It’s a beautiful Thursday Afternoon, and I enter Susan Sexton’s BLEND Custom Parfum Studio in Buckhead. Upon entry she greets me and lets me know that she’s finishing up with a client. So with that I get to sit back and watch her work before we officially start the interview, and I am in awe at her thoroughness and techniques.
Susan Sexton grew up in the outskirts of Atlanta as a tomboy doing a lot of horseback riding and many other outdoor activities. This seemed somewhat impossible for me to believe because the poised elegant woman in front of me had no traces of the fact. A graduate of the illustrious University of Georgia, Ms. Sexton obtained her degree in Advertising and has worked feverishly in the field full time up until 2002. It was at that time while vacationing in France that she came across the art of perfume making.
While having her own fragrance made, she had an epiphany that this was something she’d like to learn to do herself. So Ms. Sexton then began to study the art and brought the technique back to the states. After years of training and traveling back and forth to Grasse, France (perfume making capital of the world) she is now known in her field as a Master Perfumer. This is an extremely high honor in the industry and with that she takes major pride in her work.
At her studio, she works by appointment only and caters to both men and women. Her process is extremely lengthy, yet thorough and in the end very rewarding. The end product never disappoints. After wrapping up with her main client, she readily walks me through her process, albeit abbreviated. To start the process, I am given a tray of about 14 unlabeled scent bottles, of the fragrance families. From the fragrance family, you get your base notes which are what makes the scent actually last once you put it on (usually lasts 3-5 hours). I take my time to sniff each one and select 2 as my favorites. While I’m doing so, Susan explains to me that doing the blind scent test is better because it’s based solely on what your senses like. Many times, she has customers that are very anal about knowing names of scents ahead of time which hinders the fluidity of the process and for this she has a motto, “The nose knows”.
She begins to tell me more about the business and we get more in depth about who she primarily works with. As I said earlier, she works with both men and women but women dominate her client list. Brides/bridal parties come in and create signature fragrances for themselves. Often times, she says that brides come in alone and choose the fragrance and give it as a gift to her bridal party. The bride, or woman/man for that matter, can choose to turn their signature fragrance incorporated into a full line. The full line consists of powder, body lotion, soap/body wash, aftershave and a room scent. It’s just as if you’ve gone to Victoria Secret, but the smell is uniquely your own. Most men purchase the gift certificates (yes she has great gift certificates for all occasions!).
After choosing between my 2 finalists for the base note (FYI-they’re called notes because the art of perfuming can be equated to music), I get to choose my “heart” note. The heart note is the 2nd of the 3 that’s chosen to create the fragrance, and usually lasts 1-2 hours. During this part of the process, the selections are more refined that when choosing the base. Susan asks me questions about scents that I like and once I’ve narrowed that down she gives me several fragrances (again blindly) that can be considered of the same “family”. Going through the same process as before, I choose a few that I like. But during this process Susan shows me one of her unique techniques she calls the Elevator method. Instead of mixing each of the heart tones I like with the base note I chose, she performs the little trick so that I can smell them as one. (Want to know the exact method? Go check her out!)
While showing me that trick, we talked more about her and what fragrances inspire her. She admittedly states that she loves a lot of the heavier French fragrances, Tom Ford Black Orchid, Bulgari and Lagerfeld. As I ran down my list of favorites, she mentioned that she also matches discontinued lines. Although she doesn’t have exact recipes, her world-renowned nose can easily pick the scents and recreate your favorites. She also tells me about a few of her clients. When she first started she sold one of her ready to wear lines to R&B Singer Usher Raymond at Bel Canto, an exclusive shop in Midtown. As she perfected her craft over the years, she’s done work with Chateau Élan for whom she has created their signature fragrance called Élan pour Madame. It is offered in the spa package and she gives classes on the history of perfuming and offers the opportunity for class participants to create their own fragrance as well. The Botanical Gardens features her perfume every February for Romance in the Garden. She’s also had her perfume featured in the magazine, Jezebel.
After I finally chose the heart note and it was blended with the base we moved on to the “top note”. The top note, which is the lightest of the three, lasts the least amount of time but its most often where people seek their scent when choosing a store bought fragrance. Again she asks a series of questions to determine what I like and allows me to do the “elevator method” again to choose. One of the top notes that I chose was very strong and she makes a point to state a perfuming rule of thumb, “The stronger the note, the less you should add into the mix.” (You don’t want to make an Old Spice or Brut!) I decided on my final not and Susan finished the blend for me.
As it settles, we get into a plethora of topics. From more rules of thumb on fragrances to the history of the art of perfuming, here are a few:
- Perfuming Fact- dark haired people can easily carry heavier scents, and fair skinned /hair people should stick to lighter fragrances.
- In the town of Montpelier, France, this was originally its capital and originally known for glove- making, is actually where the art of perfume making began. Gloves were worn incessantly, and began to smell horribly. The glove-makers began to use grass and other flowers to scent them. Once the glove trend died, the demand for the fragrances they held was still there and thus we have perfume.
- Every May 1st, there is a celebration called “Passport to France”, in which every woman received a Lily flower from the men. In 2009, she created a signature scent, Lily inspired, and it was given to women that day instead and it was highly praised.
- She’s been written about in several magazines, which include: Points North, Where, New You, the AJC Living Section, Ebony, Jezebel, The Atlanta, and his having a feature article published in GO Mag (Air Tran official in-flight magazine) published in June 2012.
In finishing up this very delightful interview I made sure to get all of her pertinent contact information so that you guys can easily contact her.
I definitely would recommend her to anyone looking to create something totally unique and original. She is a great person to work with, amazing spirit, and just a beautiful person inside and out. Go check her out!
Just one of ‘fatboyfavs’