Meet Laurie Stern, artisanal perfumer…
Laurie Stern is a natural artisanal perfumer who’s all about frills, furbelows, kitty tutus and tiaras, and… animal conservation. She’s the purple-haired scent artist behind Velvet & Sweet Pea’s Purrfumery (that’s PURRRRR-fumery), the business she started in 2005 and named after two cats she rescued from a tortured life in animal testing. Laurie is based in El Cerrito, CA, and while Velvet and Sweet Pea have both crossed the rainbow bridge, their legacies live on in Laurie’s work that helps animals of every stripe, all around the world. Her latest perfumes, Luminous Lemurs and Pangolin Violette Rose, benefit endangered species in Madagascar, Africa and Asia. Laurie uses ancient processes to handcraft her perfumes, and she grows many of the flowers and plants she uses in the Perfumery Garden her husband designed for her. Meanwhile, bees come to work every day in her hives, and she uses their wax in some of her wares.
Laurie started her career creating hand-beaded silk camisoles and lingerie for fairs and department stores like Bendel’s in New York. Then she started a flower stand that evolved into a successful wedding flower business that took her all over the Bay Area and wine country for years. Laurie left the wedding flower business in 2000 and immersed herself in the study of natural perfumery. She started Velvet & Sweet Pea’s Purrfumery in 2005 and brought her kitties along, giving them jobs in the packaging and wrapping department, jobs they take very seriously!
Laurie has been building her perfume organ for decades; today, it features more than 1,000 bottles of natural essences and oils, some dating back to the 1890s. These are natural materials that will never be available again.
Animal and People Influences
Laurie has always loved cats and has worked to protect animals since she was a kid. Velvet & Sweet Pea’s Purrfumery is certified by Leaping Bunny, a coalition of animal protection groups that ensures none of her ingredients or her supplier’s ingredients are tested on animals. For decades, she has been an advocate for the protection of civet cats, beavers and other animals that are trapped and then exploited by the perfume industry.
Laurie’s fascination with the natural world led her to the work of conservationists Jane Goodall and Cynthia Moss. In 2018, Laurie had the opportunity of a lifetime to travel to Africa and visit Amboseli National Park and the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya. She watched in awe as elephants, lions, cheetahs, giraffes, zebras, wildebeests and other animals roamed the Kenyan savannas. Witnessing their power and grace, and knowing how vulnerable they are to human encroachment, she decided to make conservation the new focus of her perfumery.
Perfume Can Change the World for Animals and People
Laurie is a big believer in the power of perfume to change the world! And her perfumes DO change the world.
In 2020, Laurie hand-blended Luminous Lemurs after a friend traveled to Madagascar and brought her ylang ylang essential oil as a gift. Her friend told her about the people she met who are trying to reverse the damage done to Madagascar forests through education and research. And she told her about Dr. Patricia Wright and Centre ValBio.
Laurie created Luminous Lemurs to raise awareness about the lemurs of Madagascar and support Centre ValBio. She donates a portion of all sales of Luminous Lemurs to Centre ValBio, and has contributed generously to the cause.
Photo from the Duke Lemur Center
2020 ended with incredible news: Luminous Lemurs and the Purrfumery captured the attention of some of the top international perfume blogs and won awards that included Best Perfume by Matt Morris from Fragrantica. And Michelyn Camen of CaFleureBon named Laurie and Velvet & Sweet Pea’s Purrfumery the Best Natural Perfume House and Perfumer in 2020, and Luminous Lemurs the Best of Scent 2020
And then there’s Pangolin Violette Rose! Laurie created this incredible work of art for a Chicago exhibit that celebrated all that is beautiful and feminine. But she also created it to benefit pangolins, one of the most trafficked animals in the world.
Photo from the Pangolin Crisis Fund
Laurie donates a portion of sales from this perfume to the Pangolin Crisis Fund and by doing so, she’s helping pangolins and other animals too because there’s a ripple effect! When you stop pangolin trafficking, you take a bite out of rhino and elephant poaching. See? Perfume CAN change the world!
2021 ended with great news: Pangolin Violette Rose was voted one of the 10 Best Perfumes by CaFleureBon. Amazing!
A Newsy Scentmaker
Laurie’s perfume-making process and Velvet & Sweet Pea products have been widely covered in national and regional publications including Oprah, the Contra Costa Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and Diablo Magazine. She is known for her engaging and approachable speaking style, and has been invited to share her thoughts on nature and natural perfumery at Google, U.C. Berkeley Botanical Gardens, and classrooms across the Bay Area.
In addition to her work in animal advocacy and conservation, Laurie is known for her limited editions, eau de parfums and other creations. Perfume lovers often seek her out to create custom scents for their very own body and spirit.
For Laurie, formulating a bespoke scent is an artistic adventure, an opportunity to create something beautiful and totally unique for one person’s celebration, life transition, or as a gift that will be treasured forever.
Who are Velvet and Sweet Pea?
People always want to know about the kitties who launched a web-based perfume business! Laurie rescued Velvet and Sweet Pea from a lab where they were used in scientific testing, and she brought them to her home. Once they emerged from their hiding places and knew they could trust Laurie, they let her dress them up in tiaras, crowns, and tutus that she made for them and they became the faces of the Purrfumery. Laurie gives Velvet and Sweet Pea all the credit for inspiring her to build her perfumery and seeking Leaping Bunny certification.
Today, Laurie and her husband Gary, a retired landscape architect who designed her Perfumer’s Garden, live with their cats – Truffle and Kitty Magic– and four rescued homing pigeons, Polka Dot, Paloma, Horatio, and Pearl. (Polka Dot rescued himself by sauntering through Laurie and Gary’s cat door with a broken wing!)
Visit with Laurie
Laurie is available for appointments and visits to the Purrfumery. She is also available for interviews and speaking engagements. Her presentations are interactive and fun and give the audience an opportunity to inhale exquisite natural materials from around the world. Laurie’s speaking topics and workshops include:
- Sweet Intoxication: The magical union between bees, flowers and natural perfumery (Delivered at Google headquarters – included a demo of making a solid perfume with Google beeswax)
- Natural Perfumes from Antiquity to Today: Blending native Mediterranean plants (Delivered at UC Berkeley Botanical Garden)
- Get to know your perfume: Head, heart and soul notes
To learn more, contact her at 510-334-8824 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.