Scents of Wonder

scents of wonder

By Shelby Deering | Photography by Shanna Wolf

A mountain towers in the distance. The scent of wildflowers lingers in the breeze. And nearby, water gently laps at the shore of a lake. With a childhood home set in these idyllic surroundings, it’s no wonder Stacey Bresnahan was naturally drawn to the outdoors in her native New York. 

From her grandmother’s herb garden where she savored the aromas of basil and peppermint to sitting underneath pine trees for hours, drinking in the scent of their needles, Bresnahan has always been in love with fragrances. 

“At a young age I was drawn to the breathtaking beauty of nature — especially flowers and their wonderful fragrances, which inspired a lifelong passion,” she says. 

As a child, Bresnahan spent a great deal of time trying to extract scents from flowers. That’s when she began reading books on the subject and taught herself how to concoct essential oils. 

Fast forward to 2006: Bresnahan was living in Manhattan and met the man she would eventually marry. Their journey brought them to Deerfield, Illinois, for work and many weekends they spent in Lake Geneva. 

Bresnahan says, “I would tell him, ‘I love Lake Geneva so much. Can we find a way to live here?’” And that’s exactly what they did in 2012. Inspired by the area’s natural beauty, Bresnahan felt a stirring to turn her lifelong fervor for fragrance into a perfume company of her very own. 

FROM DREAMS TO REALITY 

Previously, Bresnahan says she “dabbled” in a skincare line, which included organic perfumes. But she truly loved fragrances, and in January 2019, she launched Laubahn Perfumes. Seemingly overnight, the scents have become beloved among fragrance devotees near and far. 

It all started with a fragrance called Naughty Garden. Released in 2018, the aroma includes ylang- ylang, jasmine and Bresnahan’s favorite — elderflower. 

The rest of the fragrances followed in early 2019: Hinterland, a “woodsy” perfume that Bresnahan loves to wear to bed; Lost in the Moment, a dreamy combination of fruits and aromatic florals; Cognac, the scent of flowers and fruits with top notes of apple and blackberry; Ridge, a blend of green sweet basil, lime and orange blossom, which leaves an imprint of sandalwood and smells fresh and woodsy; and Sea Lily, a “summer” scent inspired by the ocean that can be worn year-round, and a “Best New Scent” winner in BELLA New York magazine’s 2019 beauty awards. 

The inspiration for Bresnahan’s fragrances comes directly from her “very vivid dreams” as well as nature’s beauty and its bounty of flowers and their stunning scents. She says that she can actually remember scents from her dreams which frequently take place in kaleidoscopic gardens filled with larger-than-life flowers. All of Laubahn Perfumes, Bresnahan says, “capture the dreamy landscapes through fragrance.” 

Her dreams serve as the setting for a 2017 book she wrote ahead of the launch of her perfume company. Called “Life on a Star,” Bresnahan wrote the fanciful book as one of the main characters, Sassy AyR. The names of her perfumes, along with her company name, all come directly from the book, which takes readers through magical, dream-like landscapes. The book’s dreamiest feature is a scented page with encapsulated oils that are released when the microcapsules containing the scent oils are touched. The purpose is to smell and experience the landscape of the story and one of its fragrances. Bresnahan adds that the book “transports readers through scent to a world that only exists in the mind.” 

She explains that there is a story behind every perfume brand’s fragrances, and her book “Life on a Star” quite literally shares those stories with those who love Laubahn Perfumes. Her idea to incorporate a fragrance into the book is one that has intrigued Bresnahan since childhood when she was fascinated with scratch-and-sniff stickers, so she decided to create a version for grown- ups. “I thought, ‘How spectacular would it be for adults to be able to read a book and smell the landscape that they’re reading about?’” 

FRAGRANCE CREATION 

When establishing her company, Bresnahan was fortunate to work with master perfumer Ralf Schweiger, who is known throughout the fragrance world, and has formulated scents for luxury brands such as Frédéric Malle, Hermès, Marc Jacobs and Yves Saint Laurent. Schwieger is a perfumer at MANE, one of the leading flavor and fragrance houses in the world, and 

Bresnahan was elated to work with him. The result of their partnership are two fragrances — Naughty Garden and Hinterland — as well as a friendship. 

Bresnahan explains that the process of working with Schweiger and his team at MANE entailed providing a creative brief, a document conveying the key components of constructing the desired scent, along with answers to questions such as, “What is the original inspiration?” In addition, Bresnahan met with the perfumer to talk through the details. Next, the fragrance house sent three scent options called “mods,” all created from what was discussed in the creative brief. Typically, no more than three mods are needed to pick the final scent. 

Bresnahan has been experimenting and creating her own fragrances for years. She has created four of the fragrances for Laubahn Perfumes with the help of another fragrance house called Alpha Aromatics, which uses her formulas to produce the fragrances in bulk. 

Another company is responsible for filling and packaging the final products. 

During the process, there’s also the perfume name to consider. According to Bresnahan, the name needs to suggest the fragrance’s story, often viewed as an aromatic narrative that can instantly transport people to a place or mood. In Bresnahan’s case, her perfume names evoke the themes in her book “Life on a Star.” Unlike many perfumers, however, Bresnahan chose the names of her fragrances prior to creating them. 

The process sounds simple, right? Actually, creating a perfume is far from simple, something that Bresnahan knows firsthand. “It could take years,” she says. “It depends on so many things. I would say that the least amount of time it could take is one year.” 

After years of work, Bresnahan now sees the realization of her dream on her website, laubahnperfumes.com, and in a select number of retail locations. The perfumes are available at a store called Atelier d’Emotion in New York City and at Havens in Sag Harbor, which is located in the Hamptons on Long Island, New York.

Luckily, you don’t have to jet off to New York to try Bresnahan’s perfumes. All you need to do is take a short drive to Walworth. 

LOCAL INSPIRATION 

All six fragrances of the Laubahn Perfume line can be found at Walworth’s Forget Me Not Flower Market, which is owned by Stephanie Atwell and Amy Hurwitz. This light-filled space overflowing with flowers and plants is ideally suited for showcasing Bresnahan’s fragrances. 

Hurwitz explains, “Stacey stopped in over the summer to pick up flowers and Stephanie asked her who the flowers were for. She said that she was using them for a photoshoot that would be used for the launch of her new perfume line. Stephanie asked her if she would be interested in selling the perfume at Forget Me Not and a partnership was born.” 

A FLOWER MARKET YOU WON’T SOON FORGET 

Forget Me Not Flower Market, located in the heart of Walworth, is filled with the scent of fresh floral bouquets — and the aroma of Laubahn Perfumes, of course. As the only local retailer carrying Stacey Bresnahan’s fragrances, it made perfect sense to hold our photoshoot here in the market’s lovely surroundings. Co-owners Stephanie Atwell and Amy Hurwitz have worked as florists for two decades, first as co-managers of a floral shop — then they decided to open their own market. Many of the flowers they offer are sourced locally, so Hurwitz and Atwell feel they’ve become a go-to destination for seasonal blooms like tulips, fresh bouquets and special occasion arrangements. Local flair can also be seen in the candles, pottery and other unique, handmade goods created by area artisans. And of course, a myriad of green houseplants dot the shop as well. Hurwitz says, “We are a full-service flower shop that can create whatever the customer needs.” 

This serendipitous meeting has resulted in Bresnahan’s perfumes flying off the market’s shelves. 

“Stephanie and I felt that perfume would be a natural for us,” Hurwitz says. “We liked the idea of the perfumer being local and that the line was very clean and natural smelling. Plus, everyone who comes to our shop comments on how good it smells, so a fragrance seemed like a great way for our customers to have a little piece of our shop with them.” 

It seems that Bresnahan’s fragrances carry a little piece of the Geneva Lakes area wherever they go as well. On Laubahn Perfume’s Instagram and Facebook pages, the fragrances’ glass bottles are beautifully presented amid local, natural scenery. Bresnahan says she particularly enjoys photographing her fragrances on the White River State Trail and in the Kettle Moraine State Forest. 

“I love Lake Geneva,” Bresnahan says. “I am inspired by my surroundings. Everything around here is beautiful.” 

A PASSION PROJECT 

When Bresnahan isn’t spending all of her free time on Laubahn Perfumes, or her “passion project” as she refers to it, she works remotely as a full-time account manager for ComPsych, the world’s largest provider of employee assistance programs. 

Bresnahan is a naturally passionate person. She loves her job, and she feels as if she satisfied a stirring in her soul when she founded Laubahn Perfumes. Her goal was to start a fragrance company by the time she turned 50, something that she accomplished. 

She advises, “For someone my age, my advice is this: Don’t give up on your dreams, because [Laubahn Perfumes] was based on a dream. It’s a dream come true.” 

Bresnahan adds that she’s content with the company staying small for now. She prefers organic growth and word of mouth, something that’s already been working for her in spades. 

“We’re just taking it slow and moving along,” Bresnahan says. “I don’t ever want to feel like, ‘Oh, we’ve got to do this. We have to be like this company.’ We are who we are. The perfumes were created from a true passion, the love of flowers, fragrance and dreams, in hopes of bringing joy. And if they do, well then that’s what makes my day.”