PILSEN — One perfumer’s personal goal is to make you smell like a tamale.
Part of new line from Zoils Oils perfume called "Tamale," the scent is an idea Zorayda “Z” Ortiz came up with in an attempt to capture the culture of the Pilsen neighborhood.
“I could go wild and try to create a "pollo" one or an "al pastor" one,” she said referring to a chicken or pork tamale scented oil.
The perfume line, “La Dieciocho” (The 18th), which she hopes to debut in the spring, makes reference to Pilsen’s busy 18th Street.
Five years ago, Ortiz, 32, who stands about 5-foot-2 with spiked dark hair, was putting her biological sciences degree to good use as a research specialist at Rush University Medical Center.
“In the ER, I was the person the surgeon would hand a piece of liver to,” she said.
But her love for messing around in a lab led her to start Zoils Oils, where Ortiz said she finds spirituality in the art of scent creation.
When she developed “Dia de los Muertos,” a line of scents inspired by the Day of the Dead, Ortiz said she meditated on each object she wanted to turn into a scent.
The scent for "pan de muerto" — Day of the Dead bread — was tricky.
“I was like, how do I make a scent to smell like bread?” she said.
And after she found a recipe for the bread made with anise and orange, Ortiz had her answer for what to use in her perfume.
Pilsen resident and musician Jaime Garza first met Ortiz when she was selling her oils at a North Side festival three years ago.
Since discovering blends of oils that she makes using the herb patchouli, he said he's completely given up cologne and contacts Ortiz every few months to get his Zoils fix.
“I always get people asking, ‘Whoa you smell good. What is that?’” Garza said.
Ortiz produces the oils in her Little Village home. The oils — made up of natural and organic essential oils — can be found for sale along 18th Street at Round Two Resale, Pilsen Vintage and Thrift and Wheel of Time bike shop.
At Wheel of Time, Ortiz even has a line of specialty oils just for sweaty bikers.
“They’re a little strong and they kind of smell like bike grease,” she said.
Those who want a custom scent can contact Ortiz on her Zoils Facebook page or call 773-759-1791, and she’ll leave the goods in an envelope with your name on it at Pilsen Vintage and Thrift, 1430 W. 18th St.
Pilsen Vintage and Thrift owner Paul Gazar recently pulled out one such envelope from behind the counter. It read, “Rico. Rockabilly DJ with cool bike.”
Normally priced at $20 for this custom-scented oil, Rico the DJ had received a $5 “cool guy discount.”
In addition to handing out the envelopes, Gazar also sells and uses Zoils Oils.
“I like lavender for me. I don’t know if that’s girly or not, it just smells good,” Gazar said.
Ortiz also runs a bike tour that takes Pilsen curiosity-seekers around the murals and gardens of the neighborhood.
Her scent “Pilsen Roots” features a photo on the bottle of a mural by Pilsen artist Hector Duarte.
Ortiz, who grew up in Humboldt Park, said she hopes the scent, with its base notes of frankincense, will inspire neighborhood artists.
“It focuses on the deep roots of Pilsen,” she said. “It’s not just about the new wave of artists, it’s also about the immigrant history.”