Dabbing on the Oil – by Nava

 My taste in perfumes is definitely linked to cravings. I´ve already admitted to being serially seasonal when it comes to choosing scents, but I also get a tad preferential when it comes to what form my scents take. I will spritz happily for months on end, and then I will suddenly crave perfume oils. There is no rhyme or reason to this; although I think a lot of it has to do with how hot the weather gets. Ironically, many perfume oils tend to be heady, heavy scents, but there are some that I find work best in the hot weather. There will be days when I find the temperature so suffocating that no scent is best, and on others, something reminiscent of a frozen daiquiri or pià±a colada is all I want to smell of. Or, I might feel like conjuring up memories of frying my pasty self on Neponsit Beach in Far Rockaway New York with my olive-skinned next-door neighbors. It was all about bikinis and baby oil in those days. Needless to say, I never could achieve that St. Tropez tan; the upside is that I have no residual sun damage from all those searing sunburns. Now, I wouldn´t be caught dead without my sunblock.

Perfume oils occupy a special place in my scent collection. My first experience with them goes back to the patchouli oil that I bought at the head shop in the back of a housewares and kitchen gadget store in the local shopping mall. That was in the late 70s and those scents were holdovers from the 60s hippie oils I used to smell on the girls my brother dated, and the scents my sun worshipping neighbors wore. Oils were not, and still  are not, completely in the mainstream. Over the years they´ve become less clandestine and more out in the open. Alyssa Ashley Musk and Bonne Bell Skin Musk oils were favorites of mine in middle school, and when I discovered Dewberry perfume oil from The Body Shop, I was content to smell exclusively of overripe, almost rotting fruit. It was glorious.

As I aged, my tastes became more sophisticated. Out of my love for vanilla grew the tireless search for the perfect vanilla perfume oil. I still haven´t found it, but I remain a fan of Kiehls Vanilla, especially when layered with their Cucumber or Grapefruit oils. I once spent an entire summer marinating myself in those scents, and then progressed to their classic Musk oil. All are still staples in my collection, as is Skin Musk, even though it is no longer made by Bonne Bell. Contrary to the many reformulations out there, this one still smells exactly as it did the first time I sniffed it in my neighborhood drug store.

I have tried a few mainstream perfume oils, often finding them to be disappointing. The most disappointing is Narcisco Rodriguez´s Musc For Her. I must be severely anosmic when it comes to Egyptian musk oils; there are quite a number of them my nose can´t smell. I can smell them in the bottle and they are usually quite lovely, but on my skin, they instantly disappear. I have noticed that there are few oils out there in the department stores – everyone goes gaga for a perfume concentration of a scent, but oils are mostly non-existent. I´ve always wondered if the fragrance industry is anti-oil due to some negative connotations, such as the one I used earlier: “hippie oil”. Is it a bad thing to be perceived as an oil-wearing “hippie” in the 21st century, but a good thing to eat organic food and buy organic, insanely expensive “Rich Hippie” perfumes? Someone please attempt to answer that for me…

After years of sampling and sniffing, I have determined that the best perfume oils can be found in the vast universe that is cyberspace. There are a few in brick and mortar stores, but I am amazed by the talent that is out there just waiting to be discovered. My personal favorites include Serena Ava Franco of AvaLuxe.com, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH/Essence Oils, Vinci & Rakos and Sonoma Scent Studio. The women behind the scents they sell are singular talents, and I own many of their exquisite creations. If you happen to live near a Barneys, be sure to check out oils by perfumer Yosh Han. Not only is she one of the nicest people I´ve ever met, she is passionate about fragrance and it is evident in the scents she creates. If you can get to Fred Segal in Los Angeles or Henri Bendel in New York, I highly recommend the Memoire Liquide line. I could literally spend an entire day sniffing every single scent they offer. If something true to the roots of “hippie oils” tickles your fancy, there are none better than those in the small Northern California chain of Body Time locations. Their China Rain scent is spectacular, and I remain convinced that Jennifer Lopez blatantly ripped it off for her JLo Glow fragrance.

As many successful online perfumers as there are, it would be impossible to list them all, or sample all their wares. The beauty of the internet is that it allows us to discover new information all the time. My collection of perfume oils has grown from a small gathering in a makeup bag to a serious collection, just like my bottles of fragrance. Each one is a singularly beautiful scent that I enjoy wearing, when the time is right.

  • Veronica says:

    Nice post, it’s not often we come across oil perfume mentions, and it’s too bad, there are so many beautiful ones. Many time they seem to be “truer” to their scent then the alcohol based ones.
    Opus Oils (Isis), Bruno Acampora(Misc,Blu,Sballo,Iranzol) and Arabian Oud ( Rahil and El Mashaheer) work really well for me these days. I used to wear a lot of Kuumba Made( Tunisian Jasmin and Frankinsence Myrrh) and Madinis(Alma de Alma, Olive Flowers, Ambre and Musk Pierre) a few years ago and still love to put them on from time to time. Also, Liz Zorn used to have some very lovely oil perfumes (Sienna, Ankhara, Chado and Quan Yin were my favorite) They now come in EDPs, I think.

    • Debbie says:

      Help! I am a child of the 60s and used to go to a local department store to buy my musk oil. I do not remember the brand name, I just remember it came in tiny bottles and in wonderful scents like lemon, strawberry along with the regular musk. I have searched the net to find an equivalent. So far, no luck. I would love to be able to purchase these again. Can you help me? Thanks!!

  • bella says:

    This post is so appropos. I only wear oils. Kiehl’s musk and Garden Botanika’s Citrus Musk. I occasionally wear China Rain ( Body Time is here in San Francisco).
    Now, I will go to Barney’s and check out Yosh and go on-line and check out the others that were mentioned. I can not wear perfume at all, as I think most of them are too strong. The noted exception would be CDC Odeur 53, which I absolutely love. I like frangrances that only you can smell or someone who is close to you;not the whole world!
    I have gone to Fred Segal and smelled their new line of oils. They are beautiful and also kind of strong. I don’t like the Sage at all–super strong, but I love Child and get compliments all the time. I love reading about perfume; it is fascinating.
    Thanks for a great post!!!

  • Tarn says:

    Ooh, I’ve always loved perfume oils! (Wendy, Coty’s Wild Musk was my first one, too! Then they came out with some ‘hippy’ oils and I fell for their Musk Jasmine. If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can still smell it and be taken back to my teens…)

    For me it’s the feeling of luxury I like, and the idea that they are stronger and longer-lasting (sadly not always… Sage’s oils fade fast on me, too). And I suspect that they are better for my skin than alcohol-based scents. Also they are easy to carry around. There should be more oils in mainstream frags, I think!

    I like the Kiehl’s oils, but I can’t find them any more in the shops. I suppose they are online somewhere. My favourite is their Vintage Sandalwood. Yosh is also good. And now, thanks to you lot, I have all sorts of new oils to lemming for! 🙂

    • Nava says:

      Hi Tarn,

      Always happy to help in the lemming department! :d

      I think now that Kiehls has pretty much gone global thanks to the L’oreal takeover, they’ve scaled back on the availability of their perfume oils. At the original store in NYC on 3rd Ave. and 13th St., they used to have about a 3 page list of all the perfume oils they sold. I was in that store a couple of months ago, and didn’t even think to ask if they still sold them all. Now, all you seem to be able to get (including on their website) is vanilla, grapefruit, cucumber, musk and Pour Homme. They had some really nice ones, too. Shame…

      • Tarn says:

        Yes, Kiehls did used to sell a lot more oils. It’s a pity they scaled down. I got mine at Harrods a few years ago, but now, I think all they have is the Musk.
        Maybe I am lucky to have as many as I do (I have the Musk, Cucumber, Sandalwood, Chinese Flowers, Reves, Exquisite Rain and Moroccan Jasmine. I now wish I’d bought more!)

  • March says:

    Hey, great topic! And a real flashback for me in terms of some of your favorites. In general, things like Yosh don’t necessarily have the sillage I’m after (and I’m with you on the Narciso btw), but I always have a bottle or two of something, usually some dirt-cheap frankincense. Sometimes one of those oil smells is all that will do.

    • Nava says:


      Thanks! On me, Ginger Ciao is a ginormous sillage monster. I can smell myself for days with just one application. Chalk it up once again to chemistry. 🙂

  • Elle says:

    My favorite oils are Yosh’s and she really is one of the nicest people around. I love how in her newsletters she is always promoting other perfumers and perfumes – she has an extraordinarily generous spirit. I also am a fan of several of the Jalaine oils – her Vetiver and Patchouli are essentials for me and I actually have back ups of them in case she goes out of business. And I love a lot of the scents of the other perfumers you mentioned. But I’ve never tried the Kiehls. 🙁 Seriously have to remedy that soon.

  • sallycantdance says:

    Add me to the Ginger Ciao list. And a Monyette Paris list.

    The other night I came across a sample called Mis en Danger, which is in the same family as Ginger Ciao and just as expensive. The sample came from Beauty Habit and it provided an evening’s enjoyment, even as I pondered how blended fragrance oils can acquire prices as steep as parfum.

    • Nava says:


      I totally agree about the prices of some of these oils. Honestly, I think Yosh’s are worth it, but when you’re pricing things in the stratosphere to make people clamour for them, that’s wrong.

      Next time you’re perusing BeautyHabit, check out the Melissa Flagg and Ebba oils. They’re quite nice and not nearly as expensive as some of the others. I mentioned the new Carnival Wax line in my response post to Louise. They all sound wonderful, but I forgot to mention they’re, like $90 for a small bottle. Yikes!

  • Wendy says:

    Also a big fan of hippie headshop oils. My entire perfume collection – for YEARS – consisted of stuff I’d purchase at Renaissance Festivals, Spiritual Sky Frangipani (glowing neon pink!), and a bottle of whatever was my “signature” dressy scent.

    My first perfume oil – Coty’s Wild Musk.

    Of course, now that I’m more sophisticated 8-} I’ve become a huge fan of DSH Essence oils, Sage Machado and the one Memoire Liquide I’ve tried so far (the Nag Champa). But there is always room in my collection for inexpensive perfume oil.

    • Nava says:

      Hi Wendy,

      Yeah, those darn sophisticated palates of ours! :d

      I was never a big fan of Sage Machado’s scents. I love the little bottles, but none of them have any staying power one me. 🙁

  • Louise says:

    I love my oils…I’m with Matt on hippie-shop stuff, I have found some earthy blends at various “health” stores-usually musk/patchouli based stuff. I have several Memoire Liquides from Bendel, Souk Nocturne and Black Tea ranking amongst the favs.

    L’Aromarine’s oils are cheap and delightful-best vanilla for layering and the Oakmoss is beautiful.

    Top mention, and top price-Sballo’s oils-Musc, and especially Sballo-a killer, that one ; )

    • Nava says:


      There’s a new line of oils, Carnival Wax by Agatha Blois that just debuted at Fred Segal (also on Apothia.com). They sound amazing. Check out Robin’s 7/18 piece on NST.

    • Louise says:

      Oops-Bruno Acampora makes Sballo, and other wonderful oils-at LS

      • Nava says:

        Ah, Bruno Acampora…his musk is otherwordly, and the only one of his oils that works for me.

    • Louise says:

      Oooh! I just got a gift of Nemat Black Musk oil in the mail. Coincidence? I think not =d>

  • MattS says:

    Confession time: I always kinda liked the hippie head shop oils; I think Spiritual Sky had a Patchouli, an Egyptian Musk, and a Carnation that I was fond of. And they were cheap, perfect for a youngster’s budget.

    I’ve never tried the Kiehl’s musk, but feel like I should. My favorite oil: Arabian Oud Black Musk Essence. Intense. I’ve got Modern Iris by DSH that always surprises me; I wonder why I don’t wear it more. I’m overwhelmed by the choices on her website.

    • Nava says:

      Hi Matt,

      Somehow, I knew we’d be sympatico on this topic! 😡

      I agree about DSH being overwhelming; every time I visit her site, I find something new to love. It’s not fair.

      I don’t think Kiehls musk would be skanky enough for you. It’s more powdery and feminine as opposed to animalic. If you’re working the MKK, I don’t think you’d miss this one.

  • Calypso says:

    I do like the Yosh oils, especially Omniscent and Ginger Ciao. They somehow feel more close and enveloping, and I am more aware of them throughout the day than a spray or dabbed-on scent. I’ve tried a few other oils though that I did not much like, notably Boucheron Jaipur Saphir–a scent I like but the oil seemed kinda nasty and it would easily stain things.

    • Nava says:

      Ginger Ciao is my favorite Yosh. My others are her Winter Rose and La Contessa limited editions. She is so ridiculously talented, it’s not funny.

  • tmp00 says:

    great post- but I do have to point out one thing: Memoire Liquide is available only at Fred Degal Santa Monica, not the Melrose location.

    • tmp00 says:

      that should read “Segal”

      Oy.. :((

    • Nava says:

      Thanks tmp. When I met Robin Coe-Hutsching at a Sniffapalooza preview of Memoire Liquide at Henri Bendel, she told me that they were exclusive to Fred Segal, but she didn’t mention only in Santa Monica. Thanks for clearing that up. 🙂

  • nubs says:

    Chine was ripped off for JLo Glow, and I would sooner save my scheckels and have the origninal , ditto for the Egypitain Musks that seem to be the latest muse.

    I adore oils , having been a musk oil kid way way back in the day , heck I even loved Patchouli oil back then as well. These days its Madini oils (Four Seasons , Zagora , Papillon) and Attar Bazaar (Sharif)….. hmm, I think I need to do musk sniff session, time to order another sample pack….

    • Nava says:

      Anyone who was aware of the existence of Body Time China Rain before the release of JLo Glow, knows of what I speak.

      Musk Pierre is my favorite Madini. 🙂