Dawn Spencer Horowitz of DSH Perfumes, DSH Perfumes Don’t Explain and a gardenia from Dawn’s garden

No explanation is needed for three of the most talented artists to have graced this earth – Award Winning Perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes, one of the most inspirational jazz singers Billie Holiday and our own 2 x Perfumed Plume and The Fragrance Foundation award winning Deputy Editor, Natural Perfumery Editor and Fragrance Evaluator Ida Meister. Coincidently both of Dawn’s muses (are there coincidences?) share the same birthday April 7. September 24, 2021 is the launch of  DON’T EXPLAIN, the fifth perfume in Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s Women’s Artists Series. It brings me great joy to share with you the creative process in my Behind the Bottle discussion with Dawn-Michelyn Camen, Editor-in-Chief

Michelyn Camen: What was the creative genesis of DSH Perfumes DON’T EXPLAIN? How long have you worked on this perfume?

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz:  DSH Perfumes DON’T EXPLAIN, the perfume, has been in process for 3 or 4 years.  It started with a deep conversation about gardenia perfume, Ida’s favorite aspects of the flower and how it is translated into fragrance, and what a “dream gardenia” perfume might be like:  a gardenia fragrance with ‘an over-the-top quality” that pushed the boundaries of more debauched notes… like the blue cheese and mushroomy nuances that can be found in some gardenia fragrances we had smelled. I wasn’t sure how it would all come together as I worked on the accords, with Ida in mind, but as soon as I started working on ideas for the Women Artists Series (and a Billie Holiday fragrance in particular), Ida’s gardenia came immediately to mind. Billie’s song “DON’T EXPLAIN” materialized as I contemplated how to put Ida’s gardenia ideas into the Billie Holiday fragrance.  The song tells so much about Billie’s own life, her sadness, heartbreak, and her struggles with men.  Once I had chosen the song to reference, the other pieces fell into to place conceptually and the fragrance did, too.

Billie Holiday inspired perfumes

Billie Holiday via Wikipedia and Ida Meister(a gifted vocalist) via Ida

Michelyn Camen:  As the fifth in the series of Women Artists which have included Maria Callas and Frida Khalo, how do Billie Holiday and Ida Meister meet in this perfume?

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz: It may not come as a surprise to those who know Ida and a bit about Billie Holiday, but they share a birthday (!).  They are both passionate and gifted vocal artists, and deeply glamorous, and beautiful women.  ( I am sure that there are more similarities that I don’t know about, but they wouldn’t surprise me).  Although in marriage, it seems that their lives differed wildly, Billie and Ida come together in this perfume with their love of gardenias and a penchant for elegance.  Together, Ida’s ‘dream gardenia’ finds kinship with Billie’s life story; there is wonderful meeting of two glorious women.

 gardenia perfumes

 gardenia via Elise Pearlstine©

Michelyn Camen: The central accord is the gardenia, of course iconic to Billie Holiday who wore it in her hair to cover a curling iron burn, but why choose gardenia for Ida Meister?

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz: Ultimately, Ida chose it for herself without knowing it when we spoke of the gardenia she’s most love to have.

 Michelyn Camen: Ida is our deputy editor AND natural perfumery editor… what percent is natural?

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz: DSH Perfumes DON’T EXPLAIN is a mixed media design that uses new and more conventional aroma molecules as well as many natural materials.  It’s far from an all-natural, as many of my perfumes are, but the naturals content is relatively high compared with ‘commercial’ perfumes.  In order to create the concept just as I wanted it,  DSH Perfumes DON’T EXPLAIN in at around 35% naturals content.

 Michelyn Camen: Did you work with Ida Meister on DSH Perfumes DON’T EXPLAIN or was it a project you had in mind?

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz: This was a perfume story that I wanted to tell.  Originally, I had a totally different story envisioned that was purely about the gardenia as a soliflore (as a gift for Ida) but when I started my Women Artist Series (and I always knew that I would feature Billie Holiday) the idea came to make this design about these TWO wonderful women artists instead of either /or.  I love how they come together through time and space (and Billie’s incredibly moving song, DSH Perfumes DON’T EXPLAIN) magnified through the lens of expressing the gardenia concept that Ida and I had discussed so long ago.

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz composed No Regrets for Billie Holiday and Ida Meister of CaFleureBon

Dawn with Ida and her son Xander 2014

 What is an umami gardenia? How did you achieve the blue cheese nuance?  Did you look at other fragrances Ida loved for inspiration?

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz:  Ida actually coined the term: an umami gardenia” after wearing DSH Perfumes DON’T EXPLAIN.  I had gifted her a bottle when we met up for a dinner on a recent trip to Boston.  I was looking to express both blue cheese and a mushroom nuance in the perfume (two of Ida’s wishes), along side a kind of ‘post-sexual’ saltiness  (to tell the story of Billie’s husband’s philandering and her own tears).  The combination of these notes with the fleshy-floralcy creates an unusual feeling that the gardenia has an ‘umami’ vibe.  I completely love this idea. To achieve the blue cheese nuance I utilized some aroma molecules in the ketone family (these are often employed with gardenia notes…. Germaine Cellier used them in Jolie Madame). They can be used in low percentage to accentuate rich, fleshy, tropical flowers like gardenia, tuberose, lilies, and ylang ylang, but when pushed to a higher percentage, the blue cheese-like qualities come out.  While I didn’t really look to any other perfumes for inspiration, now that I think about it, I suspect that both Billie and Ida would love Jolie Madame! (Maybe they both do).  I’m glad that although Ida and I spoke at length about gardenias and gardenia perfumes she didn’t mention any specifically by name so that I wasn’t influenced by any other concepts.

 Taste areas of the human tongue - sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami

the five taste receptors  via stock photo

Michelyn Camen: Umami is the relatively new identified fifth taster receptor on the tongue and is usually perceived by super tasters, those who can taste food more intensely than others. Since the tie to the culinary arts is often associated with olfactory arts, I often call Ida a super smeller. How does this fit in with DSH Perfumes DON’T EXPLAIN?

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz: While I didn’t set out to create a specifically ‘umami’ floral or to tie in the culinary arts in any direct way, I think that   DSH Perfumes DON’T EXPLAIN does explore some very nuanced concepts that are mostly perceived through taste (or even a sense of “mouth feel”) like saltiness, meatiness, fleshy-ness, and foods like mushroom and cheese.  As someone with synesthesia, I love creating with multi-sensory impressions in mind.  I’m so glad that you feel this crossover, too!

Notes: Ambergris, Australian Sandalwood, Blue Cheese Nuance (accord), Butter co2, Castoreum, Civet, Gardenia, Grandiflorum Jasmine, Leafy Green (accord), Leather, Musk, Orange Flower Absolute – Spain, Sambac Jasmine, Tiare Absolute, Tobacco Absolute, Tuberose Absolute, and White Button Mushroom (accord).


DSH Perfumes No Regrets 

Thanks to the largesse of perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, we are offering one 5 ml extrait of Don’t Explain for one registered reader anywhere in the world. Please share with us what appeals to you about DSH Perfumes DON’T EXPLAIN, if you are familiar with Billie Holiday, any message for Ida and where you live. Draw closes 9/28/2020

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