Today I am pleased to feature Tracy Wickland. She has two e-boutiques, Aroma Artisan on Etsy and My Skin Soap Studio. She makes gorgeous soaps and amazing perfumes, bringing her unique talent and perspective to the natural botanical perfumery community.
1. Please describe your background. How did you come to make perfumes and soaps? What do you do when you’re not making these lovely products?
I am a self taught artist and have had an interest in essential oils for years. As a child, my family moved to Tehran, Iran in the ’70’s. This experience had a profound impact on me that I would not realize for years to come. Those smells and sights are ingrained in my memory and I can recall them well. As a little girl, I remember trying to make “perfume” by soaking rose petals in water and letting it sit.
Fast forward 30 years to 2001, I was a full-time Mom with a sick baby at home and struggling with PPD. I took a local cold-process soap making course for fun, but after the first batch I was hooked! So began the process, making lots of soap which went to friends and family. Endlessly, I began researching essential oils, absolutes, co2’s, resins, clays and herbs. It a compulsion. My life truly took on a life of its own. My husband has as auto-immune condition which affects his skin and he found that many commercial soaps and products often aggravated his condition. So making cold process soap seemed like a viable interest, however, I had not planned to go into this as a business. Why? Because it can be extremely expensive.
When I am not working on perfumes for my shop and custom signature perfumes or soap, I am working hard on my long weight loss journey. 60 pounds and still going strong! Spending time with my family comes first for me. I love daily sunset walks with my husband, our rescue dog, Maggie, and sometimes my teenage son comes along, which I secretly love. I cherish spending time with friends, love attending concerts, listening to music of all kinds, playing drums and road trips.
2. What is your favorite perfume or soap ingredient and why?
In soap, I love avocado oil. It creates a creamy, conditioning dense lather that I love. It is rich in vitamins A, D, E, lecithin and potassium. It’s wonderful for dry and mature skin. I guess since I am over 40, that includes me. For perfumery, it’s much more difficult for me to choose a favorite! If I had to choose one ingredient for perfumery, it would be jasmine sambac absolute. It is stunningly breath-taking to me. Full, lush, sweet, fruity and it plays so well with others. It makes me smile from the inside out every time I smell it.
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?
The ideas in my head are always evolving. Ideas often come by studying specific aromas until you feel you know them so well that you can just imagine them pairing with others. Some oils are easy to love right away, the citrus family for me, especially Sicilian 5-fold Lemon, Jasmine sambac absolute, a lovely aged sandalwood, for example. But, it is not uncommon for me to have spent anywhere from a year to 3 years creating a perfume before I get what I want. Once the maturation process has taken place and the perfume is complete for bottling, they are spot tested by the drop on willing participants and “testers” over several months for feedback. I personally wear the perfumes myself from start to finish throughout the entire creation process and evaluate them under various different conditions to see how they perform. It’s important that I keep detailed notes along the way. In soap making, I enjoy being much more impulsive and put ideas together right on the spot while making a batch.
4. I love your perfume Mirth. It is the perfect deep, earthy vanilla scent, and I hope to have it always in my collection. I know that it took you years to create this scent. Can you describe your process in creating Mirth, and how it may be different from other perfumes and other products you make?
Thank you so much. I am always thrilled to hear when someone loves a perfume I make. It’s a feeling of happiness that never gets old. When creating Mirth, I went all out, so to speak. It would be as costly as it needed to be and aged as long as it needed to be … until. Until took me at least 3 years. People had been begging me for a natural vanilla perfume. It became a serious challenge for me in several ways but one way was battling subliminal advertising. Years of commercial vanilla products on the market today have distorted and twisted the aroma of real vanilla until it was no longer vanilla anymore, but something artificial. Another challenge was how to approach lasting power and longevity. Vanilla co2, vanilla absolute, and vanilla beans smell wonderful in their own right, but they do not last on the skin that long. They need something more to support staying power on the skin. This is a constant challenge in natural perfumery.
5. What would you consider to be your signature product or scent and why?
Probably my Amber Sambaca or Cocoawood Spice perfumes. They really began selling much quicker than I expected. People wrote to tell me they loved them and couldn’t live without it. With Amber Sambaca, I sold the first batch of approximately 90 bottles in one months’ time. I was shocked. People waited patiently for several months (about 10 to be exact) while I made more! This took me by complete surprise.
6. Can you describe the best feedback you’ve ever received, or describe an interaction that you had that made you feel good about your creations?
I get wonderfully nice emails from people who fall in love with a particular soap or find their favorite new perfume. Maybe they write to tell me they can’t live without it. Or sometimes they tell me how their spouse practically chased them around the kitchen table and wouldn’t leave them alone when they wore my perfume that day. This … after years of marriage, kids, life! It’s a gift to be able to incite passion and happiness in people, to make them feel beautiful and share it with those they love. When I ship a package to Greece, for example, I feel as though I a small part of me is on that journey as well. It feels fabulous, traveling vicariously through my products!
7. What plans do you have for your shop in 2011? What should we be looking out for?
I have been working on 3 new perfumes for the last 2 years, simultaneously. The latest, Verve, is my most recent perfume which was released in the Fall of 2010. It was designed with men in mind and the women who love base note scents. The other two are still a work in progress, but I can tell you that they both share several of the same players such as Osmanthus Absolute, Jasmine Sambac Absolute, finely aged patchouli, Tuberose absolute and an organic vanilla bean infusion that has matured for a couple of years.
8. Do you have any favorite crafters or artisans that you would like to share with us?
Absolutely, there are so many people I enjoy. Here are a handful on Etsy that I love.
9. What advice would you give to budding perfumers and other crafters and artisans who are looking to present their wares to the public?
Do your homework about your craft and being in business for yourself. Get insurance.
Be safe. Natural does not always mean safe. When working with essential oils, absolutes, co2 extracts, resins or other materials understand the properties of each oil and it’s synergistic effect within a composition. Become so familiar with each material that your nose can identify it quickly within blends and alone.
Be patient. Especially with natural perfumery. I have learned more patience studying the art of perfumery than any other skill, second only to parenting and being a full time Mom! Know that there are years of trial-and-error before things feel “instinctual” and even then, you may not get what you want.
Be prepared for change. Working with naturals presents a degree of uncertainty. Essential oils are always changing from year to year, season to season, based on geographical locations, production methods and source. If you plan to reproduce perfumes successfully know that here is where having a good nose is key. Each time I recreate a new batch pf perfume I have to fine tune it because my oils have likely come from new crops and are different from the last lot. Even with precise measurements and reproduction procedures, it’s going to be a little bit different every single time. This is part of the challenge in perfumery and soap making for that matter, that still thrills me.
10. Is there anything else that you would like to share?
Be you. Imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery. Follow your own path not someone else’s. Blaze a new trail! You can study or read until your eyes pop out, but in the end you can’t reach the peak unless you have traveled the journey step by step.