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Straddling the Fence - Sherri Sebastian, Provision Scents

November 09, 2018

Straddling the Fence - Sherri Sebastian, Provision Scents

In 1981, I found myself in the front row at an ACDC concert at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. A few years earlier I had seen Andy Gibb with my parents. I wore a dress and Love’s Baby Soft. This time, I went with friends and wore skin tight designer jeans, a perm, and Jontue perfume. I was thirteen years old and thought it couldn’t possibly get any better than this.

Over the next five years I saw dozens of concerts and my perfume collection continued to expand into prestige brands like Dior, Chanel and Calvin Klein. In contrast to my outer world with loud music and big hair, my bedroom was a peaceful sanctuary covered with posters not of rock bands, but beautiful images of Paris and Versailles. On my dresser sat a mirrored golden tray with my vast perfume collection.

Looking back it’s clear that I’ve approached many things in life with duality, so it makes sense that for the past twenty years I’ve navigated the world of perfumery from both an industry and independent perspective.

Besides my sheer passion, persistence, and a few lucky breaks along the way, I can’t think of any good reason for my longevity in the industry. Growing up in PA I had no idea the field of perfumery existed. It wasn’t until an internship with a winemaker after college that my analytical nature finally turned its focus to the elusive nature of aromatic compositions.

When I accepted a position as a perfume apprentice to a master perfumer in the late nineties I had already spent a few years training as a flavor chemist at a Brooklyn flavor house. Stepping into the labs was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. Perfumers smoking cigarettes in their offices surrounded by teams of assistants, outlandish fashion straight from the runway, five different languages being spoken at any given time, champagne toasts, non-stop formulating and evaluation, and precious bottles being locked away in cabinets.

At the center of all of this were the stars—the real noses— their focus like that of highly trained Olympic athletes. Well dressed, sharp, highly skilled and focused—these were the people responsible for creating the iconic fragrances of the past. The whole experience was heady and surreal to me.

The excitement didn’t always override the politics, stress, and competition, though. At one point as I fought to move up from apprentice to perfumer, a very prominent European perfumer said to me, “You’re a nobody, you don’t belong here.” It was true, my father wasn’t a perfumer and I wasn’t “chosen” to be there, but like most things in my life I’ve managed to stay resilient and never give up on things I truly believe in, and perfumery was one of those things.

I pressed on until I got my big break winning my first brief for Coty, a fine fragrance aptly named “Sheer Passion.” Finally, my own champagne toast and roses! As fate would have it, I left the company before this fragrance went on to win a Fifi award, so I was never credited for this creation, but the know-how will forever be a part of my DNA.

At this point I had worked in the industry for ten years and began to feel a disconnect between my perfumery work and the finished products. I decided to take a break from the industry to explore a different kind of scent satisfaction.

It was on a solo journey in Belize that I met a healer who insisted I put an oil on my pillow at night to inspire colorful dreams. When I returned home, I knew that my true calling was somewhere between the intensity of the industry and the connectedness of the independent world. I went on to develop a pillow spray, Dream Extract, which became the foundation for my own luxury wellness brand, Provision Scents.

Since that trip, I’ve continued to straddle the fence between both worlds, finding resonance in the middle. My greatest satisfaction comes from working directly with brands—both my own and others—to convey their message with a scent that transcends the latest marketing jargon. You experience it and just know that it was inspired by a desire to reach people on a deep and lasting level.

My dream today is for the makers and true perfumers, whether independent and/or professional, to control the fragrance conversation directly, without the filter of marketers, self-appointed experts and creative directors. When that happens, there will be room for the next fragrance Renaissance, where words and awards will be replaced by the sensory experience that only scent itself can provide.

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In honor of Sherri's photo-sharing bravery: Dave Kern - Freshman Semi-Formal, 1986.