Passion for Perfume - Portrait: An Interview with Sali Oguri


Sali Oguri is a New York based singer and musician. She is a multi-talented artist who has managed aside from her activities as a composer and singer to dedicate herself to creating a perfume which has generated a cult following. Called Pink Manhattan, it was named after her song album. She is also the popular TV host for a Japanese weekly satellite TV-show called “New Yorkers” that boasts an 11 million-strong fan base.

We love her blog Pink Manhattan. Her fluid style of writing and her thoughtful posts about music and perfumes are a treat to read. Sali’s personality comes across as a mix of excess and balance if that makes any sense to you, it does to me. Her view of life is very personal and we wanted to get to know her better, understand a little bit more what makes her tick. We think it is perhaps the fact that she seems to re-work endlessly the material that life is. For The Scented Salamander Sali has accepted to answer questions about her work and ideas as a perfumer and an artist.


TSS – Sali, you are a musician, a songwriter and singer, a perfumista who writes regularly on fragrances on your blog Pink Manhattan, and last but not least, a perfumer, the creator of Pink Manhattan. In what order did these interests or rather passions of yours arise in your life?

Sali Oguri - Music first; everything else comes after.

What connections do you see between them? Do you think they are part of the same creative process?

Writing music and making perfumes can be similar in that they're both about creating compositions with notes.  Music differs from perfume in that music consists of many more notes and not just notes but rhythm, which means in music, we also play with time.  You can't time the evaporation rate in perfumery yet so there's no rhythm to speak of.  Where there's no rhythm and no upbeat, it's static.  Where the upbeat is, there is movement and life... 


Music is life to me.  It's about live performance just as much as it is about writing a timeless melody.  Perfume making is like cooking or flower arrangement or tea ceremony to me--meditative arts.  It's how I often feel when I'm writing music, focusing within.  But the way I feel, or the energy level of when I perform is a total high. An adrenaline rush like that doesn't come through in the material objects I make.  You might imagine it but you don't feel it like you would at a concert listening to someone wail.  Performance is in the moment--it's alive, not an image of a moment that's already passed if that makes sense.  That's why I think music moves people in ways perfumes can't.  Also, creating and smelling perfumes don't make me sweat---they're not physical enough.  Performing music means you feel the rhythm of the life force in your body and it's a real "thing", intangible perhaps but certainly measurable in beats, and to feel this rhythm--understanding syncopation and the upbeat (which propels or breathes life) is to me the true secret of passionate living.  To understand what I'm talking about, people can try clapping on the 2 and 4 instead of the 1 and 3 when they hear music.  It's a start, getting your body to feel the upbeat and experience the life force that takes us out of our heads, to feel music from our body's center.  Listen to African music (or derivatives of such as Latin, Jazz, many types of Rock).  This music is spiritually uplifting because of the polyrhythms.

Music is also about recording--this is a new realm for me and I'm not an engineer but recording is another art which music can't do without.  I think the art of recording/mixing is very close to how perfumers mix blends.  It's about tweaking the doses (volumes) of each note (track) and perfecting the finish, the overall production.  Good production can't fix a bad composition if you know what makes a good song but it can fool enough people into thinking whatever's better produced is just better.

Since The Scented Salamander is a perfume blog, we are going to ask you more questions on perfume. My understanding is that you are a self-taught perfumer. How did you go about it?

I read, I bought oils, I played with them until I got what I wanted.

Were there moments of doubt?

Not really.  I know what I like and don't like, just like with music, and I love to express myself.

Did anyone from the profession guide you, technically speaking?

I have a wonderful friend in the perfume industry named Marian Bendeth of Sixth Scents.  She has helped me in immeasurable ways.  I owe her a lot.  She actually gave my perfume a pretty positive review on MUA and POL, so I feel very encouraged that I may atleast have a knack for mixing.

What made you decide to create Pink Manhattan the way it was created?

I don't know if I decided anything as much as things happened the ways they did.

It's a wonderful, lush tropical perfume, in my opinion a rival to Monyette Paris

Thank you!  I love Monyette.


Some people have even said that it is like a combination of Monyette Paris and Coquette Tropique (without the banana note), meaning that it embodies the best of both perfumes. I am not sure about the chronology here; were they specifically an influence on your work?

Yes, they served as models for my Pink Manhattan.  I wanted to make a perfume that was pretty and sexy enough to sell in the LA market.

Did you think that they needed to be improved?

Things can always improve if we pick them apart but I believe some things are best left alone.  You can tweak a song into crap, too.

Was Pink Manhattan simply an ideal olfactory bouquet you were pursuing?

Yes.  Everything I make is like that--just the best or the favorite of the moment.  I wanted a holy-grail peach gardenia vanilla, couldn't find one so I made it.

Pink Manhattan has reportedly become a cult perfume. How do you think that happened and how do you see that?

I think being a bestseller at Lucky Scent pretty much nailed that one.  It surprised me, too.

What is your best memory or experience linked with the perfume?

It was amazing seeing people on the perfumista boards rave about it!  If people are pleased, that's the best result I could imagine.

You have written that you intended to discontinue Pink Manhattan to focus better on your musical career. Is there any chance you might change your mind?

I will need serious financial backers to continue making perfumes as it's time-consuming.  I blend the perfumes by hand and make the packaging by hand as well, and the process is harder than it looks.

Is there a possibility someone will buy the perfume from you and produce it in the future?

There are companies that have shown interest but nothing's been signed over yet.  I'd consider it for a million dollars, maybe $500,000 for shared profits.

You had mentioned on your blog that you were trying to compose a sandalwood perfume. Are you still longing for the perfect sandalwood fragrance to come about?

I bought what must have been the last of the Mysore sandalwood oils I could find on the net.  It's of excellent quality.  I have made a lovely blend with it last year, even gave Autumn at LaCreme and a few of my close perfume pals samples and they all liked it, wanted to know when I would sell it.  I'll tell you--it's a sandalwood-dark chocolate-pomegranate-blackberry perfume.  It's not floral (for once) but more of a light Oriental-Gourmand skin scent, which is what I was after.  Shortly after I sent out some samples, Ralph Hot came out and even though it's not exactly the blend I made, I thought the concept was similar enough that I don't need to sell this one.  The timing was off, you see.  So I might keep it for myself or give it away at gigs.  Its original name was Persephone, blended for a friend who wanted to launch Goddess-inspired perfumes.  I made 10 blends and this was the outstanding favorite.  Everyone in my life loves this blend, even people who don't like Gourmand.  I call it the unreleased mix.  LOL.  It's not coconutty like Hot, just to let you know.
As a perfumista, what do you think is the value of the ideal of the quest, i.e., to be looking for one's unique "holy grail"? Is that what it is all about or is it better to think in terms of assembling a wardrobe of fragrances without pursuing what many may view as an illusory end?

I would say the value of appreciating art is priceless.  What perfume collecting and appreciating means to someone would depend on the person.  For instance, why do they like perfume?  To smell rich?  To smell clean?  To smell sexy?  To smell innocent? To be liked?  To figure out one's own taste?   To own a lot?  To enjoy life's many pleasures in the same way we (hopefully) listen to a variety of music?

If a perfume can give people what they're hoping for, I'd say that perfume have served the purpose--monetarily speaking, they have as much value as what people would pay for what they need.

What is, according to you, the worst sin in a perfume and/or perfumer?

I think flaunting riches is a faux pas, so that.  Joy is an exception because it came out during the depression and the fact that it was the costliest perfume had a deeper meaning.  Generally, when I hear perfume ads and blurbs blatantly focusing on how rich something smells, I turn off.  The thing is, perfume is by and large about rare essences, expensive ingredients and human labor to get those things into our bottles, so maybe we can't get away from the snobbery of it all.  Perfume is also about luxury, after all, but I hope we can raise people's consciousness while we give them luxury.  Somebody somewhere works hard to give us pleasure.  Let's treat all people with kindness and respect regardless of their so-called social status.  Let's appreciate fine perfumes but let's not be actual snobs in life.  Something like that.  Snobbery and elitism in the world of fragrance is OK but not in real life.

What is the quality you admire most in a fragrance?

Most of all, it's got to smell good.  Besides that, when it's art or humor, or both.   I also admire perfumes that can shake the world up: Flowerbomb, Joy, Poison--perfumes that liberate women, not throw us back into the '50s and make us feel quiet and weak.  I admire perfumes that give women character and courage to be who they want to be.  I hope Pink Manhattan at least follows or mimics in those footsteps and takes the young women to Manhattan where we can be empowered and independent but still feminine, and let's not forget perfume is also about fun!  I admire perfumes (or anything) with a sense of humor.  Pink Sugar is fun.  It's not always about luxury but the energy of youth that appeals.  The world can use more fun--that's the most youthful scent of all.

Finally, another standard question we like to ask. What are the ten fragrances that you think each one of us should try at least once in our lifetime?

1. Van Cleef & Arpels Gem - It's the embodiment of all that is perfumey in this world.

2. Christian Dior Poison - Witchy, powerful, confident, mysterious. You have to smell Poison because it's a legend having been banned from restaurants in the '80s along with Giorgio Beverly Hills, the American indie sensation that ruled in popularity and sales,  then got snubbed at the FiFi Awards. These are the punks of the perfume world and
you gotta love them for that. If you like them, wear them with a light hand and it'll be fine.

3. Annick Goutal Songes, because it's the most beautiful rendition of plumeria I've ever smelled.

4. Jean Patou Joy - A knockout. The classic rose-jasmine Floral is sublime in terms of quality and beauty. It's a perfume that showcases the rose and jasmine as no other perfume has been able to pull off with such elegance and simplicity.

5. Chanel No.19 - There is no other green floral as chic and distinctive. It's the perfect balance between fresh and powdery, bold and soft. No.19 is a seasonless, timeless green.

6. Caron Tabac Blond - The original gender-bender that gave women the OK to cover up their smoking habit with this a time when women were just getting PERMISSION to smoke.Wear it and remember how far we've come and don't let them take us back!

7. Calvin Klein Contradiction - Best in parfum, a sleek, sexy minx of a scent. It's a little shampoo-clean, a little sporty, a little traditional with its heart of classic florals and a little delicious with vanillic warmth.

8. Ralph Lauren Lauren - Lauren is a unique crossover composition with elements of chypre although it'sclassified as Fruity Floral. Subtle fruits and greens make this a very harmonious blend which evokes nature and the great American landscape.

9. Clinique Happy - I love fresh fruity florals and this is one of the nicest, love at first sniff for me. It's the pop princess of tropical white florals and the name Happy suits it so well. I also love Creed Spring Flower but Happy is easier to have access to, so I recommend it highly.

10. Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio - This is the perfume I'd describe as the beachiest. It's fresh and soft, like warm sand and sea spray, and balances sportiness with delicate floralcy. I think this is a new classic and hope it'll be around for decades to come.

Thank you so much Sali. We wish you the very best for your upcoming concerts in New York city.

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: if you're in New York city on Oct.7 at Desmond's Tavern (29th and Park ave.) and Oct.21 at Siberia (40th and 9th). Please join Sali Oguri!

You can purchase Pink Manhattan the perfume at Luckyscent for $40.  You can learn more about Sali Oguri a.k.a. Lady O by visiting her website.

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6 Comments | Leave a comment

  1. Thank you for the spotlight, Mimi Frou Frou. I just wanted to say I feel very honored to have you for a friend.

    I also want to let the readers know that the last paragraph regarding the rudimentary classics was about a whole other set of fragrances I'd chosen, a list of classics such as Guerlain Mitsouko, L'Heure Bleue, Femme and L'Air du Temps. I'd changed my mind about the list and decided to go with one that included some American classics as well as French ones. Sorry for any confusion.

  2. Sali,

    Likewise:) I took out the paragraph you mention but I think that you are still seeing it because of a cache issue. The page would need to be refreshed a few times perhaps. Sorry about the inconvenience.

  3. Thank you so much for this lovely interview. Sali seems like a woman that knows what she wants, I admire her creativity.

  4. I agree with Jenny: Sali is a talented, warm and joyful person.

    Thank you for interviewing her, H!


  5. Jenny,

    I am sure Sali will appreciate your saying so. It was a very interesting interview for me too.

  6. Vi,

    My pleasure really. I am glad you enjoyed the interview.


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