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Early inspiration for luxury perfumer: First lady Michelle Obama

Seth Kornegay is seeing quick success in launching a line of all-natural perfumes, including an Obama homage.

Mia Taylor
by Mia Taylor, MainStreet contributor (@miataylor13)

SAN DIEGO (MainStreet) — When luxury perfumer Seth Kornegay thinks of first lady Michelle Obama, the adjectives that come to mind include strength, grace and courage.

Using those attributes as inspiration, Kornegay developed “Orla,” his newly launched luxury perfume in honor of the iconic first lady.

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“I can look at a person and come up with a scent profile just by sight and by studying a person’s characteristics,” says Kornegay, who in May unveiled a line of nine fragrances costing between $205 and $620.

Orla, a scent that includes rose garden with notes of tuberose and African violets, is one of two perfumes Kornegay has developed for women. There are also two in his new line for men, a unisex scent and two specialty fragrances.

Having the ability to merely look at someone and come up with a scent profile is a unique skill indeed. But it took the 44-year-old high-end perfumer years of experimenting to reach this point — not just the launch of his perfume line, but a website and exclusive perfume business.

His route was anything but traditional.

Kornegay started out as a business student at the Wharton School of The University of Pennsylvania. Later he went into real estate development and production of low-income housing.

“But fragrances have always been my true love,” says Kornegay, who works from New York City and Philadelphia. “So I studied under two perfumers and as time passed, I began experimenting with different fragrances.”

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After seven years of working with his mentors, Kornegay felt ready to launch his own line in May. But doing so was not easy, says Kornegay, who took out a business loan and still works in real estate development.

The hand-crafted, limited-quantity scents he developed are for the “discriminating man or woman who demands the finest products in all aspects of their lives — and for whom a commercialized fragrance simply will not suffice.”

The perfumes in his line differ from commercialized fragrances because they include only natural ingredients, Kornegay says. That is also what makes them so expensive.

“For every natural substance, you can buy a synthetic cousin,” Kornegay says. “But instead of buying a synthetic cousin, we use the all-natural ingredient. So when you use our fragrances, you don’t have to use nearly as much, because our perfumes are made with the real thing.”

Kornegay is also adventurous in his use of ingredients. “Petra,” Kornegay’s unisex fragrance, expands the boundaries of traditional fragrance ingredients by including elements from the epicurean world, including Islay single-malt Scotch whiskey, exotic, wild herbs and rare barks. The result is a perfume with a combination of white and dark woody notes.

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The collection as a whole includes some fragrances that are lighter and some that are more sophisticated, he says.

“Fragrance definitely completes a person,” Kornegay says. “I think about the role senses play in certain situations. The sense of small can really make you feel happy. Smell and fragrance can uplift a person.”

Since going live with his website, sales have been brisk, Kornegay says. He’s already looking for a storefront location, and he’s begun his next line of perfumes.

“We already started production for another line,” Kornegay says. “It’s something that’s just keeps on going.”

Mia Taylor is a writer, editor and social media, marketing and communications expert based in Southern California.