Scents & Sensibility


Sizing up your scent: local perfumery creates bespoke perfumes from natural botanicals

Photo: Chad Chisholm

Dawn Spencer-Hurwitz has a nose for sizing up your scent. 

Spencer-Hurwitz, who owns Essence Studio/DSH Perfumes, a North Boulder-based studio where hand-crafted fragrances are formulated with all-natural botanicals, is a perfumer who designs and recreates scents for clients around the globe, including perfume fanatics in our own backyard. “One of my favorite consultations was with a couple from Greenwood Village, which was kind of like a ‘date night’ on Zoom,” she recalls. “Both the man and woman were so happy to discuss their favorite scents, as well as the lovely memories associated with each aroma,” adds Spencer-Hurwitz, who eventually created a shared concept of his-and-hers scents for the couple.

It’s no wonder the fragrance artist, who also develops scents for Denver Art Museum shows and projects (Spencer-Hurwitz also co-founded a Japanese perfume brand), has such a fanatical following: Her intuitive nasal brilliance is firmly planted on the perfume industry’s pulse. 

But her personal and professional life, like so many others, has resulted in abrupt pivots because of COVID-19. Still, the entrepreneur, wife and mother doesn’t have a second to spare. Suffice it to say Spencer-Hurwitz’s normal workday probably makes the rest of us look like sloths.   

7:30–8:45 a.m.: early to rise 

Spencer-Hurwitz has an eight-year-old son, so she awakens early to enjoy a few quiet moments to herself, especially to stretch and “come into my body,” she says. After her son rolls out of bed, she cooks breakfast, looks over her son’s daily schedule and gets him started with his home-based learning plan.

8:45–9:15 a.m.: calm and stable

Meditation, stresses Spencer-Hurwitz, is an “important time to quiet my mind and slow down.” She meditates most mornings in her home art studio — one of her favorite places — and “finds the smell of pencils, chalks, paints and paper dually soothing and grounding.” 

9:15–10 a.m.: mind-to-muscle connection

The perfumer’s daily exercise routine zigzags from floor exercises to cardio workouts on a stationary bike. She also checks her Instagram feed and any action in her online community.

10–10:30 a.m.: screen time

Spencer-Hurwitz plans her daily schedule which, depending upon the day, might include scheduling designs or livestreaming sketches for her perfumes on Instagram. “It’s all very interactive, plus we get to talk about the creative process and decision making of designing a perfume, which is always exciting,” says Spencer-Hurwitz.

10:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m.: consulting during Covid

After a 30-minute commute to her Essence Studio in North Boulder, Spencer-Hurwitz takes note of which designs require creation for reorders and shipments, as well as which new products need to be made. She also consults with clients, but since COVID-19 restrictions mostly preclude one-on-one meetings, the majority of her consultations are done on Zoom. “When I meet with clients in person, I’m able to actually smell and ‘work’ directly on their skin, but with social distancing in place, that’s not feasible,” says Spencer-Hurwitz. Instead, she conducts online client interviews: “How often do you wear perfume?” “Which perfumes have you worn before?” “Do you have a signature scent?;” “Do you have a lot of perfumes, or nearly none?” Based on a client’s answers, Spencer-Hurwitz creates a trio of sketches, sends them to the client for feedback and then fine tunes the fragrance until it’s right. “The online process is tricky and takes longer, but I love learning about my clients; they’re all so diverse and interesting, and creating a perfume that expresses each person is endlessly fascinating.”

3:30–5 p.m.: it’s a wrap

Before leaving her studio, Spencer-Hurwitz packs orders and, as a token of gratitude, includes personal notes with each order. Additionally, she works on formulas and designs for her consulting clients, which include other perfume companies. And, she admits, “I clear up the messes I’ve made. I’m definitely a messy creative so I tidy up my workspace as best I can before I head home.”

5:30–9 p.m.: family time

After a long day, Dawn finds therapy in watering her garden and cooking dinner for her family. “I’m an avid gardener and grow flowers, 10-foot tomato plants, plus arugula, cucumbers, purple pole beets, fava beans and herbs,” says Spencer-Hurwitz, a self-described “veggie-pescatarian.” There’s “always a fresh salad on the table,” she says, adding that she and her family “make a point of always eating dinner together.” 

9 p.m.–midnight: creative inspiration

Spencer-Hurwitz is a night owl, using the moonlit hours to brainstorm ideas. “As an artist, I find that nighttime is the best time to write down ideas and think about what I’m yearning to work on,” she shares. “Ideas really come flooding in after the details of the day are finished and I can just work on the moods, feelings and stories I’d like to tell through my perfumes.” At midnight, sleep finally comes.

Essence Studio/DSH perfumes, Boulder

Photo: Chad Chisholm