Canadian Perfumers: Conversation with Jessica September Buchanan

Canadian Perfumers by Ayala Moriel
Canadian Perfumers, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.
The following will be the first in a short series of conversations with Canadian perfumers (there are far and few of us). I met Jessica September Buchanan in Grasse in May 2009. It was one of those rare "Facebook moments": I came back from the rose fields, and found several friendship requests from Spanish people I've never met before, and had a message at the front desk from a Jessica, whom I just learned that week was a student who just completed her full year course at the institute where I was attending a week-long course - and happened to be from British Columbia. A rare coincidence.

A day or two later of attempts to bypass the limitations of roaming charges and weak wi-fi connections, we finally were able to make a Skype conversation and arranged to connect in person, a night before my course was over. I walked up to her apartment - the top floor in an old building (well, pretty much everything in Grasse is rather old), met her friend who just took the train in that day from Italy, had a glass of vino, sniffed some vintage molecules that are no longer allowed to be used in production - dabbed some perfume, and left for the party.

It was a barbecue garden party that took place at a perfumer friend of Jessica, who worked at the naturals department of a supplier house. His house was part of a newly renovated compound that used to be an old perfumery with chimney and all. The moment I met him, I realized he was actually a Facebook friend: non other than Pierre Bénard of Osmoart. As well as nearly all 20 or so guests at the parties, who were mostly students from the flavour & fragrance program in the university of Barcelona... Now all the Facebook action made sense!

Jessica and I remained friends ever since, and we try to meet whenever we happen to be in the same city, which does not happen often enough. I will always remember that night, walking through the narrow and winding stone-paved streets of Grasse - Jessica enveloped in a fine mist of Après l'Ondée
and me with my fresh-from-the-studio Hanami, which I just launched in Los Angeles the previous month. Jessica's love of violet is not limited to classic Guerlains -but is also evident in most of the work I've experienced: ionones are an accent in her Reglisse Noir, and wild violets inspired Fleur No 1.

It is a pleasure and an honour to have Jessica September Buchanan as a guest on SmellyBlog for a rare perfumer-to-perfumer conversation that touches on influences, identity, raw materials, and the long process of birthing an indie brand in a world full of the opposite.
Ayala Moriel (SmellyBlog): How did a Canadian nature girl like you end up in the French Côte d'Azur?

Jessica September Buchanan (1000Flowers): Initially I came here with the intention to stay for only one year, while I attended the Grasse Institute of Perfumery.  But then I became quite smitten with the climate and the magic of the place.  Then I also had the dilemma of loving both here and Canada, and feeling somewhat torn as to where I wanted to be. (the true sensation of having a foot in two different worlds). I decided on Grasse, since I thought it would be beneficial for the identity of my business.

Ayala: Torn between two worlds is a feeling I can relate to, being born here but raised in Israel - two completely different environments, from both climate and people's temperament and culture. Do you feel that your perfumery style or themes were affected by the change of scenery?

Jessica: Yes, so you understand completely.  And you chose Canada, rather than your birth country... and I ended up choosing France, rather than my birth country.  There is so much more to learn from a culture other than our own.

Ayala: I was actually not born in Israel, but in Montreal... Being raised there made moving back to Canada feel the same as immigrating, except for the paperwork. I still relate this entire experience as a journey...Over 14 years long, but who is counting? ;-)

When did you start 1000Flowers? How did you pick the name?

Jessica: Initially I started my company in 1998, and it was called Matricaria Plant Essences.  I began with a collection of pure essential oils and several skin care products that I created. (Rain Gel, Mexican Cleansing Grains, and a body oil.)
In 2002, I had a conversation with a Vedic astrologer, and a Sanskrit word kept coming up that translated as 1000 flowers, or 1000 plants, or 1000 medicines.  I was quite smitten with this, and after about a week of reflection, I decided to change my company name.  Soon thereafter, I also incorporated under the same name.

Ayala: That's beautiful and serendipitous - especially with your background of using plants for healing (aromatherapy). And I can't help but asking - are you aspiring to make 1000 perfumes for the line? Or incorporate 1000 of them into your formula? 

Jessica: That is something I've joked about with friends... But I think that may be a bit too ambitious! I think it will remain mostly symbolic in the name... But who knows... We'll have to see how many perfumes I have created by the end of my life!
Ayala: What inspires you?  

Jessica: Nature. Love. The sea, the forest, plants, flowers.  Also, certain artists - Picasso, Georgia O’Keefe, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and Margaret Mackintosh, for example. I love the aesthetics of design, and find inspiration all around me in that regard. I am also inspired by certain perfumes... It is pleasing to smell creations that are balanced and well-constructed with fine materials.

Ayala: Is it true that you designed your own logo and packaging? How do you manage to do all this alone? And do you think there is an advantage to full creative control, or do you sometimes feel the need to "step back" and let someone else handle an aspect of running 1000Flowers (i.e.: marketing, packaging or even just the bookkeeping)?

Jessica: I originally had a graphic designer do a branding project for me.  We worked closely together and she designed the logo and the round seal that is on my website.  Since then, I learned the Adobe Creative Suite, and simply work within the structures that are already there.  Any photography (on my site etc.) are my own.  I enjoy immensely graphic design and photography.

Ayala: What is your vision for 1000Flowers as a brand and a business? 

Jessica: My vision is to develop the brand, and eventually to open a boutique that embodies the identity visually as well as ethically of what 1000 Flowers stands for.  This includes simple and elegant beauty (black, white and grey), and fragrances (based on precious natural materials), that translate my personal expression of the art of perfumery.

In the meantime, I just launched two new fragrances, and have several more in development.  I am working to expand the collection to offer more choices from the brand for perfume enthusiasts.
I am also beginning to offer the service of fragrance design for other companies. 

Ayala: Tell me more about your upcoming scents! I know that Fleur No. 1 is inspired by the spring and snow melting on the mountains of interior British Columbia. Do you find yourself inspired by your current Mediterranean surrounding? 

Jessica: The two new scents are called Love is Sweet, and Ode for Him. They are actually inspired by a love story.  They are an ode to love... it's a personal story as well as an exploration of love and relationships in general.  I wanted to offer an idea that was uplifting and positive.  The world these days needs more of this.

Ayala: Love is always a relevant topic. And especially at this day and age - I feel many of us need a reminder of the sweet part of it. So many of us are left only with the bitter aftertaste when it ends, or forget to appreciate it if it turns into a long-lasting domestic relationship. Thanks for taking that role!

Jessica: I also got a hold of some real oud, so as much as it is a material that has already been explored in many fragrances, I was inspired by such a magical material.  I decided to create an 'Aromatic oud', so a bit different than the usual themes. I suppose this was the touch of Mediterranean influence in the sense that herbs are such a part of this region. 

Also, I have an amazing vanillin isolate, and fell in love with a molecular distillation of patchouli.  So with these materials that I was in love with, I set out to create two fragrances around them-  a pair.  Therefore Love is Sweet is built on vanilla and patchouli, with notes of violets (natural ionones), and rose. It is quite rich and is meant to be reminiscent of more vintage and romantic fragrances.

Ayala: You keep coming back to these violets!
Regarding oud, it’s overdone marketing wise, but the possibilities are not even close to being exploited from the creative perfumery point of view. I’ve been working on an oud fragrance for years now, that is in conjunction with less-well-traveled notes, and although I’m very far from being satisfied with the outcome so far - it’s a worthy journey to travel. I think it’s very befitting that you chose Mediteranean herbs to go with the oud. It is so popular in Arabia, and the herbs are certainly what characterizes the natural aroma of the region's hillsides - aka garrigue.

Jessica: In regard specifically to the Mediterranean, there are so many things that inspire here.  There are flowers blooming from February onward.  The hills covered in mimosa trees in full bloom, the banks of stone walls covered in purple wisteria (or later in summer, jasmine), the citrus trees in blossom, the wild lavender and thyme....etc etc.  It is quite amazing.

Ayala: I adore wisteria! I just smelled white wisteria recently in my visit to Berkeley. Yuko Fukami brought some to the Perfumer's Afternoon Tea and it's stunning! And I will never forget the wisterias in Versailles's gardens.
Orange blossoms are a great inspiration for me and evoke spring more than anything else (see Zohar). And I'll never forget picking mimosas from the side of the highway to Tel Aviv visiting my grandma. It was her favourite flower.

Now on to a question I'm frequently asked by my customers: What's in a name?
And more specifically - are your upcoming perfumes going to be named Fleur No. 2, 3, etc. till 1000? Or will they be more evocative of a personal story like Reglisse Noire is?

Jessica: I think each perfume wile quite different.  I had thought about doing a series to follow Fleur No 1, yes.  And that idea is still active.  I think each fragrance will be quite different and each will have a personal story.

Ayala: What are the challenges you are facing being an independent perfumer in the French industry?

Jessica: The main challenge is that the French population is not really interested in small, relatively unknown brands.  They are accustomed to, and highly value their own known luxury brands, and don’t really step outside the box so much.  They are quite traditional and do not have the sense of adventure that we have in North America, or even in other European countries for that matter.

Ayala: It's true - and especially on the West Coast, the independence and freedom is apparent in the flourishing and thriving movement of independent perfumers-creators. Some even openly call themselves "underground" or "outlaws" in the sense that they are putting the art first and IFRA standards at the bottom of their priority list. Pretty much the opposite of what's happening in Europe.
How are you planning to overcome that?

Jessica: I am not limited geographically thankfully.  Since I sell online, there is no limit.  However, my niche here in France, is that I am a trained perfumer, and I speak English.  So other opportunities are opening up.

Flower Market in Grasse

Ayala: There is something to be said about the internet. It gives a lot of flexibility and freedom, and opens up the path to very specialized niche audiences in faraway lands.
At the same time - it’s great to hear that Grasse is opening new opportunities for you locally! What are the other advantages in being in Grasse? 

Jessica: The advantages are of course, direct access to the best raw materials, both natural and man-made.  As well, of course, the reputation and mystique of Grasse is important for my brand.  But I think, in relation to actual sales, my market is not here.  That said, there is endless inspiration here in the form of a real perfume tradition with many perfumers and people who work in various facets of the industry, so that offers a real richness professionally.

Ayala: I want to hear more about new raw materials you found in Grasse! Anything exotic or unexpected? I recently smelled fresh Szechuan pepper essence and eucalyptus absolute and am completely in love! 

Jessica: Actually I haven't found anything really new here... other than perhaps Lentisque absolute- which is a shrub that grows here up in the mountains.  But other than that, the best part is that there are many producers here of the best lavenders, clary sage, etc.  So that in itself is wonderful.
That pepper essence sounds amazing!

Ayala: It is amazing! 
Note to our readers: Lentisque is the French name for mastic (Pistacia lentiscus), from which the gum “Mastic” is derived (used in desserts such as sahleb and ice creams as well as chewing the resin as it to freshen one’s breath). There is also an essential oil and absolute - which is a less-known as a perfumery note but definitely worth the attention: green crushed leaf fresh top notes with resinous-balsamic undertones. 

Do you feel that your perfumes have an identity - i.e.: Are they more "Canadian" or "French"? Are they more "natural" , "modern" or "old fashioned"? (just a few rather generic examples to be able to explain your brand a bit more).

Jessica: My fragrances are a fusion of French (due to my education and approach to creation), and Canadian, (in the way I use and gravitate to high proportions of natural raw materials and am deeply inspired by an awareness of health ‘west-coast style’).  They tend to be more in the vintage direction (again due to the naturals and due to my personal taste), but modern in the sense that I keep them quite uncomplicated.  As my collection of fragrances grows, I think that one will find that my style can be eclectic. Especially with the two fragrances that I am just about to launch.  One is a men’s fragrance, and it is leaning a little more in the modern direction due to some of the materials I have used to accent this effect.  As an independent, it is important to not completely exclude the commercial market if one is to survive.

In a general sense, my style is quite gentle and personal. I like the idea of fragrance staying close to the body and being an intimate experience where the wearer invites others in to experience their scent rather than intruding on others with aggressive scents. 

Ayala: How did your background in aromatherapy influence your choice of materials?

Jessica: My background in aromatherapy gave me an in-depth understanding of the naturals in relation to chemical structure, as well as to therapeutic effect and safety concerns.  I do adhere to IFRA (International Fragrance Association) guidelines, but even more, I keep in mind Aromatherapy safety guidelines, which are in fact, more stringent. 

As well, since I know the naturals so well, that I find them easier to work with.  More and more, I am experimenting with merging the different palettes, and learning the traditional art of modern perfumery integrating modern materials.  It is fascinating to write scent compositions with an ever-growing collection to draw from.  It is a life-long process of learning- and deeply challenging. (as much as it is rewarding).

Ayala: Tell me more about your learning experience in GIP. I also recently saw that you're teaching there - how exciting! 

Jessica: The year at GIP was amazing in so many ways.  Technically, the first 3 months were spent studying the raw materials. Then we began to look at actual creation, history, fragrance genealogy, etc.  It was very challenging and I learned a great deal about creation, as well as the industry.  As well, I did 2 internships in large traditional companies (Robertet and Mane), which were incredibly interesting.

Ayala: How exciting it must have been to do internships with these two influential supply houses. You must have learned a lot!

Jessica: As for teaching, I was invited to teach the advanced Natural Perfumery course in summer 2012, as well as a segment of the Level One courses for 2013.  I wrote the curriculum for the advanced level.   I based the course on the Jean Carles method of teaching/learning.  For a 5 day course, it was intensive.

I have also begun to teach a course in ASFO (the training center under the National Association of Fragrance Manufacturers (PRODAROM), that is designed for French who work in the perfume industry who want to learn the perfume vocabulary in English.  The first group to sign up for the course, include people who work in the flavour industry who want to learn more about fragrance, as well as a perfumer who simply wants to improve his english.  Mid-may I will be travelling one day per week to upper Provence to teach the same course in-house to the employees of a company who produces lavender, clary sage, and other essential oils.  I am very excited about this, as I will be able to see some countryside, (it is 3 hours by car from Grasse), and to make some contacts with a company like this directly.
Creating this course is really addressing an important need in this day and age where English is so important. The French are not strong in this language, and since I am trained in France in perfumery, and I speak English as my mother's tongue, I am able teach such a specialized niche course.

Ayala: Thanks so much, Jessica - and wishing you much success with the new teaching projects and the new perfumes!

For those of you who will leave a comment on this post - your name will be entered into a draw for samples of 1000Flowers' Reglisse Noir, Fleur No. 1 and Narcotic Flowers. If you like the descriptions of Ode For Him and Love Is Sweet - you'll just have to splurge on a full bottle (they are both now on special).

Narcotic Flower

Beach Flower by Ayala Moriel
Beach Flower, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.

You know it's the peak of summer when this honeysuckle tree is in bloom behind the lifeguard station at Sunset Beach. It might not actually be honeysuckle, but it sure smells like it. And so does 1000Flowers' Narcotic Flowers: masterfully composed white floral that I was fortunate to receive as a gift from my dear friend, and its very creator - Jessica Buchanan. Our paths crossed again last summer during an extended trip of hers to the city of mountains and sea. And Narcotic Flower was the only comforting thing I had at a time when my heart was literally smashing to pieces.

Normally, this would keep me away from a perfume (who wants to experience that again?) but since my heart is probably still smashed to pieces (which I keep searching for in the gritty sands of Sunset Beach) - it still has the comforting effect on me: a shining star in the heavy water; a bright flower atop a bed of dark soil.

Narcotic Flower is the first all-natural perfume in 1000Flowers stellar collection of artisan, hand-crafted perfumes. It only became last December; so I was not allowed to talk about it then. Which might be a good thing, because it gave me a little extra time to experience it and crystallize my impressions into words...

Narcotic Flowers begins a little peachy, with natural aldehyde C-14 and white magnolia. It quickly becomes apparent that it's all about indole: a very sheer, floral interpretation of the subject, where jasmine takes centre stage but is adorned by fruity accents from the abovementioned elements; as well others that are very seamlessly blended (rose, osmanthus, tuberose and narcissus).

Narcotic Flower very slowly dissipates, retaining its very floral and vibrant qualities to the end. And somewhere along the way you will notice its very underlining sensuality of dusky patchouli, radiating a salty warmth, alongside musky opoponax resin (which Jessica tinctures herself). The Atlas cedar, vanilla and labdanum are mere accents, adding complexity - it never really gets all ambery and resinous or thick. It's really mostly about patchouli and indole - yet without ever smelling in the least dirty. Patchouli and indole with hints of fruits and flowers - how you *wish* that all the fruitchoulis were (if someone was to pay any attention to balance and subtlety instead of churning up obnoxious blockbusters). A prime example of how patchouli and flowers can work together without being in the least vulgar or cliche. To me it's the perfect beach scent.

Réglisse Noire by 1000Flowers

Confectionary Licorice Allsorts.jpg
Feathery caress of green fennel on the tongue, collected from the wild in the midst of Mediterranean winter. The initial leafiness is deceiving, as it is quickly replaced by the intense back-of-the-mouth sweetness of licorice roots, filling the entire mouth with a radiating warmth. And then a breath of fresh air makes a U-turn, bringing back an expansive ozone wind, rain-covered herbs in a garden. The wet foliage recedes slowly with a hide-and-seek that characterizes licorice notes (which I suspect is what makes them such a perfect culinary symbol for Halloween), revealing a brown soil of dusty patchouli and cocoa powder, moist vetiver rootlets and pure vanilla extract.

Réglisse Noire was created by Jessica Buchanan when she was studying perfumery at the G.I.P. (Grasse Institute of Perfumery). Licorice allsorts hold a sentimental spot for Jessica, as it was the only candy she was allowed as a kid when when visiting her grandmother, who always kept a crystal bowl of them in the living room. (Why do I get the feeling that her parents were health-freaks & tree huggers like mine? My mom would let me chew on plain dried licorice roots instead of giving me harmful sweets!) Their sweet taste remained in her mouth and in her memory, and is at the core of her first perfume that debuted her indie perfume house 1000Flowers in 2010.

In a perfume-tech-talk context, Réglisse Noire is an essay on the relationship between sweet vs. ozonic/green (anise, fennel, licorice, shiso leaf), and earthy notes (patchouli, vetiver, cocoa). It is a second cousin of Angel (also with dominant helional and patchouli notes), and an even closer relative to Lolita Lempicka. However, it is not nearly as linear as these are, and has more depth and complexity due to the higher proportion of natural raw materials. The vetiver truly cuts down the sweetness and mellows the artificial intensity of helional (a note similar to the scent of ozone, which one can detect around waterfall and reminded Jessica of some of the "greener" facets in licorice notes).

1000Flowers' mandate is to walk a balanced path between using naturals and synthetics that have less negative impact on the environment. For example: using only biodegradable musks that are naturally occurring (for example: she does not use galaxolide, which is what's in your Tide and most laundry detergents and dryer sheets, is NOT biodegradable), but she will use ambrettolide (naturally present in ambrette seeds, and which smells like "white musk"), or exaltolide (aka 15-pentadecalactone which is present in Angelica seeds).

Top notes:
White Pepper, Ozone, Mint, Shiso Leaf

Heart notes:
Star Anise, Ginger, Licorice, Cocoa

Base notes:
Patchouli, Vanilla, Vetiver, Musk

Smells of Summer, or Something Like That... + GIVEAWAY

Linden & Rain by Ayala Moriel
Linden & Rain, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.

It's been a lousy summer in Vancouver. There, I said it. Please don't hate me. July is almost over and we barely had a week and a half of descent weather. It's been rainy, cold, and even felt like October at times.

On the bright side, the linden blossoms are having an extra long blooming season. There are linden trees all around Vancouver, and usually they bloom in mid to late June. This year, they bloom from mid to late July, and probably will keep scenting the air well into August... Linden blossoms and rain... Mmm... And I'm now feeling inspired to work with the Linden Blossom CO2 that I got from Mandy Aftel when I visited her studio in Berkeley in late June. Wait - that was exactly a month from today!

So, no beach pictures to illustrate what should have been a cheerful "Best of Summer" type of article here on SmellyBlog. You'll just have to tough it out with this strange collage of linden blossom branch that I found on a wet newspaper stand last Saturday, as I was getting ready for my Orcas tea party. I brought the branch home to decorate the place, which turned out to be an innocent act of luring ants into my house... They simply love linden trees, and they love everything about my house. I should add "ant killer" (as well as "cacti killer") to my resume.

Even the rhubarb had a super short season (hardly even three weeks...!) so my new love of last summer is all forgotten, in hopes that it will return next year stronger and brighter, with its fabulous calone smell.

Today was the first day I actually sat in my porch and write while burning incense and drinking iced match latter that I fixed for myself instead of lunch. I've avoided my porch for months now, due to the horrific weather AND the roofers constantly scouring the area. There was one roofer peeking through my porch at one point, but I think I managed to scare him away, simply by taking him by surprise...

Thankfully, there were still lilacs (for a very short time) and the peonies this year were as pretty as ever. The roses, on the other hand, don't seem to be doing too well this year... All of these are smells that I've learned to associate with summer in Vancouver. But, alas, as previous summer's memories are replaced by a new summer, for better or for worse - here's how my summer smells like:

Basil, Nectarines & Blueberries - better together, in a green salad.

Wild Salmon, which I've finally succumbed to eating after 13 years of lack-of-sun, abundance-of-rain. I was born and raised vegetarian, but now I eat local fish. And there's nothing better than BC's salmon (the smoked one is to die for).

Pinot Noir and other strange red wines I stumble upon when in Sonoma county. Like the fish, this is new to me, because the only wine I could somewhat enjoy till recently was white.

Sweet Peas, with whom I fell in love all over again after spotting a bouquet in a little antique shop in Graton.

Sugar Peas, which when grown properly (cold, wet summers make for ideal conditions), are the perfect beach snack, all on their own. They have a fragrant crisp green yet sweet smell. Not a substitute for green string beans (a summer favourite that I terribly miss and that have been absent because of the lack of sun and heat in BC to grow them).

Watermelon with Feta Cheese - well, when the local fruit is lacking (the cherries this year - also not so great...) - then there is no choice but to get some not so local fruit, and pair it with creamy, uber-salty Macedonia feta.

Perhaps I will just have to create my own summer, in a bottle... So here's a partial list, which I admit to be extremely biased as it mostly contains perfumes that I made myself, and most of them are more on the greener side (Orcas and Smiling Country and Grin body oil is how you should expect me to smell these days). What else can you wear in a summer with constant April showers?!

The others are made by other perfumer friends/colleagues of mine. In the light of the previous article, my sentiments towards handcrafted perfumes are becoming increasingly fonder.

Fleur No. 1 by 1000Flowers - green, delicate floral that begins boldly with galbanum and surprised with pine bud and narcissus absolute. At its base are quiet musks, moss and the haunting violet of alpha ionone.
But I must confess that even more than Fleur No.1 I was touched by another creation of Jessica Buchanan, which is not officially released except for among friends who are privy to this beautiful, all-natural concoction of white flowers and resinous base. It's very cheerful and sensual - so perfect for those rare hot days we're getting this summer...

Honey Blossom by Aftelier - bright, delicate floral focused on the tea-and-honey notes of organic linden blossom CO2.

Parfum Privé by Aftelier - with precious aromatic treasures such as beach harvested ambergris, osmanthus, orange flower and ambrette. I love its muskiness and overall rich roundness.

Le Parfum de Thérèse - basil, jasmine, melon and under-ripe plum - for me there's no summer without this masterpiece by Edmond Roudnitska.

Ineke's Angel's Trumpet from her new Floral Curiosities collection for Anthropologie - if it wasn't for Ineke I would have never paid attention to this curious plant - whose flowers turn into citrus candy heaven only after dark.

Incense Lily by Sonoma Scent Studio* - I understand this perfume has been out of production for a while, but I have a feeling that it will make a come back... Someone at Estee Lauder must have spied on Laurie when they created their Azuree de Soleil, because it's a dead ringer to that. Except that it's hand made with much care and love by Laurie Erickson.

Sombre Negra by Yosh - dark, smoky vetiver at its best.

What scents make your summer? Post a comment and enter to win a mini of Liz Zorn's Ankhara.
Draw will take place on Friday, August 5th.
  • Page 1 of 2
  • Page 1 of 2
Back to the top