Conversation with Perfumer Yuko Fukami
October 1, 2011

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Co-Founder, creator and artist of A Dozen Roses, Sandy Cataldo, signing bottles
By Justine Crane
Not yet a household name amongst lovers of Natural Botanical Perfumery, Berkeley CA based Yuko Fukami is in the genesis of what may prove to be a long and lucrative NBP career. Born in Japan, she emigrated to the states with her family when she was twelve, settling in the St. Louis, Missouri area. Her perfumes, few though they are at this point in time, share common denominators which embody American tastes in perfume and a triangulated balance of fine Japanese aesthetics , culturally diverse foods, and a passionate interest in the clean lines of Bauhaus style architecture.

Yuko Fukami’s aesthetic is, in large part, a hodgepodge of her life experiences. She is an artist who began her interest in art and form drawing Manga characters, a style of Japanese comics. While she was in high school in the states, her father also became interested in art and when able, would buy prints and art books, drawing Yuko further into the realm of visual arts. At the time, St. Louis had an incredible art museum that Yuko and her father would spend long hours in, looking at Matisse and other famous artists, further spurring her interests.

“I took a lot of classes in art in high school, and that’s how I got into architecture, specifically Bauhaus training, sort of like turn-of-the-Century, 1920’s, 30’s, art deco styles that encompass all types of art forms. And I can’t deny the Japanese influence.  I have always had this dual thing going on with the Japanese and American styles. As I am attracted to the clean lines of Bauhaus, I also love Victorian and art nouveau. These styles encompass many of my creative endeavors.”

Yuko travels back to Japan frequently, picking up perfumery books written in Japanese, and attending sessions of “listening” to incense burn to further her understanding of essence and how scent works on the human mind. As with many artists in perfumery, for Yuko the scents do not simply translate in the brain as a smell, but also as color, shape, texture and emotion.

“I see scent in color, but not always! When I smelled rosewood for the first time, I saw a square. I don’t know if someone can build a perfume strictly by combining colors and shapes, but it would be an interesting experiment. Agarwood – kyara is my favorite – the first time I smelled it was last summer in Japan, and that’s how I became interested in incense. When I smelled kyrara for the first time, I smelled purple and my mother smelled it and she said it was salmon pink.  We were completely blown away; it was almost like being high. The other day I was feeling really crummy and I smelled the kyara and it was like taking a fast-acting anti-depressant, my mood heightened immediately.”

Food and cooking styles also have an impact on Yuko’s perfuming aesthetic.

“My mother is into cooking and does traditional Japanese cooking, but she is also interested in other types of food.  She cooks Japanese, Greek, Italian, and American – there are no boundaries in her cooking interests, or in mine, and the Bay Area is perfect for these interests. There are no boundaries here either. You create your own style, so if you’re interested in Armenian food or something obscure and different from what you’re used to, you can always find it here. I feel fortunate to live where I do because I have access to this wide variety of cooking styles, as well as cultural styles, like the aromatherapy and holistic health movement here. There seems to be more availability of information here in the Bay Area from which to add to the creative process, not to mention the numerous perfumers who live here. My mother also loves plants. She knew a little about herbs and that had a lot of influence on me, perhaps more than I thought at the time, and that’s how I came to understand scent. From the aromatherapy, the natural extension for me was making perfumes. I love perfumes, but I got to the point where I couldn’t wear commercial perfumes for probably the same reason other people can’t wear them, and especially after having kids, I just couldn’t be around them anymore.”

Favorite scent? Osmanthus.

“The osmanthus smell in Japan, from what I’ve read in the
Japanese perfume books I have, translates to toilet freshener.
Even though I’ve been back to Japan many times over the years, I don’t recall ever smelling osmanthus in the bathrooms. I find it odd that something so beautiful and appealing to Western noses, and to mine, is related to toilet bowl cleaner in Japan.”

Yuko’s newest perfume, Dreams, a perfume created for the perfume scent event, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is set for re-launch later this fall.

Yuko Fukami is the perfumer for Parfum Phyto found on Etsy. She is currently expanding her line to include several perfumes to be launched in the coming months; she also creates delicious Japanese influenced natural handmade incense.

Justine Crane