Osmanthus Conversation with Perfumer & Candlemaker Nikki Sherritt
In the second conversation in our Osmanthus Series, I invited Nikki Sherritt to join the conversation. Candlemaker for Gabriel's Aunt where she creates naturally perfumed soy wax candles; perfumer in her newly launched Rebel & Mercury natural perfumes line - and an all-around wonderful lady with whom I had the pleasure to work for many years. We collaborated on several candles for under my brand, hosted events together, and participated at the 1st Artisan Fragrance Salon in San Francisco in July 2012. We initially met when Nikki drove up to Vancouver for a brief day for a private lesson and consultation way back when. We immediately "clicked" and I was so impressed with her candles that just had to commission her to handcraft a collection of them for me. Since the very beginning of our interaction and working together, we both felt that we have similar aesthetics and a similar passionate attitude about our work, being almost overly enthusiastic about it - and being quite proud about our self-taught knowledge in our areas of expertise.
Tea Party of Love, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.
Tea Party of Love, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.
In everything that Nikki does, there is a sense of free-spirit, innovation, and an unpretentious commitment to purity, independence and quality. This conversation will let you in to Nikki's experience of working with osmanthus in general, and her creative process behind her new perfume, Osmanthus Red and her other osmanthus prominent perfume, Cerise en Cocoa for her perfume line, Rebel & Mercury.
Ayala Moriel/SmellyBlog: How would you describe the scent of osmanthus?
Nikki Sherritt (Rebel & Mercury/Gabriel's Aunt): Mostly, for me it is like Violet meets Blackberry jam. I get this slightly powdery, sugary sweetness that is just too good to not use.
Ayala: Time and again I'm surprised at the varied responses to osmanthus. Although we seem to all find fruity notes there - they are all quite different. So far we had apricot, peach, cherry and plum - and now also blackberry!
Nikki: I am so surprised at how time and time again I get a powdery note from it. I love reading other perfumer's or perfumistas descriptions of notes or perfumes. We all get different nuances!
Ayala: Have you ever smelled the fresh flowers?
Nikki: Sadly, no, just the dried flowers. I have had my fair share of Osmanthus Tea too. I have always loved this delicate tea and how it just has hints of the absolute. Adding some raw honey to that tea is one of my favorite treats.
Ayala: You are fortunate! It took me eons to find osmanthus tea in Vancouver - let alone served in restaurants. Shaktea is the only tea lounge that serves it plain. And for years I was searching for it in traditional Chinese tea shops - but without the proper Chinese name for it, it was pretty futile… It wasn't until a friend of mine who speaks fluent Cantonese and Mandarin gave me a caddy of dried flowers that I was able to enjoy it in its pure form.
Nikki: Every time we go out for Vietnamese or Pho here in Seattle, it is the house tea served (very lucky). Although, they love to put lots of sugar in it. I thought that the absolute would be more like Rhododendron in scent from drinking the tea, but it was so much more!
Ayala: Do you have any scent memories associated with osmanthus? Or memories that are triggered by this note?
Nikki: For me, Osmanthus is a more recent discovery (the absolute anyway). I have had the tea many times since I moved to Seattle 7 years ago (it is prevalent in the Vietnamese restaurants here) and always had a bit of a fascination with it. When I finally got my hands on my first absolute, I knew that I had to create a perfume that would feature it.
Ayala: Same for me - it's a relatively new experience - a note I would have had no "relationship" with if it wasn't for my perfumery work and exposure to it. I was on a big hunt for florals early on in my learning stages to become a perfumer. Osmanthus was one of those elusive, exotic names that I had no idea what to expect before smelling it. The first time I smelled it was in a dilution in a tea shop, of all places (they had quite an impressive collection of floral absolutes in their "aromatherapy" collection - way back in the early 2000's when aromatherapy was very hip). It was very faint, as it was diluted in jojoba oil, and I was under impressed. Fortunately, however - my first purchase of it was from Eden Botanicals (years ago) and was a good quality one (though not nearly as good as the one they carry now).
Nikki: It's funny how so many of us have just (fairly) recently stumbled across this or found out it's true potential. I, like you, knew I wanted this fruity floral note added to my library. Little did I know I would become a bit obsessed! I have also had the pleasure of using Eden's absolute of Osmanthus (the one I use in Osmanthus Red) and it is truly gorgeous.
Ayala: What were the main challenges for you when incorporating this note into your perfumes?
Nikki: I knew that it was a very dominant note with a distinctive scent so I wanted to feature it without making it an "Osmanthus" perfume or soliflore type. I loved that mixes with things like Rose and other florals, it added such a gorgeous, deep berry/powdery aspect. My goal was to use it to create an idea: like the cherry cordial note of Cerise en Cocoa.
Ayala: Have you noticed anything unusual about the behaviour of osmanthus in a blend?
Nikki: For me, Osmanthus goes very, almost cough-syrupy, on me plus the drier side comes out towards the end. Of course, depending on what you blend it with, it can do one of the other more.
Ayala: How do you evaluate a new raw material like this? Do you wear it on your skin in dilution first without any other notes mixed in? Or just use scent strips? Contrary to the classic way of studying raw materials, I find that I learn the most out of blending them intuitively with other materials. It's not very systematic (and not a good example for my students) but it's how I work the best and come up with the best ideas.
Nikki: Ayala, I don't know if I picked that technique up from you via osmosis, but that is how I have always done things. Only when I get a new aromatic do I put it on a scent strip or my skin. After that, I know the character of it and what it might bring to the table paired with something else. Again, I sort of visualize combinations so I don't stop to evaluate one note time and time again.
Ayala: I am pretty sure you had that technique before you met me - I smelled it in the very first perfumes and candles you showed me when we first met. You have a knack for pairing together very strong-willed notes. In Osmanthus Red, there are both tagetes (marigold and osmanthus - none an easy note to work with on their own; and definitely not together. How did you come up with this combination? Can you lead us through your train of thoughts while you blend and design your scents?
Nikki: I have noticed that sometimes I have a color palette in my head when I got to blend something new. With Osmanthus Red, I kept seeing rich, oranges, reds, ambery/golden types of colors in my head. I kept reaching for things that either reminded me of those colors because of the color of their flowers, or just made me feel that way. Marigold was a way to add some sweet, herbal richness to the blend. Something different and that added a honeyed sweetness without making it a sweet perfume.
Ayala: Do you ever wake up with the feeling of "I don't know what to wear" or "I don't have that in my perfume closet" and just make it? That's how I come up with most of my perfumes!
Nikki: With many of my blends, I wake up with the idea or just get inspired by a new essence and know what I want to do to feature that note. Some are stories I want to tell, some are just a way to show off my favorite essences.
Ayala: It's interesting that you saw red and golden colours with osmanthus. For me osmanthus was initially more green and tea like; and it wasn't till I was deep in the making of Kinmokusei, that the golds crept in - with the wild orange. It really made me think of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", and I would have called it that way if there was only enough room on the label…I find the colour association very powerful and helpful when composing. And it's not surprising - colours and emotions are very strongly linked together!
Nikki: I love that you wanted to name a perfume that! I have found myself getting ready to go somewhere and thinking "I want to smell like like this". Then, these notes will pop in my head and I will immediately go to my perfume table and put things together. I am constantly thinking of the perfect perfume for me and that is also how so many of mine start (like you). I guess that is what makes them your own, but then they take on a whole new life!
Ayala: Your osmanthus perfume is themed around a colour. Where did you get the inspiration? Do you "see" notes in colours? How did you interpret the colour into the formula? How do you "paint" with scent?
Nikki: I touched on this above a little, but Osmanthus Red was an extension of how I use/get inspired by colors when reaching for essences. This blend had started out as a Ginger/Frankincense blend, but it was calling out for some jammy notes and then, with the addition of more and various types of Ginger and Cedarwood, it was clear it was going to be a slightly spicy robust osmanthus blend. I tried to figure out a name for a long time, then realized that sense of color is what I wanted to convey, so Osmanthus Red was it!
Ayala: Fascinating turn of events!
Nikki: This perfume took many turns! Yes, it amazes me how a perfume can start with one idea and move into something so different at the end. Love that!!
Ayala: Have you noticed a great deal of different between osmanthus essences from different sources? Do you have a favourite - and why?
Nikki: I have noticed some slight variations. I have 2 that I use. The more powdery/violet/jammy one is the one I use in Cerise en Cocoa and I have another rich, jasmine-y/jammy one with slight licorice notes that I use for Osmanthus Red. They both are the same distillation, but from different suppliers. Just subtle differences. I don't prefer one over the other. They both are lovely. I had the chance to smell someone's tincture of osmanthus and it was gorgeous. That is my next goal, to get my hands on that. :)
Ayala: Osmanthus tincture would be a brilliant idea! I have a feeling it will lend itself beautifully for an alcohol infusion. I think the powdery one is perhaps more high on the ionones - and more subtle and difficult to work with, in my humble opinion. Did you find one easier to work with over the other?
Nikki: Ah! There are so many perfumers who create such beautiful tinctures; an area I am getting into more and more. I would love to have this as a tincture! The 2 I have were equally as easy with which to work. They just had subtle differences. I have finally reached a point where I want a many varieties of an essence as possible. I am sure every perfumer gets to that point, which is why it can be difficult for any of us to make money! :)
Ayala: Thank you so much for your time and your insightful answers!
Nikki: Ayala, thank you for doing this!!! I love this idea of a virtual conversation!!!!!!
Tune in to SmellyBlog in a few days to read my reviews of Osmanthus Red and Cerise en Cocoa, which I sadly left behind on my trip to San Francisco's 2nd Annual Artisan Fragrance Salon. Fortunately, I have packed some dried osmanthus flowers and I'll be thinking of Nikki every time I brew this tea.