Today I feature the talented Australian perfumer, Helena Liu, of Faunfare and Hyde.  She makes gorgeous, natural perfumes and bath salts inspired by mythology and personal experiences.  Please enjoy.
1. Please describe your background. How did you come to make perfumes? What do you do when you are not creating these lovely gems?

I fell in love with perfume fairly late in life.  It was until after many years of avoiding the perfume counters at department stores, where the fragrances rarely surprised or enticed me, that one day, just out of the blue, I wondered if there was more.  I discovered that a small handful of people were blending perfumes the way it used to be done before synthetic chemicals and mass production.  The seed to natural perfumery was planted and within a few weeks, I had purchased a collection of essential oils and absolutes and have blended incessantly since!

The invisibility and mystery of scent inspired me at first, to create my own signature perfume oils that I felt expressed who I was better than any of the commercial fragrances. I realised I was drawn to intensely animalistic and masculine aromas, like ambrette seed (which is a botanical essence closest to resembling animal musk), costus root (the root of a flower which is terrifyingly redolent of human hair or skin), and Australian sandalwood (a deeper, darker counterpart to the more well-known and well-used Mysore sandalwood).

Aside from the cost of these natural essences being nearly impossible for commercial perfume houses to use, very few commercial fragrances explore unusual and intriguing concepts that for me, make perfume fun to wear.  Unexpectedly, the more people found out I blended my own perfumes, the more they started sharing with me their own stories about their challenges in finding perfumes they felt expressed who they were.  I discovered I wasn’t alone and in mid-last year, launched Faunfare to celebrate all fragrance-lovers who were a little untamed and wild.

By day, I’m a doctoral student researching business leadership and the media so for me, having a creative outlet is an absolute necessity.  I also tutor Management at my university so my time for perfumery is growing ever more rare and precious!

2.  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’m usually hit by an overwhelming wave of inspiration when I’m indulging my other senses, like listening to a song or seeing a painting, and my mind start interpreting what the music or the vision would smell like if it was a perfume.  For example, I might interpret agrestic brush strokes with a similarly rough base note like hay absolute (another favourite), or translate a dizzyingly ethereal melody with coriander seed essential oil, a top note that imparts a slightly herbaceous and intoxicating quality.

3. I love the imaginative stories behind your perfumes, as well as the folklore references and your product design.  Can you tell us a little more about how your get inspired to create a new perfume, and how you spin the story that captures the scent?  Or does the scent itself then inspire a story?  How do you translate that into the graphic representations accompanying your perfumes (labels, images, etc.)?

As so many of my scents are inspired by songs, artwork, and folklores and myths, the presence of the protangonist (or more often, antagonist) moves naturally into my fragrances.  When I write the descriptions, I dab a generous drop of the perfume on my pulse points, inhale deeply, and the stories come to me.  However, sometimes it feels like my perfumes take on a life of their own.  For instance, one of my perfumes from my Faunfare line, Mnemosyne, was a result of many nights of mad blending until I arrived at a scent that evoked a vivid memory of my childhood.  I had no story to it, other than the connection it had with my own life, but as I wore it every day for a whole week, it started developing its own narrative.

I started to imagine a countryside setting on a warm summer’s evening, where the wind picked up the scent of trampled petals on a dewy grass.  The imagery became so powerful that it was almost impossible to see anything else other than be transported to that setting every time I wore the perfume.  Especially as my day job is mostly concerned with meticulous planning and analysis, I relish the opportunity that perfumery gives me to let my intuition and imagination run free.

4. What would you consider to be your signature product or scent and why?

I find I cycle from scent to scent, like last summer, I was absolutely fixated on my perfume Artemis and wore it every night for a burst of freshness and clarity.  However, if I had to name just one, I would have to say Jack the Ripper from my Hyde range.  I was speaking to a close friend of mine who was actually describing to me his ideal perfume.  He eloquently painted an incredibly salient scene of the cobblestone streets outside an opium den in London during the Victorian era and my mind soon filled it with a captivating and sinister character.  I imagined a man who was ostensibly restrained and reserved, smelling of jasmine and violets, swirling a glass of absinthe as he fought to contain his more savage instincts.

I think many people can relate to this character where we sometimes want to, or need to, break free from whatever external constraints are placed on us by our context.  The perfume itself is also lusciously dark and complex and it keeps me interested when I wear it right through to the dry down.  The absinthe is captured in the volatile top notes, where I have used aniseed to give it that bitter edge.  A rich Bulgarian rose and spicy night-flowering jasmine make up the heart, as well as orris root, otherwise known as the iris.  The iris is another one of my favourite essences to use, but one of the most expensive.  It is a uniquely metallic floral and reminds me a little of the scent of blood.  Finally, my favourite base notes of costus root and ambrette seed are featured in the dry down, which creates a haunting last  impression with its blend of the animalistic and bestial costus root and musky ambrette seed.

5.  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?

The response to my perfumes have truly blown me away.  When I began blending perfumes, I thought I might become the oddball that strangers walked past in the markets and wondered why I smelled like burnt wood or wet dog.  However, people started telling me how much they have longed for more unusual and interesting scents like the ones I aspire to create, or how they have adopted my creations as their own signature fragrances.  Once I passed around a vial of Jack the Ripper I happened to have with me at a dinner party and for a few seconds, the table had a collective moment of speechlessness, broken by a man who only murmured, “Oh my God!”  All of that makes me happier than what I can convey with words.

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

I hope to find the time to consolidate my products, perhaps find a way to reconcile my untamed woodland self (represented with Faunfare) with my Mr. Hyde :).  Actually, I’m in my last year of my PhD, looking to submit my thesis at the end of the year, so it will likely be a quieter one for my perfumery.  I intend to focus on larger, wholesale orders, before taking a breather at the end of the year to determine where I want to go with my stores.

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

For other natural perfumes, I admire Mandy Aftel (my favourites are Fig and Shiso) and Ayala Moriel has also been an inspiration to me.  In terms of art, Andrea Gutierrez is an artist I adore and also a friend of mine.  I’m so lucky to own a couple of her illustrations and hope to collect a few more.

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

Take the time to immerse yourself in your craft and find the courage to pursue your passion.  Sometimes, selling and marketing something can be the easiest way to lose your love for it.  Find ways to regularly remind yourself why you fell in love with your craft in the first place.  I like to read books about perfumery or scour independent, artisanal perfume houses for a few weeks while I put my shop aside.  When you are ready to sell your creations, do be responsible and honest about your products (e.g. don’t market your perfumes as natural if you use synthetic fragrance oils or label them organic if they are not certified).  If you breech your trust with your customers, it would be so much more difficult to repair your reputation than just being open, communicative, and ethical in the first place.

9.  Is there anything else that you would like to share?

I’m just grateful and humbled to be featured on your blog along with so many other talented artisans.  Thank you for this opportunity!

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