1. Arts & Entertainment

Natural perfume maker has a nose for perfection

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Published Mar. 1, 2012

Twelve years after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Adam Gottschalk has trouble walking and talking. He drops things because his hands shake. He had to give up playing the guitar.

But he can smell the subtleties of a wonderful perfume.

Gottschalk, 42, makes natural perfume out of his home in Land O'Lakes. He calls the collection Lord's Jester, after his last name, loosely translated as God's jester in German.

"I like to think about people wearing my perfumes and loving them and being overcome with memories and thoughts of paradise,'' he said.

He started the unisex collection in 2009 while living in New York City. He was intrigued by the origin of perfumes and astonished that nearly all of today's scents sold in department stores are synthetic.

The olfactory magic happens in a bedroom he converted into a lab. It looks like an apothecary with scales, burners and dozens of vials of botanical extracts, from vanilla to lavender.

To ensure consistency and near perfect standards, his assistant, ­cousin Tami Hickman, does the mixing and packaging. Despite other physical limitations, his nose is so keen, he can anticipate how a combination of fragrances will smell. His perfumes contain 17 to 20 ingredients apiece, each carefully weighed by the drop according to a closely guarded recipe. The grape alcohol base comes from an organic farm in Portland, Ore.

He names his fragrances after Greek gods and other mythology characters, such as Ares, Demeter and Dionysus. They cater to no specific gender, somewhat of a rarity in the industry.

"I don't tell people if it's for a man or woman,'' he said. "Who knows what a person is going to like?''

Gottschalk discovered the art of perfumery somewhat by accident. He studied sustainable development in college and worked various jobs.

While living in Portland, a friend pointed him to the famed Perfume House, which carries 1,000 different fragrances. He would spend hours sniffing his way around the store for likes and dislikes. He got hooked on the owner's "fairy tale'' stories about different perfumes.

His scents are sensual, luxurious and subtle. They don't linger when the wearer leaves the room. As with most natural perfumes, they evolve on the skin like a story.

A member of the Natural Perfumers Guild, Gottschalk has received worldwide acclaim for his 21-fragrance collection. John Reasinger, a reviewer for the prominent fragrance blog CaFleureBon, wrote this about Anthea, one of two perfume extracts Gottschalk released on Valentine's Day:

"I felt as if I had danced closely with a nymph in the woods and all that was left of her was a vision of her beauty… and her enchanting aroma.''

Natural perfumes have been around for thousands of years but fell out of favor as synthetics became affordable and widely available in the early 20th century. Only in the past decade have consumers rediscovered their benefits.

"It's all about green living and not putting synthetic things in our bodies and on our bodies,'' said Anya McCoy, president of the guild, a 150-member trade association for natural fragrance. "There's really been a surge of interest.''

Nearly all natural perfumes are sold online, creating somewhat of an obstacle for buyers unfamiliar with the scents. Perfumers sell samples, but the experience isn't the same as going into a store and dabbing a few drops of pleasure on the wrist.

Only a few boutiques in major cities carry natural fragrances. None are in Florida, mostly because consumers prefer brand-name, designer scents, said McCoy, who is based in Miami.

Gottschalk hopes to change that with Lord's Jester and is working with boutiques here and in New York to carry his line. His perfumes start online at $38 for a less-concentrated cologne and $75 for an eau de parfum. He makes custom scents for $350.

"They are beautiful, well-constructed perfumes,'' McCoy said. "He looked back to mythology for his inspiration, and it shows. They are incredibly provocative.''