are treated. People are taking the time to create their own natural materials for their perfumes, and in the process they are making the world a better, healthier place. I love that this is an artisan craft! It’s wonderful to be part of this movement!
Zandra Rhodes, Fashion Guru and Style Icon
Favorite American (by way of the U.K.) Artist: In high school and beyond, fashion designer Zandra Rhodes was a major influence. She was big in the hippie era and later in the punk scene. Zandra is British, but lived in New York too, and was inspired by Native Americans and cowboy culture. Wherever she traveled she incorporated the place and the culture into her art. And she made everything whimsical and beautiful! She has an intensely personal sense of style and she broke the rules and created something totally new. Back then, I loved that she used art, culture and history in her designs – her textiles were inspired by everything from seashells to Victorian art. Her designs are gossamer, romantic and incredibly gorgeous, with fine workmanship and beautiful technique.
-Laurie Stern, Founder and Artisanal Botanical Perfumer for Velvet & Sweet Pea Purrfumery.
Thanks to Laurie we have a Purrfect Reader's Choice draw of 6ml ($135 value) Fleur de Carmel Eau de Parfum (Limited Edition), The best Selling Black Cat, Songbird Pure Perfume, 8ml ($185 value) Jasmine Dawn and Dusk (8 ml $185 value) , or Terrain. Laurie regrets that at this time that the draw is open to readers with a US address only; Laurie is working on resolving international shipments issues. To be eligible please leave a comment on what you found fascinating about Laurie Stern and your choice of fragrance. Draw ends May 20, 2013
Editor's Note: What's with the collection's whimsical name? Velvet and Sweet Pea were Laurie's rescue kitties at the time she starting her business, they were lab animals, (which is one of the reasons she advocates against animal testing for cosmetics and perfumes). They live on in Laurie's fanciful packaging and had dream come true lives after rough beginnings. A Cinderella kitty story. Purrfumery.com, well that's a no brainer.
Sweet Pea and Velvet Purrfumery will be exhibiting FRAGments Underground Artisan & Indie Perfume Collective Event at MorYork in Los Angeles, CA on June 22, 2012.
Best All Natural Scent Gold Award Winner -San Francisco Artisan Fragrance Salon 2012
–Michelyn Camen, Editor In Chief
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