The Cult Fragrances We're Obsessing Over
It was love at first whiff—a few years back I was walking down the street and caught an intriguing, earthy, mysterious scent wafting behind a stylish woman in New York City's Nolita neighborhood. I needed to know, immediately, what her fragrance was called and where I could find it. A quick tap on the shoulder resulted in a sidewalk conversation about the many amazing scents of Olo (the source of her fragrance, called Dark Wave), a small perfume outfit out of Portland. Dark Wave has become one of my signature scents, and any time I encounter a boutique that stocks Olo, I sniff my way through the collection, always finding a new one I need to add—Palo Santo, a blend of the holy wood and white champa flowers, was my go-to this past winter. A chat with Olo's founder, Heather Sielaff, has been on my bucket list for a while, so it was a thrill to get into the mind of the nose behind one of fragrance's most exciting niche collections. This just in: Sielaff has just added a skincare product, Rose Face Solution, to the offerings at Olo's e-shop. If it's as dreamy as the fragrances themselves, I'm calling it an instant cult classic right here, right now.
BIKINI: Olo is built on a knowledge of essential oils, which are having a huge moment right now—what drew you to oils in the first place?
Heather Sielaff: I was a licensed massage therapist and co-owned a small wellness center. I had taken a few aromatherapy classes and used essential oils with my clients. We also sold oils in our store and I was in charge of sourcing. I spent almost ten years working with essential oils before I made my first perfume. One day I blended a massage oil for a client and the smell reminded me of Fruit Loops cereal! That was honestly the first time I thought about how the oils created new smells when blended. I had just been so focused of the therapeutic properties of essential oils I never really gave perfumery much thought until that moment. I ordered a few key accords and perfume supplies and started experimenting. I made my first perfume, Nationale 6/7, about six months later.
BIKINI: Your approach to fragrance is kind of unexpected—how do you create an idea of a fragrance and then go about formulating it?
Heather Sielaff: I typically have the concept idea before I start blending but that is not a hard rule. Sometimes, the ingredient is what inspires me, and I build the perfume and concept around it. There are times when I visit a place and decide I want to recreate the experience through scent. Every perfume I have made has a different story. Wyeth is based on my favorite spot along the Oregon coast. There is a moment when walking on the trail through the forest at Ecola Park when the smell of the ocean intermingles with the trees, it's always a beautiful experience for me no matter how many times I go there.
BIKINI: "Beach" is an often-attempted scent to capture in fragrance — what does the beach smell like to you?
Heather Sielaff: Well, I'm from North Carolina originally so my idea of what the beach smells like has completely shifted since moving to the Pacific Northwest. I'd say the beach will always smell like sun warmed salt water on the skin and coconut sunscreen — whereas the coast I frequent here has a more cool salt water mist blended with moss and tree resins. I love them both.
BIKINI: Natural beauty and fragrance products are available in abundance right now — we're so lucky! What are your favorites?
Heather Sielaff: I'm a sucker for skin care products. I worked in spas for years, so I got really into facials and body treatments. I'd say my favorite line is still Eminence Organic Skin Care. There are endless products to choose from, and they all smell amazing, almost edible.
BIKINI: Do you change your fragrances seasonally? Daily? We'd love to know how you decide what to roll on.
Heather Sielaff: I am in a unique position because I have the entire OLO perfume collection and raw ingredients at my disposal — so I tend to wear scents depending on my mood. I actually don't select a perfume until I get to work, and I try to take into consideration what my plans are for the day. If I am eating at an intimate restaurant or going to a museum I select a perfume that is very naturalistic and wears close to the body. Most of the perfumes I make are subtle because I prefer scents to remain somewhat personal.
BIKINI: Fragrance is such a personal expression — if someone is having trouble finding something that really resonates, do you have suggestions on how to zero in on the perfect scent?
Heather Sielaff: Finding your personal scent can take some time. I suggest trying on perfumes in the store or ordering samples. Perfumes changes so much on the skin, you really need to wear it for a bit to determine if it's right for you. If you pass someone on the street and they smell great don't be afraid to ask them what they are wearing. In the most respectful way, of course! So many of our customers found OLO that way.