60. profile: thorn & bloom

we were first introduced to thorn & bloom a few months back when we met owner and sole perfumer jennifer botto at herbstalk. we were immediately struck by how beautiful and sophisticated her fragrances were. inspired by her appreciation of the outdoors (she grew up on a farm in northern new york), jennifer creates complex scent combinations using all-natural ingredients. we recently caught up with this nature-loving entrepreneur at boston's public garden. while taking in the beautiful scenery, we discussed the process of natural perfumery as well as the inspiration behind several of the fragrances in her line:

what is your favorite time of day to create?
i'm a morning person. there's a quiet stillness in the early hours that you just can't experience at any other time of day. i love the solitude, the soft light, and the feeling that you have all the time in the world. also, my nose is at it's most receptive in the mornings, and my ability to differentiate aromas wanes significantly after a few hours in a row of blending. a phenomenon called olfactory fatigue happens after consecutive sniffing sessions, so i'm always trying to race the clock before i'm scent-blind!

favorite or most inspirational place?
i love being in water. whether it's ocean, lake, pond, hot spring or bath tub. i'm most at ease when i'm wet. there is something very primal and soothing about languidly floating in still waters, which envelop my body in a womb-like embrace. my sense of sight and hearing are diminished under the water, leaving touch as a major receptor. i love feeling each water molecule in gentle contact with every single nerve ending on my skin. to me, it's extremely therapeutic. after a dip, i feel completely refreshed and receptive, like a blank slate.

how did you get involved in perfumery?
i think my obsession with all things sensual began with diane ackerman's book a natural history of the senses. her ability to reference science, nature, history and personal experience when describing scent drew me in. stephen harrod buhner's the lost language of plants also helped me push towards natural perfume, as he delved into a secret world of plant communication through scent. i find the world of olfaction fascinating, and working with naturals helps bring me back to my roots as a farmer's daughter. living in the city often gives me nostalgia for the great outdoors of my youth, so when i blend these raw materials, i'm immediately swept away to another place. i can leave the city for a little while and be surrounded by brambles and blooms, or stand in smoky clouds of smoldering cherry trees.

your fragrances or so evocative. was there a memory or specific inspiration that guided you when blending them?
definitely! wild rose began as an attempt to recreate the scent of freshly plucked rose in a hyper-real way. to me, roses have always exuded a musky raspberry aroma, so i wanted to capture that delicious fruitiness. but there is also a soft, powdery element to roses, which i tried to impart with myrrh and benzoin resins. stranger in the cherry grove initially started as a recipe to conjure the scent of black cherry pipe tobacco, which my father smoked for years. i remember that smell so vividly, and wanted badly to bottle it. the resulting blend ended up taking on a personality of its own, but to me, it still reminds me of that pipe.

what are some unexpected everyday sources of inspiration?
my primary sources of inspiration are nostalgic memories and nature itself. for me, i love recreating fond memories, such as my mom's garden after a spring thunderstorm, which i tried to capture in savage garden (bluegrass offers a wonderful fresh, green, metallic, ozone note). i also strive to pay homage to specific ingredients, such as the gorgeously tropical champaca (magnolia) flower in bird of paradise, which i flanked with zesty ginger and soothing sandalwood. i love that my blends can be related to on a personal level; they aren't the ubiquitous surreal fantasy blends that many synthetic perfume houses offer, which often bare little resemblance to anything found in nature.

what are some of the benefits and nuances involved in working with 100% natural ingredients?
natural aromatics are very different from synthetic aromachemicals. a natural jasmine extract will have hundreds (or more) of individual scent molecules, both desirable and undesirable depending on the nose. one famous molecule, indole, gives jasmine it's signature animalic smell, with a subtle undercurrent of human feces (which contain large amounts of indoles)! when perfumers work with synthetics, they are able to use certain isolated molecules from a jasmine flower and blend in a more controlled way, often leaving out the less desirable notes. as a natural perfumer, i'm not able to pick and choose which jasmine molecule i'd like to work with - instead i utilize the entire spectrum. it can sometimes be problematic and i find myself trying to find ways to minimize certain nuances. more often, though, it is a welcome challenge. i look at it as a celebration of the flower in it's entirety and choose to take the thorn with the bloom.

i love that many of the ingredients in my blends are prized by aromatherapists. aromatics such as lavender, frankincense, rose and chamomile are often used in both perfumery and aromatherapy, so using them gives me a sense that i'm offering a product that will work with your body on many levels.

do you plan to expand your roster of scents? any hints on what we can expect?
absolutely! i'm currently working on a line of solid perfumes that will be poured into vintage abalone and silver compacts. working with an oil base is so much different from an alcohol base, so i'm finding that my style of formulation needs to change. solid perfumes require many more top notes, otherwise they'll be overwhelmed by the oil. it's a great opportunity to showcase juicy citrus, soothing lavender and fresh evergreens. my favorite new formula will feature a spicy/green/fresh blend of coriander, green pepper, fir needle, tomato leaf and jasmine.

do you have a favorite fragrance among your line?
it's so hard to choose! personally, i like to alternate my fragrances according to season. so, while my favorite is stranger in the cherry grove, i would not choose to wear it on a hot summer day. its personality is best suited for a cold autumn or winter day, when its warm smokiness can be appreciated and held close. my choice for summer would be bird of paradise; it exudes a sensual tropical aura that reminds me of sandy beaches and exotic flowers, but also refreshes with a hint of fresh ginger and tart pineapple.

what is the best piece of creative advice you've ever been given?
it would have to be "know when to stop"! developing a satisfying blend can take weeks or years, depending on the ingredients and the perfumer's vision. i'm sure it must be similar to painting, when there is a point that you must put down the brush and declare the work finished. personally, i'd love to work on a blend for years and really exhaust all my options for blending combinations, but that's so unrealistic! for me, the requirements for a finished blend are: harmonious top, heart and base notes, a long beautiful finish, and a cohesive identity. as long as a scent is beautiful in it's own unique way and it fits those requirements, i call it done. otherwise, there is a very real danger of blending to obsessive compulsion!

what is the best piece of creative advice you have to give?
i value a self-taught approach to creativity. while i enjoy learning about the elemental basics of my craft (organic chemistry, plant science, distillation techniques, traditional french blending methods, etc.) in an institutional setting, i believe that creativity is best honed in a personal way and should come from within. don't be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and trust your creative instincts!

jennifer's creations can be purchased online at her website. also be sure to look for her at the sowa market and greenway open market.

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