A perfumer, skin care specialist, and herbalist, Justine Crane’s wisdom is a sight to behold!  Enjoy the interview with the proprietress of The Scented Djinn.

Justine Crane

1.       Please describe your background. How did you come to make organic soaps, body butters, perfumes, and facial care? What do you do when you are not creating these lovely products?

I’ve been interested in natural skincare for as long as I can remember – oatmeal facials, honey washes, henna hair coloring – these were staple beauty care rituals around my house growing up. It was while living in the Sierra Nevada Mountains that I met a woman who would inspire my current passion for naturally scented products. She made her own wine from the indigenous plant-life that grew on the hillsides; collected sap and resin from various trees –cedar bark, pine cones, pine needles, and mountain misery– and created some of the most beautiful natural incenses I have ever smelled.

She showed me how to make useful items (yes, I made elderberry and gooseberry hooch at the ripe old age of 12!) with what grew around me, and I was hooked. I studied herbology, aromatherapy, spiritual aspects of plants, hoodoo, Native American herb lore, and began making skin care and aroma care products for myself based on what I had learned. It wasn’t until my family and I visited a soapery in the summer of 1993 that the soap making bug bit and that really kicked off the business of creating natural skin and aroma products for the public. I bought a soap making book and made some really horrid soap for a while, then I hit my groove and have been creating some pretty decent bars for years now. The perfumery came about organically, straight from the formulation of soap scents to what it is today – honest to goodness Natural Botanical Perfumery.

When I’m not creating skin care or perfume, I deal with my family. I have a large family—six children ranging in age from 30 to 15, plus a bushel of grandbabies from 10 yrs to 1 month old! My door is always open and swinging with children coming and going, stopping by to eat, dropping off bags of produce, or picking them up, fixing my broken down car, helping to dig up the garden, or just dropping in for a chat – 24/7. I often have to stop working the business to attend to life. Cooking is another passion of mine. I’m a self-taught cook and avid reader of cookbooks, my favorite of which is “Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom” – before Julia, my béchamel was bland glue. I know this probably isn’t perfumery PC, but I think I love cookery almost as much as perfumery—there! I said it! Ha! I’m currently using a lot of perfumery materials in recipes at home, to the point where the kids will lift a fork full of food to their mouths, then pause and ask, “Is this perfumed?”

2.       What is your favorite essential oil and why?

Not fair! I have several favorites, but I think I might be able to narrow this down a bit by saying that my favorite family of scents is earthy, mossy, woody and aromatic. Patchouli, sandalwood, Himalayan cedar, lichen, liatris, blood cedar, pine pitch, frankincense, myrrh – all of these would fall into the “favorite scents” category. These types of scents “speak” to me on a visceral level. When I experience them, I feel them in my body, little electrical currents shooting from one nerve to the next. They make me feel alive.

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?

I am a wizened practitioner of the Procrastination Method of creating products. In other words, I take my sweet time getting started, formulating and finishing up a product. I mull the idea before committing it into existence. I will often buy the containers weeks before I begin formulating the contents. I pick through my raw materials in a slow and meticulous manner, mentally adding and discarding different items. When I think I’ve got the idea gelled solid in my mind, I bring out all the tools and get to work.

I make a small test batch first to make sure everything is copacetic, make adjustments if needed, and finish up the product. Ideas for new products come from the raw materials themselves. For example, the inspiration for my Violettes et Baies body butter came as a result of receiving a gorgeous antique bottle of orris root resin. I started thinking about boronia and violet leaf and irones and how wonderful it was that I had an equally beautiful sample of raspberry ketone natural isolate (derived from aniseed essential oil) to really make the violet notes I was imagining even more luscious and juicy.

It’s just like that; I begin to think about something and all its possibly related parts and it comes together, like when I realized that vanilla tincture and a pinch of butter CO2 made a delectable caramel note.

4.       I recently tried your Amber perfume, and it was the best amber I have ever smelled. I am a loyal Amber fan, and the depth and breadth of your version rivals many. Please describe how you go about creating classic scents and how you put your unique twist on them.

Thank you! I happen to love my Amber perfume too. That’s another creation born of the Procrastination Method ~ ha! Amber is something a lot of NBP’s want to create, a classic scent with his or her own unique signature, and I certainly fall into that category.

I was given a brief a few years ago to create an amber scent for a client. I ended up creating three distinctive amber perfumes, one which became the custom fragrance for this particular client, another which ended up in a big 100 ml bottle in my bathroom which my daughter sprayed copiously over her clothes and body every morning until the bottle went dry, and another, more floral version, that I’ve yet to put into development.

The second version, the bathroom-sprayed-on-daughter-daily version, is the one that ended up (after much tweaking and loss of sleep) being the Amber perfume you used. One thing I’ve noticed about my scents is that I create fragrances that seem like they might not work in theory, but work beautifully in execution. I use sharp cilantro in Khamsa, a combination of juicy orange, hyacinth and fir balsam in Serj, a sharp resinous incense note created by combining the unique characteristics of osmanthus, hiba wood and patchouli in Oshiba.

I also use a lot of my own raw materials – hydrosol of ambrette that I distilled here at home, a hand tinctured hyacinth, lemon and frankincense hydrosols, home distilled frankincense and lemon essential oils. Knowing the source and purity of my materials is pretty important to me, so I love that aspect of creating perfumes using elements I made right here in my studio. Creating classic scents can be a struggle for many NBP’s, however, there are templates, basic formulations, that help get them along.

For example, I am currently in the process of creating a few fougere fragrances, each unique, but all using a basic fougere scent profile—oakmoss, musk, lavender, geranium and tonka—to this I might add clary sage, bergamot, vanilla, amber, carnation, ylang-ylang, rosemary, cinnamon, rose, horse chestnut tincture, any number of narcotic florals, or turn it in a more agrestic direction using liatris and hay absolutes. The sky’s the limit! Once the basic template of the fougere accord is created, it can be used in any number of fougere style perfume formulations. My ‘unique twist’, I believe, is simply my distinctive approach to putting all these perfume pieces together.

5.       What do you consider to be your signature product or scent and why?

Serj. Serj has the most hours dedicated to its creation; it came about as a labor of passion and love. The notes in Serj are all materials that really, truly spoke to me on a gut level. The fir balsam is stunning, the orange juice essential oil is sparkly and iridescent, the hyacinth tincture adds a colorful floral tone to the formulation, and I made the frankincense oil that’s in it. I mean, there are a thousand reasons why Serj defines my perfumery. You should try it sometime. Do I think it’s my best fragrance? Not especially. It’s really good, even great by some standards, but I’m sure my best is yet to come.

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?

Being noted on Anastasia Angelopolous’ “favorites” list! All the positive feedback I receive from clients is my favorite feedback. I’ve made lifelong connections with some of my clients and knowing that there are people in the world who really get what I’m doing, who appreciate the work and effort I put into the products I create, warms my heart. It keeps me going.

7.       What plans do you have for your shop in 2011? What should we be looking out for?

I currently sell skin care on my Etsy shop, perfume on my Artfire shop. I separated the two because I felt there was too much spillover. Some people have it in their minds that an artist of aromatics can’t have so many pokers in the fire, that it somehow constitutes a lack of expertise – is she a creator of natural skin care or a perfumer? I am both.  I also have a non-functioning website that I plan to work on this year at www.thescenteddjinn.com. The most exciting things

I have planned for 2011 have little to do with the shops and more to do with networking in my home community. I’m planning a series of scent exhibitions and workshops to begin May 14, 2011. I think it will be interesting to bring Natural Botanical Perfumery to the people in my community. I imagine none of them have any idea they have a perfumer in their midst! And introducing folks to NBP in general is good for all NBP’s – dispelling the myth that this style of perfumery is just witchy aromatherapy is going to be fun.

Now that I have the skin care and perfume separated, as such, I am more mentally prepared to create distinctive products for each site. I’m really looking forward to creating more hydrosols, and I’m gearing up to make small amounts of absolutes using a butane extractor – cross your fingers and toes that I don’t blow myself up! I’m excited about using a lot of local products that I have access to, like olive leaf, lemongrass, lemons, hyacinth, cucumber, almond blossoms, and honey in some of the skin care I create this year.

8.       Do you have any favorite crafters or artisans that you would like to share with us?

Anastasia Angelopolous is a producer of top drawer soap and incense (Chant by Eleneetha on Etsy),  Yuko Fukami is a new Natural Botanical Perfumer who I think will be turning heads in the near future (Parfum Phyto on Etsy), Amanda Feeley is a new NBP as well and she’s creating some really well-received perfumes (Absinthe Dragonfly on Artfire), Nathaniel Musselman makes incense in the style of ancient alchemists – really fine smelling, beautiful handmade, natural incense (Nathaniel Musselman on Etsy), Dabney Rose, Shelley Waddington — gosh, there are really so many it would take days to get through them all.

9.       What advice would you give to budding perfumers or artisans who are looking to present their wares to the public?

Constantly study your materials, and get out there and do it! Woody Allen said, “98% of success is showing up,” so show up! Build a solid local following while you’re building your online presence. Be honest. And don’t ever, for one minute, believe you have nothing more to learn.