The Olfactive

Robyn Nakamoto McUsic

Perfumer and Owner at Reliquary Perfumesw





• Growing up was scent a large part of your life? 

It was a part of my life, but I didn’t realize it at the time. I was born in San Francisco with the heavy smell of damp fog rolling in over the bay, and the colorful aromatics of Chinese cuisine wafting down the street.  I was raised in Honolulu, Hawaii with its heady white florals, and lush green foliage dripping with morning dewdrops.  I lived in New York City with the aroma of steaming metal, sweaty subway cars and fragrant candied cashews on 5th avenue.  Now, my husband and I live in Santa Monica, California, surrounded by the salty ocean air, where I create my own perfumes, but all those places I’ve grown up in and lived have a bearing on my scents.

Fragrances have a magical quality being intangible but extremely evocative at the same time, which I find fascinating.  It’s the sense you cannot “see,” “touch,” “hear” or “feel,” but once you experience a fragrance, it’s imprinted on your memory in a way that none of the other senses are and is something you will never forget. Like everyone, I have been collecting these scent memories my entire life, through different experiences and travels, and continue to collect them as I move through life. I know the scents I create ten years from now will be different from the ones I create today. That’s what makes perfuming so very personal.


• What is your background and how did you begin working within the fragrance world?

I had the good fortune of studying perfuming at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery in France.  But before that, I was very much self-taught. I’ve been a self-taught visual artist my whole life, primarily using charcoal and graphite for my realistic-surrealist works, and went on to study Art History at the University of Southern California. I focused on ancient art with an interest in Renaissance and Impressionism.  In the years after I graduated, I took an interest in aromatherapy which later transformed into perfumery.  I was obsessed - reading, researching, and finding my small perfumer’s organ rapidly expanding as I obtained more and rawer perfuming materials.  I played with tincturing and extracting my own botanical essences, experimenting and creating endless fragrant combinations.

This passion for creating and perfumery eventually made me realize I had to take classes in perfuming which led me to southern France. I remember being so excited when I arrived. This was the very birthplace of perfume! My time in Grasse was informative and incredibly inspiring.  I carried that experience and knowledge home with me and created what is now Reliquary Perfumes. 

• Tell us about your work and your brand?

What started as a kind of personal art project (attempting to create olfactive interpretations of visual works of art) turned into an incredible journey into the world of perfumery.  This endeavor eventually blossomed into what is now Reliquary Perfumes. My process for creating all the perfumes in our Gallery of Fragrances starts with extensive research into the history and symbolism of the chosen painting, noting fragrant story-telling components that play an important role in the work of art, as well my own artistic interpretation when choosing which notes to include in the final fragrance.  When composing and structuring the perfume, I constantly ask myself, “What would I smell and feel if I jumped into the painting at this very moment?” What is the story I’m trying to convey?

As Reliquaries are shrines that house sacred objects, precious items from another time, place or culture - Reliquary Perfumes is a niche perfume line, home to these unique bottled fragrance “experiences.”  I wanted to create fragrances that were not only pleasing to the nose but also bottled artworks that transform paintings into intimate sensual experiences, plunging the viewer/wearer into the works of art themselves. 

• How does background or culture play a large role in your work?

I think it would be difficult for a perfumer not to be influenced by their background, either consciously or subconsciously. My background plays a huge role in my perfuming. I’m of Japanese descent, so I have scents like “Sakura” which seek to capture the perfect cherry blossom perfume. And I grew up in Hawaii, so I have scents like “Tahitian Eve”, where I explore my own childhood. Scents like the more masculine-leaning “Debonair” are a nod to my love of France.


• What would be your favorite smell?

Night blooming jasmine is my favorite botanical fragrance.  When studying in Grasse, I remember walking the town’s narrow cobblestone passages in the evening, and the sweet, narcotic aroma of Jasmine blossoms filled the balmy summer night air.  It was magical, and the scent of Jasmine transports me back to Grasse every single time.


• Where can we purchase your scents?

Reliquary Perfumes will soon be available on our own website, but currently, we are available on Etsy - an online retailer for handmade items.  I love taking an active role in every aspect of perfumery - from the graphic design and packaging to the hand-blending, bottling and gift wrapping.  It allows me to have a personal connection to every person that purchases a bottle of perfume, which I really enjoy.


  •  At the moment fragrance is an artform, how do you feel about arts in all forms importance in the life of a person.

I greatly appreciate and place the highest importance on all forms of Art, whether it’s music, dance, dramatic, visual or even culinary.  A common theory which I agree with wholeheartedly is that creativity, imagination and the creation of Art is what sets humans apart from all other species in the animal kingdom.  Imagination and creativity make each person unique - and uniqueness is what makes each person interesting.

My favorite poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “Where I create, there I am true.”