by: C. Shardae Jobson
The below Spotlight was the bio I wrote for an interviewee I had the pleasure of speaking with for my Zoe Report article, Black Women & Fragrance: A Love Story, published December 2021!
I thought it would be cool to share not just some background information on the interviewees separately, but also their quotes in full! This article was a challenge and joy to write, so be sure to check it out after reading about Dunlap-Mwamba! And I’ve got three more “Black Women & Fragrance” interviewee bios to share in the coming days! Stay tuned.
Chavalia Dunlap-Mwamba, founder of Pink MahogHany
When discussing Black-owned perfume brands, Chavalia Dunlap-Mwamba is quite the doyenne. Her gender-neutral line Pink MahogHany made its debut in 2005. And while in the years since she’s opened an official website you can directly shop from, Dunlap-Mwamba still offers fragrances like Pas Encore Nommé and “the first fragrance I felt was ready for the public,” French Cuffs, on Etsy.
“I’ve been on Etsy since 2011!” Mwamba states over the phone and out in Longview, Texas where she’s based and works out of her lab. (Like most Black perfumers, she too is a self-taught talent). “And even though I have the website, I just felt like it would be good to still have Etsy. That’s how people initially found me.”
For those who have been loyal customers since Etsy and when Dunlap-Mwamba frequented Texan flea markets to get the word out about Pink MahogHany, against the backdrop of renowned fashion house perfumes and “It” fragrance labels of the moment, PM fans are fond of the down-home sentiment of Dunlap-Mwamba’s line. From the detailed woodshop presentation of the bottles (with wood embossing on the front and cap), the quality, complex mixtures all made by hand, to Dunlap-Mwamba being a catalyst for representation as plenty of her customers are Black and people of color. Her legacy is an inspiring one.
“I have received a lot of love, mainly because PM is such a rarity. I actually own the brand. It’s not like I’m putting my name on a fragrance and a filling house formulates it” Dunlap-Mwamba says. “The responses over the years have only grown in support. And we connect on a personal level. Like, I know that on social media, things can appear pretty surface level. But I try to maintain an aspect of personalization! I’ll hop into the comments, correspond, and that has helped to foster somewhat of a family-type dynamic as opposed to just followers of a brand.”
For Pink MahogHany, it’s the upside to being an anomaly. Lots of beauty brands have disclosed, and been boastful, about crowd-sourcing as a key to product creation (such as Glossier; Volition Beauty) — and Dunlap-Mwamba has certainly obtained information from consumers on what they’d like to smell or ingredients to consider in a mixture — it’s another for fans and clients to have interaction with founders, owners, and creators and feel so seen by them.
Such an exchange is an extension of how Black perfumers think outside the box in perfumery. Also, as the marginalized in the industry, innovation is embraced but pivotal, and this certainly applies in composition creation since Black perfumers, on average, are self-taught.
“I think our perspective is raw because the majority of us are self-taught. We haven’t gone to perfumery school. And while there are online sources [like YouTube] now, which makes [learning] a little bit easier!” Mwamba explains, “Black perfumers don’t [just go by or try] traditional formulations. We go by intuition, how we feel about a particular note. We don’t have aversions to certain notes due to conditioning. I believe the creativity level is off the charts! ”
In addition, “It allows us to be more expressive and infuse more aspects of our history, childhood memories, or other experiences. [Black perfumers] don’t have blinders on. So I think that allows us to have an openness and ability to connect and treat [fragrance] as an art form as opposed to a fragrance to wear to smell good.”
When asked if a specific bond between perfume and Black women exists because they are the largest collective purchasing scented items, Dunlap-Mwamba reflects on that.
“[Perfume] is a part of our self-care routine, our beauty regimen. Of course, there are varying levels to it, if you will!” she laughs. “We want to feel good about ourselves, and naturally, fragrance is a way to express that without having to tell someone. It’s very powerful and holds so much weight in adding to our day or look.”
For more, please check out my article, in which this interview was a part of, exclusively on The Zoe Report!