Sarah Horowitz’ destiny was determined in a small shop on Boston’s famed Newbury Street during her freshman year at Emerson College. It was there that the sight of glimmering crystals and the sound of Enya playing in the background first enticed her to enter the shop called “Essence.” But it was the scents of essential oils and the romanticism of the owner’s words, “May I anoint you?” that kept her coming back for more. This was the beginning of her own fragrance journey.
As an idealistic college student in the late eighties studying acting, philosophy and religion, Horowitz was drawn to the sensuality of the custom blending bar, the centerpiece of Essence. She spent so much time at the shop that the owner eventually hired her. When he decided to retire, the then 22-year-old Horowitz, along with a college friend, borrowed money to buy the store and spent the next two years learning the business and developing her own techniques for custom blending, which she still uses today.
Horowitz explains the fragrance journey as a “one-on-one, in-depth experience” based on the things her clients love. “When I first started and was enthralled in philosophy and the meaning of life…it was the perfect excuse to ask perfect strangers what they believe in, do you have a favorite flavor, did your mother cook or bake?” Now, more than 20 years later, the full Bespoke (Custom) blending bar, lined with small colorful bottles reminiscent of an old-world apothecary, sits like an altar in her Westlake Village showroom/classroom/lab/office location.
Although she knew little about business when she first took over at Essence, Horowitz was savvy enough to begin a mailing list in the early days on Newbury Street, of customers who visited the touristy shopping destination from around the country. So when she decided to move west with little more than a “tool box filled with essential oils,” it was the L.A. client list that got her started. “I would walk around Melrose and stop into stores offering to make custom fragrances.” With the “chutzpa only a 24-year-old could have,” Horowitz sold herself at Fred Segal, and was soon hired as the fragrance expert for the iconic Hollywood retailer. Next came Planet Blue at the Malibu Country Mart, where company founder Ling-Su Chinn offered her a table to set up her oils and do custom blending for customers. When a writer for Vogue discovered her and wrote an article for the fashion giant, Horowitz’ business took off.
With custom fragrance blending as the backbone of her company, Horowitz began to consider creating her own line of perfumes. “Perfect Gardenia,” still a staple in her current line, became her first ready-to-wear fragrance and stores soon started approaching her to create private label fragrances, which now accounts for half of her business.
When Horowitz speaks about her life and her business, it is clear that the path she has taken, both by fate and choice, is so much more than a job to her. Now as a wife and mother to two young daughters, as well as the sole proprietor of a small business, her life is about balancing the two roles. She talks about perfumery as an art form, and her passion for her craft is contagious. “Perfume is my medium to uncover the meaning of life,” she offers. And she thrives on sharing this art form with others.
When clients book an appointment at Sarah Horowitz Parfums, they have the option of meeting with Sarah herself, or one of her highly trained staff perfumers for a lesser fee. Either way, the sessions begin with questions about the client’s background, likes and dislikes, favorite scents, first scent memory and fragrance history. Based on the responses, the perfumer starts the intricate process of choosing from over 120 fragrance and essential oils that sit in the colorful glass bottles. A combination of natural and synthetic oils, sourced from around the world, comprise the gallery. Horowitz explains that scents like musk, marine, papaya, leather and tobacco are synthetic, whereas, patchouli, vanilla, blood orange, grapefruit and bergamot, to name just a few, are natural oils. The process takes about one and a half hours, and the clients leave with their own custom fragrance, a record of which is kept for all future purchases.
Although her business has changed and expanded since the early days, Horowitz still thrives on the one-one-one encounters and the shared experience of the fragrance journey. She guides her clients down paths and follows her own, one that is still evolving and so deliciously fragrant.