I’m delighted to introduce our next guest and she is Antonia Kohl, the lovely proprietress of Tigerlily Perfumery here in San Francisco. Located along Valencia Street in the city’s Mission neighborhood, this gem is the city’s only boutique dedicated entirely to artisan and niche perfumes, including a deep collection of U.S. indie fragrances and hard-to-find cult favorites from around the world. If you’re looking for a truly unique and signature scent for yourself, a special someone or want to get a better understanding of perfumes, this is the place to visit. Antonia has expertly guided many to discover unique fragrances they wouldn’t have otherwise. I learned so much from her, even participating in a workshop to craft my own personal fragrance. And it’s a fun, casual space to explore and play with so many varieties. It’s amazing how a little spritz or dab of something can bring so much beauty and joy into people’s lives. Before opening Tigerlily, Antonia enjoyed an exciting 20-year career in interactive design and production before launching her new business. This holiday season her shop will celebrate its two-year anniversary. Be sure to pop into Tigerlily next time you’re in SF and in the neighborhood.
So why perfume?
I’ve always loved perfume! Like most people, smell triggers so many of my memories and influences my moods. Smell can be an underrated sense but it is deeply impactful on both an emotional and physiological level.
What’s your first memory of perfume?
My first memory of perfume is from early elementary school when a classmate presented me with a pretty porcelain bottle of Tea Rose eau de toilette that he’d stolen from his mother. Although my mom made sure the bottle was dutifully returned, the idea of perfume stuck with me as a treasure and romantic symbol.
What inspired you to launch your business?
For several years, my husband and I would check out boutique perfume shops when visiting other cities but hadn’t found one just right for us at home. I left the digital world hoping to work on a smaller scale, doing something I love and with the public – perfume was a healthier choice than opening a pub!
How should one really go about selecting a perfume?
Explore, sniff and try it on! We really encourage our customers to take the time to smell broadly in order to hone in on what they love and to try on multiple scents to see what works with their skin chemistry. While some people are looking for a signature scent, most are interested in having a variety of fragrances to wear so can also consider mood, season, occasion and self-expression.
We truly believe that the process of selecting a perfume should be fun! At the shop, our customers love to hear about the people, ideas and stories behind each scent. And they definitely enjoy taking home samples to try out!
You always hear about “notes” in perfume. Can you tell us more about them?
Like notes in music, notes are scent components that make up the composition of a perfume. Notes are individual smells, like sandalwood or bergamot, which are combined in layers to create the overall experience of a perfume. Structurally, most perfumes are designed with Top Notes, Heart Notes and Base Notes. The top notes are the first notes you smell after applying a perfume. They are tiny molecules and dissipate quickly. Heart Notes are next and last longer, bridging to the Base Notes, which stick around the longest. Citruses are typical top notes, florals are often found in the heart and base notes tend to be “darker” notes such as amber, sandalwood and vanilla.
Common mistakes people make in buying perfume?
Buying perfume based on a brand name, a review or what it smells like on a test strip are the biggest mistakes people make. Your skin chemistry is the final ingredient in every perfume you wear, so try before you buy! This isn’t a mistake, but I encourage people not to pigeonhole themselves into too narrow of a scent profile, e.g. “I only like woods” or “I hate florals”. Over time and with natural changes in our lives, our tastes and skin chemistry can change. With so many scents and so little time – why not keep exploring?
You carry artisan and niche perfumes. What is artisan and what is niche?
Good question! To me, niche initially meant scents made by smaller perfume houses and individual perfumers who were able to maintain a high level of quality and creativity because they weren’t beholden to the “bottom-line” demands of the mass market. These days, the term “niche” has become a bit dilute as big brands buy up popular small houses and launch shadow brands to fit into this category, which has risen notably in popularity and has a large international fan base. When I use the term “artisan perfume”, I’m referring to a scent that is handcrafted by an individual perfumer who is not associated with a large brand. Generally this also implies a high-quality product that is made in smaller volume.
What are some of these hard-to-find cult favorite perfumes you carry?
We carry many wonderful lines from the United States, including what we believe to be the largest brick-and-mortar collection of West Coast fragrances. In terms of international cult perfumes that are hard to find at retail, here are a few beauties:
Tauer Perfumes: we carry an enticing selection of fragrances by the massively beloved Swiss perfumer, Andy Tauer, including L’Air Du Desert Marocain and Lonestar Memories. Perfumistas also love his new Tauerville line!
Neela Vermeire: a sublime collection from Paris with roots in French perfumery and rare ingredients from India. Neela Vermeire collaborated with famed perfumer, Bertrand Duchaufour, to create these highly coveted perfumes, including Ashoka and Mohur, which are tributes to Indian history and culture.
Papillon Perfumery: a new line out of London that exploded onto the perfume scene last year with the niche hits, Anubis, Tobacco Rose and Angelique. This year the perfumer, Liz Moores, added a dirty, vintage-style bombshell, Salome,
What perfume are you currently wearing now?
It’s finally starting to feel like winter so today I’m wearing one of my favorite warm gourmands, Captured in Amber, from En Voyage by Shelley Waddington. It’s chocolate amber with a hint of spice, created here in the Bay Area. This week I’ve also worn the smoky Broken Theories by Kerosene and vintage-y This Grand Affair by Blocki Perfumes.
Any strange fragrance requests from clients?
This may not surprise the serious perfume-heads in the room, but I have been asked for perfumes that smell like “wet dog”, “skunk” and “sweaty s*x”.
What type of events and workshops do you host?
We love events at Tigerlily! We host trunk shows, fragrance launches and perfume presentations as well as perfumery workshops and classes, including custom blending workshops with well-known San Francisco perfumer, Yosh Han.
So what’s next for Tigerlily?
Lots of changes coming! We’re expanding to take over more of the space at 973 Valencia in January, which will allow us to bring in additional lines as well as to build space to accommodate a packed calendar of events and workshops. We’ll also be working on our ecommerce site, which launched on a small scale and needs tweaking! On the horizon are a unique online sample program, sales and promotions.
Other top spots in the Mission one should visit around Tigerlily?
Love & Luxe is not to be missed! Betsy Barron presents her own line alongside a beautiful selection of artisan jewelry lines from around the world, many of which are local, all using precious materials in refined and creative ways.
Lolo is one of our favorite spots to take visiting perfumers to lunch before events. We’re in love with the avocado tacos and mescal margaritas. The atmosphere is kitschy and colorful and the “Jaliscan-Californian” food is seriously fresh, yummy and unpretentious.
Luna Reinne Gallery passionately promotes new and up-and-coming artists from the Bay Area, including three of my favorites, Reuben Rude, Bill Zindel and Jose Arenas. Fun openings!
Paxton Gate doesn’t need the promotion but they are still one of my favorite spots to send out-of-town friends and customers on a Valencia stroll. In addition to their curated collection of curiosities, they host great pop-ups like the Spark Ceramics planter-making workshop (they do beer stein classes too!).
Nooworks makes dresses that are the definition of fun! Owner Jennifer D’Angelo has been a longtime fixture in the Mission District and it’s been inspiring to see how her line has grown and flourished. Not to mention the sales parties with bands and libations.
• all photography by leslie santarina.
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