The Path to Natural Perfume
Natural scent has been a long love of mine.
For more than a decade scent has hurried my days and haunted my nights, kept me up late, annointed poignant moments as well as those that are more mundane, and defined my career and my life's path through my business, Blissoma. Today I share with you a bit about how I came to stock the dozens and perhaps several hundred essential oils that I now keep on hand in my cabinet, or, as I like to think of it, an entire olfactory world in a small wooden box. From Morocco, Indonesia, India, Turkey, Bulgaria, Egypt, Australia, Somalia and more they come to reside with me, keeping stories of spring rains, winds both sharp and sweet, shifting sun, and the crush of rich earth locked up in their molecules until the moment the bottle is opened and the aroma soars.
Few things in life to me have held as much joy as opening a new bottle or sample of essential oil and taking a long deep whiff. The longer and deeper the better which is not proper technique at all, but I can be a bit of a greedy gourmand when it comes to wrapping myself around a new aroma. The discovery, the moments after the initial sharpness wear off and the aroma begins to bloom deeper in my throat are things that I hunger for in part because it is so transitory.
There is no duplication of how a scent burgeons in one's head. You cannot see it, you cannot even touch this experience and yet it is there. Even food which has great aroma component to it lacks the ethereal quality of a scent experience because you can chew it and feel it going down your throat. Not so with a scent. It may make your heart leap and your head whirl but you cannot hold it. It resides strictly in the realm of the soul, the memory, and emotion. It comes and then is gone like time itself, like the cycles of nature, like life and I am left chasing it down again to fill my nostrils once more. There is the empty and the full and they each lead to one another.
My foray into essential oils began in great earnest in my early twenties. Prior to that I can say that I had an attraction to scents but that I had not been ensnared by it just yet. I do remember that every time we would be in the grocery store there were barrels full of bulk coffee and I would linger at these each time. I grew up the child of a gardener, cook, and homemaker which are all domains of scented life but I also grew up in the days of Glade Plugins, Pinesol, and Apple Pie scented Yankee Candles. My mom was not huge on perfumes or beauty products and I spent a great deal more time with cans of hairspray working on my bangs than I did thinking about how I smelled. My father got a container of Elizabeth Taylor Passion for my mother as a gift one year and my reaction to it was very ho-hum. I had more interest in her hippie boots and vintage jewelry than in perfume at that point. Synthetic scent was everywhere and none of it struck a chord.
After graduating from college I moved back home to St. Louis to try and decide what to do with myself for "real life". I was a ceramics major and I was pretty sure I wasn't going to pursue that field as an actual career which left a lot of open ended questions about what path to take. I was supposed to be trying to save money for when I moved out. What happened was I spent it all.
Every dime that I earned during that time got spent on my first bottles of essential oils that I procured from Wild Oats. I had enjoyed occasionally burning incense during my days at college and always loved the lingering smell of Nag Champa in an otherwise rank dorm room. My father has a very sensitive nose and couldn't stand incense so when I moved back the easiest way for me to enjoy some scent in my environment without aggravating his allergies was with something smokeless. Candles were my chosen method of dispersal and essential oils became my aromas.
I began making candles with an old Crock Pot and a coffee can for a double boiler. I set up on an old desk and measured oils by drops into a pound or two of wax. In those days all my recipes were written in drops. That was the fall of 2000. By January I had moved out into my first St. Louis city apartment and allotted an entire bedroom to my creative activities.
Those who know me know that I really don't do things halfway. I'm either in or I'm out and once I'm in I pursue my endeavors with a constant passion. I followed my scented path in just such a way, ordering essential oils as often as I could even though my fiance and I were eating peanut butter and jelly and oatmeal to get by on our own. I put us into several thousand dollars worth of debt purchasing oils. I expanded my repertoire, ordered larger sizes, and sold my blended candles at whatever sales events I could. The return was modest but that didn't stop me. I loved the feeling I got when I was standing over a pot of liquid, scented wax.... warm, floaty, buzzed and altogether better about life. I wanted more. Lots more.
I still didn't begin to get into scent as wearable art until years into my journey. Even when I started crafting body products my concern was largely aromatherapeutic rather than perfumery oriented. I looked for topical effects and benefits to skin rather than just scent alone. Ever the scientist as well as artist the multipronged approach pleased me most.
My small collection of BLENDS perfume oils launched just in 2008. I created strict parameters for myself in attempting to create a final recipe that would be pleasing and yet over 80% total organic content. The market for organic essential oils is a volatile and unsure arena. Some oils are grown and distilled by only one supplier worldwide, making sourcing an interesting challenge. Still, I was able to put together a palette of 6 different creations representing a variety of moods. I played with oils I had been dying to buy and experiment with for years; the most expensive, unique, and pure I could find. The range is most definitely unique. I wanted scents that were balanced, lasting, and rich but at the same time completely different from the department store concept of "perfume". I never wanted to wear those scents. I had no idea I could enjoy perfume so much until I started making it.
I love the terroir of natural scent, the origin and story and the fact that it came from life. The chef and chemist in me loves the process of blending and the meld of science and art that must happen to understand the materials and their application. Like splashing paint on a canvas, each drop of oil into a test vial creates change and explores an unknown. It is that mystery that keeps me on my aromatic journey much the same as I have been on many others even simultaneously.
I create primarily for myself. I sell because I must and because I enjoy sharing an experience with others. But I am happy alone in my studio with my nose buried in a new blend. I am happy, just me and my plants; me and my aromatic reverie. Fame and power mean little to me as none of that matters in the moments when one is counting drops. In those moments I am of one mind and that mind is full of perfume.
Please visit the blogs written by these other participating natural perfumers which is today's blog event sharing how each of us have come to natural perfumery.
Anu Essentials Blog
Anya's Garden Perfumes
Being Led by the Nose
Blossoming Tree Bodycare
Ca Fleure Bon
From the Bathtub
I'm Just Saying
Les Parfums d'Isabelle
Lord's Jester Inc.
Olfactory Rescue Service
Olive and Oud
The Western Cape Perfumery Blog