A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to do a phone interview with Amanda Feeley, AKA Absinthe Dragonfly, the perfumer for the natural line, Esscentual Alchemy. I’ve never talked with Amanda before on the phone, but speaking with her was like talking to an old friend. Amanda is laid-back and has a great outlook on life. She has a few full-time careers: wife, mother of four, teacher and perfumer. We talked about a few different things our pasts, our family and, of course, we talked about perfume, perfume, and perfume.
Victoria: First things first, Esscentual Alchemy is a line that uses botanicals and all natural ingredients. Why did you decide to work with only naturals?
Amanda: I am a classically trained opera singer. Specifically I am a lyric coloratura. So when I started learning perfumery, it made sense to me that I should start off with classical perfume ingredients. The ones that made perfumery what it is today. To me, to jump into this field without a firm grasp on the basics, would be a tragedy. Like trying to paint without learning how colors go together. Botanicals, and Natural ingredients feel like the foundations of this art form for me. Is this to say that the synthetics have any less validity, no. There are many perfumers who straddle that line of mixed media, as I’ve heard it called. Also I love knowing that I am working with the “soul” of a flower, plant, or tree. It really fits in well with my personal beliefs. It reminds me to be grateful for this little blue ball, that we all share, and live on.
Victoria: How were you first exposed to natural perfumery?
Amanda: My husband, Kevin, gets a lot of DIY/Maker blogs, and in Dec. 2010, he read an interview with an indie perfumer, Sweet Anthem, and at the end was a link for a DIY perfumery kit. He asked me if I’d like it for my birthday, which is Dec. 24. I said, “Oh I’d LOVE that!” So we ordered it. I mixed it up, had fun, and waited the appropriate amount of time. When it was “done,” I smelled it, and thought, “Huh, that turned out pretty good!” Ordered another. I started googling natural perfumery. Reading blogs. Joined some Yahoo Groups on Natural Botanical Perfumery. Then I ordered Mandy Aftel’s book, Essence and Alchemy. I was entranced for most of the book, though when I got to the image of Septimus Piesse’s Odophone: individual essences as musical notes, that was the clincher. It seemed the Universe was pulling two loves together. Thinking of making music for the nose, tantalized me. Then I started ordering all sorts of fun substances to play with, from reputable businesses. And the rest as they say, is history.
How did I come up with the name for my business, you might wonder? These three words:
- Essential ~ refers to that which is in the natural composition of a thing.
- Sensual ~ the enjoyments derived from the senses, especially from the gratification or indulgence of physical appetites
- Alchemy ~ any magical power or process of transmuting a common substance, usually of little value, into a substance of great value.
Victoria: Since natural perfumes do not have preservatives, I’ve had many readers ask me how long do they last? And “will it go bad”? As a natural perfumer, what is your answer to this?
Amanda: I’d say a minimum of 4-6 hours, and maybe more. It depends on what is in the perfume. One of the best things about natural perfumes, in my opinion, is that you can reapply them throughout the day, and it lifts your spirits. There’s a sort of tide coming in and going out feeling to a natural perfume. Or a nice piece of classical music. It has a start, builds up, crescendos, and then fades down to completion. We’re so overly trained to think that a perfume HAS to last for 12-18 hours, that when you find something that doesn’t, you wonder what’s wrong with it. Having something wear close to the body, which is going to be smelled by people in your immediate personal space. There’s something very sensual about that. And to know that eventually there will only be a hint of what was, is intriguing to me. I haven’t found that natural perfumes “go bad.” I speak of them more like a fine wine. Fine wines, don’t “go bad.” They improve with age. So do natural perfumes. I find them to be more complex and enchanting after months in the bottle.
Victoria: You’ve added solid perfumes to your line. I love to layer solids. Which of your solid fragrances do you recommend for layering? Give us some perfumer endorsed combos.
Amanda: Almost all of my solid perfumes are single note perfumes, so what’s especially lovely, is that they’d go very well together, no matter what you decide to mix. I think the lavender and vanilla are nice. Citrus and vanilla, I love those together. The jasmine/rose with the amber/patchouli/sandalwood would make me swoon, and jasmine/rose with vanilla also would be very beautiful together.
Victoria: I wrote a review of Sax & Violets, a fragrance that I really like. You said that you weren’t so wild about it and that it grew on you with time. Break away from mama-mode and pick a favorite. I won’t judge! Which of your perfume babies are your personal favorites?
Amanda: Ha! You must have known I was going to plead mama status! I’m especially proud of Blushing Beauty, because it’s seamless. It really does just meld into your body chemistry and it flows. Like a perfect day, that you can’t believe is over already.
I’m also very proud of both of the perfumes I created for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Pixie Dust, because conceptually on paper, it seemed like it would work, and then when I got it into the bottle, at first I wasn’t sure. Though after it had a chance to age, it reaffirmed how lovely on paper it was, and having that be “real” tickled me!
Bottom’s Dream is clever. It was inspired, and came out so quickly. I thought if you were going to create a perfume as though it was a dream, it can’t last, so there can’t be any long lasting base notes. It must just come out at you, and then fade away gently. And then when it’s gone, you’re not really sure if it was ever there.
Victoria: What are your 3 favorite notes to work with? What are your least favorite notes to work with?
Amanda: hmm only 3 favorites? Sweet woody notes, any of the florals, and citrus! I only have one or two least favorites. Galbanum, which smells like squished dead bugs to me, LOL, and Choya Nakh, which is steam distilled seashells.
Victoria: I can see why you dislike those notes! They aren’t easy to work with and I dislike them too when they are alone. OK, I ask everyone this. Who’s your favorite Old Hollywood or vintage icon? Which fragrance of yours would they wear?
Amanda: Vivian Leigh. My beloved Great-Aunt Norma loved Gone with the Wind. I think Vivian would wear Blushing Beauty because it would fit her in Gone With the Wind.