Portland’s scents are among the world’s finest and freshest. Because of the doughnut chain next door, my neighborhood smells like fresh rising dough, confectioners’ icing, and fruit fillings on its best days, shifting savory at night thanks to a score of breweries and coffee roasters. The neighborhood’s base notes shift seasonally, now emitting petrichor, dried leaves and windy evergreen. If I were blending a fragrance for downtown Portland, I’d layer notes of ivy, river water, florists, global fresh-cooked food, concrete and gasoline (yes, gasoline perfume exists).
Perfume is self-expressive, making a strong first impression and leaving a lasting personal imprint. Ingredients aren’t bound to gender. Some men love wearing florals and fruits, some women love wearing woods and spices, and some people love mixing and matching existing scents into alchemical calling cards. As long as you don’t apply them like you’re fumigating a middle school bathroom, there are barely any rules to wearing perfume.
Some Portland perfumers think of fragrance as an art practice, some consider it medicinal, while others consider their work spiritual. Some have cultivated communities around their potions, while others compete with beauty industry behemoths, standing out from the department store miasma.
Fumerie Perfumerie has a lock on niche fragrances like Escentric Molecules and the cinematic Moth and Rabbit line. The Perfume House has supplied Portland with luxury European labels since 1985. Bellini’s Skin and Parfumerie followed up with a competitive selection in 1993. Bodegas and cultural grocery stores like Barbur Boulevard’s Ares Halal Market can carry Indian, African and Middle Eastern blends. Nearly every boutique in town carries TokyoMilk. But we followed the sillage trail of more than two dozen Portland-made perfumes, and found people making their own way in a tradition-focused industry, with surprisingly affordable entry points—whether you’re seeking a holiday present for a loved one, or a gift for yourself.
Powell’s by Powell’s
Imaginary AuthorsSpeaking of books, the team at Imaginary Authors invent a writer’s persona and book title for their scents, earning shoutouts from Vanity Fair, Refinery29 and Men’s Journal for their unusual combinations. Imaginary Authors’ newest scent, Fox in the Flowerbed, leapt wild on November 10. With crisp floral notes (jasmine and tulips) blooming into sweet, cool spices and woods (frankincense, wildflower honey, pink peppercorn, silver thistle and Alpine air), the only foxy vibes in this bottle are unique to each wearer. Samples start at $6.
Roots & Crowns ApothecaryCertified herbalist Max Turk started Roots & Crowns Apothecary in 2014. Along with essential oil perfume rollers and mists, Roots & Crowns makes botanical skincare products, candles, magick accessories, and natural drink ingredients like bitters, tea blends and cocoa dusts. Some scents, like Spruce & Cedarwood, are upfront in their presentation, while others draw from Turk’s personal experiences. Pink was inspired by Turk’s journey to embracing the color, aided by Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer anthem, while Walkup is an ode to Turk’s friend, the metal sculptor Lane Walkup. Sample kit available for $33.
Seagrape ApothecarySeagrape Apothecary carries dozens of unisex, ritualistic scents intended for everything from anxiety relief to personal empowerment. Seagrape’s natural blends are available as personal sprays, candles, massage oils, and components of sex magic kits. Eclipse, Seer, and Wood —Seagrape’s three new jojoba oil rollerballs —are complex woody-earthy concoctions that draw on key autumn experiences, like Woods’ mountaintop views and and crisp sunrises, or Eclipse’s foggy mornings and “holding someone’s hand for the first time.” Seer is the spiciest of the trio, while Eclipse smells like a late night dessert date in the fall. Perfumes start at $26.
Olo and Siela FragrancesOlo and Siela are two labels from self-taught perfumer Heather Sielaff. Sielaff began oil-based Olo solo in 2009, and launched alcohol-based Siela in 2014 with her partner, Jonathan.
Olo’s range recalls travel to chilly, exotic locales with wood and mossy green bases, accented by lush florals and piquant spices. Siela’s range evokes the urbane sophistication Portland’s gala circuits wished they possessed. Unlike spendier, youth-obsessed fashion designers, Olo and Siela confidently characterize the no-fucks-given attitude that emerges with age. Olo’s standouts include the lush, dewy petals of Cedar & Rose, the clean rosewood heart of Violet / Leather, and the woodsy backroom intrigue of Maisoru, a collaboration with luxury lifestyle magazine Monocle. Siela’s standouts include the spicy, mossy rosy Overnight made for local Indigenous-owned boutique Frances May; the year-round, unisex green Summer Leaves; and the distinct candle smoke notes in Courante. Samples start at $6.
Maak LabMaak Lab celebrated their tenth birthday by pivoting from hyper-specific soap, candles, wet wipes and perfume to making Oregon-grown peppermint hand sanitizer at the pandemic’s outset. Maak Lab co-owner Grant Kaufman confirmed to the Mercury that signature perfumes and soaps are back in stock, and while they’re not able to offer a consistent online catalog yet, in-person shopping at their West Burnside store will be back for the holidays. Supply chain disruptions have affected their comeback, but Kaufman says Maak Lab still offers their collaborative range, like LA-based collective Brain Dead Studio’s Shroom Cola soap and perfume, and amenities at Suttle Lodge in Sisters. Kaufman hinted that new products are on their way, but declined to provide details. Visit maaklab.com for hand sanitizer ($15) and ordering instructions for all other products.
Blithe and BonnyTechnically from Happy Valley via California, Blithe and Bonny was founded in 2009, at the height of Portland’s fixation on sustainability, and at one time could be found in Anthropologie. Though the pandemic cost the label the brick and mortar store we visited in 2018, Blithe and Bonny’s full collection of perfume, soaps, cleaning products, bath accents and candles are all available online. Their perfume collection comprises nearly two dozen staple scents, from grapefruit and fern to oud and honeysuckle pear. In 2020, Blithe and Bonny began donating 10 percent of their proceeds to nonprofits supporting bee conservation. Perfumes start at $28.
Essance SkincareEssance Skincare owner Jasmine Tran makes green, sustainable beauty products informed by traditional Chinese medicine and aromatherapy. Essence’s two perfume alternatives, Dream Essence and Love Essence, both use jojoba, argan, and essential oils. Both are also floral, with Dream Essence skewing more herbal, and Love Essence more citrus. Essance’s flagship relocated to Barbur from the Northwest Alphabet District. Essance products can be found in New Seasons, Market of Choice, and other health-focused markets in Oregon, as well as Seattle, California, and Nevada. Essences start at $15.
Delas BotanicalsDelas Botanicals’s plant-based, sun-soaked mixes are “everywhere fragrances” made by sisters Daniella Brunette and Samantha Swartz. Delas also offers an hour to build your own custom dream scent from their library of ingredients. Delas is the perfumer of choice for local jewelry designer Boîte Laque. Their coconut and essential oil rollerballs include suspended floral remnants, which could be displayed as decor. Their collection of six scents recall dusty climates, like the peppery tobacco of Tumbleweed, the prairie bouquet of Rosa, or the palo santo and clove of Desert. Delas’ sensitive chemistry and gentle smell is meant to be reapplied throughout the day. They can be layered, and according to their marketing, Delas can be applied to “sensitive areas, fuzzy or smooth.” Fragrances start at $26.
Roman Ruby BotanicalsRoman Ruby Botanicals’s scented soaps, candles, lotions, bath salts and oils are inspired by the neighborhoods and nicknames of Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland, all places that founder Jeanné Ellenby has called home. Portland’s collection is mostly floral. The Columbia Gorge’s natural fir and clove get fantasy boosts of sandalwood and patchouli, whichSauvie Island’s lavender gets some orange zest to keep it from laundry territory. The Portland Japanese Garden is a soothing blend of lemongrass, green tea, and water orchid. Their cool freshness contrasts the warm tones of Roman Ruby’s new luxury oil line, like Chakra’s pink citrus “rose quartz,” or Prince’s red ginger, saffron and Egyptian amber. Fragrances start at $20.
ReBelle’s Vintage / Euphoric BlendsReBelle’s Vintage has left Portland for Grants Pass, but Tausha Lell still sells her Euphoric Blends label at Hawthorne’s Presents of Mind and Woodstock’s Red Fox Vintage. Euphoric Blends are simple but sensual. Meadow’s honeysuckle and mint blends flowers with quiet green tea. Tantra’s ginger and jasmine intensifies as it alluringly blooms. Shaman’s dragon’s blood and cedarwood is a warm, woody companion to Aja’s amber and patchouli, like two pagan priests. Lell told the Mercury she pours seasonal releases, and on request pulls from the recipes she’s used for over 25 years. Ask about Vanilla Smoke, Element, and Profess. Starting at $26.
Julia Barbee Studio“The bodies wearing these fragrances are new sites— the project scope and literal size grows with each new person carrying the olfactory work into their personal contexts,” artist Julia Barbee told the Mercury through email. Barbee’s fragrances have pungent, earthy bases and long, poetic names. The Ace Hotel inspired the spikenard, leather, patchouli, and sandalwood of “couple found dead in the fragrance hotel,” while the chocolate, tobacco, and coffee notes in “vice” once poured down the walls of a Culver City art gallery. Barbee’s blends harken back to the mid-late 20th century: “couple” smells like older men and seedy motels, while “the animal and the moon” recalls marmalade from vetiver, tobacco and ylang-ylang.
Sleater-Kinney is a fan of Barbee’s practice. Luxe versions of “mother naturalist” bottles —an animalistic blend of amber, black pepper and honeysuckle — appear in their quarantine-themed music video for “Worry With You,” released in June, along with Barbee’s T-shirts and two custom blends, “stasis oasis” and “i’m okay / you’re not okay.” Samples start at $4.
Shelter in PerfumeShelter in Perfume began as Emily Schaber’s alternative to a sourdough starter. She crafted fragrances inspired by places she wished she could be during lockdown’s strictest months. Sir commands attention with lime, leather, vetiver, amber, and cedar atlas heart. L is a fruity-floral summer treat, while In The Vineyard is a clean, woody-floral transition to fall. The floral-spicy Extra carries its wearer through winter, where the seasonal cycle starts over with Sir. Sir’s larger sizes use packaging inspired by men’s formal shirts. Samples start at $6.
Vireo PerfumesSchaber credits Vireo Perfumes nose Kaitlyn ni Donovan with teaching her how to blend. ni Donovan started Vireo in 2006, using luxury-quality natural ingredients to blend her own fantasy and mythology-inspired scents. Lovers Amber is a precise blend of herbs, spices, florals, incense and musk harvested from around the world. Vireo’s newest scent takes its cues from The Hobbit. Hrum, Hoom mixes pine, oak and other tree resins with sweet grasses, tobacco, boronia, black currant, apple, mushrooms, butterfly bush, and honey. Find Vireo's Etsy shop here.
Crosby ElementsInspired by the travels and memories of founder Kelly Harland, Crosby Elements makes incense cones, water-diffused home scents, soy and beeswax candles, hair perfume, hand cleanser, and the Residency eau de parfum collection. The Residency collection is a salute to the West Coast, recreating earthy, woody impressions of Joshua Tree, British Columbia, and Joseph, Oregon. Samples start at $7.
Cast Candle Company
ButterCressButterCress carries a vast collection of single-note and original blend perfumed coconut-jojoba oils, and an even wider collection of natural lip balm flavorings for makers. ButterCress’s oils are designed to layer numerous scents for a truly one-of-a-kind personal aroma, or blast one note loud and proud. It’s also well past Pride Month, yet ButterCress’s rollerballs still have rainbow “love is love” packaging. Gay rights! Starting at $8.
Jbombz and OilzJazmyn Newton is the youngest perfumer on our list at 13 years old, and has already worked with a local celebrity. Jbombz and Oilz released a bath bomb and salt for Siren and the Sea’s newest album, For Bathing. Newton and her sisters also formulated a sweet and savory oil set great for young-at-heart fragrance fans, with scents ranging from peach mango and lemongrass to cotton candy and bubblegum. Fragrance oil starts at $8.
Wooly Beast NaturalsWooly Beast Naturals specialize in candles and soap, but offer four of their olfactive archetypes as travel-size body oil flasks. Wearers might set themselves up for self-deprecating laughs if they reveal they smell like a Lumberjack, a Dirty Hipster, or a Trust Fund Hippie, but the unisex floral, spice, and woody blends smell better than a callout smarts. Starting at $15.
Running Late ApothecaryRunning Late Apothecary offers scents inspired by the travels of founder Sita Waters and her husband, and informed by Waters’s childhood experiences with holistic medicine. Running Late’s scents are made with vegan ingredients, like dried plants and natural oils. Running Late’s oils, body mists, home scents and herbal steam facial packs place Portland alongside some of the world’s most imaginative destinations, from Japanese and Mediterranean coasts to New Orleans and Palm Desert. Starting at $22.
Black Rabbit Perfumery
Antique Book smells like sun-drenched wooden library shelves, Trash Queen is a sweet ode to messy gay icons, and Fire Walk With Me is an unexpectedly oceanic mix with an immaculately designed bottle that David Lynch fans would display proudly on their shelves. Sample sets start at $24.