Personal Perfumes

The perfume I'm wearing is not available in stores. It doesn't even have a name, just a description of ingredients. It smells wonderful, and it was made just for me.

DSCF1145 Special fragrances tend to be pricey--consider this LAT report on Le Labo's Musc 25, "an esoteric imagining of L.A.'s odeur," which runs $260 for a 50-milliliter bottle. Even the online version of custom fragrance blending runs a minimum of $80, and you don't even get to smell before you buy.

If you're lucky enough to live in L.A., however, you can get your own custom scent for as little as $18 at Mélange apothecary, an elegant shop on Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks. This isn't some cut-rate discount outfit. Owner Denise Estrada has nearly two decades of experience blending fragrances, and she and her brother produce Saint Parfum, a line of made-to-order candles and diffusers sold at Barneys, Cos Bar, and other luxury retailers.

Mélange is Denise's personal project, a place where she can see how customers interact with fragrances. "This store is a living lab--to just watch," she says. "I watch."

DSCF1153 The shop stocks lots of specialty lines, including Saint Parfum, of course. But its unique feature is the fragrance bar: four trays of individual scents, about 20 per tray. You draw out a sample of each scent with a glass rod, take a sniff, and write down the ones you like, moving from the floral tray to woodsy and green scents to citrus to spice (my favorite). "You will find there are trays you love and trays that you hate," Denise warns. I am not a floral person.

Once you have your list of favorites, Denise puts her well-trained nose to work, blending those with other notes to create attractively layered fragrances. (The process sometimes feels like an eye exam: "Which is better, A or B?") Some combinations make sense for a perfume roller, others for a shower gel or lotion, still others for a room diffuser. I liked the combination of green tea, white tea, and "rain," but it was too light for a perfume. I got it as a body cream.

This month, Mélange is offering fragrance happy hours on Thursday nights and will have special holiday blending event next Friday, December 19 (details and complete calendar here). For $55 a person, you can book an after-hours party. Each guest gets to apply the cost toward products, and with the shop's reasonable prices $55 is usually enough for three items: a perfume roller, a diffuser, and a body cream, for instance.

Check out the Melange blog for more holiday ideas (including ones available online). And if you'd be interested in joining a DG blending party early next year, send an email to