May 28th, 2011 / posted by paularath

When Honoluluan Kate Growney, creator of Saffron James Perfumes, told me several years ago that she was working on a fragrance based on pakalana. my first thought was: “OMG! How on earth is she going to do that?”

Pakalana is my favorite Island flower but I can’t imagine trying to capture its essence. It changes so much from bush to lei to skin, effusing fabulous fragrance at each stage – but how to capture those subtle, transformative scents, from the grassy crispness to the sensual soft woody base?

Well, it took her nearly six years, but she did it. Ipo, her newest fragrance, is flying off the shelves at Nordstrom, Soha, Becca Beach and Spa at Halekulani.

Why pakalana?

Kate was determined to create a pakalana fragrance because “It’s my mom’s favorite flower. The goal of the company was to focus on the more exclusive flowers that have not been reproduced before. I couldn’t find anyone outside of  Hawaii that had ever smelled pakalana. That made it perfect to work with,” she explained.

Pakalana is actually a Chinese violet, although it is deep green in color rather than violet. “The color (of the flower) itself ended up giving us hints and clues to the secrets of the flower,” she said.

Kate was fortunate that a fragrance house agreed to collaborate with her little niche brand, Saffron James, agreeing to share with her what the industry calls “A head space. A head space is a technical process used to analyze the anatomy of the flower’s scent molecules,” she explained. “The flower is put in a glass container and a pad is inserted into the chamber. As the flower releases its scent, the molecules stick to the pad. The pad is then analyzed and the code of the molecular structure is recreated by a perfumer. The perfumer begins recreating the code and rebuilding the molecule. Then, after all that, we begin collaborating on the life and personality of the fragrance.”

The challenge

Kate said the most challenging part of working with pakalana is the “Fickle nature of the flower. When hot, the fragrance changes. If it gets too cold, it loses the scent.” An individual’s skin oils also alter the scent. She had lei makers from all over Hawaii sending pakalana blossoms to her so she could share them with her “nose.” Pakalana is a fragrance that defies verbal description.

Her “nose” for Ipo was Frank Voelkl. “Although from Germany originally, his wife is Tahitian and they met when he was studying perfumery in Paris. He has brought an incredible insight to this project and it has been a gift to work with someone so talented and well respected within the industry,” Kate said.

Why the name, Ipo?

Kate explained: “Since pakalana is one of the few flowers worn by men and women, I wanted to name the fragrance Ipo (sweetheart in Hawaiian). I wanted the fragrance to remind you of your sweetheart or remind your sweetheart of you.”

Fragrances are described with the terms top notes, middle notes and base notes. Kate said Ipo “Starts with the mysterious, unique quality of the floral that is slightly green but sweet, the crispness of lemon grass and then wears down into a soft woody base.”

Her website description of Ipo says: “Pakalana is its core fragrance, enhanced with violet, Moroccan rose, orange blossom and tiare (or Tahitian gardenia).”

I would call it romantic and serene. At my wedding I wore pakalana down to my knees and danced “Pua Hone” for my husband. Ipo takes me back to that special memory, like a lei hali’a.

– Paula Rath

What are they saying?
Leave a comment below.
Tawnja Ching
December 30th, 2016 at 4:47 pm

Pakalana is my most favorite of all the beautiful island flower scents! I’m so excited and grateful that you have captured its essence!
Can you please tell me where to find this? I must have it. ????
I hope you get this as I realize the post is from 2011…

December 30th, 2016 at 10:45 pm

Saffron James fragrances are available at many stores. Are you in Honolulu? If so, check out Red Pineapple, Place, Guava Shop, Nordstrom – or just go online at and look up Stores. Enjoy!

Tawnja Ching
February 18th, 2017 at 6:31 pm

I was able to purchase this perfume through a seller on eBay. The scent is pleasant, however, it smells nothing like Pakalana at all. So disappointed. I know that someone out there has captured the true scent of Pakalana, as I have smelled it on a former co-worker of mine who wore the sweet fragrance…but she kept it a secret and would not share where she got it from.
I encourage you to continue working on capturing the essence of Pakalana. I will be a repeat customer once that’s done.

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