Roxana Villa’s passion for the planet, its resources and gifts, is evident in her life as an artist — both in the visual and aromatic arenas. She creates whole, vital, organic perfumes with stories, which can be found in her Etsy shop, Illuminated Perfume. You may find her on any given day harvesting plant materials, saving local oaks and honey bees or sitting in her woodland studio inhaling precious essences. Much of her passion is shared at her Illuminated Perfume Journal.
Fragrance has deep roots throughout the ancient world. Where do we begin with the history of fragrance? Perhaps with the first nose? My favorite stories come out of Egypt, where aromatics were used for ceremony, pleasure and cosmetics. Perfume most likely originated in Arabia and/or Egypt, refined later by the alchemists and Europeans. A key figure was Cleopatra, with her attention to scenting all aspects of her life including the sails of her barge.
Harold Roth, a.k.a. AlchemyWorks shares: “The Zohar says that scent is the only spiritual food to be found on the material plane, and that when incense is burned, its sweet smoke not only nourishes the human soul but attracts the attention of the angels, for whom it is food. When I make incense, I work with the intention of honoring and strengthening the connection between the spiritual and the sensual.”
Ancient perfumers used whole ingredients found in the natural world, primarily animals and plants. The animal ingredients consisted of ambergris (from whales), musk pods, civet and castoreum. Plant aromatics included essential oils and extracts produced by maceration, infusion and tinctured materials. “Ambergris is a very important component in my romantic perfume, For Always,” says VictoriaJess. “I use only ethically harvested ambergris, found washed up on the beach. While it is traditionally thought to provide long lasting power, to me, it softens and yet strengthens a perfume base, and provides a wonderful ribbon-like quality throughout the perfume.”
The raw matter used to create perfume can be natural, botanical, synthetic or a combination. In the late 19th century, synthetic compounds became part of the perfumer’s palette with the release of the aroma isolate called coumarin, containing a hay-like fragrance. Thus the modern perfume industry was born.
In today’s modern perfume world, the art of perfumery incorporates many different mediums of expression. As with visual artists who work with pencils, watercolors, oils, collage or digital tools, the same transpires in perfume. Each artist will convey their story within the medium that serves them best. Beeswax is included in the apothecary of many fragrance artisans, used for the creation of solid perfumes, lotions and balms. Some traditional items that were once formulated with beeswax are created with non-genetically modified soy and vegetable waxes. Nikki Sherrit says, “Candlemaking, for me, has been an extension of my culinary and perfumery loves. I have learned to utilize every possible type of botanical and aromatic ingredient to produce unique and precious blends.”
The botanical perfume artist works to create beauty through the expression of pure plant extractions within the paradigm of sustainability and health. Many botanical perfumers come from the tradition of aromatherapy and the bath and beauty industry where they continue to use plant matter to prepare soaps, creams and other body products. Over the last ten years there has been a blossoming occurring within a sector of perfume. More and more indie labels are cropping up in small, specialized boutiques and large-scale department stores.
I invite you to step into a more aromatic lifestyle by breathing deep and paying attention to all the nuances of our fragrant world. Although not for everyone, the book Perfume, The Story of a Murderer is probably one of the best novels ever written about scent. I leave you with this trailer from the film adaptation.
“Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.” — Patrick Suskind