By Emily J Weitz
If you could bottle up Sag Harbor and take its essence with you wherever you went, would you? What would it smell like? And when you took it out in the midst of some other life, far from this safe cove, how would it make you feel to breathe it in? These are the questions that Laurice Rahme, Founder of Bond No. 9 fragrances, asked herself as she constructed the Sag Harbor scent, which debuts this weekend.
Rahme, who has created scents that capture Soho, Central Park, Montauk, and scores of other locales with their own distinct identities, believes that that perfume is an art.
“It’s very abstract,” she says. “So a lot of people don’t understand that perfume is an art. If a painter paints something, you can see it and touch it. When you spray a fragrance, though, you don’t see anything.”
However, perfumes evoke emotions and spur memory in a unique way. In that way, Rahme compares her fragrances to music more than visual art.
“Music you can hear and fragrance you can smell,” she says. “We work with thousands of notes, and the combination of notes is the art. It’s a precise measurement of different notes, like music, to create a chord.”
The other artistic aspect of the fragrances is in the packaging. The bottles are each distinct, inspired by their neighborhoods or towns.
“For Sag Harbor, I liked the marine look of white and navy,” she says. “We work so the packaging talks to the neighborhood. For Montauk, we used Andy Warhol’s sunset. If we can manage to have the content and the packaging match, then we have a great story. So that’s the art: combining it all in one package and hopefully we please many people.”
Just as every type of music is not pleasing to every type of ear, each fragrance may not suit every nose. But Rahme doesn’t worry too much about that when she’s composing the scents. Rather, she is focused on the feeling that a certain neighborhood evokes, and capturing that in the notes she uses.
When Rahme opened her shop next to the American Hotel last year, she knew that a Sag Harbor scent was on the horizon. But it took time to construct.
“It takes a year to do a good job,” says Rahme. “I had it in my mind, but I had to create the formula. We went through many different formulas. We did at least 60 lab samples. I would wear it around and smell it on my skin and see how it smelled.”
The way the perfume is constructed is kind of like a pyramid. Notes are layered on top of each other. The note on top is what hits you first, and after about 15 minutes you’ll smell the middle note. After a few hours, the bottom note will linger.
“For the Sag Harbor scent,” says Rahme, “bergamot is what you smell first. Then it is ivy, and the wood is what lasts on you, for at least five hours. After a few hours is the bottom note.”
She chose these notes for particular reasons: the relaxing smell of bergamot, the ivy reminiscent of the old houses wrapped in vines, and the wood from the Long Wharf to all the houses. Other notes include peonies, honeysuckle, Long Island grapes, magnolia, oud, amber, and sandalwood.
“The sense of smell is the oldest stirring of memory,” says Rahme. “We are playing with emotions and memory. We hope that the scent of Sag Harbor will transport them to this little village wherever they are.”
Rahme’s love of Sag Harbor is evident, and she wanted the scent to bring out a happiness and a relaxation in people who smell it, like the village itself.
“People love this village,” she says. “That love for the village is in this small bottle that you can take with you everywhere. We like to go home and remember good times, and we hope the memories will stay with us. It’s like when you go to a great concert and you have the song in your head. This is a feel-good fragrance.”
If this fragrance captures the essence of Sag Harbor in a bottle, then what captures its essence in a song?
“Mozart,” says Rahme without hesitation. “The village is about going back to the classics. It’s been there for a long time. It’s happy, relaxing, and calm. Mozart, and the village, are very relaxing, and built to last.”