Today’s featured Fragrant Femme is Shelley Waddington from En Voyage Perfumes. Shelley is an independent, artisan perfumer based in the United States, making waves by creating beautiful and interesting fragrances that are definitely not run of the mill. Her perfume Frida is freaky and fabulous and brings Frida Kahlo to life in a simply brilliant fashion. It’s a kaleidoscopic work of ripe fruits and flowers that smells quite unlike anything else. Rainmaker, one of Shelley’s 2016 releases is also a great creation but worlds apart from Frida. This time, think forests replete with pine needles and earthy moss and you’ll be half way there. I like that Shelley can shift between different genres with ease. She’s equally adept at making a gourmand, as a chypre or retro nouveau floral. I’ll be writing shortly of The 7% Solution that has a great concept involving Sherlock Holmes.
I emailed Shelley a list of questions and she very kindly agreed to answer them. I’m really honoured to be able to share Shelley’s thoughts on perfumery, her creative process and thoughts on being committed to her craft as part of her ethos. I was intrigued as to obstacles she has encountered along the way but also her sense of determination in overcoming these. It’s not a to and fro interview but I do think you’ll get some wonderful insight into Shelley Waddington and En Voyage here. Enjoy reading.
What did you do before you became a perfumer?
I started off as an artist and musician. During that time I worked lots of low paying jobs just to pay the bills, support my family, and save for an education. I returned to college to obtain my BA and MA. I then became the Western Regional sales manager for GE Capital and after that the Business Development Manager of an internet startup in Silicon Valley.
What lured you into the world of perfume?
My business career was demanding and lucrative. It met my financial needs. But it lacked an artistic outlet and that was frustrating. I discovered essential oils and found them very intriguing and satisfying to blend. I have a lot of intellectual and creative curiosity, and as an avid perfume lover I could see the possibilities of accomplishing something really fun and exciting.
It began as a hobby that I could fit nicely into my heavy work schedule. It was a satisfying and stimulating outlet. I bought books and studied with other perfumers. As I learned more about perfuming, I began travelling on perfume related journeys to Cyprus and France. Eventually I came to the point that I preferred the world of perfume to my “other” profession.
I’ve read that you recently relocated your home from California to the Pacific North West. Is your new home base having an impact on your creative process?
I always felt like I was living in exile during the years that I worked in business. My job wasn’t at all conducive to artistic thought, and the lifestyle and environment in Silicon Valley, well, let’s call them dreary and harshly competitive. After all, I was raised as an artist and musician in one of the most beautiful and Bohemian places on earth, the art colony of Carmel by the Sea.
The Pacific Northwest gives me the opportunity to once again live in beauty among other creatives, surrounded by amazing forests and water. It represents an emergence from a long, hard, and instructive exile.
Your latest perfume Rainmaker was obviously influenced by your new locale. What three words would you use to describe this fragrance?
Earthy. Exuberant. Perhaps rebellious?
It expresses a wonderful celebration of spirit, is immensely wearable for both men and women and based on the comments and sales, speaks meaningfully to many people. As for the rebellion part, I’m always a little fractious when it comes to convention. There’s a bit of a challenge to conventional perfumes being issued here.
Oh, I do want to mention that Rainmaker was just awarded three Gold Medals by the Top Artisan Fragrance of the Year Awards!
When you create a new perfume, what is the process that you go through? Is it always the same or does it vary?
When making perfume for my own company, my process is to first create a brief (a clear concept) based on my own inspirations before I begin to create the fragrance. This is done in my head, before I ever sit down to the bench. The textures and colors and fragrances of each oil are pretty much hard-wired into my brain, and I’m able to parse out the individual notes from the larger concept.
When making perfume for another company or individual, the challenge is a little different. It requires me to listen hard and to accurately understand the desires and vision of another person before I begin to blend.
Where do you find inspiration?
It’s said that success is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. That means finding the grit, determination, and discipline to get things done, even when no one else is doing it, even in the face of criticism or dismissal. And believe me, there have been obstacles.
ON INSPIRATION: I am viscerally moved by the excellence and creative courage of exceptional artists and writers. Visiting an art gallery or a museum never fails to inspire many new ideas and to fill me with inspiration. As does reading a really good book. I am inspired by the work of excellent perfumers, past and present. I am inspired by stories about interesting people. And of course, I am always inspired by nature. I just returned from an eight-day vision quest in the wilderness.
ON PERSPIRATION: Most days, the work is fun. But I also work on all the other days too, because I am committed, and commitment takes discipline and determination. You can think of it as you would think about going to the gym. There’s a vision and a goal, and there are objectives and tactics. If you want to accomplish something significant, you can’t just skip a day just because you don’t feel like doing the work.
ON OBSTACLES: I become very determined when I run into obstacles.
For instance, I began my indie perfume business long before any path was established. Aromachemicals weren’t even available to individuals like me. That made me determined to find them, and I did. I built my own website and told the truth about what I am – an artisan perfumer. (Afterwards, a consultant made fun of my homemade website and told me to avoid using the word “artisan”, because no one else did that and it wasn’t “cool”.) I did get a more professional site, but will always be unapologetically an artisan.
As one of the pioneering artisan perfumers, I held my first public Sniffapalooza meet with Tama’s group in the park alongside the SF Metreon. You see, my then tiny brand wasn’t yet in any stores, but Tama believed in me and in my work, and wanted her friends to meet me on that Sniffapalooza Saturday. So she brought her group to meet me in the park. That was my first public entry into the wonderful San Francisco community of Perfumistas who gave me a fabulously warm reception. From that original group, the word has spread into a successful worldwide business. It was a true grassroots beginning.
With the help of loyal customers, supportive bloggers and Facebook group owners, I no longer have to scrabble for recognition or credibility. Perfumers from major houses buy my work to find out what I’m up to. Thanks to those who have championed my work, more people now know me and respect my accomplishments. Some newer perfumers now turn to me for guidance and mentoring. I will always stand in support of emerging artisan perfumers. #IndieStrong
You’ve written a book about natural isolates. What are natural isolates and how do you use these in your perfume creation?
This is another place that I was able to lay some strong groundwork for natural perfumers. Until my book, isolates weren’t well known or understood. Their possibilities weren’t yet evident to the artisan perfume community.
Basically, natural oils are extracted from plants. Each oil contains hundreds of different fragrant molecules. The many molecules in a natural oil can be separated (isolated) in a lab, often by specialized distillation. A molecule that has been separated out from all the others is referred to as an isolate.
Some oils smell really authentic, such as orange and pine. But some oils don’t translate as readily, don’t smell true to the actual blossoms, such as frangipani or osmanthus or carnation. To make something smell more realistic, the perfumer must simplify the molecules and skillfully recombine them.
Just as an artist uses many hues to create realistic art, a perfumer uses many fragrance molecules to make a realistic accord. That’s what I do with isolated molecules.
Do you aim to create a certain number of perfumes in a year, or is it less structured than this?
I strive to make a minimum of six fragrances every year. Some are for my own brand, and some are created for individuals and other brands besides my own.
What sort of feeling do you seek to create with your perfumes for your customers?
I want my customers to feel very special that they are wearing a beautiful, original fragrance design that they know contains the best and most beautiful oils and extracts. Our fragrances are literally luxury fragrances at modest prices.
Have the preferences of your customers changed over the years? If so, in what way?
Yes, we pay attention and respond to trends, but that is not our sole driver when it comes to making a new perfume. Special materials and new fragrance stories and quality artisanship are equally important.
We all know that ordinary commercial industry trends change frequently. But our customers are more sophisticated perfume lovers who expect an indie/artisan fragrance to be a classic unto itself. They expect extraordinary rather than ordinary. Our customers know that we abhor commerciality and they have confidence in our artistic ethic.
How do you balance the creativity along with the business side of En Voyage?
Being in business gave me the knowledge to set up and run a business of my own. It’s sort of second nature. Family members help me with the production side of the business. And I give thanks every day for loyal customers, stores, and perfume professionals who have given me such strong support by encouraging me, wearing my fragrances, helping to spread the word. The perfume community has been essential towards creating my legacy.
What are your favourite smells in nature? Man made? Childhood?
Here are three favorites that fit all three categories:
Vanilla and Vanillin.
My mother’s cedar chest.
How do you see your range evolving?
I always have a 10 year, 5 year, 3 year, and 1 year business plan that gets reviewed annually.
Current works in progress include some unique new projects that are unlike anything I’ve done previously, and unlike other perfumers are doing.
Also, we just re-released our award-winning limited edition of Sherlock Holmesian inspired The 7% Solution. A lot of people were waiting for that.
Thank you Shelley for your inspirational words. You can find out more about En Voyage Perfumes here on the website where her perfumes and samples are available for sale.
Notes : All photos from Shelley Waddington and En Voyage