Raison d’être

Learning the hard way that not everything has to be a side hustle

I have loved fragrances all my life. From my first sniffs of Avon solid perfumes in twist-up tubes to the first “good” perfume (Lauren) that I received for Christmas in 1984, fragrance has always been one of my life’s great pleasures. I was happy in my teens and 20s to rotate through a small collection of five or six scents at any time. The fragrance mania didn’t really begin for me until my 30s.

The front cover of Mandy Aftel's book Essence and Alchemy
The amazing “Essence & Alchemy,” still available at booksellers or directly from the Aftelier shop

I read Mandy Aftel’s “Essence & Alchemy,” spent all my precious pocket money on essential oils and absolutes (and later, fragrance oils and aroma chemicals) and began self-studying perfumery. After a time, I grew confident enough to open an online shop in the early days of Etsy, selling my original fragrance blends and handmade toiletries. The mid-aughts was an exciting time in maker culture and I learned a lot in my two years on Etsy, namely that, as is the case for most creative pursuits, I would never be able to make a living from the fragrances I made. (I applaud those few artisans who can, but I know many others like me who tried and came to the same realization.) I struggled to balance my full-time day job and family life with mornings and evenings spent mixing scents, decanting, packaging and making post office runs. It was time to level up or get out, and I acknowledged that my interest in being a fragrance maker had run its course. I closed my Etsy shop, sold off the bulk of my raw materials and packaging supplies and was happy to be just a fragrance appreciator again.

Thanks to online fragrance communities like Basenotes and Fragrantica, my passion for perfumes found a new outlet and my fragrance collection expanded quickly. However, it wasn’t long before I was no longer wearing my own collection, as I was constantly sampling and swapping, educating my nose on the classics while exploring the endless latest releases in a fast-growing market segment called “niche.” Enthralled by the new, the now and the next big thing, I embarked on a chase that would continue unabated for almost a decade, soon to be aided by work for a fragrance-themed website.

Six bottles of Monsillage perfume in front of a stack of Monsillage soaps
The Monsillage collection at Etiket in Montreal. Photo by me.

When I got the opportunity to be a writer and editor (as part-time side work) for Fragrantica in 2011, I felt like I had won the lottery! The site’s owners immediately shipped me a large box of perfumes for my enjoyment and consideration for future articles. Not long after, the David Yurman PR team sent bottles of their brand new Essences fragrance line for purposes of an article. It was the first of what would be a near constant wave of fragrances arriving in the mail, several times a week, over the next seven years.

Initially, I loved it all. I couldn’t believe people were paying me to do this! I tore into each new package with gusto and couldn’t wait to take photos and begin writing the articles. It was exciting to call people in New York and France for interviews via telephone. The job provided opportunities to travel and attend fragrance industry expos, where I spent days doing nothing but sniffing dozens of fragrances and talking about them with other people who also loved fragrances. I partied with perfumers and shop owners and took home goody bags filled with scented delights. I even got to hold a 2,000-year-old perfume bottle in my hands! The work was never going to be anything more than a side gig for me, but it was a dream gig in many ways.

Four partygoers holding bottles of Euphorium Brooklyn perfume and making goofy surprised faces
Euphorium Brooklyn release party at Twisted Lily, February 2016. L to R: perfumer Stephen Dirkes, Twisted Lily owners Eric Weiser and Stamatis Birsimijoglou, and me! (Photo from my phone but I think the amazing Tal Shpantzer took it.)

By the end of 2015, a demanding full-time day job, health issues and frankly, fatigue and the beginnings of burn-out, led me to scale back my participation. I was running out of space for the many bottles and samples I kept receiving, and more importantly, I was running out of steam. Opening each new package and testing the fragrances soon began to feel like a chore. Sure, there were still some amazing scents to be found, but also plenty of “nice, but nothing special” fragrances I was supposed to write about for the site, while juggling interviews, press packets, PR people, constant new fragrances to add to the online encyclopedia…

I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I appreciated all the free scents and the opportunity to be part of an amazing website and community, but by the end of 2017, I was ready to step away.

a long-haired tortoiseshell cat sniffs a bottle of perfume held in a woman's hand
Cats are immensely helpful fragrance evaluators. Vagabond Prince Enchanted Forest makes the cut. (Photo by me.)

In the year after I quit, I took a hard look at my unwieldy perfume collection, filled with many scents I had not chosen but had received as part of my work on the website, and others I had purchased but no longer wore. I made a final purge/gifting of scents I didn’t want to keep. If there is a good side to having to try so many fragrances, it’s that I finally knew my own taste. I kept a few “classics” but like many of you, it was my newer scents and my most recent purchases that I was constantly reaching for. I loved the memories conjured by vintage scents, but I never wore them and I’ve stopped chasing vintage altogether. Above all, it is important to me to support the many talented fragrance makers of today.

Though I burned out on paid work in the fragrance industry, I never stopped loving and wearing perfumes. I still update my wardrobe and my SOTD on Fragrantica. And now, after a break of a few years, I am ready to be part of the perfume conversation again. However, I’m doing it on my own terms this time. I am no longer trying to make money from my efforts (this blog is NOT monetized in any way; if you see a link, it’s because I love something and want to support it), having learned from experience that trying to make money from something I love will eventually take the joy out of it for me.

I’m deliberately focusing on a very small segment of the fragrance world–solid perfumes and colognes–to avoid getting overwhelmed by constant new fragrance releases. I’ll choose the fragrances I want to test and write about. I’ll blog at my own pace, so if my day job gets too busy, or if I just need a break, I can step back for a bit. I will participate in social media only to the extent I want to. (Right now, I’m doing only Instagram and only as long as it’s fun.) I hope to get readers and comments, but if moderating comments gets to be a big hassle, I’ll just turn them off.

As of this writing (August 2020), I have a lot of enthusiasm, a loosely planned editorial calendar, and plenty of time on my hands due to the Covid-19 lockdown. I’m flying somewhat blind, but not without experience, and my intentions are good and clear. Thanks for reading and I hope you’ll stop by again to see what happens next.

Suggested further reading: “Not Everything is a Side Hustle” by Ann Friedman on The Cut.

By Jodi at Solidly Scented

A lover of all things fragrant