“I was the kid who would walk by bushes and rip a leaf of the bush, snap it in half and smell it,” says Ethan Turner. The 26-year-old sommelier and perfumer became obsessed with olfactory sense early in his teenage years. Now, as the founder of MOI Fragrances, a perfume subscription and event business, Turner carries out his passion by sharing his love for scents with the broader community. MOI Fragrance hosts unforgettable gatherings where people can act as architects and build fragrances, all while coincidentally learning about wine and spirits.
An Early Obsession with Aromas
Raised in a family that prioritized education with an emphasis on STEM, the self-discipline to navigate challenging concepts was present early in Turner's life. “My dad was a civil engineer, and my mom was an electrical engineer. So very, very scientific people,” shares Turner. Yet, while his siblings decided to follow a similar path in science-oriented career fields, the future sommelier knew that his approach would venture towards something different. “I was very much an artist my entire life,” shares Turner, who eventually journeyed on to attend Drake University to pursue an undergraduate degree in journalism and communications.
During Turner's undergrad years, this idea of wanting to understand anything and everything about smells continued to rise to the surface for him as he thought about what he was most intrigued by. “I had this obsession with the olfactory sense, that our sense of smell was the one part of our body that we have not innovated on,” he shares. For the future perfumer, prioritizing deepening his expertise on topics relevant to unearthing more about this sense became most important. And so, learning about wines emerged as a path that would allow Turner to explore a deep understanding of scents.
Defying Odds and Becoming a Black Sommelier
Journeying to become a sommelier is an arduous task. For Black people embarking on this education path, various barriers make this expedition even more challenging. This occurred in 2020—the Court of Master Sommeliers was called out for having racist practices, forcing the organization to re-imagine what it looks like to be anti-racist. “It will always surprise me to run into a Black somm. It is very rare,” shares Turner.
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Despite the lack of diversity and representation in the field, Turner pursued his ambitious journey. Through discipline and lots of studying, he passed his exams and is now a level-1 sommelier. However, despite making it this far, Turner is currently studying to become a level 2 sommelier—an exam known to have an even lower pass rate. Regardless of the difficulty of the exams, Turner advises to “have some tenacity.” He continues saying, “It's not particularly all that easy. You don't just walk into the room and just kind of be the best all the time. You have to work at it.”
Venturing Into Fragrances
Like the wine industry, the perfume industry lacks representation of Black professionals. Therefore, being a Black perfumer is even rarer than being a Black sommelier. However, Turner was used to navigating industries that lacked inclusion. Not to mention, aromas were a passion for the Phoenix, Arizona, entrepreneur, so nothing was going to impede him from commencing on this voyage.
After years of working in the restaurant industry for various restaurants serving wine, while passionate about hospitality, he says, “I'm burnt out. I'm tired. I'm annoyed. I had a lot of personal issues going on, and I needed an exit,” shares the perfumer.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Turner, like many others who explored passion projects, decided that he wanted to explore a new industry rooted in smell—in this case, perfumes. Turner shares, “So upon leaving my last restaurant, I was kind of deciding on a new image of myself, a new hairstyle, new clothing, a new fragrance to wear.” Turner continues, “And I went searching everywhere for this fragrance and couldn't find the perfect smoky, earthy, woody fragrance.”
So Turner did what he was most used to; he researched, studied and built his own. Once he successfully created pleasant smelling fragrances to his liking, he knew it was time to establish his perfumery.
Total Sensory Experience
In 2021, Turner founded his perfumery and event company, MOI Fragrances, intending to democratize bespoke perfumery, tell stories and create art and technology. Bespoke perfume refers to the process of customers creating their own custom fragrances. Since establishing his business, Turner has created over 200 different formulas. “There's a lot of patience and time that it takes to make a fragrance. It normally takes six months to build an actual fragrance. So I created a modified process where it does still take six months, but the client receives their product while it's under development,” shares Turner.
Turner has created the ultimate olfactory stimulating experience. “I currently do perfume and wine events where I actually build fragrances on-site, where people can actually watch me do the process, and I do a wine tasting,” he says. Beyond having a perfumery and event company, the entrepreneur is also expanding his operations to serve as an overall luxury brand. “After perfumery, there definitely is an idea to do some other luxury items, whether it's gonna be bags or cigars.”
With an olfactory-pleasing empire on the rise, Turner shares, “Tenacity has been the key of everything for me…even if there are disadvantages as a Black perfumer or sommelier, don't let that stop you. If there's a community out there that encourages you, stick with that community. And even if there's a community that discourages you, push past them.”
Visit www.moi-fragrances.com to learn more about creating your own bespoke perfume as well as booking a perfume and wine event with Turner. You can also follow him on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram).