Yesterday Azar started her amazing in-depth look into the life and work on one of APJs favourite Independent Perfumers, Roxana Villa. Today we continue the fascinating story. I hope you are enjoying this insight as much as I am.
Roxana Villa of Roxana Illuminated Perfume: Interview #2
You use vital, natural materials to create your perfumes. How many of these materials do you distill, tincture and create yourself from what you gather in your own garden?
I prefer using the word botanical rather than natural since the terminology more accurately and authentically represents what I do. The word natural doesn’t mean anything and can be ascribed to all sorts of materials which are far from nature and what I personally would ever term as natural.
I currently do not distill any of my materials, I do work with small distillers and am extremely mindful where my essences come from. I am not interested in working with materials that have anything to do with the petroleum industry, which is where synthetics and most isolates come from. I’m also making more of an effort to use ingredients from companies that do not do animal testing or offer historical animal ingredients such as civet and castoreum.
I do extract scent and vital components from plants in my garden using processes that stem out of herbalism and ancient perfumery such as infusing, tincturing and enfleurage . A few weeks ago my jasmine sambac plants started their flowering cycle. Everyday I check for blossoms that will go into 190 proof alcohol, jojoba oil and a wax+oil preparation. The end result of the process will go into different products I offer and ones that are just for myself.
I find your artwork both profound and light hearted. The pieces entitled “Botanicus” and “Pollinate” are two of my favorites. Could you describe the process that brings your perfume and visual art into being?
Thanks so much for your sweet comment about my illustrations. Conceptual thinking is a skill set I learned while studying illustration at Otis Art Institute in the mid 80’s. The talent for taking an idea and transcribing into a visual image easily translates into a fragrance. For example, the fragrance Q in my line came out of the intention to save seven California native oaks on a lot next to our home. As a visual artist I would do a drawing and or painting to bring attention to the challenge, in this case I decided to take action by gathering leaves from the trees on the high holiday of Beltane, putting them into 190 proof alcohol to extract their essence and scent and creating a fragrance. At the time I did not have a line of perfumes, I was making my living as an illustrator, teaching aromatherapy on the side and creating custom fragrances. The oak is called Duir by the Druids, stemming from the Sanskrit Dwr meaning door. Q was the perfume which motivated me to launch my line so that I could bring awareness to the plight of this glorious native tree. My intention as an artist, whether working in the visual or aromatic realm is to illuminate, bring light, to the connection between humans and the realm of plants so that we may live in harmony.
I am curious about your work with feral bees. Are these bees the same genus-species (Apis mellifera) as our domesticated honeybees? Do you manage them in commercial style hives or just hope they will return to wild hives on your property?
The feral honey bee we have here in the US is indeed Apis mellifera. The difference between her and the genetically modified version used by industrial bee keepers is that she hasn’t been tinkered with in a lab to make her larger with the intention of producing more honey. The feral bee is smaller and contains a diversity of genetics making her resistant to the perils of her larger, frankensteined sisters. She is surviving quite well in urban areas where there is a diverse diet of plants and flowers versus the chemically treated crops of commercial agriculture. A great film to watch that addresses this topic really well is More Than Honey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NT05qEJxUk
There is a lack on consciousness when corporations get involved with nature, greed takes over and methodologies are practiced with no long term thinking. The current situation with GMOs is a great example. The major sources of media are all owned by giant conglomerates which choose what the masses need to hear. They edit information without fact checking and present views that further their causes.
The two hives on my property are feral bees saved from three different locations around Los Angeles. The methods I use are those of holistic beekeepers, or my new favorite term bee guardians. My mentor, Kirk Anderson, teaches us that the bees know exactly what they are doing, its humans who are messing things up. I allow the bees to build their own comb and I use absolutely no pesticides, fungicides, sugar water, etc. The honey bee is very fastidious and keeps the hive very tidy, at 98 degrees and knows what to do if things go out of balance. The more we stay out of the way the healthier they are and the more they can concentrate on the task given to them.
If you could chose only three people who have had the most influence on your life as an artist and perfumer who would they be?
While attending Otis Art Institute in downtown LA I had an illustration teacher named Laurence Carroll that was really different because he was passionate, full of energy and visionary. He encouraged me to follow the personal style he was seeing in the drawings in my sketchbook instead of doing standard representational type of illustration that was acceptable. Since then I’ve been using my own authenticity as my guiding light.
Here’s a quote by Steve Jobs that sums up what I learned from Laurence:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
Second on the list is Dr, Streicher who I heard speak at the very first World of Aromatherapy Conference in San Francisco. At the time I was still a newbie to aromatics. During his presentation he made a comment that really resonated with me about how some individuals entering into the field of aromatherapy have been called upon by the plants. That simple phrase resonated very deeply and made me feel like I was on the correct course.
The third person is the support of the collective from my family, which includes my mother, daughter, husbands, uncle, grandmother and ancestors.
I understand you will be launching an exciting new project soon. Can you describe it now or will you let us know when and where we can learn more about it?
I have multiple projects going on all the time, most of them are kept secret until they have manifested, they seem to have their own schedule. I’ve learned to stay in the act of flow. The one that is about to be birthed is still in secrecy mode. I can’t wait to shout about it from the roof tops. I may have more details once this interview is published.
Last question – I’ll keep it short: Do you have a favorite flower?
As a visual artist I would get asked “Do you have a favorite color” which as a perfumer is similar to having a favorite flower. I like different flowers for different reasons. In terms of my palette I seem to be most drawn to all the jasmines, particularly jasmine sambac, although auriculatum and grandiflorium are also favorites. The earthy, sexiness of labdanum and the soft, powdery cucumber notes of orris are others I am constantly attracted to.
Thank you so much, Roxana, for answering these questions and for taking the time to join us at APJ. I’m looking forward to reviewing the new version of your Impromptu and perhaps the 2014 edition of Gracing the Dawn as well. Best wishes for every success. I hope to make it to the NAHA conference this year to hear you speak in person.
It’s been a pleasure to chat with you Azar, I appreciate your intellect with the research and mindfulness you’ve displayed in preparing these questions.
All Photos Stolen Roxana Illuminated Perfume
Stay tuned Friday for a review and MAYBE a GIVEAWAY…….
Roxana & Greg at home May 2013 taken by Portia