Yosh Han: Perfume in a Poem
Rachel Jones: Perfume in a Poem

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz: Perfume in a Poem

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Ezra Pound: In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;

Petals on a wet, black bough.

With my very idiosyncratic process, the words (the poem "brief") create an image or images, as if they were visual pieces. From there I begin to interpret what I see into fragrance form.  I don't really sense much difference between color, texture, line, 2-3 dimensionality, light, pitch, etc.  of subject matter and that of the fragrance.  They are all happening simultaneously and I feel that my part to play is as interpreter, and then as artist as I express the subject matter.  I will say that this particular "word-image" was more textural and value-oriented (light to dark) than linear or sculptural for me.  The colors were all quite muted and played a secondary role.

The feel of the poem is movement to stillness; a shifting from one thing to another and maybe to another and then to finally stop and BE in that final resting place.  It is a move away from the crowd and the noise of the Metro and a fall into oneself; into that personal, secluded place.

In my mind's eye, I felt a depth and darkness to the Paris Metro (which was a sort of sepia-tone) and then I felt the image shift to a sumi-e ink drawing  - all black, white and grey with feathered strokes and bleeding lines and finally into a charcoal drawing, (dark grey tinted with violet).  This last image is very soft and textural with faintly colored, glowing light petals on the page... like ghosts of a flower that was alive just moments ago.  The scene has shifted as well, from the Paris Metro to a sort of Zen garden. One way of feeling this poem - and the subsequent perfume - is as an emergence from dark (the underground Metro) to light (the faces and the petals) and another way of feeling it is as a movement from light (the energy of the city) to dark (seclusion and back to nature).  I love the paradoxical nature of the poem!

The resultant perfume must be a paradox.  It starts somewhat sharp and green and lively and then becomes quiet and isolated but expansive...atmospheric...and moody with ghostly shadows. In the end (through the drydown) there is near silence except for just a whisper. The perfume has a very "Modernist" feel, but not Modern (or Postmodern).  That is to say that it has a quality about it, due to it's composition, that feels historically like it could have been made as "chic Paris perfume" a during the first few decades of the Twentieth Century.  It is also artistically "Modernist" in its sense of belief in the man-made world while searching for the spiritual element inherent in the life experience. This, too, can seem paradoxical.  It has the smell of "wetness" and of streets, smoke, wood, a gentle flower garden, ink, and old books; there is Springtime and some Winter.  There is a sense of redemption and rebirth.

The notes include:  peach, apple blossom, violet, sweet pea, Bulgarian rose, orris, kukicha tea, Australian sandalwood, benzoin, tabac, hiba cedarwood, sumi ink, musk (ambrette seed absolute) and civet.

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz
DSH Perfumes

Editor's Note:

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz is a visual artist who began her exploration of perfumery over seventeen years ago at the famous ESSENCE perfumery in Boston while in art school.  Eventually, she bought ESSENCE and later moved her business to Boulder, Colorado, where her DSH Perfumes studio is now located.  In a 2006 news video produced by NewsTeam Boulder, Dawn explained the connection between her passion for olfactive and visual art:

"Designing fragrance and making a painting, or making another piece of art like a piece of sculpture or something, to me is the same thing.  I'm just utilizing another sense and I'm translating the criteria from one sense, if you will, to another."

Dawn in her studioIt is no surprise, then, that she interprets scent synesthetically as visual works, incorporating themes from literature, art, and her own experiences into a line that truly seems to have something to offer everyone.  The scope and depth of the DSH artisan perfume experience is immense. There are hundreds to choose from, including very accomplished recreations of designer perfumes such as Ambre Antique, Woodhue, and Royal Secret. Many of Dawn's fragrances have been praised in a wide range of media, including "O" - Oprah Magazine, Vogue, Natural Health, Real Simple, and People. Popular DSH scents on Makeup Alley include Minuit, Piment et Chocolat,   Cimabue (as reviewed on Now Smell This), Michelangelo, Cathedral, and Twelfth Night.

Though I've only tried a small fraction of her available blends, my firm favorite thus far is the Essence Oil Modern Iris.  This is not the melancholic iris of lost-in-the-attic perfumed powders, nor is it the clean, sleek, pruned iris of many contemporary confections such as Prada Infusion d'Iris. This is a strong, confident brushed-metal iris sculpture, damp with rain, radiating coolness and warmth at once.  Modern Iris is a deep, complex, and warm scent which frequently reminds me of a time many years ago when I sold perfume for a living but rarely wore fragrance myself.  Often, I'd seek relief from the constant attack of my co-worker's Yves Saint Laurent Paris fanaticism by retreating to the mens' counter.  Christian Dior Fahrenheit was usually my first choice.  After discovering Modern Iris, I could not understand why it reminded me of Fahrenheit until I looked up the components of each: they share bergamot, cedar, jasmine, musk, sandalwood, and most crucially: violet.  It's this darkened violet aspect of Modern Iris that most fascinates me, because I have only recently been able to pick out and appreciate violet notes more fully. 

My next DSH sample set will almost certainly be the special collection called "The Perfumed Court," which was "created to illustrate 17th and 18th Century styles of fragrance with some as re-creations of perfumes that would have been worn by the luminaries of Versailles at the Courts of Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI." The inspiration for many of these fragrances was taken from the Elisabeth de Feydeau's A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie Antoinette's Perfumer.  These limited edition fragrances can be purchased in adorable charm bottles or luxury presentation flacons; both parfum and eau de toilette concentrations are available.

While creating her written contribution to this "Perfume in a Poem" series, Dawn found that simply imagining the scent would not be enough to satisfy her creative spirit:  she has begun production of this extraordinary perfume, which she will offer as a limited edition via the DSH Perfumes website.  Of course, the winner of our March 31 giveaway will also receive a sample of this inspired and poetic scent. 

Please check DSH Perfumes often for more information on the release of her unique perfumed interpretation of Ezra Pound's "In a Station of the Metro." (We'll link here, too, once the fragrance has been released.)

Metro Perfume Giveaway


All photos were provided by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz and are used with permission.

Comments are encouraged!  Please read the initial post in this series for the details on our extraordinary giveaway which will take place on March 31.

Posts prior to 2015 first appeared on my previous website, memory & desire (memoryanddesire.net).


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using sumi ink as a note is ingenious. really tying in her impression of the poem and the metro station to the fragrance itself. on a side note, it seems like ambrette seed is a popular note for this project.


Ms. Hurwitz is an artist that I am very familiar with. Years ago, I bought many of her perfumes and was never disappointed. I love how she could 'see' this poem as a perfume, as seems to be a similar pattern among the perfumers ~ they are artists, after all, :) I liked her charcoal drawing idea and felt like I could actually 'see' it, even without being familiar with that medium.

Redemption and renewal...sounds like a fine Spring to me!

Lisa A

I'm such a huge fan of Dawn's and always look forward to the chance to sample her newest creations. This one is no different. The notes of orris, civet, ambrette seed, and tabac are my favorites, so I know this would quickly become a HG perfume for me, but I love the addition of sumi ink, a note that not only fits the poem but also the concept. Brilliant.


I like how Dawn took the poem and turned it into a visual and then turned it into a scent. I really enjoyed being privy to that thought process. This poem has always brought to my mind sumi ink, pink and white; her choice of notes speak to my personal interpertation of the poem.

Catalina Castells

I'm finding it fascinating that there can be so many fragrant interpretations of the same words. This technique is much more analytical than the past ones I've read, and I'm not sure I like that so much. Still interested to read on, though!


This perfume interpretation of the poem is so very much like an impressionistic painting. What a fun approach!


When I first read the poem, I couldn't pinpoint what it was exactly that I felt - until your description of movement to stillness, the transition of noise to quiet. It was then that everything seemed to click and make sense!

The lighthearted notes of peach, apple blossom and sweet pea initially came as a surprise, but putting it into the paradoxical picture that you had painted - it all seemed just perfect :)

Ruth Ruane

This is very Haiku! It's the first one I have read that really brings the original writer of the poem into the perfume. She really got in touch with the soul of the writer rather than just the words.

Darlene Johnson

The Sumi ink is an interesting thought- the poem did bring to mind something like orange or apple blossoms on the bough. - the sight of a japanese silk painting.


Its very interesting how creativity can transcend sensory boundaries..:)


Okay, so far this is the scent I want most to try. I'm a relatively recent convert to the DSH line (although I've loved Cimabue for some time) and I think her scent would do the poem justice. I loved reading her ideas of the way it would develop.


Apple blossom was the first note I thought of when I read that haiku! And the musk and civet is perfect to evoke the scent of a crowd of people. The mix of European flowers and Asian accords brings to life the mix of people one might find in that Metro crowd. I really like this one!

Robert Upton

Peach, Apple Blossom and Sweet Pea...not things I'd associate with the Paris Metro, but things I do think about on the way home on the train. Wonderfully inspiring.


The analysis of value and texture are exactly how I experience this poem. I think she has captured it. In the fragrance, however, will there be anything that gets that nearly glowing, nearly luminescent feeling that I think the faces/petals have? As wonderful as her fragrances are, I am sure this will be great too.


stella: "Sumi ink is a traditional ink used for sumi-e (japanese painting) made from soot, water, and glue. There are two types of ink:yuen-boku which is a warm black ink, made from lampsoot (produced by burning a type of vegetable oil), and Shoen-boku, a cool and slightly bluish ink made from pine soot...To make Sumi ink you would need a sumi stick and a suzuri [ink stone] A sumi stick is sumi ink compressed into a hard stick, which when rubbed against a suzuri with a bit of water creates sumi ink." Source: http://www.si.umich.edu/chico/Emerson/asian-materials.html


I love Dawn's synesthetic response to the poem. Touch, sight, sound & smell are all swirled together in such a velvet way. & The perfume sounds intriguing. But can someone tell me: what is "sumi ink"?


Dawn's approach raises all sorts of interesting questions regarding smell (not simply of perfumes) and history. As a perfumer who has explored historical perfumery, Dawn obviously has a clear sense of what (one aspect of) the past smelled like. But by and large the past comes to us via text, image, and sound (and that last item is heavily weighted toward the more formal musical genres). Yet I think each of us probably associates certain aromas with the past, even the past far beyond our own memories. And my guess is, again for most of us, what makes those smells seem "ancient" are a series of (often arbitrary) associations.


What a magnificent, detailed description of Dawn's thought process! It is such a wonder to be able to see the process of creation, how the mind works to put together the associations, textures, colors and notes.

And ink and old books - you have ny heart for this one:)


Like Maggie M. above, I love the way Dawn has picked up on the contrasts in this tiny poem between the modern and the ancient, movement and stillness, darkness and light. Given the perfumer's strong synesthetic take on the world, I wonder what painting or other piece of art she would pick to associate with the poem and the perfume?



Dawn's verbal response is very aligned with my felt experience of the poem, and the notes she's working with sound equally evocative of the sense of it. I particularly love the idea of the smell of wetness. So glad this one will available for us, thanks Dawn, and Heather.

Aimee L'Ondee

Wow, this sounds so amazing. You've exactly desribed the scent that I associate with that poem. Exactly! You got it, Dawn! I reeeeeallly want to smell that now, please enter me in the draw!


When Dawn states that the poem "word-image" was more textural and value-oriented (light to dark) than linear or sculptural, it made me realise just how visual the three lines are, and yes, only in black and white. An image of huddled movement, dark except for a face in the middle-distance. Just a fleeting glance captured on a photo or in a memory.


Wow. A lovely post describing a scent that pulls one in and out of the shadows implied by the poem. I love the blend of light and dark notes in the scent, especially violet and orris, and civet and musk. I also love the idea of a scent referencing the fragrances of the 1910s and 1920s. Thank you so much Dawn, and thank you Heather for mentioning Modern Iris in the bio. I must smell this.

Maggie Mahboubian

It's interesting how the title becomes a third line of the poem. It conveys information that grounds the reader in a place . . . a station in the metro, which could only be in Paris. Furthermore, Japanese imagery is implied not only by the haiku-like structure of the poem, but by the subtle reference to cherry blossoms, a light flower against a dark wood.
Dawn's interpretation picks up on this contrast between eastern and western culture as one of movement to stillness. A beautifully written description or apology for a perfume based on contrast and paradox as a condition of modernity.

Nicole Meredith

Dawn, i love how freely synesthetic your associations are - not discriminating between colors, textures, movements, concepts, scents. this fluidity is what intrigued me about perfumery in the very first place. Thanks for sharing your thought process.

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