How 12 AAPI Fragrance Brand Founders Define 'Home' Through Scent

Certain notes and memories are intertwined.

Emma Chao/TZR; Getty Images; Photos Courtesy of Founders

Home is a simple thought and a complex reality. It’s physical and metaphorical; on one hand it ensconces its members in safety, comfort, and belonging, but it’s also often the stage on which people’s tougher life moments play out, seeding memories of conflict, hardship, and duty. It is, as they say, complicated.

For perfumers, capturing the essence of home is equally challenging. How do you go about bottling up the emotion of belonging using various fragrant oils? Turns out, home might be closer than we think. In scent form, at least. TZR asked a collective of Asian American Pacific Islander fragrance brand founders for their definition of home, and how they funneled those complex and often conflicting interpretations into scent form.

To say that these perfumed portraits of home resonate with customers is an understatement. Many of these juices have so deeply moved the people who’ve experienced them, that they’ve become runaway hits, proving that the idea of home, though intensely personal, is also a universal concept. Our lives and loves are written in scent, so it’s no wonder that home, too, is built on it.

Ahead, discover how 12 AAPI fragrance brand founders have defined home through their scents.

Courtesy of D.S. & Durga

Kavi Ahuja Moltz, Co-Founder, D.S. & Durga

On the smell of home: I grew up in New Jersey with immigrant Indian parents. My grandparents lived with us for extended periods and we went to Delhi or Bombay every summer. So home is the smell of India — on native soil or American soil — which is many things. Growing up, my house was a mix of sandalwood agarbatti (incense), rosewater spritzed into rooms, cardamom tea, and cumin-scented fried things. Delhi in the summers was tuberose, flower markets, and burning tires.

On the brand’s fragrances that channel the feeling of home: David [Moltz] (D.S. & Durga co-founder and perfumer) made DURGA for me. We both love tuberose. My uncle always put freshly-cut tuberose stems in a glass next to my bed at night. DURGA is narcotic, you can't stop smelling it. It projects far with a rich heart of real flower absolutes: tuberose, orris, rose, jasmine, ylang, and orange blossom. At this point DURGA is my signature — it feels like me. Wherever I go I can be brought back to my center. D.S. is David's modern take on a classic Indian attar and also channels home for me. It is a rich yellow lotus, saffron and sandalwood, and reminds me of my uncles growing up.

Courtesy of Phlur

Chriselle Lim, Owner & Creative Director, Phlur

On the smell of home: The idea of home represents more than just a physical space; it's a feeling of belonging and love. It's a sanctuary where you can retreat to recharge, relax, and find peace. Home is where lifelong memories are made and is a place that holds meaning and significance.

On the brand’s fragrances that channel the feeling of home: The scent of a person that you love feels like home. It’s grounding and familiar. Missing Person was born from a deeply personal place— it was at a time when I was broken and lost and lonely while going through my divorce. With a desire to encapsulate complex emotions into a fragrance, I asked our perfumer Constance Georges-Picot if we could somehow bottle something that would instantly be a tangible reminder of the warmth, comfort, and intimacy we often associate with close relationships. But beyond just capturing the idea of love and loss, Missing Person also serves as a reminder of the resilience of the human spirit. It speaks to the universal experience of longing, and the profound connection that binds us to one another.

Courtesy of The New Savant

Ingrid Nilsen, Co-Founder & Chief Creative Officer, The New Savant

On the smell of home: Home smelled like a lot of different things because my grandma was always cooking. There was always steamed rice in the house, sometimes it would smell like spices and fish sauce. I think the idea of home for me is really an exploration of different feelings existing at the same time. Sometimes home felt unsafe, and other times it felt safe. It was the place where my biggest sadness and tragedies were happening, but my most nurturing moments of love also happened there. So when I think of home, I think of the tension of all of those things existing at the same time within the same space.

On the brand’s fragrances that channel the feeling of home: Our candle, Mixed Feelings has a steamed rice note which represents my grandmother’s cooking, and how rice was this consistent thing in the house, no matter if it was a good day or a bad day. It really represents how consistent my grandmother was in her love for me. There are also notes of jasmine flowers which I love, because my dad planted a jasmine plant right below my bedroom window, and as it started to grow higher, I was able to smell the blooms when a gentle breeze wafted into my bedroom at night. This became especially meaningful to me after he died. The steamed rice note is one of my favorite elements across all of the scents we’ve ever created. Anyone who grew up eating rice knows there are so many kinds, and they all taste and smell different. And because I grew up in a Thai household, I ate a lot of fragrant jasmine rice. It was also important to capture that steamed quality, because that’s very different from just smelling rice out of the bag. I wanted that almost misty, hot quality without it being oppressive, and I think we really nailed it. Mixed Feelings is the scent that people write to us about the most, often sharing personal stories. For me, it has really highlighted this complex view of what home is, and I think a lot of people can relate to that.

Courtesy of Biology Fragrances

Steve Sun, Founder, Biology Fragrances

On the smell of home: We moved quite a bit growing up; we were immigrants from Kaohsiung, Taiwan to Dallas, Texas, and then Orange County, Calif.. Growing up in an Asian household meant our home always had a distinct scent spectrum, the kind that hits you when you walk through the door. It smelt of the home-cooked Chinese delicacies my mom prepared every day — braised soy sauce concoctions with star anise, chicken soup with scents of ginger, jujubes, and longan, and that unmistakable ‘ma la’ kick from Sichuan peppercorns. I'll never forget the look on my friends' faces when they'd come over and say, “Your home kinda smells...” It was embarrassing, but to me, those scents were like a warm hug from Mom. I use many of the ingredients in my collection now. It was also the scent of Min Xin Hua Lu Shui a.k.a. Celebrity Dew Water, a functional fragrance that originated in 1900s China — that my mother would douse herself and our pillows and bed sheets to rid them of bed bugs and mosquitos. These combinations of scents always represented stability to me. They were like a security blanket, especially when life got crazy.

On the brand’s fragrances that channel the feeling of home: Fragrance 1: Joy encapsulates home for me the most. Instead of growing up with The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, my dad would play 1970's Chinese pop songs, the most notable artist being Teresa Teng. She had a rendition of the classic Ye Lai Xian, which translates to night blooming jasmine, but it also means tuberose in Mandarin. This inspired me to blend jasmine and tuberose together. Jasmine reminds me of the jasmine tea my parents would drink, tuberose conjures Teresa Teng and my father's music taste. Sandalwood is for the incense in the temples we would go to in Taiwan, when we would go sweep our ancestors' tombs and pay respect to them as well as gods.

Courtesy of NETTE

Carol Han Pyle, Founder, Nette

On the smell of home: I grew up in Sausalito, Calif. My mom had a candle shop and I remember going to work with her most days as a kid before I started going to school. Some of my earliest memories are in that store filled with the scent of candles and wax. I loved that place and I loved being there with my mom. Other than that, my mom cooked a lot with sesame oil, so that toasty smell is so comforting to me and instantly jolts me back to my childhood. Green tea, steamed rice and vanilla — hello Nilla Wafers! — smell like home too. Also, I’ve always lived by the water, first in San Francisco, then in Hawaii, and now in New York. So, the sea feels and smells like home.

On the brand’s fragrances that channel the feeling of home: The notes in our hero scent, Thé Vanille, are so familiar to me. The matcha note, in particular, brings me back home instantly. My mom made steaming cups of toasty genmaicha daily and it’s still such a comforting smell. There’s also a salt note in there that is very marine, like the sea, which I have lived in proximity to my entire life. Our perfumer, Pascal Gaurin was the mastermind behind the notes. When we told him we wanted a vanilla that was different from everything else, something with complexity and sophistication, one of the first things he layered in was the tea note and it made all the difference. I don’t think I even realized it at the time, but I was incubating Nette truly as an homage to my mom. Nette started out with just candles for the first two years, a full-circle moment, as my mom was a candlemaker for most of my childhood. She will always be home to me, she is my hero. She came to the U.S. from South Korea without speaking English and managed to build a life for herself and raise me pretty much all alone. She’s a pillar of strength, grit, and determination

Courtesy of Tanaïs

Tanaïs, Author, Perfumer & Founder, Tanaïs

On the smell of home: I spent my childhood in different parts of the U.S. I was born in Carbondale, Ill., and moved through Texas, Alabama, Missouri, until my family settled in Pomona, NY., when I was nine years old. My ma's cooking is legendary in our community, and the scent of spices and curry burrowed deeply into every small apartment we lived in. I now live in NYC, and from a young age I felt it was destined to be my home. The riot of aromas in the summer — halal cart, garbage truck, East River aquatic, linden blossom, and spermish pollen —I love it all. But there's the simultaneous feeling that as long as my parents are alive, home is wherever they are, which now is Florida.

On the brand’s fragrances that channel the feeling of home: That would be Nymphaea, my ode to the love of my life, Mustapha — my home in the world is the one I share with him. After nearly 13 years together, we've created a home that smells of incense, South Asian or Mediterranean food, and whatever is wafting in through our windows. But when we smell each other, what comforts us is the other person's scent. Nymphaea is a lotus and water lily scent, and the lotus at its heart is the fragrant flower that emerges from the mud, an ancient image that is central to Buddhist, Hindu, Egyptian, and Indic thought.

Courtesy of Michael Avedon

Alia Raza, Founder, CEO, & Creative Director, Régime des Fleurs

On the smell of home: Home smells like so many things depending on the time of year. My mother grew many plants and flowers in my childhood home in Buffalo, New York, and the house was filled with jasmine, stephanotis and geranium. Her greenhouse smelled like a wet jungle, and outside there were roses, fruit trees, honeysuckle, peonies, meadow flowers, and my beloved, haunting lilacs.

On the brand’s fragrances that channel the feeling of home: We’ve all had different lives and experiences but Tears has a way of touching everyone who encounters it. It’s more about the beauty of emotion than it is about just sadness. There are tears of joy, heartbreak, and laughter. Perfume is liquid emotion, and that’s exactly what tears are too. I was working with perfumer Mathieu Nardin on Tears, and we had done a lot together already, so after a conversation and some visual references, he got to work and surprised me with his first draft. It’s primarily a dewy lilac perfume but it smells like both fresh lilacs and lilacs getting ready to wilt. It’s about time, nostalgia, the romance of being haunted by something beautiful from the past. Orris and olibanum give it depth and make it unique. There are uplifting accent notes of pink pepper, rosewater, and mandarin flower, and a beautiful, sensual, slightly animalistic musk note.

Courtesy of Soma Ayurvedic

Arjun Sampath, Founder, Soma Ayurvedic

On the smell of home: While I grew up in California, I can vividly remember sitting on my grandparents’ veranda in Chennai, India, the smell of the jasmine vines emanating through the humid evening air. The sweet, floral scent coupled with the burning incense in the house has this inimitable way of transporting me to the past, where time felt like it stood still and life was simple. We would crack open coconuts with a hammer and drink the water while playing cards, which was an amazing experience.

On the brand’s fragrances that channel the feeling of home: While our Jasmine Body Oil isn’t a perfume per se, our customers started wearing it as a scent, which was the catalyst for us launching our fragrance line. The unmistakable hero is the jasmine sambac absolute we use, sourced from Madurai in South India, the jasmine capital of the world. Known for the purest and most fragrant jasmine flowers on earth, the bud is a result of the ideal climate and growing conditions of Madurai— a soil culture rich in antioxidants, the topography and tropical climate allow this night blooming harvest to become truly unparalleled in scent. I remember visiting Madurai in my childhood and being amazed at the bustle of the city’s narrow streets, bazaars and spectacular, colorful temples. It was truly special to visit the area when I was sourcing the jasmine, and to speak to the growers in my mother tongue.

Courtesy of Shalini Parfum

Shalini Kumar, Founder, Shalini Parfum

On the smell of home: My mom is a beautiful, creative soul and her garden in Bombay, India, was a place of serenity and peace. My happiest childhood memories are playing in the garden, chasing butterflies, smelling flowers, and picking strawberries. The garden was abundant with blooming flowers — roses, jasmine, gardenia, marigolds, dahlias, hibiscus, birds-of-paradise, chrysanthemums, and cosmos. The orange and lemon trees were laden with fragrant white blossoms and I would immerse my little face in their intoxicating fragrance. There were many more fruit trees, and fragrant herbs like coriander, mint, basil, and parsley. Coriander is the herbal green note in my first fragrance, Shalini. From an early age, my mom introduced me to all the flowers in the garden, the way they grew from bud to full bloom and how their fragrance changed through the passage of time. Tuberoses were my favorite, and as a child I would sneak into the garden at night so I could inhale their nocturnal beauty under the moonlight.

On the brand’s fragrances that channel the feeling of home: Our eponymous parfum, Shalini, is an olfactive painting of my soul by perfumer Maurice Roucel. It’s inspired by my childhood memories of smelling tuberoses under the moonlight in my mom’s garden. Maurice is a dear friend, and I was lamenting to him that it was difficult to find a parfum composed of pure tuberose absolute, often referred to as liquid gold. His response was, “let’s create one.” He really captured what I was yearning for in Shalini. Home is where your soul rests and feels a sense of peace. Shalini is my soul, so it feels like coming home to me.

Courtesy of Elorea

Wonny Hyung Lee, Founder & CEO, Elorea

On the smell of home: Home, to me, was the kitchen. My mom was an amazing cook and Korean cooking revolves around jangs and fermentation, so our kitchen was always filled with unique smells — kimchi, fermented soybeans, soy sauce, you name it. These scents are etched into my memory as the essence of home. To me, home meant a satisfied belly and a comforting feeling of being cared for. Elorea is inspired by the concept of hyang-soo which is both defined as perfume and homesickness in Korean. It's just a really beautiful coincidence that a word with two definitions can have such a deep underlying connection between them. Perfume often evokes nostalgia and can transport us back to familiar places and moments, much like the way the scent of home can evoke feelings of longing or homesickness.

On the brand’s fragrances that channel the feeling of home: One scent that epitomizes home for me is Jang from our upcoming collection, releasing later this year. It's the culmination of over a year-long development process, featuring Jinjang, a unique Korean soy sauce, as its key ingredient. It'll be the first perfume in the world to use this accord and we are deeply proud of it.

Courtesy of 5 SENS

Divya Gugnani, Founder, 5 SENS

On the smell of home: Home for me was a sensory experience that unfolded across two continents. I was born in Illinois, but moved to New York when I was three. As both my parents had roots in India, my childhood was spent shuttling between Long Island and New Delhi. In Long Island, our house was surrounded by vibrant flowers, thanks to my mom's passion for gardening. Each room held an elaborate floral arrangement, filling the air with a constant sweetness. On the other hand, India offered a completely different olfactory experience. The wafting scent of incense was a staple in our home there. The air itself had a woody and earthy quality, a stark contrast to the floral abundance of Long Island. The multifaceted deeply sensory experience of growing up between American and India played a strong role in creating 5 SENS.

On the brand’s fragrances that channel the feeling of home: Catch Feelings truly embodies what home means to me — love. The inspiration came from a very personal place — my relationship with my husband, Karl. We wanted to create a scent that not only captured the love, warmth and comfort of our home, but also the feeling of falling for someone for the first time. The fragrance opens with a burst of lychee, a homage to my Indian heritage and my memories of growing up eating lychees. It also represents the excitement and newness of a budding romance. It’s balanced by the heart of Damask rose. We chose this variety as a nod to my husband Karl's Middle Eastern background and Lebanese roots. It adds a touch of sophistication and sensuality. Finally, the fragrance settles into a base of vetiver and suede for comforting earthiness and woodiness, and symbolizes the enduring strength and comfort found in lasting love.

Courtesy of Ellis Brooklyn

Bee Shapiro, Founder, Ellis Brooklyn

On the smell of home: Growing up, home smelled like home cooking and it was a mixture of spices, cooking rice, and also baked goods. I used to love to bake when I was growing up. In my childhood, I grew up playing outside in a suburb of Seattle. Those smells are actually distinctive to me as well. That would be wet payment, my bike's tires, the woods down the street and damp earth and evergreens.

On the brand’s fragrances that channel the feeling of home: I'm a cozy home kind of person. Nearly everything in my home has a texture that is soft, interesting, and inviting. MYTH, for me, is a fragrance you live in; it's a scent to wear daily as it has this warmth and coziness that wears well with almost any mood and outfit. It's the white musk but also a touch of jasmine and white cedarwood that come together with both warmth and transparency. I was very specific with MYTH because I designed this perfume for myself. I wanted the vibe of clean sheets but with a very obvious reference to skin. It's about a comfortable morning in bed with the sun shining through the window. It's about skin on skin contact and the human need for that. I love the idea of conveying warm familiarity.