Natural Perfume Artists

An Exhilarating Interview with Natural Perfume Artist Ananda from Amrita Aromatics…

I’ll tell you the background story…I am starting to make perfumes, which is an AMAZING and expensive creative process that makes me feel ecstatic and very young.  Part of what has inspired me to create perfumes is how much I love smelling and a few natural perfumes that exist in my cupboard, and backpack, and car!  I thought if I knew a little bit about the people who made these perfumes and their perfume making experiences I would UP my perfume making education and inspiration…So, I asked a few natural perfume artists if they would do an interview with me for my Solar Infused Beauty Blog.

Well a few of them said yes right away, one never answered and the other answered a couple months after I send my requests (she said yes, next article)…

A couple articles later and I wanted to keep interviewing Perfume Artists, cause I’m loving the stories that they are sharing with me. I come across Ananda and her perfume business in a weekly newsletter that I read from King’s Road Apothecary.  I wrote to Ananda right away to see if she wants to do an article…SHE SAYS YES!!  I am over the moon. The two perfumes of Ananda’s that I fell in love with first were Swoon and Ambreine. I must say though, I love them all.  I love the magic that Ananda is able to put into her perfumes, and I could only dream to grow my collection of her perfumes!

I am totally inspired by the packaging that Ananda does, your perfumes will come in adorable little fabric bags with pieces of dried plant material and/or flowers! It’s really part of the full experience. The other part is wearing her complex scents and feeling Grande.

Thank you to Ananda from Amrita Aromatics for taking the time to share her story with me, I am inspired and in awe!

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  1. What is the deeper meaning of your business name, Amrita Aromatics?

Amrita is a sanskrit word meaning “nectar” or depending on which definition you read, it refers to Amrit, a nectar or ambrosia of the Gods that bestows immortality. The nectar of life. The traditional meaning refers to an elixir that one drinks, so perhaps I am stretching the meaning for my intention, but the concept of plant nectars invoking a sensory experience that transcends the everyday and embodies immortality – or emotional/memory imprint in this context – feels really resonant for me. While I don’t speak or write Sanskrit, my name (Ananda) is sanskrit for bliss, and I was raised in Fairfield IA, completely immersed in the Transcendental Meditation community. Yes, this is where the Golden Domes are, and the Maharishi schools are where I attended until age 16.

2.  How many years have you been making perfume?

This is a tricky question, because I was making perfumes and potions before I was consciously aware that that is what I was doing. I was a pretty odd kid – one of my favorite spots was sitting in an apple tree, and I would bring a jar of ground cinnamon and eat it with a toothpick. I was always drawn to sensory and physical experience – scented pencils and stickers, mud and hay bales, sourgrass, and crafts where I could scent things like candles and bubble bath. Meanwhile, being immersed in an ayurvedic way of life, I was raised with aromatherapy, healing herbs and spices, and vedic body oils from the start. We didn’t use conventional medicine, so plants and aromatics feel like my lifelong friends and allies. When I was around 13, I started reading magic plant and aromatherapy books, and mixing together oils I could obtain like rose geranium, sandalwood, lavender, etc, for perfume oils and skin care. I was also madly in love with this patchouli body powder that was my mom’s and I began infusing powders with amber resin chunks I found at the local esoteric bookstore. In the ninth grade I made every person in my class a magical herbal medicine pouch, and made a pentagram in ceramics class … I’m not so sure the administration was fond of my newfound hobbies, but I was in love with this new enchanted world.

I did go through a pretty heavy phase of commercial perfume obsession. No pun intended there, lol, but I definitely had a thing for Oriental fragrances like Obsession but even more so I loved Guerlain perfumes. Mitsouko and Shalimar were my favorites, and I went through a phase of Sunflower, Chanel No. 5, Chloe, and Realm.

One day a woman in my checkout line at the health food store where I worked told me that I was poisoning her with my perfume. She proceeded to checkout while wincing and holding a scarf over her mouth and nose.

While this was a pretty brazen thing to be told, it really woke me up to the toxic, unnatural contents of commercial fragrances, and impacted my choices thereafter.

For many years I made botanical products. As a teen, I learned along side my mom the arts of cream making, salve making, infusing herbs for tinctures and oils, and all manner of body care products.

Although it was my secondary, more free-form vocation (my formal background is dance) it was something I always did, it’s a lifestyle. My mother is my biggest influence and teacher in the area of herbalism and herbal preparations. I have extremely vivid scent memories of packaging stevia and chaparral with her when I was about 6 or 7 years old. We were stocking up on these herbs before the FDA banned them. Today I have stevia growing healthily in my garden outside the window where I type this, and jars of gorgeous chaparral dried from the desert of Arizona in my herb hutch.

After many years of making herbal and aromatherapy products, I realized that my m.o., and most common response from customers was how good they all smelled. That was what really set my products apart from the rest, and so I figured out that botanical perfume was truly my passion and my wheelhouse. The transition to primarily perfume making happened over a period of probably about twelve years, if I’m being honest, because I made them alongside other products for so long. I used to be “Amrita Apothecary” but when I went back to professional dance for a spell (2003-2007) I mistakenly let the url lag. Hence the appropriate change to Amrita Aromatics. Perfume has been my primary focus now since around 2013ish.

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3.  Tell me a little bit about the process of designing your perfume Swoon?

mmm Swoon!! I love Swoon. I made Swoon originally for Leah and Chloe of Rising Appalachia and their very sexy song called Swoon. In the song it says “Dip me in chocolate sauce and lick it all off of my toes” and “Drench me in Jasmine vines” … and so I used chocolate and jasmine as the cornerstones, and gave it to them as a gift when they came to play here in Northampton. It was an act of devotion and adoration.

4.  Could you rattle off some of the essential oils you used in making Swoon?

Swoon today has a lot more roses and is more balanced and complex, with sparkling silver fir, espresso, tobacco, juicy mandarin, and jasmine absolute among other aromatics.

My other name for it is “falling in love at a coffee shop on a cold winter’s day in new england” but I can’t fit that on a perfume bottle label. 🙂  

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5.  Tell me about how you use tinctures in your perfumes, and what you believe they add to a perfume.

Tinctures are really personal for me, they often times feel like I have added my fingerprint or my signature to a perfume. Most of my extracts I am extremely connected to – I am instantly transported back to the beach on the early summer day when my mom and I spent hours collecting wild rose petals. I recall the very tree on the wintry day where I gathered the glistening, fragrant resin from the trunks of Norway spruce trees. I know just the spot to the far corner of the lake where I found the most luscious patch of elder flowers. I scooted my kayak up the bank and stood barefooted in the mud in my swimsuit to collect the creamy, powdery sweet flowers.

While I don’t wildcraft or grow every plant that I make into a tincture, they are deep communion with nature for me. They are my magic, my alchemy, and my solace. They are my link to the roots of healing and ancient perfumery.

Utilizing tinctures in perfumery came really naturally, but I have had to learn patience and practice with them. Some tinctures can really dominate, while others are so subtle and shy. I treat them as equally as I do all of my other aromatics because they have certain influence.

More practically speaking, tinctures can add dimension to a perfume; sometimes adding lift, sillage, or extension of a note. Some tinctures carry citrus notes further, and some tinctures can illuminate a subtle aromatic, making it more dramatic or noteable. Sometimes it is helpful as a fixative.

Sometimes a tincture or oil infusion is the only way to get something, as in the case currently of  rooibos tea, pinon resin, or poplar buds, for example. My search for just the right earl grey tea aroma has peeled me through many boxes and tins of tea.

I have many favorites, but I particularly adore the sweet clover tincture that I use in Bluegrass which smells like sweet hay, and the kaffir lime leaf tincture that I use in Samara that smells like fresh cut grass and melon rinds. Other tinctures I use often are rose, vanilla, damiana, tonka, various teas like lapsang souchong, earl grey, and mate, sandalwood, lavender, orris, rice, and various resins.

6.  What kind of sensory memories did you have when you were teaching kids at Great Hollow Wilderness School?

White Pine resin is a strong one because we would gather it and make ointment over an open fire. This was kind of like magic for the children and always brought a sense of self-sufficiency to them; a sense of self care agency when you are at a young and vulnerable age can be really empowering.

Wild cherry blossoms and bark. We would gather these in the spring and make cough syrup. The marzipan candy aroma is like no other.

Fire and tinder. We were forever collecting tinder throughout our days. It was imbedded in everyone. Cattails, grapevine bark, punkwood … I was still peeling these out of my pockets and backpack for years after my time at Great Hollow. The smell of sweet campfire, smoldering in the deep woods,  is galvanized into my heart as one of my most treasured experiences.

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7.  What are a few things you remember the most from studying with Charna Ethier?

Charna is also a tincture lover!! Her Jasmine rice tincture and cara cara orange tincture are sublime and are definitely one of her signatures. I am thrilled to be returning again next weekend for my fifth intensive with her. She is brilliant, humble, joyful, and incredibly gifted. She reminds us to really follow our noses and hearts, while being patient, attentive, and balanced with methodology and creativity. I have loved learning more about fragrance families and the history of perfume from her, especially how naturals have played the key roles in fragrance, culture, and evolution of scent and how we use them today. Thinking more logically about a perfume formula is something I have learned from Charna that I have actively  applied in my perfumery.

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8.  Could you suggest what someone might want to do while wearing a particular perfume that you designed?

One of my favorite conceptual perfumes that I’ve made is Vaganova. I designed this perfume for the annual fundraiser of Amherst Ballet, where my son studied before he moved onto pre-professional training at The Washington Ballet. It is named after the Russian ballerina icon, and is composed of everything ballerina smelling … soft skin, satin, rosin, wooden ballet bars, flower bouquets, and nostalgia. With costly tuberose as the focal point, apricot-like rosewood, a touch of ginger, and sandalwood as the graceful silhouette of this choreographed scent, I highly recommend you put it on and DANCE!

9.  What was your first FAVORITE perfume that you made?

Lakshmi’s Touch. A floral gourmand with Rose, Cardamom, Cocoa, and Patchouli. Total bliss.

10.  What gave you the inspiration to create your Bluegrass perfume?

The banjo! My dear friend Shamana flora and I used to sit outside and burn fragrant herbs like sage and sweetgrass to deter the bugs while she played away on her clawhammer banjo. We co-created a scent called Banjo-Moon, which was really, really intense lol, with ambrette, mugwort, and oakmoss. My love for the smell of freshly harvested hay (at that time we lived on an 80 acre horse farm, where our landlord grew and baled his own hay) and the sound of the clawhammer played by Darcey as well as the aforementioned sisters of Rising Appalachia, all influenced my design of bluegrass – an obvious double meaning of music and grass. As a child one of my favorite pastimes was leaping from one enormous round hay bale to the next, over and over until I could do the long row of them with unbroken leaps. Bluegrass brings back all of these experiences, but without the itchy legs! Bluegrass also has sweetgrass in it.

11.  In what setting do you find the most perfume designing inspiration?

In water. I’m a water sign and water is where I return to equilibrium. My mind clears and my body calms, allowing me to hear myself more directly. This might be floating in my pool, swimming in a river, or simply in a long shower or bath. Other than that, I am profoundly influenced by nature, seasons, plants, landscapes, and experiences.

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

hmmm … no? I don’t think so. There are perfumers I admire and respect, but if they influence my work it is subconscious. I’m kind of in my own bubble and my perfumes are born of things that are deeply meaningful for me and influence my senses – and hopefully can be meaningful for others in an entirely personal way to them. I think there are overlaps naturally, in terms of aspects like favorite materials, or packaging since there are not many places to purchase small runs of perfume bottles and containers. And there’s the overlap of conceptual scents and landscapes, but I would say usually when I purchase a perfume by another it is because I want to experience something that has mystery 🙂 the fact that I can relax and not know what’s in it is really nice, I can just enjoy being in the art of perfumery as a whole.

In my classes with Charna I met a fellow perfumer who I feel a deep kinship with. Priya of Priya Means Love is a brilliant and beautiful soul, whose perspective on scents open my mind and I have found a lot of growth by spending time with her, at our late night smell parties in Providence, bantering over texts, and asking challenging questions that I otherwise don’t have a sounding board for. When I go out for brunch or date night, it’s often her perfume I will wear!  My favorites are Lavender Seamoss and Russian Leather. Divine.

What I love about Priya’s work is how differently from me she interprets the aromatics and how her love for the palette of non-florals comes through in her sophisticated, unique perfumes and colognes.

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

Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robbins. A classic favorite!

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

Rose, Petitgrain, Vetiver, Eucalyptus, and Hay.

15.  Are there any essential oils you are dreaming of acquiring?

I’m ashamed to admit this, but I don’t have any ambergris! So sad. I need to acquire some. Otherwise, if I could capture the true aroma of my husband after a hike in the forest in autumn, I would wear it night and day. I am a hopeless romantic.

On the weird side – one of my favorite smells in the world is the smell of a rubber or marley floor. Being a former professional dancer and a current avid crossfitter – the smell of the floor is the smell of one of my happiest places and experiences of my life. It is the smell of rigorous physical training, of accomplishing goals, of transformation, of focus, of creativity and sometimes shamanic experiences through physical discipline. It’s also the smell of a car tire, which is formerly the prop for a tour de force piece that I co-choreographed and performed for many audiences and holds a special place in my being because it was so challenging, and so rewarding.

Currently, I have no plans for tincturing a floor or a tire 🙂

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16.  About how many perfumes do you have in stock?

About 23 at the moment.

17.  Who orders custom made perfume, and what kinds of combinations do they request?

Lately I have LOVED the bespoke perfume projects. In August I designed for my local gym (a work in progress still) for a new bride, and for my friend’s husband’s birthday – three wildly different palettes. For the gym I designed three mods – clean, bright, interesting, and with emphasis on longevity for a fresh scent which can be a challenge. The perfume for a new bride turned out to be the prettiest of bright florals, with French Neroli, Fir, Bergamot, honey, and was just sooo feminine and radiant and perfect on her. Designing for my friend’s husband was a really fun creative challenge, as they are new to natural materials, so it took some mining for scent preferences through his taste in commercial fragrance, which is a really far fetched comparison, but we narrowed in on his tendency for masculine orientals, and then did a scent consult filled with this in mind. We ended up with a super-classy modern oriental with an amber accord + vetiver base, a spicy, muscular heart laced with a contemporary grass note, and a citrus melange top note accord featuring petitgrain, aglaia, pepper, and bergamot. She named it “Bull’s Eye” and I agree we hit the target on that one.

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

I have mailed to Singapore, Greece, and Ireland 🙂

19.  Tell me a little bit about a perfume you are working on for the future?

Currently a new perfume, the third of an Archetypal perfume series collaboration with Ali Schueler of Wild Woman Speaks, is about to be launched. There will be a very limited time to pre-order this bewitching perfume, and you can tune into her or my social media pages to be informed.

My repertoire now is somewhere upwards of 70 perfumes. What I hope to do is refine and return my favorites, seasonally as I can, now that I have let go of my membership and freed up some creative real-estate. People often ask me about Hearth, Cocoa Vetiver, Mead, and Witch’s Talisman among others, but there’s only so many I can make at a time. Botanical perfume making is a slow, expensive, and patient art.

I have been working for years on perfumes based on the Sevenwaters books. I don’t know when or if I will complete them, but the artwork is completed and the perfumes are more than halfway composed.

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