Scents & Sensibility
The nose knows what it knows
The front page of the May 19th, 2016 issue of The Weirs Times carried an article titled Historic New Hampton Homestead is Setting for an Age-Old Craft, by Brendan Smith, who also took the photographs. We reprint it here courtesy of The Weirs Times. The whole issue may be viewed online here.
Rock Ridge Farm in New Hampton has a long, storied history.
Once the apple and dairy farm homestead of Moses Smith, who built the Farm in 1796 after being gifted the land by his father, it was later the home of Charles Warren Robie, who made his money in the railroad and bought Rock Ridge in 1910 to live again near his birth roots. It was considered, at the time, one of the most attractive summer homes around the lakes. In more recent history it had been a horse farm, summer ballet camp for girls, and the location of numerous antique shops.
In 2009, Rock Ridge Farm was bought by Tamsan Lee Beattie, who today runs Essense Parfumerie from the historic homestead, one of only maybe a couple hundred such custom-blending perfume shops in the world.
“People have been using perfume for at least 4,000 years,” said Tamsan. “It used to always be a custom made experience. It was in the 1920s that the fashion industry high-jacked perfume when Chanel No. 5 came out. They used synthetics to create the earliest modern mass market for perfume.”
Tamsan bought the perfume business in 1990 on Martha’s Vineyard. She was to be the third owner of this unique enterprise which originally started as “Body Scents” in Woodstock, NY in 1970.
I had done some perfume making as a hobby when I lived in the Twin Cities,” said Tamsan. “Even though I had a Master’s Degree in Behavioral Science, I was still drawn to the perfume. I guess you can say I can make you perfume and fix your brain.”
In 2009, Tamsan went on the hunt for a new place to live and run her business. “I had lived in all the big cities like Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Minneapolis, St. Paul, San Francisco, Manhattan,” said Tamsan. “I was done with cities.”
Tamsan went searching through nine states, looking for the perfect non-city location, until she came across Rock Ridge Farm. “I had lived in Concord from ages two to seven when my father was a Unitarian Minister there,” said Tamsan. “I also had family still there at the time that I wanted to be close to.”
Tamsan moved back and forth between Martha’s Vineyard and New Hampton as she was selling her home and business there and working to get organized in her new place in New Hampshire. With some renovations to the barn area, which included walling in an area to create a climate controlled apothecary style perfume room, Tamsan was ready to bring her rare profession to the Lakes Region.
The walls of the perfume room are lined with five hundred and fifty “fragrance composites.” All natural oils that when combined together by someone with an expertise in the artistry of perfuming, will create a scent that will be particular to the person it is created for.
“Today mass-marketed perfumes are about 97 percent alcohol and water and three percent essential oils,” said Tamsan. “The perfumes I create are fragrance composites, blended with 100% essential oils and perfume oils.
When someone visits Tamsan to have her create their own unique perfume, the process can be quick or might take awhile.
“I work at finding the perfect match by asking the customer a series of questions,” said Tamsan. “It helps me understand the personality of the perfume they’re trying to create. It’s important to see and share what customers react to, in smell. Some people know in five minutes, some might come back every day for week.”
As Tamsan points out, this is not something you can do online, although there is an online shopping cart to order “ready-mades.”
“Over the years I have been doing this, Essense has created 22,000 perfumes,” said Tamsan. “Each perfume is like creating a symphony. There are base notes, middle notes and top notes." Tamsan explained that the top note gives the initial scent and fades first, the middle notes appear once the top note is gone and are the heart of the fragrance and the base note is what anchors to your skin and lasts the longest.
Still, it is not as simple as just putting a few oils together. “Everyone has different skin chemistry and different reactions to scent," said Tamsan. “It depends on factors like estrogen and testosterone levels, skin types and age, for example. I spend time with the customer. It takes at least a half-hour to find the perfect scent.”
Tamsan imports her oils from about thirty-five different vendors and has a wildly eclectic selection to use. “When I bought this business there were about one hundred and twenty smells and I have since added over three hundred more,” said Tamsan.
This reporter’s head spun a little as I was shown there were so many different types of one variety. The different varieties of oils from oranges ranged from the fruit itself, to the wood of the tree, to the peel, to the flower. And oranges vary from country to country, even within this country.
“The same plant can give you so many options. You can eat or make perfumes out of the different parts of plants,” said Tamsan. “I memorize the different combinations like you would memorize words and then make a new sentence each time, by rearranging them.” The oils are kept in antique bottles which Tamsan has collected over the years and as well as old science surplus bottles she has purchased.
Each scent “recipe” is kept in a box for Tamsan to keep on file. You can name your own scent really giving it that individuality.
“Great perfume, like great art, great poetry, great music, or a greatly assembled outfit, can alter the way we see the world as well as the way others see us,” said Tamsan. It’s not just a matter of confidence; the innate response to scents that are beautiful and subtle is generally appreciative, either consciously or unconsciously, thus changing the way the wearer responds to the world and vice versa. It’s a fact recently confirmed by scientific methods that a “good-smelling” person is subjectively perceived by others to be more attractive, more likable, and younger, (So forget the plastic surgery!) It is also a biological, physiological fact that scents, via our sense of smell, vividly connect us both to our memory banks and to our natural world. More than any of the other human senses, our sense of smell is the most direct link to the collective and individual experience of being a human being on this planet, via the multitude of emotions and perceptions closely allied with scent and memory: delight, awe, dread, fear, fun, wonder, marvel, sentiment, revulsion, melancholy, attraction, and joy, just to name a few…”
Tamsan also does private parties for Bridal Showers, Ladies' Night Out, Chem-Free Graduations and more. Essense Parfumerie is open Memorial Day through Columbus Day weekend Thursday through Saturday from Noon to 6pm. Other evenings and days until 9pm. You can also make an appointment by calling 800-332-6315 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Rock Ridge Farm is located at 48 Waukewan Road in New Hampton.
Tamsan & Ruggles
Tamsan is a practicing perfumer of 27 years, as well as a sidewalk social scientist with an actual Master's Degree in Behavioral Science from The University of Chicago. Because the sense of smell is closely linked to memory and emotion, the art and science of perfume is very psychological. Ruggles is also a sidewalk social scientist, a rescue-poodle with dubious urban-feral origins. Abandoned on the streets and left to starve, Ruggles has a Master's Degree from The School of Life, but he's a philosophical-poodle who's maintained a very good sense of humor. Both are relocated from major urban centers. For nearly 50 years, Tamsan lived in the cities of: Chicago, St. Paul, Manhattan, Indianapolis, Berkeley, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Providence, and San Diego. Together, they now blog about life's sensory and fragrant spectacles from more bucolic surroundings. More specifically, Tamsan blogs about olfactory mysteries and miracles; Ruggles prefers to comment on anything edible or odoriferous...
ESSENSE PARFUMERIE at Rock Ridge Farm is located a 6 minute drive from Meredith Village on the OTHER side of Lake Waukewan along the far end of scenic Waukewan Road bordering The Snake River, just over The Snake River Bridge