For years, "the nose" of Aveda has traveled the Amazon River in Brazil, the flower fields of Corsica and the banks of the Nile in Egypt...

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MINNEAPOLIS — For years, “the nose” of Aveda has traveled the Amazon River in Brazil, the flower fields of Corsica and the banks of the Nile in Egypt in search of his aromatic holy grail: a lone, elusive ingredient that just might defy mother nature.

But more often than not these days, Aveda’s chief perfumer, Ko-ichi Shiozawa, has returned from his quests empty-handed. His frustration is apparent in the way he rubs his temples and raps his knuckles to a drumbeat of discontent at his vial-strewn desk.

Plant-based “essential oils are not enough for me anymore. I am obsessed with organic, I must say,” said Shiozawa, 67, one of just 400 perfumers nationwide.

Stubborn hunt

His stubborn hunt for an organic plant-based solvent would help Aveda’s already fragrant offerings stand out even more in a $170 billion industry that still relies on about 3,000 synthetic chemicals to inexpensively make stable and long-lasting scents.

Founded in Minneapolis 30 years ago and now based in Blaine, Minn., Aveda has become a global champion of upscale, all-natural and “pure essence” shampoos, conditioners, skin lotions and other beauty products.

The $7.6 billion Estee Lauder cosmetics firm liked the plant-science concept so much that it paid Aveda founder Horst Rechelbacher $300 million for the company 11 years ago.

Since then, Aveda’s revenue has quintupled, and while company officials declined to disclose it, they are quick to credit Shiozawa and his team with a chunk of the company’s success.

“Ko-ichi is the originator of the ‘It smells Aveda!’ factor,” said Dominique Conseil, Aveda’s president.

Aveda relies on about 200 essential plant oils and is increasingly demanding that the raw seeds, bark, roots, flowers and leafy ingredients come from organic farms and through organic processes.

By mixing a tenth of a milligram of this and a drop of that, Shiozawa has developed thousands of natural and organic aromatic formulas in his organ-shaped lab that is lined with rows and rows of small glass bottles.

Trained as a chemist, Shiozawa abandoned that career years ago and moved from Japan to Paris, to study French literature at the Sorbonne. He fell in love — with France, a Frenchwoman who would become his wife, and perfume.

He landed in a perfume-training program in the foothills of the French Alps where jasmine, rose, violets, orange flower and rosemary scents “wafted through the streets.”

He later worked in Switzerland, New Jersey and Long Island City, N.Y., where Shiozawa, a father of four, toiled making pleasant scents for household products.

But all that was before a French friend suggested Shiozawa join him at Aveda. Shiozawa recalled asking him: “Aveda? What is that? … Minnesota? Where is that?”

That was 18 years ago. Austrian-born Rechelbacher tapped Shiozawa to head Aveda’s Botanical Aroma Department after a dinner that lasted for hours. The two discussed essential oils, Shiozawa’s passion for German poetry and all things French.

Immersed in job

But 18 years later, he’s not reading poetry.

“I would go to the ends of the Earth to find” the natural process that could let a flower oil still smell like a flower after distilling, Shiozawa said. “If it’s physically feasible, I’d like to find it.”

“I am specializing in such a unique field of organic, organic, organic. It is a most difficult challenge,” he said, wearily shaking his head. “This is not fun. Not fun.”

Last year, Shiozawa introduced Yatra, Aveda’s first all-organic, aroma therapy “Pure-fume,” to critics’ applause. It emits an intense, fragrant punch. His organic Rose Attar oil launched in February. And a third organic perfume goes on sale in November, in time for the holidays.

“It is not enough,” Shiozawa sighed. “We must treat [more] flowers with something other than water and find this plant-based [organic] solvent. That is the biggest challenge,” he said. “I have to come up with something somehow. But it’s getting harder and harder.”