Friday, July 27, 2012

Perfume Illuminated: Herbes de Provence

When I was a child my mother worked for a boutique in Beverly Hills. On occasion she would travel to Paris for some of her clients, if I was really lucky I went with her, if not she would always bring back wonderful treats. The treats ranged from perfume, cheese, maron glace and cooking herbs.

The cooking herbs were usually Bouquet Garni, which translates as "garnish bouquet" in French. The mix usually contains parsley, thyme and bay leaf. Depending on the region and different makers there may also be basil, burnet, chervil, rosemary, peppercorns, savory and tarragon in the blend.
My favorite herb mix from France is Herbes de Provence which is generally a combination of the following herbs: savory, fennel, basil, thyme, sage, marjoram, oregano and lavender blossoms. When I make it here at home I use: thyme, rosemary, sage, lavender and oregano. I sprinkle it on a chicken for roasting along with fresh garlic and butter. The blend works well for a variety of dishes including grilled vegetables and stews.


The herbs used to make an Herbes de Provence culinary blend are also distilled as essential oils used in aromatherapy and natural perfume. I associate these mostly with aromatherapy because that was my gateway into the healing world of plant medicine. 


There's a few things I've learned in life:
always throw salt over your left shoulder,
keep rosemary by your garden gate, plant lavender for good luck,
and fall in love whenever you can.
~ Alice Hoffman (Practical Magic )

The word lavender comes from the Latin "Lavare" meaning to wash. The herb has a very rich presence in literature and is used widely in medicinal preparations, culinary delights and cosmetic preparations. The essential oil of lavender is derived from the distillation of the flowering tops of Lavandula officinalis, also referred to as Lavandula angustifolia/vera.

The aroma of lavender essential oil is considered herbaceous, fruity and sweet depending on the variety and type of extraction. In many circles it is deemed "floral", which may or may not be present...again depends on the variety. More appropriate terminology could be an herbaceous floral character. For use in aromatherapy synergies it is considered the universal oil and used extensively in almost all types of dis-ease. Its chemistry is rich in the ester: linalyl acetate the alcohol: linalol and sesquiterpenes.

In perfume lavender essential oil tends to be classified as a top to middle note. Where as the absolute is considered a base note. In perfume we find the lavender note used in Lavender Eau de Colognes and the category of fragrance deemed Fougere, meaning fern in French. Fougere perfumes feature the combination of oakmoss with lavender.

As a botanical and natural perfumer I use Lavender as a bridge note. It is not an essence I use regularly, unless it is for a specific perfume like Vera or a custom perfume. In aromatherapy synergies and blends I use it in almost every single preparation.

Note: This information on Lavender has been gathered from another post here at the journal, if you would like to read more here is the link to satisfy your craving. 

Sage, here is the link to the Perfume Illuminated post on Sage.

There are many different varieties of thyme used in aromatherapy and natural perfume. One of my all time favorites is Thyme geraniol, which has a geranium note. In aromatherapy we use thyme mostly in blends for One of my very first aromatherapy blends when I took the live hours class with Jade Shutes was a blend I made for Will Power. It included: Thyme, Elemi and Juniper. 

Known as Ocimum basilicum, this hardy and very popular herb is ruled by Mars. The annual produces fragrant leaves and flowers. There are many varieties of Basil essential oil and depending where it is grown will determine differing chemical constituents. Thus, you may have a Basil that is high in linalol or one that has more camphor or methyl chavicol or a combination. The aromatic profile tend to be sweet, herbaceous, spicy and fresh. In aromatherapy it works on several systems of the body, I tend to use it in headache blends as it is a great analgesic, stimulating and clearing to the mind.

The fennel we use in aromatherapy is Foeniculum vulgare P. Mill var. dulce which also goes by the names Fenkel, Wild Fennel and Sweet Fennel.It was the Romans who gave fennel its name Foeniculum from the Latin word Foeniculum meaning hay.1 Fennel essential oil is distilled from the seeds and is most commonly used in blends for digestion, circulation and the endocrine system. One of the keywords associated with this oil is balance.

A few nights ago as I was drooling over pictures of the french country side on Pinterest my daughter asked if we had any Herbes de Provence. The synergy of the question with the visual imagery made me begin contemplating an Herbes de Provence perfume, which in turn inspired today's Perfume Illuminated contribution.

Thus, my perfume will focus mainly on lavender, thyme, sage with a bit of fennel, basil, oregano and savory. These are all middle notes. For the base I'm thinking woods, cistus, beeswax absolute and olive fruit or leaf. I'm thinking citrus for the top notes, probably citron. We will see where the journey takes us! I definitely don't want to repeat Vera (thus no oakmoss or very little) and I don't want to make something that is overly medicinal, although odd and different is okay. Let me know if there are any notes you suggest by leaving a comment here and I will send a sample off the first edition when I'm done if I choose a specific essence you have mentioned that is different from what I have already listed.

From the Silver Palette CookBook: "If fresh herbs are plentiful, use them in bouquets around the house; their dark green or gray leaves are beautiful with flowers. Make an edible centerpiece of such herbs as basil, dill and mint: wash fresh herbs, shake dry, and arrange with salad greens in a bowl of crushed ice."

FLAVOR: Beth Schreibman Gehring
Please continue reading about Herbes de Provence at the Windesphere Witch blog

1 Jade Shutes, Aromatherapy for Bodyworkers, Pearson/Prentice Hall, New Jersey, Chapter Thirteen, p.297
Top image found via Pinterest with no reference to the creator, other images by or digitally enhanced by Roxana Villa

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sun Sign Leo

On July 23rd the sun moved into the sign of Leo until August 22nd.  Within the twelve signs in the zodiac all the personality types are represented. Leo the lion tends to be creative, spontaneous, dominate, ambitious, courageous...among many other traits. Our nearest star, the Sun at the center of the universe and life giver, rules Leo.

If you have a Leo in your life and are considering a gift of natural perfume, To Bee feels very appropriate. Sweet and warm like honey, firey like the sun and inspired by the courageous honey bee who uses the sun as her gps. An added benefit is that color harmony for this fragrance is gold.

I was born during this sun cycle, however I have a Pisces moon and lots of planets in the 4th house, which offsets some of the Leo characteristics. It has become a bit of a yearly tradition for me to create a celebratory perfume in August. This year I will launch a new Jasmine perfume (formerly known Jasmine Noir) to add to Cimbalom and Page 47 that are part of this set.

There are many projects in the works at the moment and I haven't quite decided what will get launched when. Some of this depends on Mr. Illuminator who is creating a few images. For now I will focus on finishing the To Bee Lookbook and labels for a new product line which Impromptu is part of. Ah, and keep in mind the Birthday Coupon, a once a year discount which can be used at any time of the year toward a compact or flacon.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Here in the woodland garden the dominant aroma has been plumeria, also known as frangipani in perfume. I have four of these rather archiac looking plants in large pots. The phallic looking stems were brought back from a trip to Kauai a few years back.

In general the bloom time for my plants is in July and August. I have four yellow and one pink. I've found that the yellow flowers are much hardier and have a strong aroma compared to pink. The other day I saw a white variety blooming and stopped the car so as to inhale the aroma. I was disappointed that there was barely any smell. Not sure if it was my nose that day, the heat or the actual flower. In any event, if you get some, I highly recommend the yellow!

Like other clever plants, the Plumeria seduces the insect over with its incredible perfume, in this case the Sphinx Moth. The moth gets flustered when looking for the nectar and thus manages to move pollen from one plant to another in its search for its treasure.

 I haven't made a plumeria perfume as of yet because of the cost involved, Frangipani absolute is extremely expensive and I haven't wanted to sacrifice the beautiful flowers in my garden. Perhaps when I have more plants I will venture into capturing their soul in a scent portrait.

Photos by Roxana Villa, feel free to pin, ask before using in other venues.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Artisan Fragrance Salon Weekend, Part Two

Continuing on with Part Two of the Artisan Fragrance Salon Weekend post. Laurie and I were so relaxed after spending goddess time in her garden and studio we lost track of time. We found ourselves hustling to get ourselves ready and over to the Perfumers Soiree taking place at the Press Club in the city.

Photo by the "Olfactory Ambassador" Mario of Shelley Waddington, Ragna Ruffner, Ellen Covey, 
Mandy Aftel, Mandys husband Foster and myself.

The cocktails and dinner event was organized by local perfumer Yosh Han. Attendees included the perfumers exhibiting the following day, husbands and a few other perfumer related guests who had come into town for the event. During the dinner I recognized the gal sitting across from me but couldn't place her. It turned out to be Leila Castle who I had met back in 1996 at The World of Aromatherapy conference!

The next morning we arrived at 9:30am to the gallery space where the Artisan Fragrance Event was to take place. Eve and I quickly began setting up and taking advantage of all available display space. Unfortunately I was not allowed to exhibit my banner or Gregs illuminated images unless I put them on the table,which didn't quite work aesthetically.  The idea behind the booth was to convey an "apothecary" feel relating specifically to botanical perfume. I set up a small printers ornament cabinet I had purchased in NYC during the eighties along with beakers, beeswax, moss, sea shells, the sample perfume pots and the new perfume cards. On an old silver tray I displayed the liquid perfume flacons with a beaker of scent strips ready for dipping. I also set up a little display with the Rosa perfume crochet pouch and one for the perfume and bee lockets.

The event lasted from 11am until 5pm. It was very well attended by both fans of perfume and the press. Best loved perfume at my booth was GreenWitch, big surprise. If I had brought several flacons I most likely would have sold them all. Other favorites included Rosa (which the perfumistas refer to as Rose Oud), Page47 and Chaparral. All and all the set up seemed very successful from the comments received.

Besides the exhibit there was an area in the center of the gallery with presenters all day long, among them was Alyssa Harad, pictured with me here.

One of the challenges of the busy one day event is that neither Eve or I were able to leave the booth and tour the show. I was really disappointed not to smell my fellow natural perfumers scents, especially Leila Castle.

The following morning we packed up suitcases, said our goodbyes to Laurie and her clan and headed down to Berkeley for brunch. We were to meet Gregs cousin Rex and Aunt Alice at the infamous Betty's Diner.  After an amazing meal that included local honey for our tea and a mouth watering chocolate souffle for dessert it was time for visiting one of my favorite shops in Berkeley, Tail of the Yak, before heading back down to LA.

 It was a great trip and we hope to visit again soon!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Feature and a Giveaway

 At the Artisan Fragrance Salon in San Francisco I met and spoke with lots of bloggers and writers, one of them was Tama Blough. Tama is the organizer of the SFSniff events, a contributor to the fragrance blog CaFleureBon and has an amazing bee tattoo on her left leg.

While sniffing some of my perfumes at the salon she asked if I had ever been featured on CaFleureBon. One thing led to another and thus, here is the feature along with a giveaway. Many thanks to the principal editor Michelyn Camen and Tama for the suggestion.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Perfume Illuminated: A Grimoire of Flavor and Scent

Perfume Illuminated began back on the first of January 2010 inspired by Julie Powell of Julie and Julia fame.

When I Beth came on board the project we discussed having it printed as a book. Now that we have quite a bounty of material we have moved forward with our plan. Beth, as the master bard, will act as editor and I as, the connoisseur of visuals, art director. We will enroll one of my friends to assist in the design. If we are not happy with the terms of the publisher than we will publish ourselves.

In the meantime, above is a mock up of the cover which I will use to make a LookBook. Now it's time to get on your broomstick and fly eastward for some enchantment on this subject from Beth, enjoy!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Artisan Fragrance Salon Weekend, Part One

Last Friday, just around noon, we headed up to the Bay area in our rented Jeep. The intention was to rent a mid-size car that got good mileage, however, the ones that were offered to us reeked of synthetic aroma molecules and thus unacceptable. Greg went through several cars before the exhausted Enterprise salesperson finally offered him the Jeep at a reduced rate. Although there were some undesirable chemical notes in the car we remedied the situation by bringing along sage and artemisia from the garden.

Our destination was the home of fellow botanical perfumer and beekeeper Laurie Stern. Laurie and I met at a  Berkeley Scent Event put together by Lisa Camasi in March 2004. We felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to stay in Laurie's beautiful guest cottage that looks out over the bay.

Saturday morning we headed into the city to drop Greg off at the Academy of Art where he was presenting his Artist As Brand workshop while Laurie and I went to the Perfumers Breakfast. The morning event was sponsored by Fragrance West, the only fully operational fragrance house on the west coast who create fragrance blends for end-use products using ALL types of materials.

After greetings and hugs were exchanged amongst the perfumers we all grabbed a drink and food from the buffet and seated ourselves down to listen to Miriam of 40 Notes speak on behalf of Fragrance West.

We were educated that all perfumes in the main stream are created by an individual who works at a fragrance house. A company, celebrity or artist comes to a fragrance house with an idea where the staff perfumer begins the process of transforming the idea into a perfume.

Rather quickly many of us in the audience realized that this system would not work for those of us who prefer to construct and formulate are own perfumes. We were told that it was cost prohibitive to create a true natural perfume and that we should consider broadening our palette to achieve a wider reach. Yosh shared how she struggled with the idea of someone else manufacturing/producing her perfumes and letting go of specific ingredients like a beloved Vetiver from Haiti.

As I sat there I realized that although I would like to broaden the reach of my brand and have some help creating my perfumes I do not want to compromise the core of my company. The botanical palette I use and supporting small farms across the world is the heart and soul of my company. I realize that it could be very lucrative and expand my presence worldwide but I kept thinking about the Indian proverb "Man with cows, has care of cows."  I'm holding the intention that there is another path, not easier but more aligned with who I am and my mission.

At the close of the event, as everyone mingled, I learned that perfumer Sarah Horowitz originally owned a perfume company with Dawn Spencer Hurwitz in Boston. I found this very intriguing and thus walked over to the next presentation at a nearby bookstore to chat with Sarah about this new found information and Game of Thrones. Sarah is the first niche perfumer I ever met,  this was back in 1994 (or so) organized by Kathi Arnos at the home of Gurmukh Khalsa in Hollywood.

In front of Alexandra's Books a small crowd of perfume enthusiasts had gathered for the SF Sniff, an event similar to Sniffapalooza in NYC. We were all there for the debut of Alyssa Harad's newly published book "Coming to Your Senses." For the reading Alyssa brought some vintage perfumes for us to experience and then offer as a giveaway. 1000 by Jean Patou was my favorite of all samples, the aldehydes and distinctive animalic notes were much more restrained than the others.

 While the "sniffers" moved onto to other locations along the scent trail, Laurie and I headed back to her home where we spent the afternoon in her garden chatting. We sat under a vine of roses which showered us with petals every few minutes with the hum of her bees just a few feet away. It was an enchanting afternoon.

Laurie gave me a tour of the "Purrfumery"which lives in two rooms of her home filled with precious aromatics and gorgeous vintage finds. Her brand is Velvet & Sweet Peas Purrfumery, named after two of her departed cats. I thought the fragrance fan she created for the event was extremely whimsical and clever. "I inhaled (deeply) at Velvet and Sweet Pea's Purrfumery."

Continue reading Part two of the Artisan Fragrance Salon weekend here.

Except for the opening photo by Eve and the image of Daenerys from Game of Thrones, all photos were taken by me at Laurie Sterns home in El Cerrito.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Giveaway Winners!!

Many thanks to all who participated in the Anniversary Celebration with comments, tweets, purchases, etc. I am very humbled and proud to have such wonderful and thoughtful patrons. As I inputted each of your names, sometimes as often as six times (!), into I felt a huge wave of gratitude and wish I could have picked each of you.

In any event, the Randomizer choose these fortunate ladies: Moecha, Lee and Mekhaela.

I am sending a mini compact of Vera out to Moecha who says "Vespertina reminds me of a little street from my hometown with a certain house retreated behind walls. These walls are covered in wisteria: the smell as you pass by is highly fragrant, rich and 'polleny'. In the evening it's not overpowering anymore, but still vibrant. Summer nights lend their sweet, smoky undertones to the air, transforming the scent of these flowers.
Glorious indeed. :)"

Lee has chosen the jar of Lavender Body Butter and Mekhaela I have not heard from yet. In the event Mekhaela does not contact me by the end of the day on Thursday, the runner up is Jeffrey.

Congrats to the winners and stay tuned for another giveaway attached to a feature scheduled for Sunday evening, if all goes well.

Vera illumination by Greg Spalenka, see more at his website and shop on Etsy.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I'm Back!

I feel like I fell into a rabbit hole, buried in work and prepping for the Artisan Scent Event this past weekend in San Francisco. I'll post the three winners from the Anniversary Celebration in the next post followed by details about the event up north with pictures.

The photo is from Laurie Sterns studio window at her home in the hillside of El Cerrito, California.