downtown l.a. perfumers regime des fleurs on rethinking scent
Alia Raza and Ezra Woods make exquisite handmade perfume in downtown Los Angeles.
Two years ago, Alia was living in New York and working on creating a fragrance called Hypnotic Cascade. It was an art object, not a commercial scent. Although she was primarily a video artist, she had collected perfumery materials like flower oils, synthesized molecules, wood resins, and animal tinctures, and was playing around with them in order to create a scent that was in her head. When asked to show the scent and other new work at a space in downtown L.A., Ezra kindly offered to let her stay at his place for a few week. Alia had brought a library of scented materials. When Ezra saw them, he was very excited and dug up a bunch of flower and plant oils of his own, some of which he'd been saving since he was a teenager. They'd stay up until the wee hours of morning creating scents together. "We realized they were pretty good and all our friends kept telling us to sell them. That was that. Instead of staying with him for a couple of weeks, I ended up staying for a year and we started the company out of his living room. Today the company makes ten scents, organized into three categories: lyrics, ballads, and epics. In just one short year, the self-taught collaborators went from a dream and some oils to selling their covetable, colorful bottles everywhere from Los Angeles to Saudi Arabia. I spoke to the creative dreamers about their inspiring story.
What's the inspiration behind your unique scents?
Alia: We aren't interested in trying to recreate scents that already exist or recapture memories of things. We think about imagined scenes, cultural movements, historical periods, unexpected juxtapositions, and work from there. Our scent "Nitesurf" is an orange blossom if it were neon, if it were a surfer on a glowing board at night on Venice Beach. It smells like neroli, orange Tic-Tacs, fluorescent hi-liters, salt, and sand. Another one, "Turquoise," imagines if a young Marie Antoinette had gone abroad to India - what would she smell like in her pastel dress, rolling around in a field of vetiver dusted with turmeric? "Dove Grey" took inspiration from the home of Deeda Blair in Manhattan. Refined, restrained - it smells like petrichor and rain and 1920s city streets.
How did you develop the packaging when you started out?
Ezra: We had no money to develop our packaging so we had to be creative. We worked with a fabricator who was referred by an artist friend of ours, Max Hooper Schneider, to execute our vision. We wanted color to play a big part in the brand, and we wanted to have an old world, late 18th/early 19th century feel without being too "on the nose," so to speak.
Who were you most excited by when you discovered they're a fan of your perfume?
Ezra: I sat next to Ben Gorham from Byredo 2 nights ago for a dinner in his honor and he was familiar with our brand and complimented the packaging which was a huge compliment. He is so nice and a real trailblazer.
How are you two different/similar?
Alia: Oh, that's tough. We are super different and super similar. I'm an introvert, Ezra is an extrovert. I'm shy, Ezra is social. I'm OCD, Ezra is ADHD. People say things to me like, "You're dark and stormy," and they say to Ezra "You're so cute, I love you." I'm making myself sound horrible. But we are both thinkers who delve deep into things, and in a way we're both misfits I think, and we both channel a lot into our creativity.
What inspires you?
Alia: Medusa inspires me. She's like a tuberose flower: beautiful and tragic and powerful and compelling. Also, growing older and realizing how much of my personality comes from my mom, that's inspiring. I used to wonder, where did I come from? Why am I the way I am? Now I understand I'm just like her, which is cool.
Ezra: I think I'm most inspired by myself as a child- I was so enthusiastically obsessed with things like Versailles, The Little Mermaid, H20+ (the soap store at the mall. We both thought it was cool when we were kids. The colors, the packaging, the oceanic vibe - it's totally different now), and House of Style on MTV and Bjork and John Galliano and Hawaii and the legend of Atlantis. I really lived in my imagination.
Alia: Fragranced candles are next, and they're really special. I'm really excited about them.
Ezra: Lots of very cool weird stuff.
Text Alexi Wasser
Photography Amanda Milius