Can you tell us of your background?
I have a background in film, performance, and interdisciplinary art. I had an artistic awakening while earning my masters at Columbia College Chicago alongside bookmakers, painters, performers, and many other experimental makers. Experiential artwork that truly engaged the senses became a strong interest of mine. In an effort to create a platform for such work I teamed up with Ania Greiner to co-curate Food & Performance in Chicago. This showcase of performance art involving edibles brought out some incredibly creative minds during the three years it ran. During this time I was working on building my perfuming skills and then launched my perfume business J.Hannah Co.
Did you have an interest in fragrance growing up?
I grew up with a strong appreciation of scent. I was surrounded by the smells of the earth in my small mid-western farming community. Much of my childhood was spent climbing trees and tagging along with my two older brothers, as we rode bicycles all over town, stopping to smell and eat honeysuckle nectar. In the summer evenings, my mother would take us for long walks in the neighborhood, stopping to ask elderly neighbors if we could sniff their rose gardens. In farming communities, you can’t bypass the smells of manure, fresh hay, and the churn of agriculture. So yes, there is a core aspect of my early childhood revolving around scents and many of these are the materials of natural perfumes.
How did your current journey into perfume begin?
The pivotal moment that took me deeper into the art of perfuming came while I was earning my MFA and being surrounded by brilliant makers. That time ignited a very strong interest in sensual arts and specifically olfactory explorations. After graduating, I began studying alchemical processes in books and taking workshops to explore the materials in aromatherapy and perfume. I created a lot of horrible perfumes while learning, but for me the final goal was to be skilled in differentiating between a good perfume and an exquisite perfume.
I wanted to share these materials with people, so I started to teach natural perfume workshops and private blending with clients. I am fully committed to a collective experience. Teaching allows me to be a tour guide and curator. I often meet people in my workshops that are unable to experience the luxury of international travel. It’s a gift to share places like Morocco, Spain, France, Oman, and India distilled in little bottles, like passports to exotic and mysterious lands. I do hope that people will step away from the noise and experience something beautiful in their lives.
Where would you say the fragrance world is in at the moment? What are your thoughts for its future?
Right now is an exciting time for fragrance! Artisan perfumers have a wonderful opportunity to find an audience for their work. The Art and Olfaction Institute, for example, is absolutely taking the artisanal perfume industry by storm. Their Awards, which I won in the independent category for a collaborative perfume called Skive, is a no-nonsense double blind judging process that brings out the best in the field. It’s thrilling to be apart of this movement. I am also glad to see natural perfumes moving into a more mainstream market. For me, the natural materials trace back to the root of perfume.
Can you explain in your own words one of the major differences that people may notice with natural perfumes?
Natural perfumes really evolve during their dry down period. They aren’t going to last all day, so if someone expects that, they might not appreciate naturals. However, natural perfumes are like wearing a quietly shifting piece of artwork. The pallet of materials is much smaller than synthetics, but gorgeous complexity of natural materials cannot be replicated.
What would you say is your creative process?
I spend a lot of time sniffing essences and doing hands-on work. I might work through a concept in my mind, but when I begin opening bottles there is an unexpected path that leads down a rabbit hole of new discoveries. I work on a perfume for some time before I feel it is ready.
Do you have any advice for those that may want to become a perfumer or anything that is creative in general?