Sitting at the Perfume Organ

Sunday, January 10, 2016

During the hubbub of the holidays, I was shaken out of deep, morning sleep by my husband, “Honey, there is a perfumer on PBS TV!” I shot up, put on my glasses and was thrilled to watch a short piece on local scent artist, Carolyn Hassett of Escentuelle Signature Fragrance Creation. What? A perfumer trained in Grasse, France located here in North Carolina! Excited to discover a perfumer in our midst, I dashed off an email to Ms. Hassett requesting a studio tour and perchance an interview.

Gracious as Carolyn is, she agreed to meet on a blustery morning a few days before Christmas. Upon arrival, Carolyn made us some tea and I was won over that moment. I have a bit of a “tea” obsession and the leaves were hot, strong and delicious. After the niceties, Carolyn and I toured her open and nicely scented studio in Cary, NC.


Carolyn Hassett

Escentuelle’s primary focus is as a perfume studio where clients design their own fragrance. The studio’s centerpiece(s) is two fully complemented perfume organs. I had entered a perfumista’s dream land.   We sat down with the remainder of our morning beverages and I began by asking what piqued Carolyn’s interest in fragrance.

Carolyn Hassett: When I was really small, maybe 6 or 7 years old, I got  a few sample bottles from my Grandfather. They may have been my Grandmothers and he gave them to me. I loved them and I started smelling everything I could get my hands on. Oddly enough, when I got older and started trying on perfume in department stores, I ended up liking men’s stuff more than the women’s. I later found out why, but at the time, I was of great embarrassment to my best friend who couldn’t believe I was sniffing the men’s colognes because I was spraying the men’s colognes up and down my arms.

SDG: Do you remember which men’s perfume you liked to wear?

CH: I never bought any and walked away. I simply found them more interesting, but I gifted Devin by Aramis and Bowling Green by Geoffrey Beene. I like mossy, green perfumes. There are a lot more naturals in men’s scents and they are not trying to make men smell like a flower. That’s what was attracted me to those scents.

SDG: I love your perfume organs. I believe that the majority of the population doesn’t know that these are the tools that a perfumer uses and they are both beautiful and amazing. I see that you are using Galimard essences. While you were in France, what made you choose Galimard over Fragonard or Molinard?

CH: I’ve been to all three. I did perfumery courses at Molinard and Galimard. At the time, Fragonard did not offer perfumery courses.  Galimard was the most approachable and they use a good concentration of naturals in their essences. A lot of the commercial perfumers are moving away from naturals because they are hard to come by, are expensive and it is hard to maintain a certain consistency, which they need for their formulas and that means they are using a lot of synthetics. Not everyone reacts well to synthetics and having come from natural perfumery, I chose Galimard because they use about 35% naturals in their essences.

SDG: What type of services do you offer at Escentuelle?

CH: We offer personalized scent creation where people come in via appointment and make their own perfume with my guidance. In 2016, we will once again offer bespoke services.(which was put on hold to get the brick-and-mortar storefront up and running last year).  I will use naturals (essentials oils, absolutes etc.) to make personalized scents for my clients, with their hints as to what they would like, of course.

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The customer focused system we have here with Galimard takes the hard stuff out of making perfume. The perfume creation is about merely what smells good to you; you don’t have to  worry about the chemistry. The essences are blended  and pre-mixed with alcohol.  With the natural bespoke scents I create,  you have to get the ingredients into a workable state, which takes a lot more effort. I wouldn’t put that into the hands of someone who is coming in to make a perfume in a matter of two hours.

SDG: What is in the bottles? Are they essential oils? Is it synthetics?

CH: It’s a blend. It really depends on which bottle you pick up. We have 127 bottles on each perfume organ. Most of them are a blend in the bottle already. The primary note or feel is labeled on the bottle. You can combine 20 of them and the end result will be  a complex perfume that would normally have 100 ingredients. Also, it really depends on what scent you are trying to get. Some are more natural and and some are more synthetic.  Some things in nature just don’t release their scent.  Take lychee for instance, that note is not natural, but pine wood is and you can see how natural it is when you pour it into a bottle and there is this rich, green color.

SDG: I see a trend in personal artistic endeavors like group  painting activities. Do you offer scent making group activities for birthdays or celebrations?

CH: We currently are able to have 4 people perfuming at one time. I’m hoping to be able to host larger group activities later in 2016. (For now, I’m the only employee and I don’t want to short change any participant on their experience by spreading myself too thin.)

SDG: I see on your website that a perfume creation session costs $150.00. I’ve seen perfume making services offered for a low as $28.00 for a 15ml bottle of perfume. What sets your fragrance creation pricing at an increased price point?

CH: Well, we have a variety of scents to work with—127. The essences on the organs are eau de parfum, which is the highest concentration underneath perfume, so you also have a higher concentration of the scent ingredient itself than at other blending services. The essences are very high quality; all have been vetted and mixed by a master perfumer in France. The essences also have to pass international quality and safety standards. The session fee includes my service and instruction in addition to the perfume.  I have a solid background in perfuming that includes not only my Grasse training but previous participation in the now-defunct Artisan Perfumers Guild led by Mandy Aftel and a natural perfumer’s group that shared creations among its international members via themed round-robin sessions. In a session at Escentuelle, I guide my customers through the process of building a perfume over two hours, using the essences that would work best in the type of perfume they’re trying to create. People walk out with a 50 ml bottle of quality perfume and can reorder their scent at any time (the formula goes on file). A reorder costs $85, a typical retail price for a 50 ml bottle of eau de parfum.

SDG: What is your first love at Escentuelle? Helping people discover and create their own personal fragrance or to create ready to buy fragrances for people to choose from the shelf?

CH: That’s a very good question. To be honest, what I like changes from day to day, but what I find the most satisfying is watching somebody experiencing this for the first time. They get so excited and they feel so in control — and they feel like they are peeking behind the curtain at Oz. When somebody new sits down at the perfume organ, I am reminded how it was for me 17 years ago when I started playing around with perfume.

SDG: I am going to move into more personal questions for people to get to know your personality, so when they come here, they will know a little bit about you. What is your favorite perfume?

CH: That’s a personality type thing. I’ve been wearing my own creations for such a long time that it’s hard to say. There are two commercial fragrances that have stayed with me many years. One is Cristalle by Chanel. That was one of the tiny bottles I got from my Grandfather. I love it. It has such a clean, bright scent.  The other is Cinnabar by Estee Lauder. They are very specific perfumes, though. Chanel is daytime year-round. Cinnabar is winter night because it is so strong. (SDG: I had both of those perfumes when I was younger.)

SDG: In your mind, what distinguishes a good perfume from a bad perfume?

CH: It’s all individual taste, really. One person may like a perfume and another person may hate it. There is also body chemistry to consider. I think something that evolves well on the skin and doesn’t bring up a nasty surprise is a good perfume.

SDG: Give us a few key words that describe your personality?

CH: Thoughtful, calm, complex

DSG: What is your favorite smell?

CH: Fresh cut grass. My favorite floral is lilac.

SDG: What is the perfect perfume that you would create for yourself? Explain the top, heart and base notes.

CH: The base would be moss, because I am green at heart. The heart note would be linden and the top would be tea or a green bergamot.

SDG: In terms of beauty, what is your favorite flower?

CH: Probably orchid.  Most of them don’t have a scent, but I’ve heard that some do.

SDG: What is your favorite cocktail?

CH: Amaretto sour

SDG: What is your  favorite travel destination?

CH: Italy, or a place next to an ocean. Let’s just say the Mediterranean.

SDG: What influences you as a fragrance designer?

CH: I am most influenced by personality and I enjoy helping people make their scents based on that. Like in any commercial market, there are trends out there and sometimes you have to wait until a design you like comes out. At Escentuelle, you don’t have to compromise on what you want and you do not have to wait for your perfume interests to become trendy in order to buy a bottle. Major perfumery cater to the masses because they have to. Here it’s about personality and personalization.

SDG: Do you have a perfume artist whose work fascinates you and while we are at do you have a visual artist that you love?

I have not really studied the perfumers of the world (I just do my own thing), but I do know about Jean-Claude Ellena (featured in the Perfect Scent by Chandler Burr). I am curious about him. In general when a perfumer is given a brief, they have to have imagination. They have to imagine themselves in the place or character that brief describes and there has to be a great amount of creativity there.

In terms of visual artists, I am thinking about a local watercolor artist named Linda Dallas that I’ve taken some classes from. She does things with watercolors you would never expect.

SDG: Does she? What does she do?

CH: She beats it into submission. Most watercolors are very ethereal and watery with soft lines. Linda Dallas uses pattern and words and dark, dark saturations. She is just amazing. You can discover her work at

SDG: Which perfumer style do you admire?

CH: There are some perfumeries that rarely disappoint like Guerlain, Givenchy and Chanel. I am very picky.

SDG: And out of the niche designers?

CH: Jo Malone is my favorite because she uses naturals and her perfumes have the ability to layer built in and that is something I’ve been looking to do here in a different way, but I won’t let that cat out of the bag.

SDG: Is there a fragrance that you wish you had designed?

CH: I’m not trying to be commercial and I can’t say I am trying to make some big splash. So, no.

SDG: How do you envisage the future for fragrances? Do you have hopes for the future of perfume?

CH: Not to be too cynical, it’s gone too commercial and profit is too important. Once I was able to peer behind the curtain of the perfume industry,  I was crushed that most of the work went into the marketing and the way the bottle and box looks and less about what is actually in the bottle. It also annoys me that celebrities are releasing scents and they don’t have anything to do with their creation and some of them don’t even bother to smell the perfume before they put their name on it.

What I would hope for the future is that more perfumers would get recognition for what they do, because there are so few perfumes out there that actually have who made it on the box. It is true artistry and they are not getting recognition for it.

Along with signature fragrance creation and personalized bespoke fragrances, Carolyn has prêt-a-porter perfumes (blended from Galimard essences) available for sniffing and purchase at the studio and online. She has perfumes for men, woman as well as genderless/unisex perfumes to choose from.

Carolyn’s prêt-à-porter collection includes:

Cannes ⚥ Ocean air, mountain herbs and fresh tobacco
Chaleur ♂ Bamboo, cinnamon, waxy flowers, amber and vanilla
Monaco ♂ Green tea, citrus, mediterranean herbs, aquatic, woods and moss
Moonbeam ♀ Lychee, soft flowers and amber musk
Full Bloom ♀ Flowers, woody
That 70’s Scent ♀ Deep moss, vetiver, florals and green top notes

Escentuelle Signature Fragrance Creation is located in quaint downtown Cary, North Carolina.

Discounts Available for Smells Downright Gorgeous Readers!
Mention to Carolyn that you are a Smells Downright Gorgeous reader and receive a 15% discount on personalized fragrance creation or the purchase of a pret-a-porter fragrance. When purchasing online or making an online appointment please type the code: SDG15 to receive the discount!

201 W. Chatham Street #107
Cary, NC 27511 USA
+1 919 659 0476


EXTRA EXTRA – Sample Perfume Give Away CONUS only
Leave a comment or opinion in the reply box about our interview with Carolyn Hassett of Escentuelle and receive a sample of one of Escentuelle’s fragrances.
4 Lucky Winners to be chosen at random via

No worries, your email is safe and I will not market or share with a soul.

Perfume Give Away Ends on January 26, 2016.



7 Comments Add yours

  1. Tracey Chipps says:

    I enjoyed the interview style of this article. Thank you for giving us more details about the scents availability, the training involved and how complex this industry really is in creating quality scents. I happen to agree how disappointing it is that so many celebrities have their own line but couldn’t truly tell you anything about it creation.


    1. Paige Hales Gordo says:

      Tracey, I am delighted you enjoyed the article and learned something too. It is disheartening about the celebrity perfumes, isn’t it? Thanks for commenting, Paige


  2. Susan Reep says:

    So much to learn about an amazing art.
    Ancient and modern at same time
    Thanks for sharing


    1. Paige Hales Gordo says:

      Susan, you are welcome! It is ancient, isn’t it? I haven’t really turned that thought around in my head. The ancient art of perfumery and seeing how it works from behind the great curtain of modernity is fascinating. I appreciate your comment! – Paige


  3. Paige Hales Gordo says:

    Susan, you are welcome! It is ancient, isn’t it? I haven’t really turned that thought around in my head. The ancient art of perfumery and seeing how it works from behind the great curtain of modernity is fascinating. I appreciate your comment! – Paige


  4. What an intriguing read! I could relate to Carolyn’s preference for men’s fragrances, her reason was enlightening. I’m excited to learn of a trained perfumer with their own shop nearby. I’m in Virginia and Escentuelle isn’t too far away. Can’t wait to visit – that perfume organ is *dreamy*.

    Thank you, Paige! I found you via Pinterest, and I’m so glad! I love your Southern perspective on perfume and I look forward to following your posts.


    1. Paige Hales Gordo says:

      Hi Brandi, that is great that you found SDG through Pinterest. I love Pinterest. I was looking for a way to explain to Southerners about fragrance and the best way I could think of was by using the unique way we communicate. If you go to Escentuelle, remember to let Carolyn know that you found her via SDG and you will get a discount. Thanks for following! – Paige


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