The Artistry of Scent with Anita Kalnay

I found a perfume called Hood River at my friends place many years ago.  When I tried that perfume I was instantly transported to a magical forest experience. I wanted to find out what other places might be waiting for me in other scents made by this artist,  that is when I learned about Anita Kalnay a local perfume designer on Vancouver Island, BC. Her business is called Flying Colors  and her perfumes are available for shipping.  She has a large range of scents to explore. I am excited have Anita back for a visit+ invite you to the upcoming perfume sampling experience with Anita in Powell River on July 14th at 7pm at 5672 Nelson Ave, Cranberry. It will be a wonderful time to connect to lots of smells and do some time travel.

1. What made you want to start a perfume business?

I HAD to… To keep the exploration process going, I had to start selling the ‘creations’. Natural Perfuming utilizes the most ‘outrageously expensive’ ingredients. And most of them go into ‘testing’ bottles that are only used as part of the design process. If I had any idea….. Thank goodness I didn’t approach this from a rational perspective. Call me crazy!!!! But I dearly LOVE these precious little aromatic ethers.

2. What title do you use to describe yourself in your Artistry of Scent business?



3. How many years have you been working in this field?

I started in 1992 exploring aromatherapy and making blends for myself and then eventually my clients. At the time it was a brand new industry. In 1994 I made a 150% commitment to be self-employed as an Aromatherapist. We lived in a small isolated community on the BC North Coast that doesn’t even exist anymore – Kemano, which was the hydro-electric plant site for the Alcan Smelter in Kitimat. I wanted to be able to go on holidays with my husband who was a Teacher, so I quit my job in a one-industry town. That was the beginning. My interest in the field grew and I began to explore more and more essential oils moving from 50 to over 500 now. I’m obsessed, but I started slowly getting to know them, one oil at time.

For my 50th birthday I decided to take Perfume Lessons as a gift to myself – at the provocation of a Teacher who commented – “Anita – you are only operating at 1% of your potential”. The artistry of scent was the last frontier! Synchronicity has been my best friend all along this journey and in 2008 I started Perfume Studies and an Apprenticeship with Ayala Moriel – out of Vancouver. Its now 2016 and there are over 22 perfumes in the Flying Colors Collection as well as fragrant Body Butters. 2016 is a celebration of 22 years – full time in the aromatic business!

4. Who makes your labels?

I have an awesome Team! My labels are designed by Shelly Stanchuck of Tailfeather Graphic Design. They are printed ‘as needed’ which allows us to create small batches at a time. Shelly is incredibly intuitive and we have done our best to create each label in a way that it conveys the energy of the scent as part of the design. They are all color-coded in relation to the colors of the chakra system, which energetically correlate to the effects of the perfumes themselves. … Flying Colors!

5. Tell me a little bit about the process of designing your perfume Mysteriosa?

Mysteriosa is a rose soliflore perfume – which means – ‘scent of a single rose’. My Dad’s hobby was cultivating roses. We had 138 varieties in one city lot. Although they are all beautiful, I always loved the lemony scented roses best. Every now and then you see one growing naturally and I’m captivated.

6. Could you rattle off some of the essential oils you used in making Mysteriosa?

Five different gorgeous rose distillations were used including Moroccan, Bulgarian, Persian and Turkish roses. Of those, I am a big fan of Moroccan rose absolute, which is a bit more fruity. In making a Soliflore – rose scented essential oils also fill in the scent. Those can include palmarosa, rosewood and rose geranium. To get the lemony scent I explored the addition of grapefruit, lemon, and litsea cubeba. Juniper C02 adds an outdoor freshness and base notes that I considered include cedarwood, tolu balsam which is vanilla like, benzoin – a warm bridge note and ambrette seed.

Interestingly, I cannot secure that same ambrette seed anymore. That is the ongoing challenge of being a ‘natural’ perfumer. I have three other distillations of ambrette and it is ‘back to the drawing board’ as to how to capture Mysteriosa – along with at least five of the other perfumes in the collection – and rebuild a new ambrette base note accord that can be used in each.

Each batch in a Natural Perfume is always a little bit different. Nature supplies the ingredients and the fragrance of the plants relate to their growing conditions and adaptations. Although I LOVE all of the perfumes, just the way they are, I am looking forward to the challenge of making each one, just a little bit lovelier than the last.

7. Do you ever make a perfume that you don’t really like?

Oh yes … your skin is the last ingredient in any natural perfume and some of them just don’t smell good on me. I need to work with someone who really loves spices as those are my least favorite to make. Although I have made some nice ones, I feel that is my growing edge. Spices are often featured in the Oriental Perfumes. In Ayurveda my constitutional type tends to be already warm and dry so many spices tend to ‘overheat’ me. I naturally gravitate toward more cooling scents. That is why it is always such a treat to make a custom perfume for someone who is very different. They naturally love scents that I might not gravitate to and that is a great learning experience for me to help them create something they truly love.

logo_green clear back

8. Do you think your perfumes have magical abilities and if yes could you elaborate on that?

It depends on what you call ‘magic’. Magic is usually the creation of something through ‘intention’. In order to enhance the effect of that – often correspondences such as astrology are considered. Whereas once the word ‘magic’ did scare me I now realize that co-creating is in itself pure magic!

Do the perfumes have ‘healing’ qualities – absolutely! Like a ‘genie in a bottle’ the pure essence of the plant does communicate with our own essential nature in some magical way. As a result, we can experience magical moments of ‘awakening’.

9. How do you stay inspired in creating scents?

This is a great question. Sometimes the craziest thing is the motivation and other times the hardest work. Often I’m inspired by something unique that I haven’t smelled before. It leads to an exploration of the plant itself and eventually ends up in a bottle. Wisteria was inspired while cleaning up an old cabin on Cortes Island in the spring. I’d never even seen it before and I was captivated by its heady euphoric brilliance!! Kokoro was inspired by the scent of wild azaleas at the Hot Springs near Mount Shasta. We just happened to be there for a yoga retreat at the height of blooming season. Such an amazing scent and wild fragrant azaleas are unique to that area in North America.

Hood River was inspired while mountain biking through the Oregon forest near Mount Hood in the summer. The wild mock orange was blooming and warm resinous sappy earthy piney scents surrounding us as we flew through the forest. It was pure magic!

Other scents just drop into the bottle of their own accord and I feel like the arms and legs that allow the process. Such was the case with Prosperity and Adventure. And others have synchronistic lives of their own and come into their own over time such as Shibui, which took over two years to resolve. Shibui means ‘eliminating the un-essential’ and I had to learn that lesson, in order to make that perfume. And ‘magically’ it works!!! If you ever want to streamline your life and eliminate the unnecessary, Shibui is YOUR perfume! It is my go to scent for yoga on the beach and the only perfume in the collection made in an oil base, which works perfectly for it.


10. If you had to pick a few favorite base, middle + top notes, what would they be?

They change, because I like to explore really unusual notes like shiso, which is featured in Shibui. I love mint and am one of the few Perfumers that I know that enjoys working with mint. It can be a challenge as a perfume note, but I LOVE mint!! I even have it as a top and middle note, which is a penetrating but softer absolute. Divine! Sweet Naam features a bergamot mint top note. All of the square stemmed labiatae family herbs cross-pollenate fairly easily with each other and I am growing quite a few in my garden. I now have shiso-mint, which makes a nice tea.

Strangely enough I love tagetes marigold. It’s tenacious to be sure, but also a pure offering to the gods in the Vedic stories and still to this day in India. I grew up with marigolds planted under my bedroom window.


Ong Namo, a yoga perfume infused with the Kundalini Yoga chant of the same name, features tagetes along with tuberose and rose. Divine!

Lemon Verbena was my favorite scent forever and I am growing it in my garden. Global warming has created the perfect conditions for it to over winter and I also cultivate it for a tea. The new perfume Prana features lemon verbena, nutmeg and bitter, sweet and green notes. It’s cooking!! I love to make my version of Thieves vinegar using herbs from my garden including white roses, thyme, hyssop and lemon verbena. Shiso also makes a wonderful infused red vinegar dip for sushi.

As a top note I love douglas fir, which is featured in Wisteria. It’s so ‘west coast’ fresh.

I prefer jasmine sambac over jasmine grandiflorum myself and I love the Indian rhu gulab rose. My absolute favorite heart note is the rare and precious gardenia along with tuberose.

My perfume Teacher used to call Hina my ‘signature’ note. The Hina that I have is a Shamana attar which is a complex Indian attar made over a two month period and can include over 60 notes in itself. I love Oud way before it got famous, and woody base notes like vetivert and balsam fir.

And on….. 

11. When you start to design a scent, do you have an end goal in mind? If so, what would it usually be?

Yes, of course, because you need focus to be a designer. Having said that, curiosity is also your best friend. When I am making a custom perfume – the most important factor is ‘does the energy of the perfume match the person’ and that’s where I have often taken the road less travelled and shifted gears in the middle of an exploration and gone a completely different way.

I would say I am a ‘concept’ Perfumer. I usually explore the ‘feeling’ that the essences present and interpret that in the design itself. Most of the time, if I ‘stay out of the way’ it presents itself. However, I have learned that the ‘artistry’ is also very much a co-creative venture. There are ‘choices’ to be made. Not everything can go into the bottle. You have to be very precise or it turns to mud!

12. Could you tell me about some memorable times where you made perfumes with other people?

One of the easiest ones, was a young lady who was an exchange student from Germany. Although she was only fifteen years old, her nose and selection of notes was astonishing. It was the inspiration behind Namaste perfume and she was the pure embodiment of its grace. Together we decided to share that one with the world.

Another very interesting custom perfume went to a woman of strong character who is a ‘powerful elder’ within her own Wiccan community. It perfectly embodied her presence featuring saffron and other dominant notes that many people might not be able to wear as easily. At the same time, I had been experimenting with making Zafran perfume, which also features saffron and ylang ylang – two very dominant notes together. Often there is a synchronicity of events that seem more noticeable when the creativity of the design process is engaged – a natural flow of information. Did I use saffron because I was already working with it? No, rather it was the building block to being ‘able’ to use saffron in her perfume.

Chakra5_FlyingColors-1201 (1)

13. Are there perfumers that influence your lines? If yes could you tell me about who they are and how they influence your perfume designs?

Not really. As a matter of fact – I don’t really even like conventional perfumes. Not that I don’t appreciate the artistry that went into them, but rather that I prefer the pure ingredients of nature.

Perfumers are few and far between and I work alone, so I am not really influenced by others. I actually think that is good, creatively. However, I do order perfume samples from my friends online and there are a lot of really great natural perfumers out there. Like artists, we all have our unique style and you either relate to it or not. I love that about the industry because we are also each others best buddies and cheering team.

I would say my Teacher, Ayala Moriel, was my biggest influence in ensuring that I was aware of the history of perfumery and the design categories and notes in each major perfume family. For that I am grateful. I don’t think I would have figured that out on my own and would have wasted enormous amounts of product learning.

14. If you could recommend one book that has something to do with perfume, what would it be?

Ayala Moriel’s Perfume Book “The Foundation of Natural Perfumery”! The girl is a gifted Teacher and writer. Her information is conclusive and her technical detail very helpful. That and a book that I found in the rare books library of Powell Books in Portland called “Perfumes and Cosmetics” by W.A. Poucher – original 1923 edition. The recipes are wonderful and you can infer and compare the chemistry with gas chromatograph profiles of natural ingredients.

As much as I am an Intuitive Designer, I also really love chemical correspondences as a source of information, especially in working with naturals. Robert Tisserand’s enormous book “Essential Oil Safety” is a very good source of the chemicals and safety considerations in working with natural ingredients.

15. What were the last 5 essential oils you bought?

Green mandarin, which is emerald green – absolutely gorgeous and I am going to consider it in a Tuberose perfume that is on the design table as we speak.

Turkish rose absolute, which I could not find and had to be ordered from Niche Perfumer Mandy Aftel – stunning and gorgeous!!

A rare amber that is likely going to become obsolete very soon. Amber is a blend and this one is particularly lovely for its effect on emotional balance during massage treatments and is used in some perfumes

Believe it or not ghandi root, which I have not really had a chance to explore yet.

And a set of 25 essential oils by my Spiritual Phyto-Essence® Teacher Dr. Bruce Berkowsky. High quality vibrational essential oils all hand selected from suppliers around the world that will be used in an upcoming blending process for a course that I am involved with online.

16. What essential oils are you dreaming of acquiring?

Jo-Anne Bassett used an odd oil in her perfume Opulence (which is truly a favorite of mine – as is JoAnne) – I’d not heard of it before and it twigs my interest – Aglaia absolute. My nose is picking out something rare and interesting in that perfume and I think that’s what it is??? 

… and tomato leaf absolute.

17. What is the furthest destination you have ever mailed your perfumes to?

Sharjah – UAE



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s