The perfume of flowering Black Locust

Last evening, I was walking home along a quiet street, when my nose told me that the tall, graceful trees towering above were black locust acacia trees- in full bloom!  These same trees grow in a small grove in one of the city parks in Nelson, and every year when I lived in that neighbourhood, walking beneath these trees in early summer, I would be surprised to find myself suddenly immersed in the most beautiful pink bubblegum, tropical ylang ylang floral perfume.  Last night was the same.  The scent that these shy white clusters of blooms high above my head release into the early evening is intense.   Although familiar,  I found these coastal blooms to be more in the direction of the cologne 4711 that my mother used to wear- rich with sweet neroli.  So as I walked along this street, realizing then that the sidewalk was also strewn with the blossoms, breathing in the scent of my mother touched with pink bubblegum, I was reminded, as I have been so many times before- that the most amazing perfumes in existence, are like this- emanated so perfectly, intoxicatingly, from Nature.  And usually when we least expect it…

1000 Flowers- Past and present

Happy New Year to all!!  May love and abundance fill all your lives for 2011 and beyond!

It is now officially the second day of 2011 here in France- and besides feeling full of optimism and energized to jump into some new projects, I am also reflecting a lot on how I arrived to where I am now.  This post will chronicle some of that journey.

On the first day of this year- we went up into the mountains behind Grasse to a little ski station called Gréolières Les Neiges, which is about one hour by car up into the Sub-Alps.  As we crested about 800m in elevation, the clouds dropped away, and we were bathed in bright winter sunshine.  At 1100m, the sides of the mountain were blanketed in wild lavender plants and plump little pine trees.

Upon arrival at the ski station, we found that many others had planned the same new year’s day outing, and the place was packed with people of all ages.  After all, the cost for a half day ticket is only 6 euro!

We had decided to have lunch in the lodge- and being that it was a bit too cold to sit outside at one of the long dining tables, we went inside, only to discover that it just as chilly. 
The proprietor was extremely gracious, in such a classic French way- pushing tables together for us (we were a group of 7) and lighting a roaring propane powered flame-throwing heater to warm us up.  (I suspect that it also fed us a touch of carbon monoxide!)

The lunch menu was small- but the risotto with prawns and shaved reggiano that I had, was absolutely delicious (and very well presented, given the setting).

Later, after a walk in the sunshine, looking up at the quite large runs over various parts of the slopes, plus some very brave sledding,  we returned to the waffle and crêpe stand at the lodge, and had our dessert.
My crêpe with ‘abricots et chantilly’ was divine!

On our way back down to Grasse, we stopped at the wild lavender zone to check for seeds.  Sure enough, the little scruffy flower tops still held some of the shiny black seeds, and even offered up the dry powdery aromatic perfume of the summer blooms.

One of my projects from this past year of 2010, was to grow lavender plants from the seed I had collected 2 years ago from the same spot.  I successfully raised about 65 plants- and by the time I left Canada 3 weeks ago, they were hearty little shrubs of about 5cm in height.

So now what’s next for 2011??

First off, I’ve begun the major project of building another website for a new branch of the entreprise.  This will be the site for all things natural that I create or that I find while traveling in France and beyond.

After all, I first began with naturals back in 1994 by launching a collection of 5 massage oils composed of essential oil blends and almond oil.  These were very simple and even the labels were hand-painted and then colour-copied!  This was followed in 1996 with a collection of pure essential oils and several skin care products, including a gel moisturizer and a scrub inspired by (and utilizing) the dried hibiscus flowers and copal resin that I found in Mexico.

It was also at this time, that I applied for and received a small business development grant from the government.

Three years later, in 1999, the Body Bar was born- a collection of cocoa butter massage bars that were ‘good enough to eat’.  These were quickly ‘discovered’ and were soon distributed across Canada and into the US.

Sometime during the huge success of the Body Bar, I came across an article in the New Yorker about the creation of an Hermès perfume, and the light went on for me.  I had no idea the career of ‘perfumer’ existed, and I was smitten with the possibilities.  I began to research like mad all that I could find about perfumes and the companies who created them.  Jo Malone and Lyn Harris of Miller Harris, among others were huge inspirations for me at the time.

Having already worked with the natural raw materials for almost a decade, this  was a medium that was very familiar.  Clinical aromatherapy had been the path I was exploring for years.  I had completed a year-long certification program through the Australasian College of Natural Sciences in Portland- but I was craving to be more artistic and even abstract.  The art of perfumery was the natural direction to take.

For four years, (while also manufacturing the Body Bar), I worked away in the little studio at the back of my garden, and created 4 natural perfumes.  These I marketed only to my community, Nelson, British Columbia, where I had lived since 1995.  These were exceptionally well received, but I was reluctant to launch them out into the world.  I felt there was still too much to learn and I didn’t want to make any mistakes.  I knew then that formal training was a necessity.

As it can sometimes do- life broadsided me when the sole distributor of the massage bars copied the product, thereby reducing my income to almost zero.  I was devastated.  This was a classic case of David vs Goliath and I really didn’t want to take on a huge fight like that. This was a very difficult and emotional time.  It was then that I made the dramatic decision to sell my house, (including the studio), to fund my dream and go to perfume school in France.

From this point on, the story can be picked up in detail at the beginning of this blog.  I came to Grasse in January of 2007 and have been here a good portion of the time ever since.  This blog has followed the journey.

In April of 2010,  I went to New York City to present my fist perfume, Reglisse Noire, to the Sniffapalooza group. This garnered some great reviews and enthusiastic support.  As well, at year end last week, the same group of supporters in New York awarded Reglisse with the award of being in the top 25 picks of the year in perfumery.

I am not trained in advanced business, but I am keen to learn and continue to explore my own vision as 1000 Flowers expands and grows.  I have been reading the book ‘Business as Unusual’, written by the founder of the Body Shop, the late Annita Roddick.  I’ve always found her hugely inspiring.   I believe, and always have, that there are many different ways to find success- and forging new paths that are positive and inclusive, and that take into account the health of the planet- are particularly important.  Of course, one must play by certain general rules, and take counsel whenever possible, but one’s approach and attitude to life (and business) can be defined individually. Rebelliousness can be rewarding when expressed creatively.

During the last week of 2010, I had distribution inquires from several countries- including China- and so now…. I am seeking counsel and working hard to make good decisions that will  bring all this long journey to another level of fruition.  The fact that it happens to also be a new year, is perfect and couldn’t have come at a better time!  So onwards we go on this fragrant adventure called life…    xoxo

Réglisse Noire and the Art of Packaging

This blog began in January of 2007 with my journey to Grasse, France to study perfumery.   Since then, following my studies and internships there,  I have been focusing all my attention on the subsequent portion of the dream- to create beautiful perfumes, and to realize a successful career at the same time.  No small feat!!

I returned to Canada 7 months ago, and have been working day-in and day-out on all the details of launching the first fragrance.  To say the least, this has involved an enormous amount of work.  More facets than one can even imagine!! (although, such a wonderful challenge!)

Since being back,  I have also been taking classes in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to learn graphic design so that I can fully express all visual aspects (that accompany imagining of the perfume formula itself) of this creative process.  To be honest- more and more, this project feels like an artist’s installation.  Such a multi-faceted creation that involves digging deeper into my creative depths than I ever have in my life.

So, subsequently introducing the new outer packaging (as developed in Canada) for Reglisse Noire- the perfume that was born in France  ….

Cedar box

The box is solid British Columbia cedar (from off-cuts, leftover from home building), stained pure white with titanium dioxide powder and water, and sealed with a cigar-box style label to guarantee the purity and hand-made nature of each batch of perfume.

My goal has been to create an outer packaging that is an item of beauty to be kept…. thereby having a super light footstep on the Earth.  (‘recyclable’, in my humble opinion, just doesn’t cut it anymore…)  Refills will be available soon.  The lockable vintage-style atomizer is removable, unlike most perfume bottles.  Standard perfume bottles, even from luxury and niche brands, have what is called a ‘crimped’ spray top.  These are permanently attached, therefore making the bottle, once empty, impossible to recycle or to reuse.  For years I have struggled to find a solution to this problem… and finally, the technology has been developed- an atomizer that threads on, that also has a locking mechanism.. so it can be sealed for transport and to prevent evaporation of the precious juice inside.

Réglisse-50ml bottle

So there.  Years of work at the drawing board… with the goal of bringing into the world a product that represents beauty and that has a light environmental impact….

If you’d like to order this perfume- please go to the 1000 Flowers website….

As well, your feed-back is greatly appreciated… I like to think of this as a work in progress….. Merci!

To be or not to be? (natural)

Perfume.  An art form that, now more than ever, is sweeping the world in a multi-layered storm.  It’s interesting to see so many people captured by this fascination!  I myself am completely engulfed by it.  I have given up everything in the pursuit of the knowledge of how to compose perfume…. my house, my country and all my treasured belongings.  I will never be the same again. I have been bitten by the bug and now must live with my own deliriously wonderful fever.

Antique perfume flacon

On the flip side, there is a growing body of antagonists those who lobby for perfume-free workplaces, schools, and public places in general. On this side of the fence, one also finds those who are the most pro-natural and anti-‘synthetic’.

During the past two years, as I work to create my little perfume house- over and over, I have grappled with the question of ‘all-natural or not’?  And it’s my own beliefs about this I have had to come to terms with through a lot of soul-searching.  And I have been torn.   To my surprise, I have come to love, for example- hedione and exaltolide, for example!!!  They are a pleasure to work with and to smell!   But they are not so-called ‘natural’, so in this climate, how can I include them in my palette?  I too want the earth to survive forever and for all living beings to be healthy and happy and I also want to have creative freedom plus a successful business, so how can I find a balanced answer to these issues?

Sephora, Cannes

The words on everyone’s lips these days are…natural, organic, fair trade,  sustainable etc.  and this great!  We are all waking up to the power we have as consumers and how we can really make a difference by how we spend our dollars plus knowing that what we put on our skin effects not only our health, but that of the planet.

But what does that mean for perfumery?  The industry is traditionally owned by the big brands who have had the honour of giving us perfumery… as we know it, on a mass scale.  And we love these perfumes. Guerlain, Chanel, Dior, and all the others who have been the names behind countless incredible masterpieces of perfume.  But now the climate is definitely changing.   The relatively recent media spotlight that has illuminated the creation process of perfume is slowly destroying the mystique, and at the same time, many many people are now asking for something different.  The return to nature and purity.  I read the other day that the green movement in cosmetics is now seen as not just a trend- but as a revolution.

As a perfumer, an entrepreneur and a consumer, I support this revolution wholeheartedly.  But not blindly.

Bastide du Parfumeur

The perfume that I created in Grasse (glisse Noir) is half naturals and the other half is carefully chosen molecules (biodegradable musk, and others that have been tested thoroughly and have no allergy issues). I love this perfume, and everyone who tries it, does as well.   Of two very well-known perfumers in Grasse who reviewed it for me… one said it was “harmonious and well-balanced”.  The other said that it was “addictive”.

But how do I market this perfume?  Many ask me, here in Canada, “Is it natural?”  To simply answer “No”, is insufficient…. and leaves things open to immediate judgment and possible rejection.  To say it is ‘artistic’ is true.  Painters, for example, use synthetic colours to achieve their goals. But no one is talking about colour; and the public simply wants natural cosmetics.

If only we could find within ourselves balance and moderation rather than extremes…. the middle road so to speak…. and see the good that can be found in almost everything.   Which is what I have decided to do.  Create perfumes that are composed of various raw materials- predominately naturals of course, as they are my first love and I understand the therapeutic aspects of pure organic oils…. But I will also augment and enhance with some materials which have been created in a laboratory setting.  These ones manmade will be biodegradable, (no Galaxolide for me), phthalate-free, and of course- in accordance with the now very stringent International Fragrance Association (IFRA) standards*.  Besides,  more and more isolated molecules are being created in a way considered natural… so the palette grows.

* (After-note…as I reread this statement about IFRA, I realize the naïveté of what I have just said.  I was conditioned to have IFRA compliance as a norm, because this is how it is in the industry and it has been standard self-governing. And this has been for the purpose of the safety of the consumer.  However, more recently, it could be said that IFRA is ruining the art of perfumery with its biased extremism and paranoia through the limiting or prohibiting of raw materials- in particular natural materials- based on questionable data.  So far, amendment after amendment, the perfume industry has taken it lying down, reformulating classic formulas and even discontinuing perfumes that proved too difficult to comply with the new rules.  There is a growing movement, among natural artisan perfumers in particular, to take a stand against this extremism, and I will be contacting some of the most active in this movement to find out if they are standing together on this and in what way.  I  will write about it once I hear back.)

I feel good about this decision. It was amazing how my education in Grasse opened my eyes to my own blind bias.  However, knowing too much can be paralyzing as well..’the more I know the more I realize how much I don’t know’…  until one makes friends with new information, deals with the identity crisis that may follow, and then simply moves forward with an open mind.  Then, for me personally,  the decision is made by choice rather than prejudice.

(After-note: I have utmost respect and admiration for perfumers who chose to work with only natural raw materials. This was my original direction as well, and it was difficult to hear industry people in France and elsewhere say, “you can’t make real perfume with only naturals”.  Just in the last 2 years, finally,  the school of natural perfumers is being taken much more seriously. The nay-sayers will be eating their words as more and more beautiful natural perfumes are created. )

Mimosa trees in full bloom

Mood and the psychology of scent

After a chilly and cloudy day yesterday, with the general mood of the class (and me- what a difficult day!) to match, it was a relief to step out of the old wood door into the quiet coolness of my little street this morning and ascend the steep route up through the honeycomb of the centre ville into the blazing glory of a sunny day.  My mood was good; another one of those days I love when I am overcome by happiness at being able to experience the beauty that surrounds me here.  There is pure art all around.  The colours, the light, the sounds, the shapes and angles, the general composition of everything.  My photographer’s eye is constantly sated with so many beautiful possibilities that I don’t even know where to point my camera- so I don’t.  I just take it all in.  It feels like everything is too beautiful to capture.

Today at school was chemistry.  We are learning material that is at a  fairly advanced high-school/first year college level- and at

Flowers in winter

a a speed that condenses three years into about 5 weeks.  It is all  relevant to perfumery of course and today the subject was the science of gas chromatography.  We will be learning how to read the highly technical reports that are produced by these machines and we will also be able to understand the chemical structure of all the components in the materials being analyzed. (both essential oils and synthetic chemicals)  Part of the work will be to choose a perfume to put through the gas chromatography process, then be able analyze the result and decipher the formula of the perfume.  (we can choose anything- Chanel 5 or one of  my favourites, Annick Goutal and at the end, after extensive study and comparative work, we will have a very good idea of the basic formula.)  Because of this technology, there are no secrets in formulation anymore.  Copies happen all the time- it is normal. There are no secrets. So from my what I gather, it comes down mostly to the name.  Yves St Laurent, for example, or Chanel,  could be copied exactly, but it doesn’t really threaten them, because the consumer wants the prestige of the NAME-  Yves St Laurent or Chanel- on their dressing table, and on their body, socially. This can matter more than the actual appreciation of the fragrance itself.  This effect is subtle- hard to pin absolutely, because the power of scent is so emotional that it infiltrates an individual’s experience to such a degree that they don’t even know if they like how something smells because of its name, or because of how it actually smells.  Association plays a roll as well- if it smells how we have been conditioned to think ‘expensive and prestigious’ smells, then in this day and age, we want it.

That said, there is serious research going on these days in the area of aromachology.  Especially in Japan.  (one of my classmates is a biologist who works for Shiseido in this area).      Aromachology* is the study of odour psychology and of human responses to odours. Aromachology does not distinguish between natural or synthetic chemicals.  Heliotropin, for example, has been shown to have a calming effect on the subjects studied, despite being a synthetic material (although it is available from natural sources as well)  The results of these studies is beginning to play a serious role in the formulation of perfumes. We are being chemically influenced by the perfume industry without being aware of it.  Historically, the ultimate goal of the perfume industry has been a healthy bottom-line- not our general well-being. My hope is that the two will inadvertently or eventually coincide.

All this is fabulously interesting and is expanding my perspective in many different directions.  I realize how easy it is to become limited by my beliefs, by what I think I know.   A beginner’s mind, always, seems to allow for an incredibly rich experience in this life……….

*A service mark of the Olfactory Research Fund

Now, my window is open, as usual these warm Spring evenings, and I can hear a cat yowling, and people walking by, laughing and talking, in French, below.  Once in a while, a car roars by, with inches to spare on either side, blasting either hip-hop in a foreign language or Moroccan pop- but otherwise, the heaped up ancient rooms that form this beautiful cluster of humanity isquieting down for the night.  By 10:30, all will be so silent, I can hear my ears ring, and sleep will creep in and encompass all who dwell behind the wood  shutters that are ritually closed by every household, every night……….