eyeliner on a cat

eyeliner on a cat
beauty, scent & style scrutinized for pleasure

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Perfumer Interview Series: Liz Zorn

Liz Zorn of Soivohle Perfumes is one of a kind. She's someone who is not afraid to speak her mind, regardless of the consequences. It's one of the things I really like about her; you never have to wonder where you stand. She's faithful to her vision, her art and her amazing (and adorable) cat Beanie, and her talent is boundless. In short, she's a very interesting person. Read on to find out why.

CM: When I first started seriously collecting and studying perfume, I had ordered some samples from you and realized that I had never before experienced anything similar to what you do. So, in my personal perfume story, you represent a major marker along the journey. Can you describe your aesthetic and creative goals for those who may not be familiar with your work?
LZ: Like most artists I live in my head, so that is where the work begins. It has always been that way for me and this is how I have been telling my story for as long as I can remember.  I do not usually set goals, but desires. I desire things to be a particular way so I will work it out in my head until I feel that it is worthy of repeating on paper or in the lab. Like a new song that gets played over and over in my head until I can't stand it. At that point I must decide to either take the next step and finish it, make it tangible, or let it go. I do this with scent. I either get to a place where I finish it, or just let it go. 
CM: I’ve always considered your style of perfumery to be “rustic luxe”, and I think the consumer’s appetite for this kind of thing is on an uptick. Do you agree, or would you characterize your work differently? 

LZ: Rustic is not a word I would use to describe my work as it implies unrefined, lacking sophistication, backwards etc. When I think of rustic I am reminded of my childhood and our horrendous family camping trips. You would be hard pressed to get me out in the woods in a tent today. I love the outdoors but pooping in the woods is not my idea of luxury.  I try not to put labels on the work because it boxes me in. I will say that the overwhelming feedback from collectors, is more in line with allegory and sensory connections. Less about perfume speak and more about the artistry of the work and how that fits the personal paradigm of the individual.

CM: I know that you’re a musician and have been for some time. Does music have any influence on how you create fragrances?
LZ: Of course there are similarities in structure. The spark of creation, the mulling it over, the tangible work. I do not compartmentalize my creativity. Music here, painting there, perfume  etc. It all comes from the same place. An inner drive to create, regardless of the medium.
CM: Can you give hints about any new scents you may be working on at the moment?
LZ: At the moment I am working on new things in the Soivohle eau de toilettes collection. This collection is set to be expanded to include an oil perfume and perhaps a lotion for each scent in the collection.  It (the collection) will first be paired down to the scents that can transition to an oil, and then new scents are scheduled to be added this year. First up are Wild Ginger Chai and Rosa Sur Rose.   I am also working on new natural perfumes that will be in the Signature Collection Absolutes. These are inspired by Egyptian Mythology, the first one will be called Tears of Ra, a honey scent, based on the story of the same name.

CM: What is the most gratifying part for you about being an independent perfumer?
LZ: Being the boss of course. Setting my own pace. It is a luxury of sorts to be able to make a living doing what one loves in life.  I also feel a deep sense of gratitude to be able to do what I want. I do not take it lightly.
CM: And what is the most difficult part?
LZ: Paperwork. But perhaps it is more dislike than difficult. I do it, but I do not like it. Also setting time boundaries. If I had no other responsibilities I could easily ignore all else in my life. This sometimes gets me in trouble because there are only so many hours in a day. I rush around trying to fit it all in. I am not always successful.

CM: You regularly take some of your perfumes off of the menu, but will often times bring them back in the future—sometimes with slight changes. What is your motivation for this? 
LZ: If you are looking just on our website this will be the case. Nothing is really gone, it is just out of the current rotation. Most things can be purchased by request or in my studio where I keep a larger variety of perfumes. As to the changes, I rarely if ever change formulas. I do however upgrade or change out materials. For example the Vetiver for Blood Orange and Vetiver was changed because the original was no longer available. I have made changes to the new Solstice by using a different Oud and Frankincense, but the formula has not really changed. I try to keep things as close to the original as possible, but with natural materials it isn't  possible to have a standardized version of every material.  I also buy special limited quantities sometimes, things that cannot be replaced. I always know going in that to create a scent with this rare material means that it will not be around forever. This is how art works. It isn't always about a never ending stream of commerce, the supply and demand.
CM: I really like how you have a few different lines of fragrances within your brand because there really is something for everyone. When any one asks me for a recommendation for your scents, no matter who they are, I can easily rattle off a few that would suit them. Is it important to you to try to have options for many different people and their varying tastes?
LZ: Nope. I am very selfish in that regard, I am only interested in satisfying myself. I always set the bar very high.  If that materializes into a myriad of things, it is because there are a lot of things that interest me. In reality, I am just trying to get from point A to point B.  It would be too overwhelming to incorporate the desires and varying tastes of others into my equation. I would never get anything done and it would no longer be my point of view, my art.

CM: Where do you see Soivohle in 5 years?
LZ: I am a beginners mind kinda gal, so my brain is not wired for such an overwhelming long term projection. No big changes, no creative deviations. I would hope that it continues on the same path. I tend to fine tune as I go, and I always think things out before acting. I am the least spontaneous person I know. I believe that like follows like. People, like minded people do seek me out, and I am a big believer in cause and effect. With this in mind I am hopeful to stay the course and keep a positive outlook and maintain a level of integrity in my work. I think people have come to expect that from me. They expect from me what I  naturally expect out of myself.
CM: There may be one or two people in Perfumeland that don’t know about your cat Beanie, but I count myself among his biggest fans. Can you give us all a brief version of the story?

LZ: Beanie (Beacon Free) is an amazing spirit.  He was born with disabilities that our vet did not think he would overcome. Now he is 3 1/2 years old. He needs daily care to survive, and I am his only caregiver. I do this gladly and with love and devotion. We talk about perfume, art and music, and all of these things are fine. But it is our service, our selfless giving of ourselves to others that defines who we really are.

I have had Beanie since he was a few days old. His mother was a feral pregnant female who ate from our community outdoor food bowl. She delivered and housed her babies tucked into a stack of firewood at the side of our house near the road. A very busy state highway. I knew they would not survive that road, so I decided to bring them all inside. At first I caught the mother and then got the babies. I noticed immediately that something was not right with one of the babies. His back legs were hyper extended and he had no ability to balance himself. He was smaller and the others got the lion’s share of the milk. Each day I would pull the others away so that little Beanie could get his share. In the animal kingdom the mothers will sometimes kill or leave behind the ones who are sick or lame, Beanie’s mother Peggy Sue, loved him and cared for him. I was amazed at how gently she treated him.  Eventually the other kittens began to play and jump and move around in ways that Beanie could not. At night they would all gather in a box up on a shelf to sleep.  In the morning I would always find Beanie sleeping alone on his blanket. They were all eating solid food by then so I started taking Beanie to bed with me at night.  It took a long time to work out his diet issues and get him to a stable place where he could live a normal life. Today he is such a happy little guy. Has the biggest personality and he is so smart that it is spooky. He has the attention span to sit and watch an hour long TV show, and a vocabulary of sounds and meanings well beyond anything I have ever witnessed in a cat before. When I think about the relationship that I have with him, I feel like he is the wise omnipotent leader and I am just the awe struck student along for the ride. 

Check out this video of Beanie on the move! He's amazing:

[All photographs and video property of Liz Zorn and are used with kind permission]


  1. I'm so in love with Jasmine Summer, that I cannot wait to try more of Liz's fragrances. And, how could I not want to support the brand that shares it love with Beanie's triumphant spirit?

    Thank you Carrie for sharing. Indie fragrance brands are where the art is at, not at the overhyped corporate perfumery houses.

    PS - to Liz, I'll hope for a body oil in lieu of a lotion!

  2. Great interview Carrie. I can relate to Liz's time issues. I always wish I had a few more hours in the day. Someone asked me recently who my favorite American perfumer is and without hesitation I said Liz Zorn. One day I will shake her hand and tell her in person how much I appreciate her artistry. Until then, keep on being selfish Liz. Like you said, like minds will find you and we are.

  3. O My gosh, look at that kitty!!! great interview Carrie, so LIZ and so clear. Thank you, what a gift!!

    I'm ost excited about the naturals, the Signature Collection Absolutes- as usual!

  4. Wonderful interview, Carrie. I loved reading what Liz has to say about her work and I feel very connected to and respectful of her values as a perfumer. Mandy

  5. Great post, I enjoyed reading it. am a big fan of Liz's work, was nice to read a bit about her creative way.

  6. NK- I'm so happy to hear that you love Jasmine Summer! I had a feeling you would. Liz' poetic way of blending really speaks to me, and I was very much hoping you would feel the same way.

  7. Hi Barney! It always seems like the best artists always create for themselves first, doesn't it? With a strong aesthetic and consistently high standards, a perfumer will gain her/his followers easily.

  8. Thanks for stopping by to comment, Monica! Liz' absolutes are to die for, and I feel like that's close to being an understatement.

  9. Hi Mandy! I also feel that you and Liz share intrinsic values as artists. The way you both speak to the world with your fragrances is so uniquely you.

  10. Thanks for your comment, Paul! I'm glad you enjoyed reading the interview. :)

  11. lovely interview and what an adorable creature!

  12. I am in love with Liz's love for that lovely kitty.
    And I now feel compelled to fill myself with sampling her line. I haven't tried a single scent. Can you believe it?
    This was a spectacular interview. Thanks Carrie and Liz.

  13. Wonderful interview with a perfumer whose works have become my touchstones. Thank you both.

  14. Hi Carrie, thanks again for including me in your interview series. I was most touched when you asked me to include Beanie. Here at my desk, he sits behind me on his kitty condo (like in the video) as he is sitting there now, looking out the window.

  15. Hi Lucy! Thank you so much for stopping by to read and leave a comment!

  16. Jen- thank you so much! Exploring Liz' line will be loads of fun, I know I had myself a ball when I first did! And I continue to be amazed by her.

  17. Hi Olenska! Thank you for your sweet words. Nobody does what Liz does-- it always feels to me like a privilege to wear her perfumes.

  18. Liz- I'm so glad you agreed to let me interview you. It was such a pleasure for me. And for Beanie- the two of you are inextricably linked, I couldn't have done this without him, too!

  19. Great questions and fascinating responses from you and Liz. Thank you for this interview. I took to heart what Liz said about desires as opposed to goals - what an interesting approach!

    Beanie is a superstar!

  20. Hi Joanne! Desires sound so much more fulfilling than goals, doesn't it? Maybe it's just semantics, but sometimes we have to practice psychology on ourselves. :)

  21. I came for the perfume interview (now I must try some Liz Zorn perfume), but I admit, I stayed for Beanie's story. That video brought tears to my eyes. What a tough little spirit, and so wonderful of Liz to love and care for him.

    1. Come for the interview, stay for the cats... that's my blog's motto! The story of Liz and Beanie is a very special one and I'm glad I had the opportunity to have Liz tell the story here.