Interview with Roxana Villa of
Roxana Illuminated Perfume™

Roxana, can you tell us briefly about yourself? 
I am a storyteller and an artist whose palette consists of pencils, paints and essential oils. Whether I create an image or a perfume my intention is to bring greater awareness of our essential nature and the plant world.

Could you please tell us a bit about your background leading up to your career in perfumery?
I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and had a very eclectic upbringing traveling back and forth between the Americas.
In the eighties I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Otis/Parsons in Los Angeles. I moved to NYC and have for over twenty years been working as a professional freelance Illustrator for the publishing world. My paintings have been exhibited in Los Angeles, New York and Japan. Auspiciously one of my regular monthly contributions was for the fragrance column of Connoisseur Magazine.  While pregnant with my daughter Eve I became very aware of how the outer environment affected my inner landscape. This idea of the connection between the inner and outer realms is one of the reoccurring themes in my drawings and paintings. At a Native American sweat lodge I was introduced to essential oils, which forged a new creative path for my artistic expression. Although I began in Aromatherapy, the use of essential oils for Perfume is where I find the greatest skill in working with these precious essences. Currently I live in an extremely creative household in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Can you tell us about Natural Perfumery?
The term Natural and Natural Perfumery varies from person to person and is dependent on their point of view. The word is like that big elephant where different people wearing blindfolds are all touching a different part of the animal.

I once spoke with a perfumer who, although she worked with synthetic aroma chemicals, defined herself as working with Naturals. I have also read labels that use words like "created with essential oils and natural fragrance oils", yet others include animal ingredients such as true Civet within what is called Natural Perfumery. So, you see, the words Natural Perfumery have the ability to incorporate quite a vast spectrum. I call myself a Botanical Perfume Artist.

What led you to perfumery, especially natural perfumery?
I've been challenged with chemical sensitivities and asthma. When I first inhaled the aroma of Juniper essential oil it was as if a veil between worlds had lifted and I was taken to a forest. For me the forest is a place of breathe, expansion and renewal. I became enchanted by aromatherapy for healing and studied the practice formally. Eventually I came to the realization that it was the art form of creating botanical perfume that aligned perfectly with my artistic expression. Essential oils are an extension of my artistic palette.

What differentiates your fragrance from other natural fragrance lines?
Botanical is the term that resonates with what I choose to create, both visually and aromatically. At times I include essences that come from the sea or apis realm, which technically are not botanical in nature, however my palette is comprised of ninety nine percent botanical ingredients. I choose to work with essences that are whole, organic and of vital origin whenever possible. The animal ingredients like civet, ambergris and castoreum, contained in many natural perfumes are not in the fragrances I formulate.  The botanical perfumes I create are very concept driven and fabricated by my own hand. In keeping with the spirit of the exquisite handmade artifact, our quarter ounce perfume flacons arrive in a couture crocheted pouch. Each fragrance is illuminated with an image by award winning artist and concept designer Gregory Scott Spalenka. All these aspects create an intimate interaction with the beauty of nature.  While studying in art school I took classes on bookmaking and letterpress printing. Later when I lived in New York I owned a Van der Cook flat bed Letterpress housed in a brownstone in Greenwich Village. The love of craft is embedded in my artistic psyche. As William Morris, I embrace the primacy of the handmade object and wish to bring that heritage and romance to my fragrance line.

Tell us about the fragrances you’ve created.  With a deep respect and adoration for Nature and her spirits I mindfully formulate each perfume. The most popular fragrance in my current line has been created for the coastal live oak of California. At the moment I am calling this fragrance "Q" for Quercus, the botanical name for Oak, soon that name will be replaced along with a companion perfume. The melody for this formulation began with a strong intention set on the Celtic high holiday of Beltane to protect four large oaks. This fragrance set in motion a series of perfumes devoted to the aromatic landscape of California. I have become active in my community to protect our native oaks and bring consciousness to the value of our beautiful native plants.

The perfume Chaparral celebrates the sages and other native plants found here in the Santa Monica Mountains where my home is located. Vera, our ode to Lavender, came to fruition when Sandy Messori asked me to be the keynote speaker at the Ojai Lavender Festival. I choose to fashion a fragrance devoted to the Lavender farmers of Ojai and the aromatic plants emblematic to the region.  My process in composing fragrance is very meticulous. Some of the perfumes contain multiple handcrafted accords and tinctures specific to the perfume. I create the fragrances as editions; each edition may vary depending upon what materials are available at the time. Botanical perfumes are like wine, dependent on the agricultural and climatic conditions of the moment. Raw materials shift and may not be available from one season to the next. The system of editions gives me flexibility within the dynamic world of nature and resonates with my background in the visual arts.

What is the oddest ingredient that you have used in perfumery?  I tend to tincture (put into alcohol) quite a variety of materials. "Odd" is a relative term. When individuals have their palette done for a bespoke perfume, custom perfume portrait, they get to experience the scope of my aromatic collection. My clients are most intrigued by the distillation of earth after the first monsoon rains in India, sea shells, mushrooms and chocolate, and an attar my beloved refers to as the "horsy" one.  Currently I am tincturing bee propolis, combs and caps for a signature perfume of our mascot, the Bee. I have found a really lovely, local gentleman who has a long family lineage of working with the land and the bees. He will be supplying me with the propolis, comb, caps, honey and beeswax needed for my perfumes.
It is a joy discovering local individuals to work with.

As a perfumer, where do you find your inspiration?  Essential oils are congealed nature; it is the beauty of the materials that attracts me to work with them. In some ways I am like the bumblebee drone, endlessly seeking those potent scent molecules aloft in the air currents.

Where do you draw your inspiration?  You are obviously an artist as well.  I have a very deep well where I draw up inspiration. The primary source is the divine. Threads that lead to the center of my creative heart include nature, mythic stories, relics of the past and all that is rich in beauty. At other times I am intrigued by the mystery of it all.

There must have been a defining moment that led you to become a perfumer. How did that happen?
The nature divas sprinkled their fairy dust on me, grabbed my hands and took me to their circle to dance when I first inhaled Juniper essential oil. It was at the World of Aromatherapy Conference of 1996 that I met luminaries involved with essential oils deepened my love affair.

Were you inspired by any one perfumer?  I am inspired by passion; David Crow and Jan Kusmirek are two individuals who are very passionate about aromatics. Although both these magnetic gentlemen have created perfumes they are not "technically" perfumers. Gail Adrian has had the deepest affect on my work. She taught me how to bring my essence as an artist and lover of mythic imagery into my perfumes.

What was your favorite fragrance growing up?  The fragrances that have entwined
themselves into my psyche and continue to stir me the most are those of my birthplace,
Argentina, and the full sensorium of my grandparents' apartment in Buenos Aires. 
There was an Argentine children's cologne that I loved called "Colonia de Bebe", it was
a typical cologne with an abundance of Neroli. I remember my grandmother and aunts
spritzing all the cousins with this as we went out to attend a family function. The
other fragrances I recall are L'Air du Temps and Anais Anais. My mother worked in
the fashion industry, creating knitwear for Ali McGraw, Charo and Lois Clarke (James
Garner's wife). She would return from her travels to Paris with perfume, maroon glaces
and brie.  Anais-Anais by Cacharel and L'Air du Temps Perfume by Nina Ricci are
now linked in my mind with my mother and travels to Europe.

What is the most amazing fragrance you have ever smelled? 
The aroma of fresh plumeria and pikake flowers in Hawaii!!! I am also quite fond
of the flowering bulb The Pink Lady.

What are your favorite smells?  I adore the aroma of the plant kingdom: Fresh
tuberose flowers from McGrath Farms, Plumeria in Hawaii, The potted Jasmine
sambac next to my front door, the fragrance of the California chaparral in
the springtime, the fresh and ozonic quality of the air on at edge of the seashore
and the vegetative wood of the forest

Which fragrance do you wish you had created?  Nature is where I chase
my muse, particularly the hypnotic florals. I would have liked to be the
authoress of all the divinely scented flowers.

What power do perfumes have over people, do you think, if any?
Fragrance and perfumes have the power to shift our consciousness, take us
on journeys to forgotten places; a lovers embrace and adventures not yet imagined.

How do you tie in your artwork with your fragrances?  The connecting threads
are most apparent in my love of nature, heightened consciousness. and mythic
story. In both artistic expressions I am a storyteller, weaving tales through imagery
intended to awaken us to the presence of the soul. We've chosen to use Gregory
Scott Spalenka's artwork with the perfumes because they are so evocative of these realms.
Some of the images have been created specifically for our fragrances.

sample packet
Greg has contributed visual development work for films such as The Golden Compass and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. His rich imagery is integral to the full sensorial experience of Nature that Roxana Illuminated Perfume brings forward. I feel honored to have the opportunity to incorporate his illuminations with the perfumes. It is a perfect synergy.

I have to tell you, I am also totally smitten with Mandy Aftel and her fragrances. She is a goddess. (so are you) Has she influenced you in anyway?   Thank you for attributing the word Goddess to me! I was referred to Mandy Aftel in the year 2001 by our mutual and dear friend Christopher McMahon, just after the second World of Aromatherapy Conference held in Seattle. In the late nineties Jan Kusmerik brought the consciousnesses of the link between aromatics and alchemy into my mind. A couple years later I picked up the book Essence and Alchemy due to the title and imagery on the book cover. At the time I was teaching aromatherapy and had many students yearning to deepen their knowledge of blending. I asked Mandy if she was interested in sharing her knowledge in the Los Angeles area with my students and me. The first class took place here at my home in the Santa Monica Mountains. This was my introduction to the concept of perfumes as constructed artwork. Mandy and I shared much of our knowledge with each other. In 2002 and 2003 we continued organizing classes together at bigger venues like the Bodhi Tree. I am grateful for the path she has forged and the most extraordinary friends I have made because of her. She certainly is the Diva of the Natural Perfume Panorama.

Why do you think so many women and men are part of this fragrance explosion, especially the niche and natural trend?  Olfaction is part of the rich multi media world that artists now turn to as we take the quantum leap into unexplored areas of the brain. Artists, as the antennas of our culture, sense this new terrain and the possibilities of incorporating all the senses as part of an art experience. Healers are utilizing the total sensory experience in their wholistic practice and there is also a deepened trend for items created by hand. Most obvious is the impact of the Green Movement with its awareness on items from the botanical world.

When I think of you, I believe that you have chosen a metaphysical path in perfumery as well as your everyday life. Is this true?  I seek and appreciate heightened consciousness. I also enjoy discovering that which is hidden from our everyday perception. This is one of the two reasons I have chosen to include the word Illuminated in the company name. My intention is to illuminate the beauty and value of nature.

Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you or your perfumes that we have not discussed?
I will share a secret here with Sniffapalooza Magazine readers. I have been working with internationally acclaimed faerie artists Brian and Wendy Froud (Faeries, Dark Crystal & labyrinth) to bring a touch of Elf land to the World of Fragrance. Do you believe in Faeries?

Where are your fragrances available?  Currently they are available at www.illuminatedperfume.comSign up for our newsletter to keep up to date with the latest breaking news from the Illuminated Studio.

Thank You Raphaella for your beauty and birthing this magazine that celebrates Perfume in all her varied manifestations.

Gregory Spalenka and Roxana Villa
photograph by Maria Del Rey

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