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Nov. 30, 2012

Contemplating life in scents

Ayala Moriel has created at least 100 unique perfumes.

The interview started backwards. Entering Ayala Moriel’s studio, she asked her interviewer: “Do you have family in Israel? How are they?” Like many Jews and Israelis around the world during the recent Gaza conflict, she was worried. Although she has been living in Vancouver for 14 years, her family is back in Israel, the country that still fills her heart and memories. Her recollections of Israel led her, in a roundabout manner, to her current occupation: a perfumer.

“When I first came to Vancouver,” she told the Independent, “I missed the scents of Israel. It’s much warmer down there, and the flowers and herbs have sharper scents, especially after the first rain. Here, it rains all the time, and the scents of flowers and leaves are all washed out. In might be a bit different in the summer, after the first rain after a dry spell, but still the scents are not the same.”

From missing the smells of Israel to creating new scents professionally is a long way, and Moriel knows that journey well. She didn’t plan to become a perfumer. Instead, she gradually drifted towards her vocation.

Before settling in Canada, Moriel studied music and psychology in Israel, but she realized very soon after arriving in Vancouver that she would go in a different direction. Thinking she might have a future in visual arts, she enrolled as a full-time student in the animation program at the VanArts institute. As a single mother with a young daughter to support, she juggled several part-time jobs during this time period; she was perpetually exhausted. With all of her relatives and friends in Israel, she felt alone and stressed.

“I started burning incense and meditating to relieve the stress, to calm myself,” she recalled. “I bought incense at church stores and herbal stores, but most of them were bland. I started mixing them up, creating my own blends. I liked the scents of my creations, but it was frustrating to burn them. After burning, mostly it was just smoke.”

At about the same time, in 2000, aromatherapy was experiencing a local revival. New natural products stores were opening in Vancouver, and an increasing variety of essential oils were becoming available. Prompted by her passion for the smells of nature, Moriel started experimenting with “living scents,” the ones intended for wearing, not burning.

By 2001, after finishing animation school, she knew she wasn’t going to be an animator. Instead, she wanted to work with perfumes, creating unique scents, those that she felt the commercial perfume industry was lacking, ones based in the natural world. She founded her own company, Quinta Essentia Signature Perfumes, and enrolled in a short entrepreneurial program at the YMCA.

“When I look back,” she said, “I realize that some of what I did then was totally crazy. I just told myself, it’s going to work, it’s my passion, so it will work! I was only 25, didn’t know better.”

She knew enough to start an intense marketing campaign online, however. “Vancouver is a small city,” she said. “I must sell my products all over the world for my business to succeed.”

She also started educating people about natural scents, holding workshops in her studio and starting her blog “It’s not all ‘buy, buy my perfumes!’ on my blog,” she said of that effort. “It’s a discussion. I write how people could choose their own fragrances. I write reviews for famous industrial perfumes. I explain what natural essentials are. What is musk, its origins and history in perfumery? How to extract scents from certain roots? How to use scents in baking?”

Moriel said she likes to share as much knowledge as possible with her customers. Like a composer, sharing her olfactory melodies with others, many entries in her blog resemble poetry, lyrical contemplations of life and scents.

She uses only natural components for these aromatic compositions: plant parts – flowers, leaves, seeds, roots, bark and fruit – and occasional animal ingredients, like beeswax or honey. When she combines them, she does it with one goal in mind: to enrich life for her audience. That’s why, she explained, she conducts perfume parties at her studio.

“People come, mostly women, for birthdays and bridal showers, for anniversaries and retirement parties. A party is like a celebration of scents,” she said. “The ladies smell my selection of essential oils. We play games. For example, I give them one source – like a rose oil – to smell. One whiff, and then everyone writes a line of poetry inspired by the scent. Then we read that poem – line by line, from different people. It’s fascinating. Sometimes, the participants blend their own perfumes during the parties.”

When, in 2006, she changed her company name to Ayala Moriel Parfums, it was a business decision. “From the beginning, I didn’t want to call the company by my name. It’s not about me. It’s about scents and customers. But everyone kept calling it ‘Ayala’s perfumes,’ so I changed the name to reflect the reality.”

Moriel is clear that perfumery is not as much a business as it is an art form, and it can seem exotic in this technological age. By now, she has created more than a hundred different perfumes: her personal gallery.

Her work on a new, ready-to-wear perfume always begins with a spark of inspiration. “Anything can be a starting point,” she explained. “An emotion evoked by a book, a pastry I had with coffee, a tree in a park. I always carry a small journal with me and I write my ideas there. Sometimes, it’s just a technical exercise: what can be done with this particular tuber or bark of a certain tree.”

Each custom perfume involves a different process. “When I make a customized perfume, I start by asking lots of questions. What do my clients like and dislike? What are their favorite memories, places, flowers, food? I try to match a scent to a personality. It’s like storytelling for me.”

The names of each of her perfumes also have a variety of sources. As important as the ingredients, each name conveys the perfume’s core, its spirit. Some she named after her friends, because they reflected those friends’ characters or quirks. Others she named after a concept. One of her most popular perfumes, Espionage, she based on her impression of John le Carré’s books. “Spies in those books are intriguing, dark, always waiting for something to happen. That’s how I wanted this perfume to be.”

For more information on Ayala Moriel Parfums, visit

Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].