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A Strong Whiff of Originality : Many Valley residents are concocting personalized perfumes, with a little help from their favorite fragrance emporiums.

October 15, 1993|CINDY LaFAVRE YORKS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Cindy LaFavre Yorks writes regularly for The Times

Liz Taylor's Passion doesn't light your fire, and Calvin Klein's Obsession doesn't even pique your interest. Solution: Mix an original scent using a variety of fragrant oils, a "flower child" trend that is making a comeback.

"With the popularity of the '60s and '70s coming back, there is a resurgence in the blending of essential oils," says Gail Varbedian of The Perfumers Workshop in New York. Their Personal Perfumery is a "chemistry" kit complete with lotions and a substance for diluting the fragrances, stirring sticks, droppers, oils and empty bottles ready to house individual creations. The kit sells for $75 through Nordstrom stores' beauty hot line: (800) 7-BEAUTY.

You don't need an official kit to create an original scent. Several Valley-area fragrance emporiums are equipped with friendly, experienced staffers ready to assist budding chemists or curious shoppers.

Body Scents, located in Encino, has been catering to the individual tastes of non-commercial fragrance fans for six years. Owner Joyce Wilkoff's celebrity clientele includes Paula Abdul and Carnie Wilson of rock band Wilson Phillips. Wilkoff stocks about 90 essential oils used to mix a variety of fragrance, bath and body products. Prices for single oils or blends start at $8 for a quarter ounce. Fragrance-only blends are sold in glass bottles, while other products come in plastic containers, all of which are recycled by Wilkoff for customers who return them to the store.

At Garden Botanika in the Glendale Galleria, people are drawn into the store by the large apothecary-style bottles with glass wands nestled inside, according to manager Missy Martin. The oils sell for $6.50 per ounce. Though about 60% of the store's customers wear a single essence alone, the remaining patrons enjoy mixing the oils themselves or will ask salespeople to help them. Some customers want a duplication of their favorite commercial fragrance, while others simply mix the oils on their hands until they come up with a pleasing aroma. They also offer a variety of bath and body products ready for individual scenting.

Cassie Miller, a regular customer of the Glendale store, recently stopped in to blend a new summer scent: freesia, rose and jasmine. The North Hollywood resident enjoys mixing a new scent now and then, which she adds to her fragrance stable that includes Bijan and White Diamonds.

"I like the creativity of making my own perfume, having a hand in making it is really fun," says Miller, who also enjoys the compliments her creations prompt.

Not all neophyte chemists are as confident in their abilities. Because mixing a scent can be a heady challenge, Wilkoff suggests the following guidelines:

* Aim for a maximum of four to five oils to blend. Trying to incorporate too many aromas may result in a confusing mess. Just because you like a number of oils doesn't mean they will all smell great together.

* Blended scents should be mixed and rubbed onto the skin, as opposed to a paper card. The oils need to mix with the skin's warmth, and will smell a bit different on every individual.

* When buying a formula, purchase a small amount first to see how you like it before committing to mass quantities.

Wilkoff is quick to point out that these are just guidelines and not hard-and-fast rules.

"It's just whatever you want to create--too many rules spoil the fun of it, and that's what this is all about," she says.

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