Meet Pinrose and the Women Bringing Scent Back to the Fragrance Industry

Have you ever walked into Saks Fifth Avenue in Union Square and been bombarded by salesclerks with perfume bottles? They wait like skunks, beautiful bottles in hand, ready to spray anyone that walks by with the latest Acqua di Parma or Guerlain or Hermes eau de toilette. While you probably batted them away like pesky flies and got on with your shopping, two women couldn’t help but notice there was something wrong with the system. “Finding a fragrance is the worst experience,” Christine Luby said on a recent sunny afternoon in her new Mission District office. Luby, along with Erika Shumate, are the co-founders of Pinrose, a revolutionary fragrance line geared toward tech-savvy individualistic women. “The fragrance industry is not that fun. It’s celebrity-driven and designer-driven, but it’s not really about the scents,” Luby explains. She and Shumate — who has always been a fragrance fanatic and has a degree in the science of olfaction from Yale — met while at Stanford Business School. “Erika helped me fall in love with fragrance,” Luby says. “We thought let’s see if we can make a business and help guide women to scents in a more personalized way.” Thus, Pinrose was born.

The Pinrose fragrance experience is unlike anything out there. It starts with a simple quiz that reveals your scent personality. The quick online quiz is a series of colors, shapes, images, and sounds that help Shumate and Luby figure out your scent profile. “We created this quiz to make the world of scent less intimidating. It’s for the woman who loves personalization,” explains Shumate. “It’s based on the science of synesthesia — it’s the interconnection of sensory preferences. A person’s color, shape, sound, texture, and scent preferences are all interconnected. We took the existing data about these connections and created our own quiz. Over 300,000 women have taken the quiz and 70 percent of the time, they end up buying and liking what the quiz recommends.”

Christine Luby, top, and Erika Shumate, seated.
Christine Luby, top, and Erika Shumate, seated.

Once your scent category has been determined, Pinrose recommends three scents for you to experiment with. There are 10 mix-and-match fragrances with playful names, such as Pillowtalk Poet, Cuddle Punk, and Tambourine Dreamer, that come in sleek little bottles with pretty labels that resemble modern art. While most major fragrance companies put their money into making a memorable bottle, Pinrose backs the ingredients that going into making the elixir. “There’s no cap to what we will spend on the juice itself,” Shumate says. “We work with some of the world’s top perfumers, like David Apel, who did Tom Ford’s fragrances. We told him he could use whatever he wanted. The best organic fair trade vanilla from Madagascar? Sure!” Shumate and Luby virtually design how they envision a scent by creating Pinterest mood boards, playlists, and lists of descriptors like ‘wet dewy rose’ and ‘leather and tobacco.’ They send this information to perfumers like Apel and let the perfumer work their magic. “Perfumers love to work with us,” Luby says. “We let them be the stars. We tell them, ‘you are the artist,’ then we let them make our brand’s scents.”

While the beauty industry is forever obsessing about signature scents, the Pinrose ladies believe that the modern woman want more than just one fragrance. “We’re trying to bring down the level of commitment that goes along with a fragrance,” Luby says. “Scent should be something that woman can play with and experiment with. We’re the anti-signature scent. We have so many choices in every aspect of our lives, why don’t we have that with fragrance?” It makes perfect sense: If a woman can change her nail and lip color based on her mood or for a certain occasion, why shouldn’t she be able to change her scent as well? Pinrose’s dedication to making a wide range of quality fragrances geared toward the modern women is making waves in the industry. Last fall, they launched a partnership with Nordstrom and later this spring, a collection of perfumes will debut at Sephora.

“Everyone wants something fresh,” says Shumate, “but the word fresh means something different for everyone.” While the definition of fresh is subjective, it’s objectively clear that Pinrose is breathing fresh air into the stuffy antiquated world of fragrance. By eliminating the elaborate packaging and celebrity names associated with most perfumes, Pinrose is taking the fussiness out of fragrance and letting the scent stand alone.

All of Pinrose's scents come in bottles and petals, pictured above. Petals are single-dose sachets that are meant to be used on the go.
All of Pinrose’s scents come in bottles and petals, pictured above. Petals are single-dose sachets that are meant to be used on the go.