Creating Karatta Perfume: Part One – Inspiration

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Dad in front of a painting of Karatta House by Kenneth Jack

Recently I had a very special birthday. My wonderful partner, knowing that (A) I love nothing more than making things and (B) I am obsessed with perfume, gave me a fantastic gift: a voucher for a Create Your Own Perfume experience at Fleurage Perfume Atelier in South Melbourne. Fleurage is a traditional, European-style perfumery. Emma Leah, owner and perfumer of Fleurage says:

We created Fleurage to re-establish the lost art of classic European perfume making. The Fleurage Perfume Atelier is a traditional working perfumery. We manufacture our own perfumes, conduct classes and offer unique perfume events and experiences. (Text from Fleurage website)

The Create Your Own Perfume experience is a two-hour, one-on-one experience with perfumer Emma Leah that involves the creation of a custom scent with the perfumer’s guidance and assistance. At the end of the experience you get to take home your own unique, 40ml perfume. You can read more about the Create Your Own Perfume experience here, and the usual process that it involves.

In this post, Creating Karatta Perfume: Part One, I will write about the inspiration for my fragrance. In Part Two, I will talk about the process that Emma and I went through to create my fragrance.

The time I spent with Emma was a little bit different to the usual Create Your Own Perfume process. I contacted Emma prior to the appointment as I wanted a list of the 80 scent ingredients available for use (both single notes and accords). I had a concept in mind that I wanted to work with, and I wanted to see if this would be possible. Emma was very open to me bringing in ideas, and was very excited when I told her about my concept, which was to recreate my scent memories of a holiday house that my parents owned when I was young: Karatta House.

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Karatta House c. late 1970s

Karatta, situated in the idyllic seaside town of Robe in South Australia, was built in the 1850s and was Governor Sir James Fergusson’s summer residence between 1869-1873. Karatta sits on a large parcel of land, flanked by a harbour on one side, and Karatta Beach on the other. By the time my family bought Karatta House in the early 1980s, it was in a state of disrepair, bearing more resemblance to Miss Havisham’s house than a grand mansion.

My father had a close attachment to the house. He had dreams of returning it to its previous, majestic state, but sadly it never happened. He reluctantly sold it in the late 1980s, and felt a keen sense of disappointment and loss for many years afterwards. Dad died four years ago. Karatta reminds me of him, of his striving to be different and to take on big things. I wanted to create a perfume that would be a tribute to Karatta House, my scent memories of the place, and to my Dad, with his courage to dream big.

When I was a child, we would spend most holidays at Karatta House: Easter, Christmas, school holidays. It was an eccentric and magical place for a kid. Karatta was a relic of a bygone era: it had a ballroom with a marble fireplace, crumbling servants’ quarters, deep feather mattresses, an old pedal organ, a magnificent, curved wooden staircase, pressed tin wallpaper, a claw-footed bath, rotting floorboards and peeling paint. My mother would often dig up 19th Century bottles and crockery when gardening. Up the road were the ruins of an old gaol, and an obelisk on the edge of a crumbling cliff.

There were many places in the house that were forbidden to my brother and I, which only made Karatta more exciting. One of these places was an upstairs room that contained an active bee hive. Oh, the smell! That waxy, mellifluous sweetness!

When we first stayed at Karatta House I was only six years old. Sleeping upstairs was terrifying for me with the howling winds coming off the ocean; I honestly though the house was haunted. We quickly moved our bedrooms downstairs, and I felt much safer. Dad built a rope playground for my brother and I just outside our bedroom, with swings and tightropes. I still remember the feeling of rope burn on my hands after a day of play. But the best place to play, apart from the rope playground and Karatta Beach, with its caves and rock pools, was in the Morton Bay fig tree. This massive, old tree, with its dusty smell of powdery figs and earth and protruding roots was the site for a game that we invented: Tree Chasey.

One day last year I was thinking about Dad, and Karatta, and I came up with the idea of creating a perfume based on scent memories from Karatta House as a tribute to him. I made a list of smells from the house that I would want to include in my perfume:

  • Cedar: for the wooden floorboards, antique furniture and staircase
  • Honey and beeswax from the forbidden hive
  • The warm leather smell of Dad’s car seats from the long drive down to Karatta
  • Smoke from the fireplace
  • Mulberries: juicy and sweet-tart, fresh from the tree
  • Salt: the smell of seaweed, the ocean, and seafood
  • Oranges that I would gorge myself on every summer
  • Chocolate Easter eggs
  • The Morton Bay fig tree

As I lack the technical skills and knowledge to make perfume, this dream lay dormant for a little while, until I received the voucher for my Create Your Own Perfume experience. Two worlds collided. This experience would provide the perfect opportunity to create my Karatta perfume with the expert guidance, assistance and knowledge of perfumer Emma Leah. I couldn’t wait…

Next: Part Two of this post, in which I discuss the process of making the perfume, and write about the resulting fragrance and how it smells.

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9 thoughts on “Creating Karatta Perfume: Part One – Inspiration

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