Smoke from a faraway campfire. The ozone before an approaching storm. A passerby wearing a familiar fragrance. Scent has the power to open doorways to the past, evoking memories, even from long ago, with just a waft. Used with intent, perfume can mark golden moments and trap some of that joy in a bottle.
Local perfumer Carolyn Dunne Hassett has been captivated by fragrance since she was 9 years old, when her grandfather gifted her a vial of Chanel Cristalle eau de toilette. Several years ago, Hassett left her career in academic publishing and turned her olfactory fixation into a business, By Carolyn Dunne. In her small studio in downtown Cary, Hassett works with guests to create bespoke perfumes.
Hassett’s clients include graduating students on the cusp of launching their careers, young women celebrating Sweet Sixteens, brides and grooms who want to amber their wedding day with a custom fragrance.
“What I enjoy most is when we start talking about what matters to them, why they’re here making their perfume,” Hassett says.
Following several years spent studying perfume on her own, Hassett traveled to the south of France for a workshop at Parfumerie Galimard, a perfume house founded in 1747. She had studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence, so the trip was a bit of a homecoming for her. She returned many times for one-on-one training with master perfumer Jacques Morel, who was so impressed with her natural ability and her dedication that he made her an intriguing offer.
Morel had recently developed a perfuming system, and wanted her to be one of the first to use it to build custom fragrances in the United States. But there was a hoop Hassell had to jump through first: As an audition for the perfume house, she was tasked with creating two perfumes over the course of a single day. She came up with Moonbeam, a soft veil of a women’s fragrance, and Monaco, a rich and sophisticated men’s scent.
After training with Morel’s system, Hassett opened her studio in 2015.
Creating a perfume is often compared to composing a musical masterpiece. A perfume progresses like a symphony, with different accords, or groupings of notes, revealing themselves as the scent develops on the skin: head, heart, base. It’s fitting, then, that Hassett works at what is called a perfumer’s organ: a three-tiered, semicircular desk lined with cobalt blue glass bottles of scent.
So how does her process work?
One or two guests can book a private session at $140 per person; they spend up to two hours with Hassett at her organ, choose from 135 fragrance essences and leave with a 1.7-ounce bottle of perfume. Alternatively, clients can throw a party with up to 15 participants at $50 per person; they spend up to 90 minutes with Hassett, choose from 65 ingredients and leave with a .5-ounce bottle; hosts receive a discount based on the number of guests attending. Gift certificates are also available.
“They’re celebrating their birthday. They’re celebrating being in remission from cancer. They’re about to become a grandmother and want their scent to be what the child remembers … They are people who are going through a change in life,” Hassett says of her clients. “They’re getting divorced or going to be empty nesters or starting something new. They want to create something that’s about them that has nothing to do with their past. It’s all about the person and what they’re doing at that moment in time.”
Hassett’s studio is located in the Gather co-working space at 417 Kildaire Farm Road in Cary. To learn more, visit bycarolyndunne.com