I thought I’d add a few things after the discussion of custom scents in the comment thread for the post on November 28.
Someone had been thinking about a custom scent that would be a dry, masculine, woodsy incense with lots of specific naturals he had in mind. Since the desired scent was a masculine that was high in naturals, my first thought was natural perfumer Dominique Dubrana from www.profumo.it because he offers reasonable rates as far as custom work goes and he has done some custom fragrances for men on basenotes who have been happy with the results. I’ve also tried a few of his scents and thought they seemed nicely done, with my favorite so far being Bois de Rose. I’ve not tried enough of his scents to be extremely familiar with his work, but I sampled enough to feel comfortable suggesting that he’d be worth looking into, especially for a project like this one. It’s easy to try some of his samples at TPC.
I could have also mentioned Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of dshperfumes.com because she also does some beautiful work with naturals. She works with both naturals and synthetics and you could request either a blend or an all-natural approach; sometimes a few synthetics can help add longevity so it can be an advantage to go with someone who uses both, unless you are specifically looking for an all-natural perfume. Dawn uses a much higher amount of naturals than many brands though and you can smell that high quality in her scents. She has her site divided into an upper and lower line, with the upper line called Parfum des Beaux Arts. Two of my favorites of hers that are appropriate for men are Parfum de Luxe (tobacco) and Dirty Rose (leather). Her custom rates may have gone up and she may have a wait list because she has become better known over the last few years. I’m sure she’d answer email inquiries about her custom scent availability and process.
If you have a large budget, you can have a custom scent done by one of the larger houses like Patricia de Nicolai or Lorenzo Villoresi, but most people don’t have that much to invest in it. Other smaller perfumers also offer custom blends and it’s best to try samples of their work first to get a feeling for their style before you choose someone. For naturals, Ayala Moriel is another perfumer to check out and I think she is currently accepting new custom work. I’ve enjoyed sampling her scents, especially Razala (a pretty, woodsy oriental), Espionage (a skin scent with leather and a musky base), and Ayalitta (a chypre with a base of moss, labdanum, and patchouli).
Ideally you want the chance to test samples, give input, and receive tweaked samples based on your feedback. Be sure to ask how many rounds of tweaks you will be given. The process is a balance between being fair to you but not going on with tweaks forever. When I get back to doing custom work I’ll want to offer as many rounds as needed to produce something that someone will love, but I think most perfumers set a limit of two or three rounds, and usually three rounds is enough if you have a clear vision of what you want. It helps to give as much information as you can about what you want before you start, and it helps if you can give some examples of scents in that genre that do and don’t work for you. Each perfumer will have different questions for you though, so you’ll need to find out how your chosen perfumer works.
Custom work can be very rewarding because it offers the chance to use materials that people love best and to adjust the ratios to be perfect for their noses. It takes a lot of time but the end results can be very worthwhile. I’d like to do some custom work again when I have time, after I finish the scents on my to do list. The easiest way would be to have an initial in-person consultation to sniff a wide range of materials to choose some favorite ingredients as well as to rule out things that don’t work. Later tweaks could be done through the mail. The whole process can be done long-distance, but an initial sniffing session is an advantage. If you happen to live close to a perfumer who does custom work, that advantage might influence your choice if you like the scents already done by that perfumer.
Hope that helps a little bit for more thoughts on the custom process.