Q+A: Aroma M Atelier

Welcome to Aroma M Atelier, where you will find all things geisha allure, perfume, matcha tea, a little mystery, and of course, great company. Meet Maria McElroy, long-time DUMBO resident and the woman behind the Atelier plus her collaborative partner Alexis Karl. Between the two of them, they have three lines of fragrance: Cherry Bomb, Body Made Luminous, and Geisha Eau de Parfum. All are unique and complex, and none without a story. Self-described as, artisanal perfumers, Maria and Alexis are doing something unique in fragrance. Their perfumes and perfume oils are, "are designed not only to smell beautiful, but simultaneously to enchant the mind and the soul—to help relieve daily stress and promote composure and wellbeing." Join the dynamic duo, Maria & Alexis, for a peek inside the Atelier, thoughts on perfumes and the arts, and some unique DUMBO history.

Maria and Alexis, how did you meet? When did the collaboration begin?

Alexis Karl: We met at Henry Bendel in 2005 where we both had our perfume lines. We fell in love with eachothers perfumes because we were both doing something different. We were doing artistic things with our fragrances. We met later on under the Brooklyn bridge and decided to work together.

Maria McElroy: Normally perfumists work alone. It is rare to find collaborative perfumists.

AK: Niche perfumerie is secretive.

MM:People don’t want to divulge their knowledge.

AK: For us, it is nice to work together -- It is hard to do this alone. It is helpful to have someone there who understands the essence of what you are doing.

MM: It is nice to have someone not lead you astray. The whole point of the atelier allows us to use special raw ingredients. We use materials that you can only find seasonally. Or only find when outwardly seeking for them. Some need time to actually formulate. Our materials don’t always come in abundance. They are rare. They are special. We both love to create things so it is nice to have this atmosphere to be creative on a small scale.

AK: Because of this it may be harder to run a business but we would never not have that rare special ingredient and scent because it is so special. All of our scents are like that. You can’t get our items on a large scale and it is exciting.


It seems to make your perfumes more personal – more intimate. How long does it take you create these fragrances?

MM: One fragrance took me two years. It all depends.


How would you describe your perfumes?

MM: I am enamored with geisha mysteries and glamour and I feel that is what the essence of perfume is.

AK: My fragrances are dark. There is a dark tonality. Some Cherrybomb perfumes are lighter. Other scents are serious & intellectual.


What inspires you both to make perfume?

AK: A lot of inspiration comes from travelling. For me, Rome.

MM: For me, Morocco. I took a trip to Morocco and it completely changed me. My fragrances are more Middle Eastern. Florals are more opulent. All of the elements that go into our perfumes come from all over the world. We use a mix of global and local.

AK: Smells are different and the way they interact is interesting. Some notes may hit you on the head but it’s all about blending them. It is all about making music. I have a few perfumes that are inspired by my husband’s paintings. There are three paintings and three coinciding fragrances. These smells are separate but when they all link up they make a poem. These smells are otherworldly.

MM: Music is similar to perfume. Painting, music, perfume – it is all intertwined. All arts are intertwined. To make a fragrance people like is not that hard. It is a little more difficult to make a smell with intent. That is a little more deep.

AK: Which is what we are trying to do. We have worked on projects where artists would come and ask for perfumes based on characters in books they have written. It is more of a challenge. It is exciting.

MM: I am also inspired by Japanese culture. After I graduated from school I lived in Japan for seven years. During that time I took part in tea ceremonies and incense ceremonies. The point of tea ceremony is to leave the world. Samurais would leave their swords. It was all about being in the moment, smelling the smells, feeling the rituals. Frangrance is transportive.

AK: We’re actually working on group hysteria. On a serious note, the world we live in now is very scented. People go to Bloomingdales for scents and it is like, no! Look at your house. Your kitchen, soaps, hair products, organic foods. In New York we are assaulted with fragrances. The hot dog and roasted nut stands, for example.

MM: It is funny to contrast with Egypt in ancient times where there were pyres of herbs burning to get rid of smells and other holistic medical reasons.

AK: The pyres were originally only in the Tombs because they were sacred and inherent for the afterlife. They were perfumes to be accepted by the dead.


After years of working in DUMBO, how has DUMBO inspired your work?

MM: I take a lot of pictures of the sky – it is my thing. I walk down the hill – there is the sky. It is so beautiful here. We actually created Cherrybomb perfume in Brooklyn Bridge Park! There is still a feeling of smaller stores here. There is a feeling of being to follow your dreams here. Also, I am a big fan of Brooklyn Roasting.


Maria, what led you to having a studio in DUMBO?

MM: I came over in 2000 when DUMBO was not what it is now. I was looking for space and a friend mentioned DUMBO to me so I came over to take a look.  I could not believe how beautiful it was here. It was so cinematic. The bridges, the sky, all the warehouses. Especially this building – it is a ubiquitous DUMBO building. The building of course has changed since I came, more tech people have moved in, but most people on this floor are all old-timers. We have a nice community here.


What gives a community its creative energy? DUMBO?

AK: A community of creatives inspires creativity.

MM: It is all the artists on the floor.

AK: You smell the smell of linseed oil in the hallway, and I’m a painter, I pop in. I say hello. It is just a creative community.

MM: If I were a writer I would write about this building. It just has a long history. There was once a porn studio here. The fifth floor was entirely made of marble – it was a porn set! There was also an S&M club that lasted until the early 2000s. Not to mention I was also told recently that packs of wild dogs lived in the hallways at one point. And I bet that is just the tip of the iceberg.

If only these walls in DUMBO could talk. Well, the people do! Join Maria & Alexis for more scent + conversation (and maybe even some tea!) this Thursday for First Thursday Art Walk right in the Atelier on 68 Jay St (Suite 1007) 6-9pm!