Scents of a Woman
Photos by Julie Pavlowski
PERFUME HAS BEEN A LIFELONG fascination for Iris Parker, dating from early childhood when she was given a kiddie perfume-making kit from a toy store. About 12 years ago, Parker began taking steps to turn her fragrant dreams into reality. "In the beginning, I was completely obsessed," she says, traces of her native New York inflecting her speech. "It was just a hobby, but I spent every moment thinking about perfume, studying it, going to the library and taking out books on anything that had to do with perfume making. I wanted to make my own and had no idea how to go about it, how to mix it, where to get the ingredients. I had absolutely no interest whatsoever in aromatherapy I wanted to make real perfume."
The quest completely changed Parker's life, which, even before her perfume hobby turned serious, read like an adventure story: In the '80s, she was a member of Madame X., which had a Billboard hit with "Just That Type of Girl"; she sang backup with ex-Supreme Mary Wilson and toured the world, playing stadiums such as London's Wembley Arena, as well as gigs like the Clintons' private White House millennium celebration; she's a belly dancer who has performed in L.A., London, Las Vegas and Cairo she even reads and writes Arabic as well as speaking French, Spanish and Italian. Parkers perfumes, oils, toners, lotions, bath gels and soaps
"I started calling up perfume companies, asking questions," recalls Parker. "Nobody really told me anything, and then I started calling chemists. I finally reached a chemist who told me the basic components the essence itself, deionized water, and denatured alcohol, of which there are different grades. I remember being so crazy that I was reading the microscopic print on the label of a bottle of Chanel, and it said, 'Denatured Alcohol, Grade 39C,' and I said, 'That's it that's what I need!'"
By 1995 she started her own line, dubbed Pompadour, which she originally sold at Fred Segal. Pompadour, with its two distinct scents, took six months of trial and error to develop. "I had a certain fragrance in mind after reading about Madame Pompadour and the whole Rococo time period, the traveling to the Orient on the silk routes. I had a love for Madame Pompadour she was all hip like that! I remember reading about how she'd wear Turkish pajamas, then languish in a bath scented with musk and amber, drinking chocolat chaud with a vanilla bean floating in it. So I knew exactly what I wanted it to smell like. I'd make batch after batch, experimenting with the ingredients and writing the ratios down. I kept testing, using my friends as guinea pigs, then I went to Versailles and sat in her chambers to really get her vibe." Fetish tea set and Pyewackett hand-blended teas, all made by Rick Castro
Pompadour, with its regal packaging and a vanilla bean floating in golden liquid, took off, and Parker decided to get even more serious about being a parfumeuse. She attended a course in perfume making offered at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology, from which she'd graduated with a B.S. in fashion marketing a few years earlier, and discovered that she'd instinctually been doing everything right from the start. On a belly-dancing sojourn to Cairo, she headed to the perfume stalls at the Khan al Khalili market, where she sought out and studied with Na Na Khittab, whose family has been making perfumes for generations and who won a royal appointment from Egypt's King Farouk.
Since then, Parker has developed a new line, Lynn Parfumerie, which has 13 scents, ranging from florals and musky Orientals to more herbal contemporary mixes. Both lines include bath oils, soaps, lotions and other body-care products as well as men's scents and limited- edition specials.
Last October, Parker opened a boutique called Dea Di Notte (goddess of the night) with designer Maggie Barry and fellow belly dancer Zahra Zuhair, a highly respected performer, teacher and choreographer. The store, which feels like a luxurious postmodern harem, features Barry's designs and handcrafts from local artists as well as imported clothing and jewelry from Egypt, Brazil, Turkey, Morocco and India. And, of course, there are the perfumes. In addition to Parker's scents, the store features intricately packaged exotic perfumes from Saudi Arabia, as well as Zuhair's brand-new line that includes the soft florals of Angel's Breath and Yasmina, a heady mix of jasmine and ylang-ylang.
"I'm into the classic art of perfumery, as practiced since the beginning of time," says Parker, "when people would place a flower in their hair or a string of fragrant herbs around their neck to ward off evil the alchemy of the whole magical, mystical process. Perfume represents all things beautiful, romantic, creative and healthful. It's an art I practice from my soul."
Dea Di Notte, 1643 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hollywood; (323) 856-0667.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.