By  on January 11, 2008

Just call Denise Estrada the mix master. Estrada, who opened the 1,100-square-foot Mélange Apothecary in Woodland Hills, Calif., with husband Rick in July, has built the business over the last seven months by offering not only 60 ready-made scents, but also an on-site studio for budding noses to blend their own concoctions. Trays of fragrances are arranged by type of note — floral, essential oil, fruit, citrus, warm, woody or green. Clients are encouraged to set aside the notes they like best, and then the fun begins, said Estrada. "We have a number of suggested combinations, although customers are free to mix whatever they want," she said. "Once they've got their perfect combination, we can produce it in an eau de parfum or in a bath or body product." All concoction recipes are kept on file for reorders, or to act as a guide for the customer when they decide to try mixing another scent. Estrada was determined to keep the fragrances affordable. "I'm not charging $3,000 for this," she said. "I really feel strongly about keeping this very accessible, and I'm fortunate in that I have been manufacturing for years and have access to sources that your average retailer doesn't. Whatever you choose from the notes I have on hand is priced the same — $42 for 60 ml." She is also at work on a blending set for those who can't make the trek to her store — it is slated to have four bottles of notes for $40 and is expected later this spring.The Mélange product mix also includes a plethora of ready-made moisturizers, body washes, cleansers, scrubs, spa products and home fragrances — most in the $20 range. Estrada also stocks several niche brands, including Claus Porto, Lafco Home and 100 Pure. "If it's something I would take home to use myself, I will consider stocking it," she said. For those who want to go even further into the scent creation process, Estrada also offers custom-blending classes at Mélange. Private blending events, held by reservation, allow groups of three to eight people to blend fragrances and take home two custom-blended bath and body products and a Home Ambience Diffuser, for $75 per person. A class on custom-blending skin care covers the chemistry behind cleansers, toners, exfoliators, treatment products and moisturizers and allows participants to custom blend a set of products to take home, for $120. A four-hour perfume blending course takes customers through the differences between natural and synthetic fragrances and essential oils and how they interact in perfumes, helps them to develop a set of fragrance choices and helps them formulate and pour two eaux de parfum and a set of solid parfums to take home for $150.Mélange isn't the first beauty effort for Estrada, who has been a licensed aesthetician since 1987. She has also operated the Essenza Apothecary in Brentwood, Calif., stocking a variety of bath, body and home products, and owned the 155 South Apothecary, also in Brentwood. After selling the latter in 2003, Estrada and her business partners founded Deluxe, a personal care line for which Estrada headed up product development and consulted with small companies on fragrance, product development, manufacturing and distribution. It was during that time that the inspiration for Mélange surfaced. "This store is a living lab," said Estrada. "I may think the clients want candles when they're really more interested in diffusers, for instance. Dealing with clients every day keeps me on the pulse of things." Estrada said she also has a healthy online business at Estrada declined to discuss sales projections for Mélange, industry sources estimated that fragrance sales in the first year will exceed $500,000.

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