Eric Buterbaugh has always loved fragrances. When he was just a kid, growing up in the tiny Oklahoma town of Purcell, he kept 50 bottles of perfume in a cabinet in his bedroom.
“I loved smelly stuff all my life, so this really was a dream for me, and it happened,” he said during a recent Houston visit to promote the re-launch of his namesake fragrance line at Saks Fifth Avenue.
Buterbaugh—known as Hollywood’s “florist to the stars,” he counts Gwyneth Paltrow, Demi Moore, and Nicole Richie among his friends and clients—launched his signature line of floral fragrances in 2015. The Spanish fragrance giant Puig acquired the brand last year and worked with Buterbaugh to brighten up the packaging (it now comes in a colorful box with drawings of tropical flowers and pink flamingos) and introduce several new scents.
“We have 17 fragrances now,” Buterbaugh explained over lunch at Saks' 51fifteen restaurant before excusing himself to mingle with Houston’s top social titans at a party for the 2020 Sweetheart Icons in the cosmetics department. “I originally launched with eight. Since we were acquired by Puig, it’s amazing going from a three-person start-up to having an art department in Paris and all these things.
“We weeded out a few fragrances that weren’t really working and brought in some new ones," he continued. "We brought in some ouds in the last year and they are performing. Our No. 1 fragrance is Saffron Oud, and we have a Rose Oud that is doing well.”
At first, Buterbaugh was resistant to introducing oud, one of the world’s strongest and most expensive fragrance ingredients. “We really wanted to interpret it in a different way, mixing the strongest ingredient you could use with some of softest flowers,” he said. “And we did the ouds in a black crystal bottle rather than the clear bottles [that the other fragrances come in], so it’s very beautiful.”
His fragrances, which range from $210 to $500 per bottle depending on size, are all natural.
“I didn’t understand until I started working with all of the most famous noses that almost every fragrance connected with a fashion house is all chemicals," he said. "They’re not trying to be in the perfume business, they’re trying to make money—so they make it as cheap as possible. That’s why a lot of them smell the same. To me, a lot of those just smell like Raid.”
Buterbaugh’s journey from a boy in the rural Southwest to Hollywood notable began when he snuck off to Dallas in the early ‘80s and landed a job at the hippest store in Big D at the time: Versace. When the Italian fashion house closed its Dallas boutique during the oil bust in the mid-'80s, Buterbaugh was transferred to the Beverly Hills store, where he developed friendships with many top stars.
He also became pals with the late Gianni Versace, who tapped him to run the giant Versace boutique in London.
“I was in my late 20s, and I was running around with supermodels. I knew every movie star and music star. I was having a ball," he recalled. "But when all of that leveled off, I didn’t like the fashion world. It’s back-stabby, and I’m just a little boy from Oklahoma.”
He moved back to L.A. and got into the floral business almost by accident when he arranged flowers for a friend’s party. “I never planned it, but I loved it straightaway,” he said.
Now, 23 years later, he remains the go-to florist for the Hollywood crowd—and a favorite dinner guest. He's known for his ribald sense of humor, which he traces to his upbringing in the southwestern U.S.
“I think people in the Southwest have some sort of spirit. They’re fun, and they have fun. L.A. can be a little holier-than-thou with all this political correctness. My God, it’s so exhausting,” he said.
“In Texas, if you drink too much, the next day you say, ‘We had so much fun last night.’ In L.A., someone takes you aside and says, ‘There could be a problem here,’" he added. "In the South they have a sense of humor. I love to laugh.”
Moving into fragrances seemed a logical extension for Buterbaugh, although he notes that flowers from a florist rarely have a smell. “Unfortunately they have bred the fragrance out of it,” he said. “I felt like, being somebody who loved fragrance, I had to figure out a way to get that back.”
His favorites from his collection are the Saffrod Oud and the 1947 Dahlia, which he describes as a “very sexy nighttime fragrance.”
“I wear it every day, and I literally I do my wrists. I do behind my ears. If I’m not dressed when I’m putting it on, I do it on the crook of my arm. And usually after I’m dressed—because I can—I do a whoosh all over me. I do it on my bald head. I feel like I should smell good all the time,” he said. “It’s nice having all of these to play with.”