Sunday, March 27, 2011

Mandrake Apothecary ~ The Seventh Sign

Interview by Justine Crane for LPR
Justine: Hi Sara.  It's so good to finally have a chance to talk with you about your art. We’ve (LPR) been putting it off for so long, it seemed like it might never happen, but here we are ~

First, tell the LPR readers a little about yourself; your background, and what brought you to perfumery ~

Sara: I have an eclectic background in terms of interests and courses of study, and regardless of the tangential road I wander along, or the rabbit hole I trip into as I go, it always returns to the plant world and to aromatics in some fashion.  It wasn't until I got very seriously into blending aromatics and dabbling in alchemy as a means of transformation that things literally clicked into place.  It was a matter of many roads leading back to the same place: my workbench and culturing tubes full of aging blends, leading up to that.

I don't have a fantastically complicated lineage in that 'Sara studied with ___ who studied with ___ who was apprenticed to ___' sort of way, which strikes me as kind of contrived.  And it is not that I'm some nose-governed genius either, so much as I tend to be a Jill of many trades and mistress of a few of them.  On a good day.

However, I was always nose-governed.  A couple of my earliest scent memories are of the star jasmines my uncle grew in Palo Alto, where I'd visit with cousins every summer, and of the lack of overt smell but fleshy green plantness of my great grandmother's fuschias in her backyard in Berkeley.  I just smell either of those and am there.  We always grew aromatic plants and flowers when I was a kid, even though we lived in an apartment.  I remember the sweetly spicy, and dirty odor of baby carrots, from the summer my mom handed me a terracotta pot of soil and a packet of seeds, telling me to press a bunch into the soil.  I also remember the distinctive smell of tomato leaves and stems sinking into my hands, from being sent out to the side yard to harvest tomatoes from the planter boxes.

I studied anthropology, which was not about perfume (if only I'd found and read Lise Manniche back then), but proved to be inspirational in nudging me to study herbalism more closely, and to spend more time outside in wild places.

Justine: So, what is the strangest perfumery ingredient you've ever used? ~

Sara: Skunk essence.  Antique, no less.  I was producing what wound up being a revenge blend of sorts.  I wasn't even heading in the direction of anger and unsublimated irritation, but skunk helped me exorcise some demons.

It doesn't smell bad, btw.  Reminds me of acrid leathery coffee, mixed with cigar smoke, almost.  But I like earthy smells.  If you age skunk oil, it picks up a very smooth patina, where all the angular cracks and jagged edges of the source material have been smoothed over and burnished to a shine, in some spots.

Justine: What scent, or combination of scents, slams you in the solar plexis? Y'know, the smells that really touch you. ~

Sara: I must admit to being a temple prostitute for the aromatic wonder that is Patchouli, with a capital 'P'.  Patchouli is so many things in so many different applications.  It is darkness, the forest floor and damp soil.  It is a universal blender and base ingredient.  It can be grassy, golden and syrupy, fruity, musky.  Patchouli is one of those essences I like to buy in lots and age.

Wanna hear something funny peculiar?  I don't put patchouli in every thing I possibly can.  Sometimes less is more.

Justine: You're an urban gardener , do you think working with plants and soil has helped you with your perfuming skills? ~

Sara: Definitely.  Being an urban farmer has really brought plants back to their most basic elements, to my nose and blending instincts.  In the past year I've tinctured oxalis blooms, rose petals, five different lavender species, rosemary flowers, pomegranate blossoms, and common weed flowers.

It's also given me an excuse to germinate and grow exotics you don't see in many gardens, such as Abelmoschus moschatus.  My prized seedlings are a trio of mandrakes I grew from seed, go figure.  I've been fascinated with Mandragora for years and it was time to get my hands dirty and learn from growing them; though they've nothing to do with perfumery.

I've also learned a new appreciation for more mundane aromas such as wheat straw, petrichor, finished compost, and even coop litter from the chickens.  You get to know a lot about your animals based on smell, and chickens have their own distinctive and not at all objectionable odor when you treat them well and keep their living quarters clean.  It almost reminds me of the warm furry smell of the top of my youngest cat's head when he burrows into my neck.

Justine: Are there any fragrances or perfumes out there that you wish you'd created? ~

Sara: Back in 'the day' (circa 1986), I had a thing for Lauren, by Ralph Lauren.  Tea roses and Sicilian lemons, and ambrette.  It had a start, a middle, and a powdery finish, like a well-crafted perfume that evolves.

I also have a soft spot for Byblos eau de parfum, which is no longer manufactured, but was based around fruity marigold heart notes, black pepper, and I seem to remember boronia, too.

Justine: I know your perfumery is on hiatus at the moment. Any indication as to when you'll be dusting off the shelves and opening the shutters for customers? ~

Sara: I was really really hoping to be back after my birthday in June.  It may have to be July, though.  This may sound a bit woowoo, and those who read my blog will recognize that, but things have been happening in 7s for me, and I might have to keep up that theme just to see if there's value in that exercise.  Seventh month?  (Cue up the theme music from the Twilight Zone.)

Watch for the reopening of Mandrake Apothecary ( coming the 7th month.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Angel Face Botanicals

by Tonie Silver

Angel Face Botanicals is a real find. Plenty of good stuff to satisfy any bathoholic. This range is aptly named~ owner Jessica Ress makes her products with bunches of love, and it really shines through. The Lavender Shower Steamer is an innovative idea~ think of it as a really long lasting, strong bath bomb. Pop it into the shower with you and let it release its essential oils while you scrub.

Angel Face excels at powdered facial cleansers. Jessica makes three different Organic Facial Cleansing Grains: Ambrosia, Ayurvedic, and Adzuki & Green Tea, and they’re all just perfect. They all start with basically the same base of kaolin clay, oats, and rice, and then Jessica adds different bits and bobs. Ambrosia boasts the addition of whole milk, banana, and apple. Ayurvedic has rhassoul, sandalwood, frankincense, and myrrh. Just the right amount of scrubbiness. I couldn’t decide which of these I liked best~ they’re all so good! The biggest difference that I can detect between the three is that the Ayurvedic leaves the skin a tad bit whiter. All three come highly recommended.

Jessica’s scrubs are scrubby, yet really mild. It feels like she uses a really fine grained, polished salt in them. In spite of the blend of essential oils (grapefruit, rose geranium, juniper, lavender, fennel etc.), the Rock Star Detox Scrub smells kind of purple-y to me, sort of a grape Kool-Ade kind of smell. This fragrance really chills you out. Like lavender? You’ll love Angel Face’s Double Love Scrub, a blend of four different lavender oils, berries, and calendula. Delightfully angel pink.You’re in a Secret Garden, dripping with roses, ylang ylang, rose geranium, oranges, patchouli, and jasmine. Inhale the hypnotic scent. Now open your eyes. Surprise! You’ve been soaking in Angel Face’s Blush Aphrodisiac Bathing Salts. I’m digging this scent muchly.

Satisfy your craving for a Renaissance bath with Angel Face’s Rose Milk Herbal Wash~ a little wash bag chock full of herbs, oats, and flowers. Smells delish with rose geranium essential oil. Soak, squeeze, and scrub with this~ I enjoyed peering at all the colored bits during my bath. No mess either~ clever.

The name says it all: Lovely Lavender & Vanilla Fizzing Milk Bath. All the moisturizing benefits of a milk bath, plus some fizz action! Smells just like its name: lovely. Very soothing, comforting, and relaxing.

Butter, butter, who’s got the butter? Angel Face, that’s who! Jessica mixes up a dizzying array of body butters, some of which she mixes sparkly mica into~ yay! Multi purpose moisture here. Rose Garden is so light, delicate, and angel pink. Sweet Lavender is Provence in a jar. Opalescent mica makes it all the more special. Ya want tropical? Angel Face has got’cha covered with Flora Exotica~ a heady, creamy mix with ylang & Monoi~ scrummy!:)

Lose yourself at Angel Face’s site for a while~ it’s treat after treat, after yummy treat.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Auric Blends

by Tonie Silver

Auric Blends first foray into 100% natural perfumery is a triumph! Supplied in dear little roll-on bottles that look great on your dressing table, these jojoba based blends are multi faceted and wear beautifully.

Pele is hot and spicy~ with a twist! Patchouli, cedarwood, and clove marry beautifully, to be grounded by olibanum~ but wait! The real magic here is the unexpected culinary addition of bay leaf! Gives it a real kick and a really beautious dry down. Dark. No cinnamon here~ but the synergy whispers of it. A really dark Oriental, after the fashion of Opium and Tabu. Very much recommended.

Siren starts out with a citrus top~ lemongrass, geranium, geranium, and palmarosa, and gets creamy with balsam Peru and ylang. Mellows into amyris. Very round bottom.

The sleeper hit of Auric Blends' Natural range is Tara. Unexpectedly delightful. Multilayed, changing, and tenacious. Like wearing a different fragrance all day long. Nice on so many levels. Prismatic. I'm addicted to this juice! Starts out green with bergamot. Candy notes. Dries down to a lasting mellowness. Cistus gives it the staying power. Recommended.Love flowers? Layla is for you. Smotherings of flowers, flowers, flowers. Gobs and gobs of them. Sweet, heady, and full. Powdery notes. Rose, orange flower, and boronia. Lingering sweetness. Beautiful and feminine.My contact at Auric Blends told me their intent is to go 100% natural with their whole range (they do synthetics as well); if these four are any indicator of things to come, expect great things from this company.

I encourage LPR readers to let Auric Blends know we want more of the same~ ditch those fakies, and come on over to the real side!

Auric Blends

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Back of the Moon

by Tonie Silver

From Melbourne, Australia, comes Back Of The Moon Day Spa~ one of the top three most beautiful lines Ive ever had the pleasure of using. This range is as gobsmackingly beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside. Proprietress Kristene Veit is a self taught artist and alchemist, and take my word~ her range will blow you away! Amazingly talented, this girl!

Packaged in beauteous glass bottles and jars of amber, blue, and green, Back Of The Moons Products are adorned with Kristene's artwork~ different cunning girls in states of repose~ just looking at these babes will relax you! An absolute pleasure to gaze on every day, these are keepers for sure!

Orange & Cinnamon Body Scrub is mouthwateringly juicy and spicy sweet~ really big chunky raw sugar and poppy seeds~ more moisturizing than it is scrubby. Highly recommended. Lavender & Lime hand scrub is just the ticket for banishing dryness. This is a sugar scrub, so it's perfect for sensitive hands. Leaves hands smooth, soft, and scented with the uplifting yet soothing combo of lavender and lime.

After you've scrubbed, seal in the moisture with Back Of The Moon's Pure Jasmine Organic Hand Cream. Talk about indulgent! Your hands will smell like a maharini's~ one whiff and you'll think you're lounging in a tent dripping with jewels! Recommended.Rose &Jasmine Facial Mist refreshes and hydrates, and leaves you smelling like a princess. Comes in the coolest blue glass bottle.

Back Of The Moon's Rose, Neroli, & Sandalwood Organic Face Cream is egg yolk yellow and the consistency of custard. Contains jojoba, rosehip, and evening primrose oils, so it's very hydrating, yet very light. The hauntingly warm, sweet scent lingers on the face after application.

I've said it again and again: not-a-fan-of-the-mint. That established, I've gotta say, Back Of The Moon's Peppermint & Lemongrass Foot Butter is mighty peppy and nice. Really thick and rich, it's just the thing for tired tootsies. Plus I was very heavily swayed by the gorge bottle green jar and the babe on it!

Love your lips with Back Of The Moon's Orange & Vanilla Lip Balm and Rose &Honey Lip Balm. Equally delicious, and sweetened with honey, both of these are must-haves. The rose has real rose otto, not absolute! You can never have too many great lip balms! Recommended.

Unbelievable. Absolutely outstanding. Stunning. Back Of The Moon's Floral Oat Bath is a trip to the Garden Of Eden. Smells like Lothlorien must. A sublime blend of patchouli, rose, neroli, ylang, jasmine, and lavender. I almost fell asleep in the bath~ I did not want to get out. Okay, so I dumped the entire jar in~ whaddya want from me???:) Highly, highly recommended~ purchase this item for sure!!!

A product review cannot truly do justice to the fabulousness of this line~ it's just so special on so many levels. Any item you try from Back Of The Moon is sure to please~ I'm super picky, and I'm crazy about the whole range!

Back of the Moon

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spicy Badger

Spicy Badger

By Tonie Silver

Have you ever even heard of nutmeg butter? =I know I hadn't, but I was excited to try it! Leave it to those clever folks in the Badger Mines to whip up a great new product: Badger Every Day Nutmeg & Shea Body Moisturizer. Very rich, thick, and highly moisturizing, just a bit goes a long way.Completely organic, and chock full of good stuff like shea butter and rosehipseed oil. This has a different texture than the traditional Badger Balms~ not so shiny, and pretty thick.

Don't expect to smell like a pumpkin pie~ this has a very understated, warm fragrance, with a bit of a tang to it. Like all Badger Balms, this one's a multi-tasker, doing duty on bod skin, face, locks, cuticles, hands, lips~ the whole package~ so it's a great little space saver for home or on the go.

Clever Badgers~ what will they think of next?

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Rebelle Rendezvous

Lyn Ayre & Tonie Silver ~ A Rebelle Rendezvous

4 August 2008

T: Hi Lyn, & welcome to LPR~

L: Thanks so much, Tonie, it's great to be here on such a sunny summer day.

T: You teach Natural & Botanical Perfumery; tell us about what kind of students you're seeing.

L: My course is called "Natural Perfumery ~ a path to the Heart of Spirit". Coeur d'Esprit means "heart of Spirit". This course involves working with spirit energy and being in touch with the spirit of the plant while making perfumes. When students inquire about the course, this aspect is often brought up as people find the concept very attractive. For me, it is not about mimicking what has already been done in the marketplace. It is not about making French perfumes or becoming a commercial perfumer (French or otherwise) or even a "nose". It is about connecting to our inner spirit, connecting to the spirit of the plant, then using perfume to connect to our higher self in a safe and pleasing way. It is a gentle course with no pressure to win or succeed or be the best. It is fine to just go along and learn at your own pace and become more of who you were meant to be. My students come from all walks of life. They are teachers, students, spa-worker, a nun, an artist, an Aromatherapist, a retired senior, world traveller, someone looking for a new career in perfumery, and so on, ages 22 to 78, from Canada, US, Australia, France, and so on. Some have worked with the essences for years and others have only always wanted to.When they first contact me, they are each asked to write a letter of introduction detailing why they would like to take this course on perfumery, how they came to find me, and what they hope to get out of the course. The essays are poignant, exciting, hopeful, and as varied as the people who write them. They are required as a starting point so that the student can see, in black and white, what they are about to do and evaluate whether or not they would like to proceed. It seems to me that all kinds of people are interested in learning more about Natural Perfumery.

T: Nature/Nurture: How important is the education side of the art? Are there certain nuances that you feel simply cannot be taught?

L: I am a teacher by nature, as well as a life-long student of my personal passions; writing, art, music, and all the gifts from Mother earth, which, of course, includes perfume. Teaching this course was a natural progression, for me, from all the learning I'd done to that point. My passion carried me forward to become the independent perfumer I am today. I am self-taught, nurtured by the thousands of perfumers who have gone before me, the hundreds of writers who have written about perfume, the dozens of perfumes I have created, and the feedback I've received from my clients. I did the work, and part of the work involved writing this course so I could make sense of what I'd learned so far about perfume. I put in my time, all the while seeking a mentor but found no one. What I did find were a group of people who were in constant competition for their place in the sun and who wanted to wield power and control over others. This is not something I am into as I don't believe in competing with anyone. I wish I'd have had the benefit of an affordable correspondence course like mine but there wasn't one to be found. So I wrote it. LOL (big grin). For some people, formal training is key, and the structure of a course, such as mine, is required. Others learn best when they are propelled by their own steam with little input from teachers. Still others enjoy the one-on-one or a classroom situation. Learning is a personal journey that each of us must make, as we will. I offer opportunities for learning with as little or as much input as the student needs, always willing to answer questions and make suggestions. In the end, should they complete the twenty-six assignments, send along sixteen samples for evaluation, and write the proctored exam of fifty-six questions, they will have earned a Certificate of Completion for their efforts of personal dedication and commitment to the craft. I don't "create Natural Perfumers" rather people grow themselves into that way of being in the world, should they choose and should this be something they want for themselves.We each bring to the table a variety of inherent gifts. We can all sing but we don't all have a voice that is pleasing to others. This does not mean we shouldn't sing. Some of us have a great ear for music but not all of us are musicians, composers, or conductors. We can all take photographs but that does not mean they will end up in the National Geographic. The thing that sets one of us apart from another, in a particular endeavour, is the passion that is lit in us when we are first exposed to the topic matter. If something resonates with us on a spiritual level, then it becomes our passion. This passion gives us energy to pursue that which feeds and nourishes us. Spaces open up in our minds and in our hearts that allow room for an extraordinary amount of knowledge to be gathered, sorted through, and put into practice. I know that at some point, a student may decide they want to take this course, and may actually go ahead and purchase it, but not pursue it because they lack the energy of passion to carry them forward through all the hard work and learning. Should they have a passion for perfume, they will also have instilled within them all the finesse they need to create beautiful aromas with the all nuances present to create life's great tapestry, however that unfolds.

T: Tell LPR readers what you teach your students about suppliers; in my experience, the dish is only as good as the ingredients. Do you believe a good, trusting relationship with your supplier is important?

L: In Project twenty-five, students are asked to write out their Ethics, Mission Statement, and Personal Credo, including their philosophies on life. They need to do their homework, developing ethical guidelines that will take them through the pitfalls they may encounter during this journey of finding their own trusted suppliers in the area in which they live and abroad. They need to learn how to trust their nose and speak their heart when they are unhappy. In the meantime, they are given my "Trusted Suppliers List" in their manual. It is also located on my links page on the website. These suppliers ship to Canada and the US; many ship overseas, as well. My Australian students have their own list they have gleaned over time. My list is not complete and is constantly being refined as I go about my daily round. It is important that I have a trusting relationship with my suppliers and that they follow through with what has been agreed. If they don't, they risk losing my trust and are not put on the up-dated list. The companies on my list have a variety of good qualities: they are environmentally conscious, don't approve of animal testing, are cruelty-free, have a generous heart and donate to worthy causes, don't have a minimum order amount, include free samples, and some sell organic or certified organic ingredients. Their product is top of the line and I've not yet been unhappy with the dozens of items I've purchased from any of them. Also included on the list are those that supply cosmetic ingredients, containers, waterproof labels, boxes, and bottles. These companies resonate with me and hold similar values to my own, so I am happy to support them.

T: Lyn, please give readers a skeleton of your curriculum.

L: Yes, of course... Here is the Table of Contents

Preliminaries, Processes, & Introductions

Section One
The psychology and physiology of how we detect aroma
The four mediums for carrying a perfume
The precautions for using these highly concentrated botanical ingredients
Shelf-life and storage of oils
Working with Spirit Energy
Data Tags
Methods of Extraction
Perfumery terms
Music by any other name would be called perfume. Learning the notes.
What are Horizontal and Vertical Accords
Building Accords

Section Two
Learn about seven base notes
Describing a Perfume
Scent Profiling
Descriptive words
Setting up your atelier
Your safety

Section Three
Learn about seven Heart Notes
Body Chemistry and Skin Types
Rate of Evaporation and Odor Intensity
Fragrance Families

Section Four
Learn about seven Head Notes
Formulation Sheet

Section Five
Creating tinctures, infusions, and macerations
Creating scent similars
Scent Songs - the work of Piesse
Perfumes from the inside ou
Colour of essential oils

Section Six
Create perfumes in all four bases
Perfume pyramid
What's in a name
Questions & answers
How to market yourself and your product

Resources & References
Review of Suppliers
Completing this course
Perfume Projects

T: What's the best advice that you feel you offer your students Lyn?

L: Determine what your ethics are and stick to them. Create a safe work environment so you can do perfumery for the long-term. Create safe perfumes and remember we are dealing with very powerful substances.Stay curious and open to new learning and opportunities.

T: Best perfumery advice you ever received?

L: I've not yet had the blessing of a Mentor and no one around to teach me other than the books I've read and my own diligent research and practice. But I take all of the advice I've given to my students (as above).

T: Tell us how you marry the business side of perfumery with the art.

L: It's one and the same to me. There is an art of making good perfumes and an art of dealing with people in a business sense. In both cases, I ground to Gaia and connect to Source, becoming a channel of energy flowing into the situation and watching it unfold before me. I know this may sound goofy to a lot of people but it is how I've operated my whole life. For 23 years, I did Credit & Collections. Most people loved to hear from me, and put our company at the top of their payables list, as I never made them feel bad about themselves. I knew that most people wanted to pay their bills and if I was pleasant and present, I could help them to do that (some didn't and they got re-poed). I worked for a few different companies and in each case, the receivables went to a good place. In the last position I had before I was 'downsized' (due to MS and Lupus), I took the receivables from 170 days to 96% current. You don't get results like that by treating people like poorly. It's the same in any business: create a set of ethical business practices and stick to them. That's what I do in the perfume realm when I'm dealing with suppliers, customers, and students.

T: Thanx Lyn~ You've got a great Coeur d'Esprit!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Juniper Ridge ~ A Review

Juniper Ridge
By Tonie Silver

It’s so nice when things are just as good as you remember them.  It’s even nicer when they’re still just as good, and even better!  Such is the case with Hall Newbegin’s wonderful  Juniper Ridge.  JR rocked when I reviewed them years ago, and they are rockin’ just as hard if not harder now!  Yeah!  I get bored with products fairly quickly, but the folks at the Ridge manage to keep things fresh with awesome new products that fit right in with the same high quality, super all natural pantheon of old faves.

Had it not been for Allie at JR, I would’ve pulled a Dionne Warwick and just walked on by their splendiferous Aromatherapy Mists.  Me and names~ what can I say, I’m jaded~ I wasn’t the least bit interested.  Color me corrected!  These babies aren’t your granny’s run of the mill sprays with water or alcohol and some e/o’s~ they’re actual hydrosols, the leavings of essential oil distillation, to which the Ridgies have added essential oils back into!  Simple genius!  Alchemical magic, I’ll tell ya!  Three different scents to tickle yer fancy, two of them special in house blends.  White Sage is aromatic and, well, white sage-y, with dry, incense notes.   Big Sur Sage is a blend of coastal Cali sages:  California sagebrush and black sage, so it’s rounder and sweeter than the white.   My fave is the Cascade Glacier, a blend of cedar and fir, it’s all pine needles strewn on a forest floor.  You’ll want to keep these on your bedside stand so’s you can mist yer pillows before drifting off to dreamland in your own lil’ tent on a mountainside in the Moonlight, breathing in the sweet scents of Ma Nature.  Huge aaah factor.  Three snaps up in a heart formation.  HIGHLY recommended.  

When I read that Juniper Ridge was doing in house distillation, I just had to check it out.  Their essential oils are very vibey and intense.  Like, really concentrated, if that makes any sense at all.  You’ll find the same versions as the Aromatherapy Mists: Cascade Glacier, Big Sur, and White Sage.   So you can get your e/o on and blend up some perfume, do some cleaning, add to your skincare, and whatever else you may think up!  I think it would be very informative if Juniper Ridge included the Latin binomes on their sprays and oils, but hey, that’s just me.

You want incense?  REAL incense?  Juniper Ridge’s is the real deal Neil.  Just herbs & veggie gum.  The White Sage is positively addicting, very dry and cleansing, while the Pinon is resiny and sweet.  These are more every day staples for the ‘stead, homie!

I’ve admitted it before now: I am a tea snob.  Straight up black organic, and strong enough for a mouse to trod upon.  I don’t go seeking out herbal tisanes.  Juniper Ridge’s are so fresh and tasty, like a pig I’m drinking them, do you hear me?  The Douglas Fir Spring Tips are so delicate and sweet   The White Sage and Wild Mint is aromatic and deep~ and I am most certainly not a fan of the mint, so that’s really saying something.  No thin pee waters, these; they pack a nice sturdy herbal wallop.  Of course I’m inclined to infuse them for a minimum of five minutes and have been known to go for as long as ten, but then, that’s up to you!
Juniper Ridge’s range is aesthetically pleasing as well.  I’ve seen a lot of really cool products just ruined by schlocky packaging.  Same great glass packaging with ultra cool crunchy labels~ yes!

Things have gotten so mod at the Ridge that they’re on Facebook now; go check ‘em out if’n yer so inclined~ I hear they give away freebs every Wodensday.  That’s Wednesday for all you that are not down with the cult of Thor.

Man it’s nice to know that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Keep up the great work Juniper Ridge!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Blocks & Building Blocks ~ Humor

by Justine Crane

I don't get it often, that perfumer's block. In fact, I don't believe I've ever really had it. What I get, usually, is perfumer's anxiety. First things first; are there enough of diluted essences A, B, C, D, E, F and so forth to create this olfactory masterpiece? Second, if not, are there enough dilution bottles in stock to make them? Third, if so, how the hell long is that going to take? Fourth, four days later, when all these tasks have been completed to fruition, do I have any damned energy left to formulate?

Jesus said, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Don't stress on tomorrow because today is stressful enough." (Matthew 6:34)* To me, the reference to "tomorrow" can be fifteen minutes from now, when I'm checking volume levels in dilution bottles and realize I have to "whip up" a few extras. Why trip now? I usually call this next step "procrastination". To defer action. To put off till another day or time.

So this is how this creative thing usually goes down: I build a brief or one is handed to me. I think about it a while; a few days, a few weeks, a month or two. I write notes. I dream on it. I might sniff a few bottles. I write more notes. I write a bit of poetic prose to go along with the brief, to liven it up, give it breath, and then I think about the creation some more. I sometimes talk about it to my peers, or to someone I don't know while bagging my groceries at Winco. I discuss it with the Jehovah's Witnesses who come to my door every other Tuesday at 9:30 am sharp. We make trades. I hand them scent strips and they hand me The Watchtower. For the first time in history, they're the ones stepping away from the door hoping I'll close it on their faces.

I converse with my mother's ass as she's face down in her garden pulling weeds. I ask her ass the delicate questions; issues of using champaca golden vs. davana or magnolia. "Patchouli essential oil or absolute, mom?" I ask after explaining their differences. Her ass does not reply.


She lifts her head from the weeds and says, "When are you taking that damned mimosa tree? Every time I look at it, I just want to weed whack it." Her anger toward mimosa's fragile flowers falling on her carefully manicured lawn shows in a flash. She continues pulling at the weeds. I do not get my answer.

I speak about the newly formulated in my mind perfume with my daughter, sharing scent strips drenched in heart notes. "How is this?" I ask.

"Smells like pickles," she replies. And I remember that this is her patent answer for every scent strip thrust under her nose. In teen-talk it means, "Leave me alone. I'm not the least bit interested in your hobby."

I chase down my grown live-in son, the perfume whore, in hopes of finding a partner in crime. "How's this?" I ask, spritzing his arm as he cringes.

"'S' okay," he says, noncommittally.

"Okay good or 'just' okay?"

"It's okay. Now will you get out of the bathroom? I have to wipe my butt."

So after all this research, writing, and trial formulating, I finally have it. The finished fantastic product. Three years after I started.

*The real verse in King James reads: Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Cat's Meow

by Tonie Silver

I could dedicate an entire review to Perfumer Laurie Stern's aesthetic for her luverly company Velvet & Sweet Pea's Purrfumery~ it's that sweet and special. To my mind, only one other company has ever impressed me this much with the care and attention paid to the beauty of presentation~ it's that impressive. From the lush purple box the products arrived in, to the shredded paper packing, to the silver wrapping paper, to the little velvet pouch with a rhinestone buckle, to the sweet little info cards, to the silver box with the faux gem on top~ I was blown away. Laurie was a wedding florist in a previous incarnation~ lucky us that she does perfume now!

The scents themselves are nearly impossible to describe, they're so complex and delicate~ they're like a fine lace or filigree. They are a testament to Laurie's love affair with flowers. It's trippy, but instead of being heavy and overbearing, these fragrances invite you to come closer to inhale their lovliness, like a flower inviting a bee.

The Terrain is probably my favorite; it smells incredible with mitti attar. Laurie employs the most delicate hand, but it's still strong enough for me. This is what I want to smell constantly and forever. Indescribably beautiful. When I look on Velvet & Sweet Pea's site, I was shocked to discover that this was an eau de cologne, not a perfume. I am always drawn to scent in its strongest concentration, and yet I am completely smitten with this. Laurie outdoes herself with this blend.

Narcissus Poeticus is kind of low and warm and deep. Kind of gummy and resiny, polar opposite of the high, white, clean smell I expected.Velvet & Sweet Pea's.

Gardenia is not your granny's drugstore jungle gardenia. Laurie's version of this hypnotic flower is not at all the funereal, cloying choker that most of us grew up with. This interpretation is all softness with notes of candy and powder~ and I mean powder in the best sense of the words. Dry down brings out an ambery spice anchor. I detect some juicy citrus notes as well. Another one I cannot stop sniffing.

Jasmine Dawn To Dusk was another surprise~ citrusy sweet. I wanna say bubble gummy, but in the best possible way. Three different jasmines meld warmly with citrus oils to give an edible quality to this potion.

Songbird~ clear light orange blossom champagne with a tiny little anchor of a sparrow's foot of sandal or mitti holding it from completely ascending.

Jewelry Of Heaven is complex; starts with a winey note, drying down to kind of a sweet, clear orange candy with a powdery top, then settles into a sandaly, mitti-ish heart. Veddy veddy nice indeed.

You've just bathed in a pool of clear, crisp mountain spring water. You roll down a hillside, still naked, through a riot of wildflowers. As you crush the blooms, they release their fragrance~ a rainbow of sunny smiles, lifting up to Heaven. You run exhilarated, through the fresh spring breeze, petals clinging to your still damp body. Oh no wait~ you've just used Velvet & Sweetpea's Calliope Bath &Body Oil.

Laurie also does Solid Perfumes in a base of organic jojoba and beeswax. These are packaged in the dearest little silver poison boxes with a big faux gem on top. I tried the Honey~ tuberose predominates with a citrus top note. This is bee juice, man, for sure. Sweet, gooey, and tasty. Lovely. Victorian.

Velvet Sweet Pea's Bath Salts are just grand. Highly scented and packaged dearly, they come in Kashmir Lavender, which is a must have. Really clear and sweet. Passionflower is a surprise, with spearmint, ylang, blood orange, and lime. I am not a fan of mint, but it works wonderfully in this blend.

Monkey Cat smells like essential oil of monkey and cat. Kidding~ I'm kidding. Named for one of Laurie's kitties in residence, try this one yourself and see.

Terrain is lovely, with frankincense, geranium, and lime. Different than the perfume version , methinks.

Laurie also stocks some splendid organic hydrosols: Bulgarian Rose, Orange Blossom, Rose Geranium, and Lavender. Staples. I've tried others, and I'm very impressed with the strength and quality of these. So much so that I ordered more of the orange blossom and the rose.

Laurie also offers Perfumery Adventures~ check her site for details. Um~ she has a claw footed tub in her back yard~ enough said!

Any of Laurie's products would make the dearest, most impressive gift.You heard it here first, at good old LPR~ expect big things for Laurie Stern and Velvet and Sweet Pea's~ just look at her last name~ she's a star!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Perfumery Without Pretension

by Diana Rajchel

Perfumery without Pretension "a Biography of One Natural Perfumer".

My relationship with natural perfumery probably began at eight years old. My mother is an avid do-it-yourselfer, and was doing-it-herself remodeling the bathroom. The faint gunpowder texture of her power drill combined with some extra large glue guns smacked of something unholy, as though she were invoking all the sins the family had previously released in the bathroom. Not even open windows on a breezy Indiana spring day could banish the odor. Left alone in the kitchen with that smell for company, I decided to climb the stepladder to the spice rack and pull lids off, desperate to inhale something other than demonic power drill offal.I sniffed gingers and pepper, cinnamons and rosemary.

Pretty soon I had created a stew of nothing but the spices that I liked: I accented cloves with nutmeg and ginger. Not long after, anise found its way into the pot. While I thought the white pepper might be a little incongruous, in it went and in that circumstance it actually worked nicely. While the horrendous mechanical scent wasn't banished completely, it was made bearable by the boiling spices on the stove, and caused both my parents to come into the kitchen sniffing with the eager curiousness that comes when something smells really tasty.

My mother later tried to replicate my experiment and failed; I had also forgotten to write down the recipe. I always thought that spices were intuitive, that if you simply knew the texture and heat level of the food, you should intuitively determine what spice went best. I did not realize until my early 30s that my mother kept spice charts in her cupboard precisely because she lacked that intuition, and that my capacity for it led me from potpourri stews to herb gardening to the perfumes that form my livelihood now.

My mother's parents were subsistence farmers, and significantly supplemented their grocery bill by growing as much food as they could on their property in Muncie, Indiana. They encouraged my interest in plants and herbs, and would leave out their Reader's Digest copy of The Magic and Medicine of Plants for me to find on my visits. I would spend hours fascinated with what the chemical compositions that each photosynthetic miracle could perform. By the time I converted to the religion Wicca at 19, I already had a decent grasp of herbs and how they worked; I made no assumption that just because something was "herbal" that it was "safe". I'd spent too long reading about the insidious effects of Digitalis (foxglove) on healthy people to make any such assumption.

In an effort to understand more about assigned magical properties of plants and how those properties were determined, I encountered Culpepper's Complete Herbal. I was uninterested in its medical data --we now have the regularly updated Physician's Desk Reference for that-- its astrological data intrigued me. Culpepper had assigned each herb a planet and a zodiac sign; this helped me assemble oils with a magical purpose in mind. It stuck with me, and soon I began assembling concoctions of plant infusions and essential oils that I bought at a local General Nutrition Center store to use by rubbing on candles or by combining over an oil burner.At some point I found myself with a small collection of essential oils -- basil, rosemary, and a third I don't recall -- and a need for book money, since my post college marketing job barely paid enough for me to cover rent and groceries. Casting around for a little extra income, I considered my essential oils, and I posted an eBay listing offering to custom make ritual oils starting with the materials I had. To my surprise, a bidding war ensued, and the person who won wanted multiple oils designed. I found myself building an occult-based oil library. No matter how much I studied, there was more to know. No matter how much I knew there was already someone out there with a misunderstanding of the materials I used.

Eventually I had to shut down -- divorce and the newfound single life didn't leave much room for oil-making, and I drifted from it. Still, old customers would track me down and ask me for my fragrances, and when new friends discovered I had this skill and a small oil repertoire, they began asking me to make perfumes for them. As a response to the demand that kept finding me despite my hiding, I opened Magickal Realism Natural Perfumery on Etsy in 2006.

Since opening as a perfumer rather than as an occult oil-maker, I've hit a whole new learning curve -- there is so much more to perfuming beyond making it safe for the skin. Natural perfumery versus synthetic perfumery was certainly a topic of debate, but not with the passion it now has, fueled as it is by popularized -- but not necessarily accurate -- views of what is good and what is bad for the environment and for the human body. Far more people think it's attractive to smell like sweet foods. The vegan influence on perfume and cosmetics is profound and irreversible. At least once a month I want a customer who wants a natural scent to perform the same way a synthetic fragrance would. New regulations and research both excellent and iffy are raining down on perfumers with the regularity of a monsoon. There is a lot of interest and conflict around natural trends, but it's a fight to maintain accuracy within those trends.

Sometimes I find my preference for using naturals unintentionally politically fraught. I have encountered fellow perfumers who find it impossible to consider a life in perfumery without any kind of musk, and others that believe I am cheating myself of my full potential not using synthetics. These choices are just that, choices -- there are those that have their reasons for choosing synthetics that extend far beyond simple cost considerations, and there are those like me who choose naturals for reasons much more complex than notions of what's "good"or "bad" for ourselves and our consumers.

I am still learning. I could have some sort of certification in perfumery from every school in Grasse, France and collect aromatherapy degrees right and left and I would still have more to learn. So while I may inform you along the way, it is my intent to share what I'm learning with you. I am here to discuss, look up, verify, and once in awhile stick my finger in a cage. I hope you enjoy the coming journey with me, and find something new to consider in even familiar territories.

Bio:Diana Rajchel is the designer behind Magickal Realism Natural Perfumery on Etsy. She co-leads the Etsy Green and Clean Guild, a guild committed to truth in labeling and ethical beauty product creation. She is also a freelance writer and blogs on plus size fashion.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Weird, Strange and Otherwise Impossible to Create Perfume Briefs

Carnival is coming
A shout a samba, axé music, rebolation tion
rain sweat and beer in the streets.
Men dressed as women/ women dressed as men/ and the rest go the way they want.
Trio elétricooooo

She can't walk, but she can waltz.
She can't breathe but she hums
She can't get into water but she swims and makes perfume
She loves tea and adores chachacha
When it's fresh, it is good,
but rotten even better.
Just like gorgonzola.

Ane Walsh ~ Brasil

"A Bad Idea"
The smell of over-ambition, is based on someone else's formula with description lifted verbatim from their website and mass marketed via email spam to a list of co-opted email addresses. Edgy and tumultuous, not for the faint of heart, "A Bad Idea" is costly and will be remembered. (This scent is similar to "Attorney", the smell of an upcoming lawsuit.)

"Union Buster"
The smell of shame, inspired by Mubarak, Gadhafi, Ahmadinejad and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Available in purse spray to carry to demonstrations.

Inspired by the Marx Brothers, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, and John Cleese. It contains notes of cigar smoke, Duck Soup, Horse Feathers, Animal Crackers, and was blended at Fawlty Towers.

The scent of a smoldering love affair.
Scarlett: Cathleen, who's that?
Cathleen Calvert: Who?
Scarlett: That man looking at us and smiling. The nasty, dark one.
Cathleen: My dear, don't you know? That's Rhett Butler. He's from Charleston. He has the most terrible reputation.
Scarlett: He looks as if he knows what I look like without my shimmy.

Shelley Waddington ~ USA 

A Japanese perfume that is nothingness combined with deeply hidden base notes.

Ruth Ruane ~ Ireland 
'Stagnant Waters' ~
The essence of going nowhere with mud between your toes.

Justine Crane ~ USA

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bebe Le Strange

by Tonie Silver

Le Parfumeur Rebelle is pleased to feature a bright new star in the constellation of Natural Botanical Perfumery, Jill McKeever, founder of For Strange Women.

Tell our readers a bit about yourself; what is your background? Are you formally trained in perfumery, or are you self-taught? 

JM: Hello! I am not formally trained, not sure if that kind of teaching exists here in Missouri, but I do read a LOT of books about aromatherapy and herbalism from the library. My background is assorted; a college degree in electronic art (video/audio production with special effects), a lot of music recording experience, and perfumery/natural bath/body potion making since I was a teenager.

TS: Are you a Mo. native?

JM: yessum.

TS: Can you describe your process to us? 

JM: I am too freeform to give a solid answer, but I do realize that the best designs and ideas always come from journaling and sketching. Playing with materials without careful thought, consideration, and detailed analyzation can turn into a very expensive hobby with too many disasterous results. I have to force myself to do slow down and conceptualize.

TS: So let's say you have your sketch, your concept, your idea~ take us through your actual process, like a narrator, i.e., you sit at your table with all of your bottles, you're at your witch cupboard, your stove, you're pouring, you're stirring, what? 

Take us there Jill! 

JM: If I am making perfume I line up the bottles of oils I have in mind for a blend in a row. I put one drop of each in a small bottle, and then increase the amount of drops of these and add new oils accordingly as I find where the "holes; are in the blend. I keep track of how many drops of each by arranging the order of bottles. 1..3...5...7...9..... I always use an odd # of drops because odd=strange and I am trying to make perfumes for strange women. And it breaks the OCD I have with all my symmetrical designs. Anyway, then I shake it, dilute it, let it brew a week or two, come back, and try some on. I write down the dominating scents, strength, and the "feel" of the overall scent when I first try it on, then an hour later, then 2 hours later. If I can't smell drydown notes after 2 hours I know I need more of them. If the beginning or end of wearing it isn't what I'm going for then I can either pinpoint that one or two oils that are screwing up the blend, the one or two that are needed, or if not I go to my boyfriend and just say "hey, do you like this?" and he usually says "no" but once in a while he says yes. He is as good a wine connoisseur as I am so I trust his nose. He also wears lip balm religiously, so he is the ultimate authority on that. (he goes through like 40 of my "screw up" tubes in a year) Anyway I think I have a pretty common way of making blends but I don't think I always have the same concept of what is "good" as other natural perfumers, since my goals are not always to make a perfectly constructed blend- a lot of times I am chasing a concept. Moss and Ivy is an example. It starts with a lot of Ivy, ends with a lot of Moss! When it comes to lip balm, I actually hate making it. LOVE designing and formulating, hate making. Luckily my house used to be a duplex so we use the upstairs kitchen to eat and the downstairs kitchen for LIP BALM! hahah every cabinet is packed with supplies, tins, beeswax.. the refrigerator filled with oils and butters... pretty much every lip balm maker's dream come true. Then there's packaging. That's just a lot of detailed details that would drive the average person mad. Luckily, I'm strange.

TS: Define the term Strange Woman for us Jill. 

JM: hhahaaa! I have always been the Stevie Nicks type. A little dark, mysterious, and perhaps scary to people afraid of a little witchcraft. I am far removed from pop culture and the american life that so many people around me are submerged in, so some consider me "strange". The first natural perfume I ever made for myself was called "tincture for strange women". So there you have it- made by a strange women, for strange women. If you like my products, chances are you're a little outside the mainstream.

TS: Who are some of your favorite Strange Women, contemporary and historical? 

JM: Guess I already mentioned Stevie. Siouxie Sioux, Melora Creager, Yoko Ono...I'm inspired by musicians more than anything else. That is my next life venture.

TS: You left your former job in graphic design to dedicate yourself full-time to FSW~ bravo!  Tell us a bit about that. 

JM: Yeah, I really hate the real world. I really do. I am not built for that sort of thing! I have been working 7 days/week, 10-12 hours/day (min. 70 hour weeks) since I began working for myself, but I still feel better adjusted and more like myself than I ever did working 40 hour weeks in a a time clocked hellhole. It has been quite an adjustment though- instead of spending every spare moment on keeping up on the house, working out, partying, enjoying what life I have outside of the work day, now I enjoy my workday so much that I never leave it!! It's a bit unhealthy and I haven't seen daylight in a while but I am hoping that soon I will be able to find a balance again....

TS: What inspires you?

JM: nature, or what's left of it anyway! my animal friends. music!! lost civilizations and cultures that had MEANING, love.

TS: I'm quite taken with your Winter Kitty perfume. It's at once totally new, yet strangely familiar. You were kind enough to allow me to peek into the formulating of this lovely scent, and one ingredient in particular that you were toying with was so innovative! Tell readers about your inspiration for this unique scent. 

JM: okay, WK is the first perfume I ever wanted to make for my shop and it still has not been released because I can not seem to figure out the perfect blend. When my cat comes inside from an outdoor stroll in the snowy winter, his fur smells of chimney smoke, crisp winter air (that you probably don't get in cali), and maybe a little like... cat. yesterday's tuna. I know, sounds gross but to me its the best smell in the world! When I was in Kilarney, Ireland there was coal burning that filled the air outside, and I said yes! that's the smell, COAL! So I tinctured activated charcoal. Didn't work as well as I had hoped. And I have tried several formulas involving vetiver, frankincense, myrrh, douglas fir, virginia cedar, amyris, choya loban.... the list goes on. I want it to be smoky but if it is too smoky and I show it to my boyfriend he just says, "smells like barbeque kitty to me..." so I am still working on it. I'm glad you like my most recent version!

TS: Jill, you're a baby, just twenty six years old! You are experiencing such lovely success; let's talk about that. Do you have any advice for aspiring Natural Botanical Perfumers? And if we could chat just a bit about the business side of things. 

JM: I had to seek out a lot of encouragement to just go and take the plunge into working for myself. I do live with my boyfriend but I still pay for half of everything, so no one is supporting me. It is always good to go outside your comfort zone. For me it was survival- I quit my job and forced myself to take my business seriously, otherwise I would starve! If you are comfortable, what motivation do you have? I could talk for days about my philosophies on how to be successful in the way that I am, but a good start is to take yourself seriously as a business, none of this halfway-doing-it-on-the-side sort of thing. You have to pour all your energy into it. It helped that my boyfriend is a really idealistic person who believes in my talents. When everyone else told me "you can't do it! the economy is too bad! no one will want your strange perfumes! etsy is for housewives who spend too much $ on their hobbies!"etc etc, Kevin was like, "just quit your stupid job! you will be fine" and I said "but if my business doesn't do well will you still like me if I am poor and have no $ to eat out or travel or do anything fun?" -"YES!" Other than that I would just say be original! Botanical perfume is a new concept to most people, and there is plenty of room for new and original creations in this realm, so be the first to do something (and make sure its something your market will want) and you WILL be noticed!

TS: What new and Strange things can we expect from you in the near future? 

JM: A million things are either in my head or in the process of development. I just finished bath salts of the Evergreen, Lichen, and Tree Resin varieties. Also just about done with a Victorian hair powder and comb in conditioning oil combo.

TS: Thanx Jill, you rock! 

JM: Thanx Tonie, likewise ;)

Jill's potions can be found at 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Interview with Amanda Feeley

LPR: Amanda, you've been receiving a lot of positive press lately. How does it feel to be one of the up and coming superstars of NBP?

AF: Well, it's weird in some ways because this isn't something I ever considered as a "career" growing up. In fact, it wasn't even on the radar in the slightest. Perfume was just something I "wore" to create a mood with myself. On the other hand, it fits in quite nicely with wanting to be a world famous opera singer, in the manner of Beverly Sills. I say that if people enjoy wearing the perfume as much as I enjoy making it, then I have succeeded in what I set out to do. I think John Lennon Said it best, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

LPR: We've discussed this privately but I wanted you to share with our readers how being a classically trained singer has helped you to understand the process of perfume formulation.

AF: It has been a vital part of my ability to formulate perfumes. As a music major, I was required to take music theory, composition, counterpoint (which has horrendously strict rules), piano, orchestration, history, art history, etc. These helped build an immense base of knowledge that I can now draw upon to make perfumes. In composition, for example, you have to have balanced chords, your composition must start some place, go somewhere, and end "properly". Meaning, you always resolve the chord to a tonic or 1. 

"Don't leave people hanging on a 7!"

In counterpoint, like music of Bach in the baroque, you have very rigid parameters, and you cannot go outside of them otherwise you aren't composing counterpoint, you're "in league with the Devil". LOL! All of this has given me a head start in some ways. It's fascinating the way music and perfume composition are so similar. I think my parents are thrilled that I am finally using my college degree for something other than raising children :D

LPR: Let's play a game. Let's assume for a moment that you are not a perfumer but an avid NBP aficionado, what would be your top 5 favorite Natural Botanical Perfumes?

AF: Let's see . . . I've smelled Mandy Aftel's, Justine Crane's, JoAnne Bassett's, Lisa Fong's, Dabney Rose's, Shelley Waddington's and Monic Skye Miller's. I recently won a sample of Ayala Sender's Jasmine Pho, which I am awaiting with bated breath. I like to sniff other NBP's creations because it is a peek into their souls. It's like getting the privilege of looking inside the most private thoughts of a person. So in that respect, I love them all.

LPR: Word Association ~ it's a game we like to play here at LPR. Just a short sentence in response to each word ~
Love ~ Jasmine
Hate ~ Choya (roasted seashells)
Beauty ~ Souling
Desire ~ Botanicals
LPR: Of all the perfumes you've ever smelled, which do you wish you had created?

AF: Sun Moon and Stars by Karl Lagerfield.  It was my absolute favorite growing up.  It was the first “upscale” perfume I had.  I just loved the way it smelled.  I’ve contemplated recreating it with botanicals, just to see if I could :D