The Etsy Blog

Featured Shop: Illuminated Perfume handmade and vintage goods

I am Roxana Villa, the maker behind Illuminated Perfume. I have the fortune of creating natural perfumes the way they were made before synthetic aroma chemicals entered the scene. My studio is in our 1950s ranch style home in Woodland Hills, tucked away in the Santa Monica mountains of southern California. The native garden I planted and two hives of feral honey bees are part of my constantly expanding work space.

Before discovering aromatherapy, I worked as a freelance illustrator for the print industry. At the time, most of the images I painted highlighted the connection between humans and the plant world. A little bottle of Juniperus viriginiana at a sweat lodge shifted my path from creating purely visual art to facilitating a complete sensory experience with nature. I witnessed firsthand the power of essential oils as agents that facilitate mind body wellness in a very holistic framework.

As I delved deeper into the professional world of aromatherapy (ultimately earning my certification), I yearned to combine my two skill sets. At an artists’ workshop in Austria titled “Old Masters, New Visions,” I witnessed the divine interconnection between the visual arts and perfume. I then decided to weave all my talents into a perfume business highlighted with the word “illuminated,” referencing the 15th century, when the arts were united by the use of raw plant matter.

I create concept driven fragrances, many of which have a call to social action. In keeping with the spirit of the exquisite handmade artifact, the perfume compacts and flacons arrive in couture crocheted pouches made by Martha of TwoKnit. Each fragrance is illuminated with an image by artist Greg Spalenka. All these aspects create an intimate interaction with the inherent beauty of nature.

My creative process begins with the spark of an idea, which might be an environmental cause, a story, or a specific material like jasmine. During the idea phase, I contemplate the color vibration for the perfume, related imagery, and tinctures/infusions that will be part of the end product. Formulation begins with a basic written outline of essences, which I study by sniffing and observing chemistry.

This phase determines which essences will be added or subtracted; intuition and serendipity often play a role here as well. Once the synergies have aged and melded, it’s time to sniff and give the green light to move forward or head back to the drafting table.

When I am happy with one of the drafts, it’s time to put the synergy into a base. If I’m making a liquid perfume, the base is organic grain or grape alcohol and tinctured materials. For solids, the base is organic jojoba oil, beeswax from my hives or from local bee keepers, and plant infusions.

The perfume industry is quite vast, dominated by the large corporate houses who, although they once used natural ingredients, now create mass produced fragrances using synthetic chemicals. Within the emerging indie perfume crowd there is a spectrum of fragrance creators, from those who work solely as art directors to those who grow and distill essential oils. As an indie perfumer, botanical is the term that resonates with what I choose to create and what sets me apart, both visually and aromatically. I work with essences that are whole, organic and of vital origin whenever possible. Historical animal ingredients and isolates contained in many natural perfumes are not in the fragrances I formulate.

In October 2008, I introduced Sierra Solid Gold, my first solid perfume, at the Sniffapalooza Fall Ball in NYC. Since re-doing my entire website to accommodate the solid formats was not an option, I opened a shop on Etsy. What a godsend! Thanks to the Etsy community of artisans, I discovered a devoted fan base and made some very dear friends and work partnerships. Like William Morris, I embrace the primacy of the handmade object and wish to bring that heritage and romance to my fragrance line. Etsy is the ideal venue for all of us who live in the art spirit and have craft embedded in our psyche.

Item photographs by Illuminated Perfume, maker portraits and studio photographs by Rebecca Fishman.

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