One of the small joys in life for Carolyn Mix is the time of year when clementine oranges are in season. Unpeeling the rind from the tiny fruits and releasing the sweet, pungent scent of citrus in the air unlocks memories of winter, and the holidays, and all the things that go along with it. And more than anything, it sets Mix’s nose to work.
“I’ve always had a really keen sense of smell,” said Mix. “It just comes naturally.”
Mix, with her partner Darcy Doniger, uses her olfactory sensitivities to great effect, with their two-woman business, 2 Note Botanical Perfumery.
Since 2006, the pair have produced all-natural perfumes and products for the body and the home at their warm, tidy Portland storefront, located at 10 Moulton St., in the Old Port. Their scents are inspired by music, as Mix is a violinist and Doniger is a cellist. Varieties such as the seductive Nocturne, the bold Sonata and the lively, youthful Minuet that are evocative of their respective musical terms.
“Music is a very good metaphor for the way scents affect you,” said Mix, 35. “There’s high notes, middle notes and low notes, in the same way that there are scents that evoke the same thing. And, as with music, it’s all about how you combine them.”
A top note in a 2 Note Perfume would be something light and bright, like citrus, mint, eucalyptus or grapefruit. A middle, or “heart” note would be jasmine, lavender or rose — floral and distinctive. The bass notes are more foundational, heavier scents, such as patchouli, sandalwood or vetiver.
Mix dabbled in creating her own perfumes while at school at Wells College in New York where she studied music education and psychology. It was there she became aware of the not-so-good aspects of the beauty industry — in particular, the array of chemicals and dyes found in makeup and perfume, not all of which are healthy for humans to be around.
“As a society, we’ve gotten further and further away from knowing about what’s in our products,” said Mix. “It was a big ‘a-ha’ moment for me, realizing that we’re just constantly surrounded by all kinds of chemicals that really separate us from the natural world. We don’t know how things are actually supposed to smell and taste. We think laundry detergent smells clean, but it’s really just chemicals.”
Mix and Doniger met in Portland, where both had ended up in the early 2000s; Mix was teaching violin, and Doniger showed up for lessons. Some time later, they attended a friend’s wedding, for which Mix created a special scent for the bride, to always remind her of her wedding day.
“I was so blown away by how she created this beautiful scent. It was like watching a chef put together different items for a recipe,” said Doniger. “Not everyone wants to do something that they do as a hobby as a business, but I told her, ‘If you would want to do this as a business, I would do it with you in a second.’ I saw it as something sweet and pretty that people could spoil themselves with. Fortunately, she wanted to take the plunge.”
The 2 Note store opened in 2006, and has since developed a small and devoted following among both Portlanders and online shoppers. Prices range from $15-$20 for bath products and home fragrances, $18-$30 for face and hand care products, $40 for perfume solids, $60 for roll-on oils and $90 for sprays. Mix and Doniger compare their products to an artisan bakery — they use the best ingredients, they keep it small and local, and once a product is sold out, customers have to wait until they can make more.To that end, they try to keep a relatively low profile.
“We rely entirely on word of mouth,” said Doniger. “We don’t do advertising. We can only sell as much as we make. When we sell out of a product, that’s it until we can make more. Other stores I’m sure would be thrilled by that, but for us, it’s like ‘Oh no! We’re sorry!’ It’s really important to us to keep it small and make the absolute best product we can.”
Botanical perfumes are decidedly different from commercial perfumes. Where well-known scents by big perfume companies contain less than two percent plant-based extracts, relying almost entirely on synthesized fragrances with a petroleum base, everything 2 Note produces is 100 percent all natural. Even the alcohol and jojoba oil used for the spray and the roll-on scents are organic.
“This is how perfumes were made, up until the 1940s and 50s, when people like Coco Chanel came along,” said Mix. “It is a much lighter scent, and often less kind of cloying. It’s very subtle.”
In addition to the 15 permanent varieties of perfume 2 Note offers — from the flirty Toujours, with its notes of cocoa and Turkish rose, to the spicy citrus splash of Vivace — there are many other products beyond personal scents and hand cremes. For the home, 2 Note offers a variety of seasonal products; currently, there’s Clementine Aromatic Mist that distills the scent of Mix’s beloved fruit, as well as a Holiday Home Fragrance that combines balsam, cedarwood, cinnamon and clove.
For men, 2 Note offers a best-selling shave cream that uses the more masculine, lavender-infused scent Primo. A number of 2 Note’s varieties are unisex; in particular, the scents Duet, Minuet, Sonata and Vivace work for both men and women. The Vivo Cleansing Gel, for both sexes, is infused with grapefruit, lime and sandalwood. And for wee ones, the mild and sweet Piccolo scent — mandarin and lavender — can be found in a baby wash, powder, oil, mist and bottom creme.
“As we say, the first note in all of our scents is you, and your natural scent,” said Mix. “The fact that it’s all natural means that it works with your own unique body chemistry, to create something that’s totally you. That’s the whole point.”