Share story

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Patti Upton, who founded the multimillion-dollar home fragrance company Aromatique thanks to a popular homemade mix of pine cones, oils and spices she concocted to help a friend’s shop “smell like Christmas,” has died at her Arkansas home. She was 79.

The married mother and grandmother died Tuesday after a brief illness at her home in the lakeside city of Heber Springs, about 50 miles north of Little Rock, according to the local funeral home handing her services, Family Funeral Services.

Her company had humble beginnings: leaves, berries, spices and a broomstick.

It started after Upton agreed in 1982 to help make a friend’s local shop smell festive. She mixed together leaves, acorns, pine cones, berries and gum balls, combined with oils and spices. Customers soon began asking to buy the scent looming through her friend’s store in Heber Springs, so she started mixing bigger batches — in garbage bags using a broomstick.

“Our friends thought absolutely I had lost my mind,” Upton told The Associated Press in 2000, as the company’s sales were expected to top $110 million. “They said tell them you’re making clothes. Don’t tell them you’re making the smell of Christmas.”

The work blossomed into an international business manufacturing fragrances, candles and other decorative products. According to the company, “The Smell of Christmas” remains the Aromatique’s flagship fragrance.

The company had production locations in Heber Springs, and sold products through thousands of stores and retailers, including Dillards.

“She attributed Aromatique’s success to the unique collection of people and talent on her staff,” Aromatique spokeswoman Ramona Gillespie said in a statement released Thursday.

Upton told the AP that when spring rolled around that first year, she was asked to create the smell of spring — and the business took off. Owners of other small stores asked for her products, and she expanded to other fragrance lines, including candles and decorative accessories.

“There was nothing like this on the market,” Upton said at the time.

Upton was inducted last year into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame. She attended Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, where she received an award for fashion design, before transferring to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, where she met her husband, according to the funeral home’s obituary.

Upton is survived by her husband, Richard, twin sons Joseph Paige Upton and James Peyton Upton and their wives, and several grandchildren.