That's Just Good Scents

That's Just Good Scents

The subterranean Scentsorium

Throughout time, perfumes have been custom-made for queens, movie stars, and fashion designers. And now, me.

I joined the privileged ranks thanks to the Scentsorium, the brainchild of Sue Phillips, whose resume lists stints developing fragrances for labels like Tiffany, Burberry and Trish McEvoy. Set on a TriBeCa sidestreet, it's a cozy subterranean lair, an old-fashioned parlor adorned with books, various pieces of bric-a-brac (including blue-and-white china plates above the door) and art; perfume bottles abound, ranging from huge, display size to tiny trial size. "Every piece has meaning and memory for me," Phillips says, especially the paintings done by her mother that hang on the walls. Closeups of flowers,  they're especially appropriate for the business at hand, which is developing a signature scent for a client. You start off seated on the tufted leather sofa, filling out a quiz to determine which general fragrance family—woody, fresh, floral, oriental—you leans towards. Next, Sue gives you a brief course in the composition and construction of  a perfume.


So little time, so many scents

Then, you move over to a table laden with a ring of liquid-laden bottles, and the real fun begins. Sue dips a paper stick into each one and you sniff it, then consign it to a pile (like, dislike and maybe); each is a pure fragrance from one of seven categories of scent. After sampling all 18, you narrow down the 3 or 4 you like best—more than that, and the scent tends to get muddy, Sue claims—and she blends them while you wait into one unique perfume. (I discovered that my ideal consisted of bright florals, with a soupcon of spice and earthy notes—an olfactory equivalent of sweet-and-sour soup). You can choose a bottle for it, and even give it a name. I opted for Lili, in homage to both my fondess for French-style floral fragrances and to my own mother, who spelled her name that way.

Naturally, a custom-blended perfume doesn't come cheap. But the experience also gives you a good sense—or should I say scents—of what you care for in cologne, which can be helpful in negotiating the increasingly crowded world of perfumes out there. Though I'm not sure I'll be able to wear anything I didn't create from now on. 

» The Scentsorium, 85 Franklin St., 646.350.6562, by appointment only.