Take a deep breath and take it in: it’s the scent of freshly steamed corn tamales, rich with red chile and plump with juicy pork. And no, you’re not in your grandmother’s kitchen – in fact, the wafting smell of fragrant tamales is straight from a bottle whipped up by expert perfumer Zorayda Ortiz.
“What I sell is more than just perfume,” says Ortiz, who has been making perfumes for more than ten years. “It’s a way of connecting people to each other and their culture. By creating fragrances that have never been made before, I am embracing my heritage and allowing others to do the same.”
For Ortiz – who was born and still resides in Chicago, Illinois – Latin culture has inspired several distinct fragrances for both the home and body. Last November, the 32-year-old created a Dia de los Muertos collection with pan de muerto, calavera de azucar and papel picado perfumes; for the Christmas holiday, she was inspired by her Puerto Rican heritage to create coquito (Puerto Rican eggnog) and lechon asado (roasted pork) fragrances.
“Yes, people really do wear them,” insists Ortiz, who sells her Zoils Oils perfumes at select boutiques in her Chicago neighborhood and online. For just $25, you can buy a bottle of one of her signature fragrances, and should you happen to approach someone who smells like the rich, meaty tamales you grew up eating in abuelita’s kitchen, well, then she considers herself happy.
“It’s like my version of love potion,” says Ortiz, laughing. “Why does anyone wear perfume? They want to smell good for themselves or someone else and that’s a knowledge I use to help me create delicious, seductive scents.”
For her tamale fragrance— which is part of Ortiz’ upcoming collection called “La Dieciocho” (“The 18th”), which pays homage to Mexican community in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago – Ortiz blended notes of red chili pepper and ginger with drops of pineapple, Indian sandalwood and vanilla essential oils.
The process of laboriously creating one-of-a-kind fragrances is one Ortiz considers relaxing; a hobby she picked up more than ten years ago after swearing off television. And Ortiz is uniquely qualified to treat her perfumer’s workspace as a laboratory: She has a degree in biological science from Northern Illinois University and worked for several years as a medical researcher at Rush University Medical Center.
“Creating perfumes is very similar to what I did in the lab,” says Ortiz, who ended her scientific career four years ago to concentrate full-time on her perfume business four years ago. “Using drop by drop methodology is something I did when I examined genomes and DNA, and it’s what I do now as well.”
For Ortiz, who also creates custom scents (“I’ll take on anything as a challenge,” she says), perfumes will always signify more than just something to spritz on before a day at work or hot date.
“Creating perfumes is my passion,” she says, explaining that she would love to sell her perfumes in malls or to the likes of celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Justin Bieber.
“The more unique, the better. I’m capable of doing it and the cultural niche of what I’m doing will inspire me forever.”