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Fragrance Joy at Strange Invisible Perfumes

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New year, new signature scent? Most of us are still reeling from a self-imposed post-holiday ban on shopping - and yet at the same time we also might be considering how to reinvent ourselves in the new year. If so, can we propose you duck your sweet self into Strange Invisible Perfumes' glassy jewel box of a store next time you are in Venice?

The ladies at Strange Invisible, Amanda and Katie, gave a wonderful tour of an extraordinary fragrance collection hidden in a modest storefront on Abbot Kinney. We sat at the pretty counter and were introduced to the full range of scents, first on paper tabs, then upon our wrists, when we found one we loved. The company was founded in 2000, and most of the botanicals in the scents are grown on perfumer Alexandra Balahoutis's family farm in Ojai, then blended at the Santa Monica laboratory. SI employs a master distiller who designed special glass stills to gently extract the oils from the plants. For example, rose petals may be mixed with stems and soil, then slow-distilled over two days. Most commercial perfumes use oils from flowers that have been harshly blasted with steam - making the distillation process rather quick - but too often the resulting oils lack the original scent's complexity. (Think about the difference between a slow roast and a charred steak, and you get the idea.) Finally the organic, wildcrafted oil essences are blended into distinct scents and set in a base of organic grape alcohol.

Sometimes the perfumer's nose calls for special botanicals that cannot be found in southern California. SI will locate rare plants abroad and bring a still to the site where the plant grows, working with local farmers to distill the essences on location, and thus capture the freshness of a plant just plucked from the ground. This is an old-world art, and romantic to boot. It's pretty wonderful to consider the gorgeous blooms and hand-tended care that go into making one precious bottle of perfume. SI seems to turn flowers to liquid gold.

So what do the scents smell like? The shop's window text says it best: "An aromatic haven for those who have given up on perfume." SI's fragrances are for men and women looking for pure, unusual scents - scents that do not smell like candy-coated celebrity-branded malls. These are perfumes made for fragrance connoisseurs, as well as individuals who may not think perfume is for them, or who may be allergic to the chemical content in fast-fashion cosmetic brands. Amanda leans towards the white flower scents, like Persica, with its tuberose, jasmine, and brighter nose. Black Rosette tempts with black tea, roses, leather and spearmint. We especially liked Essence of IX, inspired by Colgin Vineyards in Napa, and a tribute to its thoughtful oenophilic work, with notes of French oak barrels and the sage and rose scattered across the vineyard's unique terrior. And the pure scent lasts all day.

In our minds, the only real way to consider a perfume investment is to try it for a day or two. The Venice store doesn't offer samples to take home, but SI's online store does, as do several web purveyors like FutureNatural and Beautyhabit. Other details: there are no animal by-products (with the exception of honey), and the custom bottles are placed in hand-dyed packaging. Custom blending is an option too, and takes place with Alexandra in the carriage at the rear of the store.

Strange Invisible Perfumes' commitment to the earth, to sourcing locally when possible, and to the artistry of perfume making is at once admirable and lavish. The prices range from $35 for body wash, $135 for eau de parfum, and $220 and up for pure perfume - but when one considers the organic plants, hours, and handcrafted work that go into every bottle of fragrance, they seem, frankly, quite reasonable. This is true eco-conscious luxury at its best.
· Strange Invisible Perfumes