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Most guys don't think very much about their aromas, especially if they're straight, and even more especially if they're hanging out with other straight guys. But Robert Mailer Anderson is another story. The 35-year-old San Francisco novelist (his first book, Boonville, came out in 2001) reserves Box G at the opera every season for himself and eight of his closest buddies. Last Christmas, Anderson bought his crew tuxedos to wear on their nights at the Opera House, but he still felt they were missing a certain je ne sais quoi.
He found it one day while browsing in 826 Valencia's pirate supply store, where he got into a conversation with the manager, Yosh Han. A gregarious 32-year-old with long black hair who favors romantic vintage clothing, Han always smells good. She told Anderson she could help him smell good, too.
"I met this funny, wildly intelligent woman and found out that she makes scents," says the happily married Anderson.
When she's not working at the pirate store, Han is a perfumer. Her fledgling scent collection, called Yosh, can be purchased at a handful of funky-chic San Francisco boutiques (Jeremys and Ver Unica among them) and will soon be available at Fred Segal, a trendy department store with two Los Angeles locations. But Anderson was more intrigued by Han's custom perfumes -- the esoteric and eccentric odors she has created for a wide variety of clients who wanted the perfect smell.
Han whipped up a woody scent for the Extra Action Marching Band to wear at Burning Man, and created Siren, a combination of tuberose and cucumber, for the pirate store. One of her best sellers, Urban Essence, was blended for an artist/historian who commissioned Han to replicate the aroma of San Francisco. (In the end, Han decided against including the smells of urine and diesel in favor of a haunting mix of, among other things, sandalwood and eucalyptus.)
Anderson and Han clicked. "She understood the -- how do I put this -- the 'guys night at the opera' vibe," says Anderson. "And I said, 'You should do a scent for Box G!'"
Han, who charges about $225 to make a custom perfume, loved the idea.
"In the old days, women would say, 'My husband bought me this special fragrance and it's only available in Paris,'" says Han. "What happened to that? And what happened to people getting dressed up for the opera? I just thought what they were doing was so great! It's not like they're trying to impress chicks. They're just enjoying the performance and the theatrics."
Han decided the guys needed something "sensual and dramatic." She blended 20 different ingredients, including black pepper, narcissus, essential oil of Tunisian opium, bay rum, and something called massoia, which smells like coconut. When Han was finished, Anderson threw a party for more than 35 people, and the perfumer gave each of the guests a little sample. To top it all off, the San Francisco Opera gift shop decided to sell the scent (for $120), which Han named, appropriately enough, Box G.
"Now there is a mystique about what goes on in Box G," says Han.
Nothing too sinfully fabulous, it turns out. The friends watch the opera, and sometimes they sneak in a bottle of wine or some cake that Anderson's wife made. After all, it's still just a bunch of guys.
Before Han helped them out, Anderson says, "The scent we were kicking out from Box G was probably not good. I sweat like a monkey."
Now he smells like Box G. (Lessley Anderson)