Much the same way that writers such as Neil Gaiman will brush off why they write, it has become such a cliché for perfumers to say, “I have a passion for perfume.” Many perfumers, especially in locations like France and Italy, can trace their personal familial lines to the perfumers of old, who will say this as well. Hearing this from a perfumer or consumer of fine fragrance it is almost a matter of course at this point. But it doesn't quite answer the question of why a perfumer makes perfume, or why they love fine fragrance.
This is a brief story about my own passion for scent, and why I make perfume.
Some of my first and brightest memories come in terms of scent. The smell of blood and cold stone and ozonic snow from a particularly grievous childhood injury during the dead of winter in Michigan. The smell of patchouli aftershave and leather jacket by way of goodbye hugs given to my father. The scent of the cigarette smoke and tequila that made me sick after a night of barhopping. The way a lover smelled of skin and faint melon. Scent is closely tied to memory, and it is scent that bring about the most vivid of memories in my mind.
It wasn't until I was well into adulthood that I learned that I was afflicted by an illness known as hyperosmia, a condition marked by an increased olfactive acuity. And while this may seem like an edge for a perfumer, it brought a number of debilitating headaches and a severe dislike of being around grown men – especially those who wore too much cheap cologne. Still, this served to explain why, even though many people have points in time where sense of smell will bring back a memory or give them a perspective toward their surroundings, much of my life revolved around what I smelled. Eventually, a weakness became a strength as it was this that allowed me to create such realistic accords as Blood and Daffodil.
In my youth, I met and often visited an herbalist colloquially named “The Crazy Herb Lady.” I knew her as Colleen. She had an amazing garden that reminded me of my late grandfather, and in her basement was a still that she used to create her own essential oils from the plans she cultivated. I remember walking through her garden where she would quiz me on plants. In one particular instance, she asked me to feel the flowers of a plant and asked if I thought it was real or fake. I remember that the leaves felt like plastic or paper, and so I guessed (mostly due to my step-father's fake ornamentals around the house that felt much the same way) that it was fake. It turned out I was wrong. This was one of our first meetings, and I fell in love with the myriad of ways that flowers can behave ever since. When my mother and I were readying to move for the third time that year, she showed me one particular plant called the Forget-Me-Not. I firmly believe, to this day, that her reasoning was that I would not forget her. And I never did.
From then on, I would fall in love with scent and learned how to use my sense of smell in ways that helped me through life. I consistently wore sandalwood oil and began mixing it into fragrances that I purchased from local shops. I continued learning about plants; how they smelled and how best to extract their scent for use in everyday life. Fragrance is something many people take for granted, but use many times a day in almost any activity. To me, it has always been there – like background music always playing a different tune.
It seems only natural that, having been such an integral part of my life for so long that I would eventually use what I learned in order to begin working with fine fragrance. I studied the workings of perfumes, and poured over the writings of iconic perfumers such as Jean Carles. What began as a hobby, mixing and molding essential oils to create scents for my home and body, eventually grew into what I now call Redwood Alchemy.