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?
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 www.ForStrangeWomen.etsy.com