Interview with Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Starry Night

Starry Night

Do you have a smell from childhood that you loved-anything from your Mom’s perfume to your dog’s paws-and what was it?

A: You know, there are so many smells from childhood that I loved (and still do): the scent of my neighbor’s muguet and lilacs in Spring (these still remind me of my mother and grandmother); violets in my own back yard; the smell of my grandmother’s house (my husband and I bought our house partially because the basement smells like her basement did); warm hay in the humid New York Spring and Summer.  I could continue for a very long time, but these are some of my top favorites.

Are you a synesthete, do you “visualize” odors, or “taste” colors, and does it affect your output?

A: Yes, when I smell smells I not only see colors but sense textures and shapes.  For me, aromas are sculptural / architectural and multi-sensory.  The synethesia effects everything that I do from paintings to perfumes.  I have even created a collection of perfumes called CHROMA that express some of the colors in fragrance form.  I will say that sometimes I let the textural aspect take the “front seat” while at other times my work is about the color or the shape as a primary focus but the overall experience is woven into everything that I make.

How do you see people using your perfumes, as accessories, personal signatures, or therapeutically?

A: All of the above.  As an artist and artisan perfumer I really don’t think about people using perfumes like a commodity of the way they might use a designer bag to tell a story of marketing.  I encourage my clients to get in touch with themselves each time they reach for a fragrance.  This simple ritual can allow you to have a wonderful communication to yourself about who and what you are in that moment and to reflect that sense of self back to you as well as communicate that message to the world.  This can be a very powerful tool: to send these messages, consciously.  This creates the situation where you are wearing your fragrance as an accessory to your outfit, your day, and who you need to be to meet your world but also as a therapy to remind yourself of something good that you gave yourself: a moment of reflection and inner knowing.

If perfumes can be categorized as narrative (like Jean Patou’s 1000) or as abstractions (like No 5) or mood altering (like Eau Dynamisante) or evocative (like L’Heure Bleue) which are yours?



A: Again, I would have to say all of the above.  I like to work in all styles and genres, so I give in to inspirations that come from all quadrants (as anyone can see from the rather absurd volume available at my website! :)  I am quite attracted to abstraction and narrative in general, but there are times when creating ‘portraiture’ (ie a realistic impression of something like ‘Tubereuse’ or ‘Peony’) is very compelling.  I don’t believe that I will ever settle down into one single style.  It’s just too limiting.  I need to create where ever the muse takes me.

Do you have a particular material you prefer to work with or that you always return to?

A: Like everyone else, I use bergamot A LOT.  It adds a wonderful sparkle and polish to, well, just about everything.  But I also come back to natural sandalwood which can be outrageously expensive but so worth it.  I find myself always reaching for it as opposed to the synthetic sandalwood notes.  And then there is orris co2 and orris butter… it’s another pricey gem but worth every penny for it’s delicate richness and complexity.

What is your current best seller?

A: At this time of year, it’s florals.  At this very moment we have a three way tie: our new release White Lilac, Tubereuse and Oeillets Rouges (Red Carnations).  These last two are perennial favorites.

Which of your perfumes are you proudest of, and why?



A: I think Mata Hari and Pandora, although that is a really difficult question to answer.  Both Mata Hari, which is 100% botanical and Pandora, which is 97.5 % botanical, are quite intricate weaving of aromatics to create, in a classical sense, very finished and developed perfumes.  This isn’t easy to do while utilizing all botanicals.  I also feel that they both are unique designs that convey the sense of history and depth of feeling that my perfumes aspire to.  I should also add that I am very proud of my recent collections for the Denver Art Museum, the YSL Retrospective collection and the Passport to Paris collection.  These are almost on the flip side of Mata Hari and Pandora in that they utilize many synthetics but again I feel that they are unique, tell a story, convey emotion/beauty and reference historical concerns.  These are many of the points that interest me in perfumes (mine as well as others) and are important to me.

Do you have a classic perfume that you particularly admire?

A: I could never choose just one.  Jicky is a huge favorite for me, but I LOVE Iris Gris de Fath, La Fuites des Heures de Balenciaga, Mitsouko de Guerlain, Scandal de Lanvin and Madrigal de Molinard are big on my list.  And then there’s the original Francois Coty’s… (La Jacee is a favorite of mine along with Chypre, of course, and the original Ambre Antique).

The artwork featured is Dawn’s own!







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5 Responses to Interview with Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

  1. Vanessa says:

    Oh, very interesting – I am a huge fan of Cimabue, one of my all-time favourite fragrances. And I was happy to learn that Dawn will continue to compose with bergamot and pukka sandalwood. Plus I loved her phrase about perfume being ‘something good that you gave yourself’ – how true!

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      This whole interview has Dawn’s imprint on it. I also liked the idea of consulting with yourself on how you felt that day and then expressing it. That’s a very charming notion.

      Don’t know about you, but I definitely consult with myself. I even have “grumpy day” perfumes.

  2. Natalie says:

    I haven’t been replying to your perfumer interviews, not because I haven’t enjoyed, but just because I haven’t had much to say. But, I did want to respond and say how nice it is to hear from Dawn. I find her work inspiring. Even when one of her perfumes isn’t “for me”, I usually find them very interesting, and I think Mata Hari is a masterpiece.

  3. Blacknall Allen says:

    Wow, if I were Dawn that would make my day for sure!

    This was also a particularly interesting interview because so many of us already know and wear our DSH’s, and it’s intriguing to hear what the perfumer has to say. I loved her list of classics myself.

  4. DSH says:

    Thank you, Blacknall, for the opportunity to be a part of your interview series! It was great fun. And, thank you to Natalie and Vanessa as well. I have to say that both of your comments made my week!

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