When did you fall down the rabbit hole of perfumery?
My journey creating authentic perfume started in 2013. Before that, I used to go to Venice Beach head shops and blend my own fragrance oils. I was a teenager then, so oils called Nag Champa mixed with Black Coconut, Myrrh, Sandalwood and Amber were my jam. Who knows what was in those fragrance oils. I know now, that accords can be very complex with sometimes hundreds of molecules in them. Regardless, it was super cheap at the time and I thought I smelled awesome. No one else smelled like me, which rocked my world. I look back on that now and don’t consider that “real” perfumery. Oh the lengths I have come since then… haha!
What was the lightbulb moment in your life when you felt you had your first hit?
Everything clicked for me when I learned Perfumery was art, taste, smell, science, nature and language all rolled into one. Perfume takes everything I am passionate about and puts it into a medium I can interpret, recreate and make my own.
What are you most proud of in your fragrance career?
What am I most proud of? Wow, that’s hard… I am most proud of being self taught and being a huge chemistry and aroma material geek. In teaching myself the art of Perfumery, I have found that perfume is incredibly scientific. For example, smelling a rose and translating that smell in perfumery is a language all its own. Not to mention, the interpretation is completely unique to the Perfumer as an Artist. The extraction process in order to obtain rose oil, doesn’t actually yield the true smell of the rose. Some of the aromatic molecules of rose are lost in the extraction method. The most well known components of rose are: Citronellol, Geraniol, different Damascones and phenyl ethyl alcohol (generally < 5%). Did you know there is only a small quantity of phenyl ethyl alcohol because it is soluble in water? That means, during the distillation, we lose this molecule along with Linalool, Rose oxide, Eugenol, and Farnesol. Ever wonder where the peppery, spicy, fruity or watery aspects of rose go? If a certain rose oil smells like it’s missing something, it’s likely due to the extraction method. I have trained myself to smell a variety of roses, their subtle nuances, and then add the missing molecules back into a formula to achieve the spirit of the rose in an accord.
What are some challenges you faced while starting your career or your brand?
When I started making perfume I was definitely hindered by my lack of finances. I struggled to build a proper Perfumer’s organ. Access to genuine perfumery materials was an adventure too. Teaching myself was difficult because I lacked the buying power to get further in my olfactive endeavors. I only bought what I could afford, which wasn’t much, and I struggled to make anything smell like a perfume unless I used a ton of a material that already smells amazing on it’s own (ie: sandalwood oil, rose and ylang). I didn’t know who to ask for help so I started cold calling random places I found on the internet. I began asking questions to whomever picked up the phone on the other end. I look back and cringe… but it was all I knew to do. Those poor people.
I didn’t give up though. I had to find a way to create perfume because I felt so connected to it. It is my soul mate. It’s a long story to how I got where I am today and many characters in that story that have trudged the road with me and have shared the journey. Maybe someday I’ll get to tell you about them too.
At Scent Trunk, one of our mantras is “Travel through the senses.” Is there a destination that feels like a perfumers’ paradise to you whether you’ve been there before or not?
I believe, if you are fully present, anywhere you are is a Perfumer’s paradise. With that being said, I wouldn’t mind going to Madagascar and to the isles of Comoros. I have never been there. I am a sucker for tropical aromas- sea, salt, fruit, flowers, leaves, soil… I have sourced materials from Madagascar and the surrounding islands and all I can say is that I feel like I have traveled there vicariously through those smells. Arm chair travel… smelling something like that takes you right to the place, even if it’s in your mind’s eye. It’s the best thing ever. It’s one of the innumerable reasons why perfume, aroma and smell are so integral to my being.
Our other theme is “choose your own scent adventure.” How do you encourage your customers to explore outside of their olfactive comfort zone?
I love to celebrate (even exploit) the fundamental feeling of human curiosity. If you present anything properly, it will trigger curiosity. The fascinating thing is that the language of scent and taste is universal, it’s inherently understood, so it doesn’t take long before a person’s palette is broadened. I enjoy immersing anyone I meet into a sensory experience- usually beginning with food.
Do you teach or do any experiential projects? If so, what and where?
I do do some private instruction, usually at my home studio. I am much too shy to be in front of an audience, although I feel like I will need to grow past that and get out of my comfort zone in order to advance. As far as experimental projects, I experiment every day in my studio and in my home kitchen. I can’t tell you enough about how much my skill as a Perfumer is integral to my ability to cook. If I could eat my perfume I would, haha! I am currently experimenting with fragrance and flavor materials in order to enhance my culinary endeavors as well.
What are you working on now or in the future?
I am currently teaching myself how to navigate the world of IFRA Standards and EU Compliance. Raw material safety and proper usage of aroma chemicals is important to me. This is an ever-changing pathway due to the nature of emerging research and discovery, but the science behind natural raw materials is incredibly intriguing to me. I have even traipsed into the world of botany as a result.
What would you say is your X factor that is recognizable to others as your brand signature?
My X factor is without a doubt my enthusiasm and passion for my work and my ability to not only follow down the rabbit hole, but to also carve out new tunnels that lead me to even more mystery and life’s awe. I try to convey that in my work. I live a life through the nose and I believe it shows.
What was the most intriguing aspect of the collaboration with Scent Trunk and the Original Edition fragrance you created for us?
I was shocked how little truffle was needed in order to completely throw off the presentation of the perfume. I did a bunch of mods and so many of them smelled like something I was going to cook, not wear. Truffle accords take a tiny amount of garlic oil and buttery aromas to properly achieve the impression of true truffle. Even the most miniscule amounts of garlic oil in a truffle accord makes it smell as if you are sporting garlic breath after a scrumptious meal. In the end, I omitted the garlic and went for something more modern. If you understood just how much I love garlic you would find my change of heart in omitting it as intriguing as I do. Haha!
Have you been to the provenance you were assigned?
I have never been to Kaikoura, New Zealand. I researched it quite a bit in order to properly grasp the interpretation of the perfume. What a beautiful place. I wouldn’t mind living there if I could bring all my friends and family with me.
Have you worked with the focus ingredient you were assigned to in one of your commercially released fragrances?
Yes and no… In addition to FŪM, am an Independent Perfumer for hire. I did a mushroom perfume for a company but it didn’t get released. I had been experimenting with mushroom accords for months when Scent Trunk approached me to do a Truffle perfume. I was working with a mushroom enthusiast/grower/chef by the name of Dirk Hermann, owner and founder of LA FungHi. He and I met at the Studio City Farmer’s Market years ago and we built up a partnership- mostly me loving and buying his mushrooms. He wanted me to create a sole mushroom fragrance for his company. For reasons unknown, the project never fully took off. By the time I was approached for truffle, I had managed to create morel, lobster, porcini and candy cap mushroom accords. As Travis likes to put it, I was, “primed” for the job.
What does our annual meta theme “Supernatural Future” mean to you?
Depending on the day or even the material, that answer could change. Specifically for the project, I focused on the transformation of the region I was given as a focus. Supernatural Future took shape in creating a “new world” wine inspired perfume which highlighted the aspects of New Zealand’s terroir that are futuristic and under development. New Zealand is a New World territory for culinary treasures- namely wine and truffles. The terroir is a chrysalis; ripe with possibility and evolution. Upon research for this perfume, I found that Truffle spores didn’t even reach New Zealand until 1987 and vineyard cultivation was just barely preceding by about a decade. As a perfume, it was only natural for me to pair the decadence of Truffle with full bodied wine notes. The end result is a verdant, dark fruit fragrance laden with brambly vineyard roses, truffle, roots, moss, mineral rich soil, sea brine and ambergris.
Is there an ingredient or provenance that might be under the radar that you’d like Scent Trunk to know about or amplify?
No second guesses here- My favorite and most misunderstood, underappreciated material: Patchouli. I don’t care which region it is specific to- it’s all beautiful and unique whether it is from Madagascar, India, Malaysia, Guatemala, Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi or Rwanda. If Scent Trunk highlights this material I must do it. It is my favorite material in perfumery!
Are there any scents you feel you might resonate with from your Native American heritage?
White sage is one of them but we burned tobacco, sweet grass and Yerba Santa in my house. We grew sage because it is native to California. We also grew lavender and what was readily available near where we lived. The burning of pine sap and copal was popular in our house too- which we harvested from trees on hikes and around our mountain homes. We burned pine cones and fallen cedar wood. It’s all about what we can harvest, (not buy on Etsy) which makes it special and unique to where we are. Nature is outside our doorstep- we have to get up and find it. Growing your own and harvesting what is near you is the best practice. In growing something, you are inherently connected to it’s life force. I believe that that’s the exchange of the relationship, where the true spiritual aspects are meaningful.
What’s your feeling on the decolonization or the misappropriation of sacred scents like sage or palo santo?
This question is one that many people are asking right now. In short, it’s a warning of what’s to come. My feeling is this: The Native people are not benefiting from this experience. It’s unfair to demonstrate a sacred practice under the guise of “wellness”. The wellness industry is white washing the significance and relevance of its Native origins. Native people had to practice in secret for generations after white colonization. Like a lot of experiences in life, the mass public is unaware of the tension it causes because the collective “they” haven’t had to live through that unrest. There’s no erasing the painful and violent history around suppression of Native spirituality. The sale of Native spirituality is easily a multi-million dollar industry. Not to mention all the culture vultures and white shamans who sell fake ceremony. I can understand wanting to connect to the source and to embrace our Earth Mother but the question is: how can we do that while still honoring the Native people and without capitalizing on their beliefs? The removal of context is where the problem lies- it is an ongoing struggle Native students and peoples have in practicing their beliefs, and the non-Native companies and non-Native individuals that are making money off of these histories and traditions without understanding the harm they’re enacting. As my Mom has said, “Ignorance is bliss, but ignorance is no excuse.”
Furthering the issue, is the topic of sustainability, which directly relates to the mass need for “wellness” and “self care”. Essential oils and natural materials are the latest craze in the luxury market. I believe this is due to the fact that human population is phasing out nature as humanity multiplies. To quote my favorite Perfumer, Christi Meshell, “Nature is the ultimate luxury”, which is why humans seek it out and use it to enrich and benefit our lives. Be that as it may, I do my best to source materials that are sustainable and non harmful to the environment. I am against the ravaging of forests for the industrial market. There’s not proper education and protection in place for certain species world wide- such as Palo Santo. The wood of the Bulnesia sarmientoi is valuable enough that people are risking fines and jail time to profit from it. It’s the age old struggle of doing the wrong thing for money. Deforestation is a global problem. As these ecosystems vanish palo santo may go with them.
How do you decide if a formula will stay in the vault or become part of the permanent collection?
Good question! I think this is purely done by spur of the moment passion and creative impulse… I can’t throw out mods and formulation attempts if they’re good. It’s a mood thing and the importance/connection I have to a single material. For example, Nerola went through many trials and many names. It was going to be called Showcase Neroli before it was called Nerola. I grew up in California off and on and the aroma of blossoming orange trees is the quintessential smell of Southern California, at least to me. I searched everywhere for the perfect neroli perfumes and nothing came close to how orange trees in bloom actually smelled, so I created it. It is my ode to the orange tree, my chance to “Showcase” neroli and all her majesty.
I purchased a Picasso sketch that was considered a throwaway. I love it so much. How do you think your customers feel about buying some of your creations from the vault? It’s an usual way of connecting with people - very intimate and part of your process.
I am thrilled you feel this way about my olfactive sketches! They are important and people love to see and smell how my brain works- what a thing to believe! Sometimes (okay, most times) I overthink my work and what I produce. The Vault is full of fantastical experiments and hog-wild play things that capture moments in time. I have sold several bottles of my vaulted perfumes. Customers love them. One is called, “Mantis Is Hiding”. It’s an exceptionally green fragrance, a sketch I did as I imagined a-day-in-a-life of a Praying Mantis. Sometimes my fragrances are vaulted because of financial costs or safety compliance. Meaning, I’ll use a material- let’s just say ylang ylang which is highly restricted by IFRA. I won’t allow myself to sell it due to safety restrictions and failed IFRA levels. Or I’ll use White Ambergris in a formula but then can’t afford to actually scale it to any large size because I am afraid people won’t spend the money it costs to make it. Some people do, which are the people who appreciate The Vault and what it offers. I will happily make anyone a full bottle of a vaulted fragrance. I’m thrilled to be asked about The Vault, they are little memories in a bottle. It’s the equivalent of someone saying to you, “tell me a story about yourself”.
I read that you are synesthetic. Do you find that smelling shapes is only one aspect of how you perceive scents? Or are there other textures?
I can taste shapes. I don’t know how to properly describe what my brain does or why it works this way. It is completely involuntary and insurpressable. It just happens to me and I can’t conjure it up or explain it at will. The shapes are not distinct from the tasting- they are part of what tasting is. I know that my synesthesia is memorable and I use that to my advantage when creating perfume. I know from research that there is a strong link between synesthesia and eidetic memory and hypermnesis. I have been told that I likely use my synesthesia as a mnemonic aid- even unconsciously. The relationship with my synesthesia allows me to memorize certain aspects of a sensation but I just don’t know how to describe it any further. As a child, I was told I had dyslexia and that I had, “learning disabilities.” I was given number and pattern tests. I did not do well in the practical aspects of academics or testing- I still don’t. If you put the numbers “6” and “9” on a repeating sequence, I don’t see numbers. I see waves and water. I know that doesn’t make any sense but it’s how my brain works.
Which JRR Tolkien character do you most identify with?
Without a doubt: Samwise Gamgee.
Name: Miss Layla
Year founded: 2017, Launched in 2018