This fall, I was the fortunate winner of a drawing for one of Dabney Rose’s solid perfumes, Leda. A charming and cheery mimosa-and tagetes-anchored floral, Leda arrived in my mailbox just as our weather was turning icy cold and dreary. It cheered me more than kittens or a light box , and led me to contact Dabney Rose about her other indie perfumes. I found my personal favorite, Vagabond, a delightfully wild, smoky blend featuring chaparral herbs, spices, and wood resins. I also discovered Amberleah, an ethereal orange-flowered amber. Dabney Rose uses mostly organics, as well as the ancient techniques of enfleurage and salt paste, among others. She’s always been an indie, and started making perfumes and incense at age 11, using plants and flowers harvested from her family garden (not sure what her parents thought about that)! Her olfactory style is unique, and the solids have been great travel buddies with good longevity. I like the particularly beautiful presentation- the solids are housed brass cases, and cloaked in silk pouches made from vintage kimono. They can be found for $55 each (or $25 for the perfume in a plain metal container without the pouch) at dabney-rose.com
Marla: Tell me about some early scent memories, good and bad. Was your olfactory sense always strong?
DR: Every boxwood I smell takes me back 45 years to my grandfather’s farm. My mother had a garden but I remember only the fragrant flowers; peonies & Sweet William. We had a wild plum tree growing in the back lot that caught my attention every spring…when I was about 11 I played around with the blossoms in alcohol. I remember my mother putting on perfume as she got dressed to go out but I wasn’t drawn to learn what she was wearing. As a young woman, I knew nothing about commercial perfume counters, bottles and names; every time I approached one to try something out, all I could smell was alcohol and I really didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Today, I still don’t know all those famous names I’m ‘supposed’ to know! Have no clue!
Marla: What are some special natural materials for you?
DR: What strikes my fancy the most is using homemade tinctures with all sorts of flowers and fruits; there is a never-ending procession through the year. I think utilizing these is what can set a natural perfumer really apart from the others in the flock.
Marla: Some particular favorites you return to again and again?
DR: The fruits intrigue me the most these days, as a lot of their bouquet is floral with ‘all the extras’! I make a paw-paw tincture that makes me weak in the knees.
Marla: Something challenging? One that drives you crazy?
DR: I have never gotten cozy with patchouli, and vetiver is borderline…although I recognize they are handy in the palette, I still haven’t found ways to use them very much. OK, patchouli not at all! My challenge for 2011!
Marla: Something new you’ve discovered recently?
DR: Resins…and kyphi in particular. I was given a box that a friend inherited from an incense maker; it was filled with jars of resins; many I had never heard of. There was also a bit of kyphi that could be decades old & it smells like something my DNA is already friends with. I’m tincturing & infusing some & I just looooove it! It’s going to be featured in one of my ‘Dream Creams’ to sleep with; I bet it would bring dreams up from the deepest level imaginable!
Marla: How do you view Indie perfumery in light of recent regulation/legislation such as IFRA guidelines and the Safe Cosmetics Act (pending congressional vote in the US)?
DR: I would have to bootleg or move to another planet.
Marla: What has inspired your favorite perfumes? Certain people? Particular memories or settings? Music or art?
DR: Flowers for the most part. I have a perfume garden where I grow many flowers that I distill into hydrosols. But long before I started distilling I always had fragrant plants around me. They are the ultimate perfumes!
Dabney Rose’s work is a lot of fun, and has brought some needed sunshine to my winter. I can’t wait to try what she creates with the paw-paw tincture!