The Story of Dasein Winter Nights- Sam Rader and Josh Meyer Light a Creative Bonfire

Being an independent perfumer is by design a solitary existence. Especially since each of the individuals behind your favorite brand must do it all. They are no less a perfume lover than any of us who spend time wearing their creations. There are some rare times when the community does find the time to get together. One date on the calendar since 2014 has been the annual The Art & Olfaction Awards. This past year for the third edition the founder of the awards, Saskia Wilson-Brown, also had a two-day curated event called the AIX Scent Fair at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Talking to those who were chosen to participate it was a fabulous opportunity to share their unique perspective on fragrance with a different audience. If it was just the camaraderie which was produced it would have been enough. Except I think it is improbable to believe a room full of creative minds wouldn’t find ways to collaborate. This is what happened when Sam Rader of Dasein and Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors met there. Six months after the meeting the two of them have produced one of my favorite perfumes of the year Dasein Winter Nights. I was so interested in how their collaborative process led to Winter Nights that they graciously answered a bunch of questions I sent them via e-mail. It is a story of two imaginative fragrant minds working on a similar wavelength; amplifying each other’s strengths.

aix scent fair

AIX Scent Fair 2016

I started by asking if they had ever met prior to AIX, both had not. Which lead me into the follow-up about Ms. Wilson-Brown having AIX be this opportunity for collaboration. Ms. Rader exclaimed, “That is genius.  I never really thought about Saskia’s big picture plan…I always imagined it was a way to introduce independent perfumers to the public.  Saskia is a buddy of mine and of course that would be her agenda.  She is so good at witchy community building skills.” Mr. Meyer opined on the value of AIX to him as well, “You're very right, Saskia is able to curate a tone of creativity that's pretty unparalleled, and last year’s AIX fair was unlike anything I've ever been a part of, it was incredible how much fun and vibrancy there was with all the great lines and people involved.”

Sam+Rader+of+Dasein+Fragrance

Sam Rader

With that sense of community firmly in place Mr. Meyer was looking to meet others, “Mark, honestly, it may have been a Colognoisseur post or two that put me on to Sam's projects. We also share some outstanding stockists, Twisted Lily in Brooklyn, Beam & Anchor here in Portland, and a handful of others, I feel like it didn't take too long for me to start following along when Dasein started putting perfumes out there. I was super excited to meet Sam when I saw her setting up at AIX.” When Ms. Rader walked past Mr. Meyer she recounts him reaching out to her this way, “I had only heard of Imaginary Authors and had never smelled them until the AIX.  I was walking by Josh’s table and he called out to me—“Are you the chick from Dasein?  I love your stuff!  Let’s talk.”

Josh-Meyer

Josh Meyer

Talk they did as Ms. Rader describes the meeting, “We later made time to powwow and discovered we were both self-taught indie perfumers, both only interested in avant-garde unisex scents, also both serious foodies.  We rattled off our favorite LA and Portland restaurants (Jon & Vinny’s, Clyde Common) as I sniffed and fell in love with his line.  We vowed to stay in touch.” Mr Meyer also responded to the easy chemistry that was evolving, “We're both small business owners in a niche world that's pretty specific, so we had a lot in common immediately, we had a lot to chat about and simply just got along really well really quickly. I think the idea stemmed from my inserting that she should continue the Dasein line with new projects, and it wasn't long before a flood of  ideas were flowing between us just as an easy conversation.” 

That conversation would begin the process which would produce Winter Nights. It came together as they communicated after returning home. Ms. Rader talks about those early conversations, “Over several texts and phone calls Josh proposed the idea of a reimagining of each season so that I could expand my line while staying true to the initial concept.  He came up with the concept of WINTER NIGHTS, and we were both super jazzed.  As I went into the preparations for the new scent, Josh and I continued our virtual friendship and decided it would be really fun to create the scent as a collaboration.”

cali-winter-bonfire

Together they came up with the brief for Winter Nights. Mr. Meyer remembers the process this way, “I always felt like WINTER was the fragrance of a winter down in Southern California, I grew up down there in Hermosa beach as a little kid, and feel like the winter I experience up the coast, here where I’m at now, in Portland has a darker feel to it. So, as we chatted we came up with the idea of using a Northern California winter beach bonfire as the inspiration. Sort of a meeting spot between us… It was my idea to add a touch of smoke and resin to the project.”

As they moved into the actual composition part of the process they had to figure out a way to work while being separated geographically. Ms. Rader found their connection formed at AIX helped overcome any artificial barriers, “I have loved working with Josh because he has this infectious joie de vivre while also being totally strong and no nonsense.  There was a really great yin / yang balance of our energies in the process.  Mostly Josh came up with the ideas and did the initial sketches of things, and I would be receptive and fine tune the ratios to get the right cohesion.  We were like the band The Postal Service…we did all our blending via shipping each other formulas in the mail, and communicating via phone and email.  It was pretty easy to say yes to everything Josh sent me because he is a truly masterful nose.  We also seem to share an aesthetic vocabulary.  We always understood where the other was coming from, we agreed easily on where we wanted to get to, and had an almost effortless process of getting there.  I think this scent is by far the best of my collection, which I owe to Josh’s ingenuity and precision. I have never made a blend so fast and so painlessly.”

cadewood-essential-oil

I was curious if either of them thought there was a linchpin ingredient to Winter Nights. Mr. Meyer was more equivocal in his answer, “I wish I could say there was a single note or accord that makes it what it is, but I really feel it's different elements coming together to become more than the sum of the parts. The cade oil, the numerous pine elements, and resins… not to mention the underlying sweetness used in the first iteration that we used as a balancing point for the other notes really ties it together and makes it complete.” Ms. Rader was unequivocal in her answer, “Yes!  The cade oil.  Josh suggested it as the basis for our smoke accord.  It has a really beautiful authentic smell of woodsmoke.  So many other smoky oils and molecules have this sickening sweet hickory-ish smell that comes off like smoked meat.  Cade is a dark, rich, woody ashy fire smell.  And the best part is that cade oil is made from Juniper tree tar, and Juniper trees grow all along the coast of California.  So if we were making a bonfire in Big Sur there is a good chance we’d be using Juniper branches.  Pretty poetic, right?” I agree with Ms. Rader the cade oil feels like the keynote and even more so now that I know the story behind it.

After the success of Winter Nights I had to ask if there was a chance for more collaboration. Mr. Meyer replied, “I hope so! It is so much fun to work on fragrance creation, and working with others in a particularly solo creative environment is thrilling.” Ms. Rader is equally enthusiastic, “I would be delighted to work with Josh again.  I have no idea where the future of Dasein is headed, but I do have a feeling that Josh’s advice and input will have a great deal to do with the direction.  He’s become a fast friend and trusted advisor.  I am very lucky we met, thanks to Saskia and the AIX.” Based on what you both achieved with Winter Nights I would love to see more.

I want to thank both of these very busy people for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly. The behind-the-scenes story is as fascinating as the fragrance.

Mark Behnke

Editor's Note: Winter Nights is a limited edition of 400 bottles meant for the 2016 Holiday season.

New Perfume Review Dasein Winter Nights- Midnight in the Tree Lot

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I know it isn’t even Halloween and I’m going to start talking about Christmas over the next few paragraphs. For all of you who can’t stand the idea bookmark the page and come back in a week or whenever you’re ready to start the Holidays. Let me just tell you that it is a truly extraordinary perfume which has me doing this; and it is a limited edition.

I love the Holidays and I really love having a Christmas tree. It is a full spectrum experience of the smell of the tree paired with the visual of bubble lights and ornaments. I think my affection for the smell of Christmas trees came from my time in high school, in South Florida of all places. One of my best friends was a member of an organization called Key Club which is the junior version of the Kiwanis. Their major fundraiser was selling Christmas trees in a lot. I wasn’t so big on being there during the selling. I was very big on being there with the overnight crew who would keep an eye on things in the early hours of the morning. We would sit in folding chairs around a fire pit talking about the things teenagers talk about. Broken parts of the fir trees found their way into the flames. There would always be a moment when the wind would shift and the smoke would swirl around me with the smells of the cut trees surrounding me. The camaraderie of a shared experience created bonds which have lasted over forty years for me, of which that smell is the trigger for that memory.

Sam Rader

Sam Rader

Shared experiences can be the genesis of some great ideas. This past May at the Hammer Museum on the same weekend The Art & Olfaction Awards were handed out there was an exhibition at the Hammer Museum called the AIX Scent Fair. While there independent perfumer Sam Rader, of Dasein, met fellow independent perfumer Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors. Over the course of the weekend they decided they wanted to work together on a sequel to Ms. Rader’s first release for her brand called Winter. That fragrance was the near photorealistic smell of a Christmas tree. Ms. Rader captured my attention with that first release. Now in collaboration with Mr. Meyer she has released a limited edition called Winter Nights.

Josh-Meyer

Josh Meyer

In Winter Ms. Rader took a spectacularly sourced pine essential oil and supported it with cardamom and lavender. That trio remains but is much transformed; made softer. Ms. Rader and Mr. Meyer use a more attenuated pine source. It is matched with a haze of smoke. I must compliment the perfumers the smoke here is perfectly balanced it hangs like a haze not as an overwhelming presence as it does in so many lesser fragrances. Then instead of cardamom, cardamom tea is used. Instead of lavender absolute, lavender flowers are used. Both call back to Winter but have a much lighter presence. The final addition is a suite of darker musks.

Winter Nights has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Winter Nights is a limited edition of only 400 bottles made especially for the 2016 Holiday season.

Ms. Rader finished doing all four seasons earlier this year. Her tour through the seasonal year showed she was a special talent. Mr. Meyer has also become a standout with his Imaginary Authors releases, especially the ones from this year. Winter Nights is very close to the best perfume from both of these talented independent perfumers. It is constructed like a delicate gauze of memory of midnight in the tree lot. Winter Nights is as close to those high school December nights as I have ever encountered. It is a sublime Holiday perfume.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Dasein Summer- Cilantro Crush

If New York is the center of American Perfumery for the big firms then the West Coast is the hub for independent perfumery. It seems there is a gathering momentum of collaboration and creativity coming from there. Which makes it all the more interesting to try the new brands as they produce their first perfumes. I became aware of Sam Rader and her brand Dasein towards the end of 2014. She has been methodically working through the seasons as she started with Winter and Spring and now we have Summer.

I mention this a lot when referring to independent perfumers like Ms. Rader. They have a particular affinity with making unusual notes work. There are times when it can be refreshing. There are times when it can be downright confounding. I have to confess Summer started out confounding for me before becoming refreshing. The cause of the divergence in my opinion was Ms. Rader’s use of cilantro as a keynote. Just as it does when used in food it has a quite powerful green herbal effect. Just because I wanted to know I looked up how many times cilantro has made it into a perfume listed in the Fragrances of the World database. That search produced 30 entries all since 2001. I would have to suspect that it must be difficult to work with and balance. This is where an independent mindset works wonders as Ms. Rader takes this very powerful note, finding an ensemble that harmonizes with the booming presence of the cilantro.

Sam+Rader+of+Dasein+Fragrance

Sam Rader (Photo: via Dasein blog)

Summer opens with the cilantro and only the cilantro. It is an unusual note and I think having looked at the note list prior to trying it I expected the grapefruit to be more prominent. The cilantro carries a variegated greenness which seems impossibly deep. Over time the grapefruit does make its entry via the more sulfurous facets of the citrus matching up with the similar facets in the cilantro. As the grapefruit rises in presence it provides a more familiar fragrance note to ground me. The very first time I wore this I badly needed it. The second and third times it was more harmonic as well as anticipated. Summer eventually transforms into a jasmine and orange blossom floral but the cilantro is still there providing leaf and stem along with the flowers. This is where Summer lingers for most of the time on my skin.

Summer has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I have to warn you that the cilantro is a bit of a prickly note to embrace, especially on first sniff. I would really encourage you to give Summer a second chance especially if you like herbal green fragrances. Ms. Rader is working out on the frontier here but it is something perfumery needs from time to time. Third time I wore this was on the first truly scorching hot day of summer and the cilantro really worked in the extreme heat as well as my beloved vetiver did. Everything that is great about the West Coast perfume scene is on display here in Summer.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Dasein Spring- The Cure for Cabin Fever

In my part of the world the past week has been filled with arctic cold and frozen precipitation. That combination keeps me house bound for way too long for my own good. As we enter the final days of winter I just want it to be over and fast forward to spring. Alas I have no more magical powers than the groundhog does at speeding up the approach of spring and just have to wait it out. Thankfully a lot of the spring releases I’ve been receiving have helped me create a little spring in my office. The new Dasein Spring has been a great companion over the last week as it immerses me in the wet dirt of green and growing things.

Sam Rader

Sam Rader

Spring is the second release from Dasein following up last year’s Winter. On the website perfumer and owner Sam Rader promises Summer and Autumn will appear before year’s end. She has even put up note lists to give us something to look forward to. In her description of Spring Ms. Rader states, “The blend evokes a sunny spring morning, with a gentle breeze carrying the scent of wet earth, budding flowers and green things to your cute little nose.” Just reading that made me look forward to it because I really love the smell of fresh-turned earth. It has been addressed in perfume but it is rarely done well. Dasein Spring is one of those which succeeds at creating that early spring milieu where the damp earth sticks to your hands as you dig in the garden in the morning.

 GARDENING Gardening Column 5

Ms. Rader starts with sunrise as yuzu adds a citrusy brilliance to the first moments. Then as you kneel down to dig in the dirt you get that subtle spicy earthy smell which in the case of Spring is represented by black pepper. Ms. Rader balances this just right; it is more than a pinch but not enough to tickle your nose. As you take another breath the violets and roses on the other side of the garden make their presence known. As with the black pepper Ms. Rader keeps it transparent enough so that it has presence but that it stays at arm’s length. Finally you plunge the spade into the ground and dig. Ms. Rader uses a fabulously complex vetiver equal parts green and woody. Very often a perfumer tilts the use of vetiver one way or the other. Ms. Rader amplifies both and it is that enhanced vetiver that forms the dirt accord. The pepper and florals have lingered to combine with the vetiver and sandalwood provides a bit more foundation for the woody character.

Dasein Spring has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I have to say that in these last few days where I felt the walls were closing in on me Ms. Rader’s perfume was the cure. It made me feel surer that all of the cold will eventually recede and let me outside again. Dasein Spring has been my cure for cabin fever.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Dasein Winter- Christmas Tree Hugger

When it comes to American Independent Perfumery I think I am on the wrong coast. Over the past few years all of the most exciting new independent perfumers call the western half of the country home. As a result, especially with indie brands, a buzz starts to build and it takes a while for these perfumes to make it to the East Coast. Late last year I began to hear about a perfumer by the name of Sam Rader who was working on a quartet of perfumes around the holidays. Then early this year I heard that four proposed perfumes had become one. I also heard that this perfume was one of the best pine tree perfumes my source had ever smelled. Now my patience has paid off as Ms. Rader has finally found a place for her perfume Dasein Winter, on the East Coast.

Ms. Rader is an interesting pastiche of influences. The name of her brand Dasein (pronounced DAH-zyne) comes from her study of existential philosophy and defines a “human being as the marriage between self-awareness and sensual experience.” At least according to her website. I read this that she wants Dasein perfumes to awaken the inner self completely. With Winter Ms. Rader has chosen an iconic smell of the winter months to build a perfume around, that of fir trees. Also according to the website she sourced a specific forest pine essential oil from the Austrian Alps. What has always been a recurring theme when writing about my favorite indie perfumers are these small batches of exquisite ingredients they can use to build a perfume around. This pine tree essential oil is every bit of the tree; needles, bark, sap- everything. It rings with authenticity synthetics just can’t replicate.

Sam Rader

Sam Rader

Dasein Winter opens with that pine essential oil out in front. If you’ve ever gone to a Christmas tree lot to buy a tree you know what this smells like. The richness of the needles, the slightly camphoraceous smell of the trunk, and the woody quality of the branches.. I think I would be thrilled with the essential oil all by itself. Ms. Rader recognizes she has a jewel of a raw material here and so she is very careful to swaddle it in a few well-thought out notes. Early on a bit of spruce keeps your attention on the tree itself. Later on a beautiful whisper of black cardamom wreathes the pine with garlands of warmth. Lavender absolute is the final piece of Winter and it provides a soft sweet place for this mighty conifer to rest.

Dasein Winter has 12-14 hour longevity and modest sillage. For as powerful as this is up close it projects surprisingly little.

With this first effort Ms. Rader has shown a precocious talent that leaves me anticipating her next release which I hear is Spring and will be out early in 2015. Until them I will happily become a pine tree hugger as I anoint myself with Winter throughout the end of this year.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I purchased from Twisted Lily.

Mark Behnke