How did you start making perfume?
I just started making it, I guess. My blog was something I started because I wanted to do something separate from what I do with my husband—running our clothing company, FUCT. It snowballed into actually making a product instead of just uploading images—it could have been anything, but it was perfume that came out of the research and the images. To make it black was another crazy idea I had. I'd been buying a lot of black soap and charcoal-activated products, and I was wondering what it would look like if I put it in a solid perfume form. I was looking for a way to make it look different.
You didn't have any prior experience with perfume before doing A Treatise on White Magic. How'd you figure out what you were doing?
I decided that if I was going to make perfume, I should learn where it came from, how people used it, what its purpose was, and so I dove into that. That's how I developed a natural formulation. That's an ode to the 1800s when perfumes were only made from ingredients found in nature, totally pre-synthetic formulas. It's good to try to go back to the beginning to understand the how and why, and when you understand that, you can play around with it and make it your own thing.
For now I'm content with the Black Amber Balm doing well, but to go big it will take a little more chemistry; I'm going to have to have someone reformulate it for me for it to be commercially viable. Once you sell something widespread, it has to be pretty uniform. It's sort of like homemade cooking: When you buy something in the store, you're used to getting the same thing. But when you bake something, it always tastes pretty much the same, but not exactly the same.
Most people won't smell the difference, but some will. If I want to bring something to the next level, I'd have to work with a chemist. Calvin Klein can go to the fragrance department, and say 'I want this to smell like a woman who's come to the end of a desert and she's looking at the setting sun on a cold December evening, and then people create it. I feel like David going up against Goliath with my idea—no money, no investors. It's interesting, to say the least.
Originally, the line was called Hopi Botanicals. Why did you change it?
In the beginning, I was exploring the Native American aesthetic, trying to delve under the surface trend of feather and beads and pow-wows. I wanted to leave Hopi Botanicals the way it was, because I have so much respect for those people. I didn't want to pry into their culture. They are my inspiration, but it's not something I would base a company on or use as a trend. I study it as I do white magic or Led Zeppelin. It's just a part of the aura without being overbearing.
I don't want people to make the mistake of calling it Hopi Botanicals when eventually I'd like to sell maybe a painting or a song under the bigger name. I want it to be bigger than organic perfumes. I see my perfume as another way of expressing my creativity. I want my company to have a logo and look very professional. I've always been infatuated with the organized and polished nature of corporations. A Treatise on White Magic is based on a corporate image, but the product itself has to do with white and black magic, with rock n' roll, bikers and obscure music. It's pushing something anti-corporate in a very corporate way.
I have a blueprint for the business, everything is place, but it's like a painting...I can't force it. I'm taking notes and coming back to it.
Has your sense of smell gotten more sensitive?
Oh, yes. When I first started working with natural ingredients, I had a huge box of synthetic oils worth hundreds of dollars, but I chucked it away. I just couldn't use them, they're just not me. I was a little put out by natural scents though, but I forced myself to understand them and read about them. Everything I smelled was bland and the same at first, but now I can recognize over 100 different scents. My sense of smell has developed a lot. Our sense of smell diminished when we started walking on two feet, because we didn't need it as much anymore, but that sense can come back.
But you're not opposed to synthetic perfumes. You have some in your collection.
I'm a fan of commercial perfumes as well. Post Chanel No. 5, there were these possibilities with synthetics to make smells that had never existed before. I buy little vials of everything, from Barneys to Macy's, with all my favorite smells. So now that I've released the Black Amber Balm, I'm playing around with mixing high-grade synthetics with natural ingredients.
I wouldn't ever tell people they are using bad soap and their kids will be born with birth defects if they like synthetics. My goal is to always just be informative. We live in this world we live in and you can't avoid hamburgers and French fries and plastic-like food, but when I buy cotton-candy flavored food, I know what I'm getting into.
ATOWM got a lot of Internet attention even before you'd released the product. How do people find you?
It's hard with the Internet today, because everyone's a star in their own world with all the Tumblrs and blogs. But it's hard to know who's just really good at scanning vintage images into their computer and who's really like that in real life. That's the problem of this generation. I would say there's only a small percentage of people who live the life they post online. I guess that's what's bad and good about today. I try to stay true to what I do in real life, maybe that's the invisible link of how people find me and why they like me. There's nothing over the top— if I see an image I like, I post it. It's not because I want people to think it's cool. I'll share things that speak to me, not because I'm trying to present something. Things I like, stuff I would buy. People come here and see our loft and see what we collect and what we do for a living and how it all comes together—it's an organic evolution and nothing is forced.