Greetings! I hope that you all had a wonderful (and organic? :)) Valentine’s Day yesterday. Today I am pleased to feature the lovely Nina of Midnight Gyspy Alchemy. Nina makes very unique perfumes made with oils infused with dried fruits, herbs, and spices, as well as body butters, bath teas, soaps, facial serum, and salve. Join me in a journey through her craft development and her scent inspirations.
1. Can you tell us a little about your journey in becoming a perfumer? When did you create your first scent that you really liked? What prompted you to open a shop?
My journey began some years back after reading a magazine article about homemade bath and body products. It started off with making soap as gifts for relatives and for myself. So I purchased everything to make soap and salts and a few fragrance oils and essential oils to use as single note creations. I soon tired of them and became curious as to what other scents I could make and mixed a few different oils here and there.
Really, my first scent to evolve was a lavender, vanilla, sandalwood scent, and I could not get enough of it! Though a simple and yes very common scent in bath and body shops, it opened a door to a whole new world for me . From then on I could not stop. What began as scents for only soap soon turned into a fascination (or obsession if you will) and I spent any free time reading everything and anything I could find on perfume making. My new found passions led be to buy dozens of oils and herbs at a time to play with … I was hooked.
Though I found that I would lean more toward the incense, powdery, and spicy notes like patchouli, myrrh, sandalwood or clove, still I felt they simply needed to be more complex and enticing, so that is where the herbs, fruit and extracts came in to play, adding in notes of unexpected playful, curiosity, and mystery to my aromas. I opened up a shop to be able to share with others my creations, offering unique products that one could not find anywhere else, items inspired by old world ways of creating home remedies when herbs were hand ground in a mortar and pestle and one made oil infusion by sunlight in old apothecary jars.
With this and a bit of my own personality that has intrigue for the arcane, tarot readings, natural herbalism, and gypsy magic “Midnight Gypsy Alchemy” came to be. My hopes were to reach those with kindred spirits, the gypsy-hearted who looked for something a bit more magical in their bath and body products.
2. What do you do when you are not making perfumes, soaps, and other products?
By day I work full time as an HR Assistant and Corporate Event Planner for a local company. So running my shop is a side business that is done in the wee hours of the morning when everyone is asleep. My hours? Well, that is 3:30 am to 6:00 am on weekdays and 11:00 p.m. to about 4 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. So when time allows and everyone is up, I love to spend time with my husband Shawn and my two children, Victoria who is 9 and Tristan who is now 8 months, and my 3 fur-babies Smeigle the dog, Luna and Seis our cats.
We like to hang out at the home mostly, we have fun cooking together in the kitchen making special recipes we got from the Food Network… we love that channel! Sewing and making dolls for my daughter to play with is another pastime of mine and I often sell some of my creations under the name “Southern Gypsy Moon Art.” When the weather is warm and I so look forward to this as spring draws close, we enjoy being outside and having our “Gypsy Parties” in the backyard. We hang strings of old Christmas lights and place candles in votives or mason jars, hang old sheets from the trees to make a tent and throw old blankest on the ground. We then eat dinner outside in the evening while talking, being silly, listening to music and drink grape juice from wine glasses….we make wonderful family memories this way.
3. Describe your creative process. How do you usually get ideas for a new product, and what is your process for creating and testing that product?
Ideas are always swirling in my head, sometimes I wish I could shut the brain off just for a bit to get some peace…I am always jotting down notes. I usually will get an idea in the middle of the night, and then I can’t sleep and have to run down the stairs to the apothecary to start mixing, blending, sniffing, crushing, and stirring like a mad scientist until I create what I had in mind.
Inspiration comes from anything really, from memories or places, flowers, plants, seasons, poetry and books as well. My testing process is quite fun actually. I get to wear new scents almost every day when I do ! This testing will go on for a month on each scent sometimes longer until I am completely satisfied with it and I feel it is ready for sale. Same goes for creating butters, salts and salves. I use these on myself and family and keep notes of the results and our thoughts while we use the products. From there I then add or remove ingredients or simply start from scratch if not happy with the end results.
4. I love how you infuse oils with herbs, berries, and other ingredients as part of your perfume base. I find this truly unique, and it makes for interesting scents that I have never experienced before in a natural perfume. Talk a bit about your background, since you reference your mother’s and grandmother’s herbalist practices in many of your product descriptions. What did you learn about the art of blending from them? (Feel free to hold on to any secrets!:))
I come from a large Hispanic family and our roots go back to Spanish Gypsy decent. We were the Flamenco musicians and street vendors from Spain who came to the US in the 20’s and along with them brought their old ways in herbal medicine. My family were strong believers in natural and spiritual healing because many could not afford to go to the doctor as means were very limited so they often did without the doctor.
They used what they had and could find until worst case scenarios of illness came upon them and had no other choice but to go. Other than that, they pretty much took care of any minor ailments on their own by the use of herbal teas and salves. This practice was passed down from generation to generation. One home treatment we used quite often and I remember my mother using this on us as children was she would slice a piece of her Aloe Vera plant open and then place it along with some cobwebs, yes cobwebs over our wound then wrap to secure it with gauze.
We kept it on for a day or so then she would re-apply it again… this really would help heal a nasty cut fast. But that was not the strangest remedy trust me. 😉 The beauty secrets of my family, well, they swore by olive oil, rose water, and oatmeal which they used in many beauty recipes on occasion for home papering when time allowed even mixing the three can make a great facial mask. I learned very quickly that not everything has to be store bought and if you can make it then it is that much better because you know it’s natural and homemade; make do with what you have.
I am proud to have learned the art of brewing herbal tea and making oil infusions from my mother and grandmother. In their eyes nature could provide some of the best natural cures and there was not an herb that couldn’t cure what ailments we had. With that, I incorporated it into my perfume oils infusions changing it up just a bit, drawing the healing factor from herbs and fruits as a well as the natural aroma my own way of perfume alchemy.
5. Why all-natural? I ask this because many people do not understand why anyone would vow to only use all-natural or organic products on their bodies? Why did you make the decision to only create and offer all-natural products?
Two reasons really, of course one is I want to be able to offer my customers quality products that are safe and gentle to use without any harmful ingredients so they know what they are putting on their bodies…you must look out for your customers. The second reason I create all natural is because to me it is such a challenge and I love a challenge. For example , I can use orange or pineapple fragrance oil even Fig fragrance to make some of my perfume oils but that would be too easy and I want to be different from those who do.
I love the labor of it and the time it takes to carefully extract something that is natural from a fig, pineapple, or herbs and not only draw its healing properties that are good for us but capture its essence and scent… bottling my own oils. If I find that I cannot extract the scent I want, because not all fruits and herbs will allow this, then I will try to create it note by note. The end result is very rewarding to me, something to be very proud when it goes out the apothecary door to my customers.
6. I love your graphic design work! Each label is unique, and they really stand out on each item. Who does your design work, and how to do try to capture the “spirit” of the product (or the experience of the product) with each label?
I am proud to say that I create all my own labels and graphic designs. Everything I know how to do in this area is self-taught really. When designing a label I have the scent created already and I have come up with the name or it is usually floating around in my head. So by this time, the design evolves out of what images I may find in old book illustrations or clip art software. I then make it fit based on what I imagine the scent and look should be. Sometimes the name of the products or an idea for a scent will evolve from the image I find first. There is just no telling how it will happen.
7. Can you describe the best feedback you ever received, or describe an interaction that you had that made you feel good about your creations?
Oh, yes indeed! I had a customer leave this wonderful feed back when I first opened the shop. I can’t even begin to tell you how it made me feel. I was over the moon because it is exactly what kind if feelings I try to create with my products and the fact that someone “got it” was more than words. It was this….
“If you can’t tell already, I’m completely in love with your products. The love and care that goes into them shines. It’s a treat just reading the product descriptions and looking at the pictures. Your scents really seem like magic to me. A couple of them reminded me so vividly of when I tried my mother’s perfume as a child. For a while, they gave me almost perfect recall of sense memories that I had no idea I still retained. Lovely. I guess, more simply, they all make me feel good :)”
8. What plans do you have for your shop in 2011? What should we be looking out for?
My plans for 2011 include introducing a new line of soy candles that will be available in all scents. Gypsy gift boxes will slowly be added for those special occasions, and there will be some small changes to the labels and packaging. Solid perfumes may get a different look as well I have not decided on the design yet and new pictures of my products are slowly being updated. Also, for spring, I have been working on a new blend. In this I am trying to capture an opium, oriental scent infused with golden pears some coriander, clove, jasmine, rose and real pears so far are in the mi,x but not complete yet. I’m not sure if it will be a limited edition scent for the season or a permanent addition to the shop, time will tell. I am so excited about this one though!
9. Do you have any favorite crafters or artisans that you would like to share with us?
I have many favorites but to choose I would have to say about four standout for me, they are For Strange Women, Roxana Illuminated Perfume, Lilith’s Apothecary, and Herbolution. These artisans I simply adore their creativeness and when I visit their shops, oh how they do inspire. It seems that I am always left with a sense of wonder and amazement over all their unique creations.
10. What advice would you give to budding crafters and artisans who are looking to present their wares to the public?
Test, Test and Re-test. Make sure you have a good quality product before you begin to sell. Find a theme or marketing plan that works for you, something that perhaps shows a little bit of your personality and who you are. For example, there is no sense in making items for those who adore the shore if you can’t stand the beach. You have to LOVE what you do, so put some of your heart and soul into your business: it makes the difference. Be sure to have good clear pictures and descriptions of your products since selling online does not offer the luxury of actually seeing or smelling the product in person: this is important. Make each order you send out as if it were a gift for someone. Take time to add little personal notes and samples, because it’s how special you make your customer feel too that will make then come back.
Wow, this was an amazing and beautifully detailed interview. Thank you, Nina!