Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series – JoAnne Bassett of JoAnne Bassett Perfumes

thirteen-thoughts-v2_800_shadow1Thirteen thoughts from perfumers around the globe. Each perfumer profiled at Perfume Polytechnic has been presented with the same set of thirteen questions that probe into scent memories, imagination, education, history, the creative process and philosophy. How each perfumer answers these questions, and what form the answers take, is up to them. Tune in each week for a new instalment to learn more about the olfactory arts and how perfumers think about smell.

Today is the second of five, weekly instalments in Series Two of Thirteen Thoughts. Today’s interview features JoAnne Bassett of JoAnne Bassett Perfumes, who is based in Southern California. JoAnne is a certified aromatherapist, Royal Alchemist, natural perfumer, and teaches scent appreciation classes and “Create Your Own Perfume” workshops. JoAnne’s perfume company is a green company, using sustainable materials, some of which she grows and extracts herself. She is the author of Sacred Scents.

Last week Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes answered the thirteen questions. You can read her interview here. Coming guests in Series Two of Thirteen Thoughts include Andy Tauer, Ellen Covey and Shelley Waddington.

You can catch up with Series One of Thirteen Thoughts here.

The intention of Thirteen Thoughts is to let each perfumer speak for themselves about who they are, what drives them, and what they do with fragrance, so without any further ado, let me introduce you to…

JoAnne Bassett of JoAnne Bassett Perfumes

JoAnne Bassett

JoAnne Bassett

  1. Tell us about a significant olfactory memory from your childhood.

I grew up on a farm in Minnesota. We had huge lilac bushes that were more like trees. Every Spring we would have large vases in our house. I remember every room filled with this sweet yet tangy smell. I will never forget that.

  1. What is your “origin story”? When, why and how did you decide to become a perfumer?

In 1993 I became a Certified Aromatherapist. From the beginning I would make aromatherapy synergies for stores, resorts and salons. These were often commercial fragrancing projects using a diffuser I imported and private label lines. The owner or manager would always want me to make them a natural fragrance. So I started making perfume potions and then I created eau de parfums. It really just happened all by itself.

  1. Do you have any formal training in perfumery, or are you self-taught? Have there been any mentors or other personal or cultural influences on your work as a perfumer?

I took a blending class for my aromatherapy business but I am self-taught as a natural perfumer. I did not have a perfume mentor.

  1. Who are your favourite perfumers or perfume houses, and what do you like about their work?

I love the style of the French perfume houses like Guerlain. Beautiful and elegant bottles and packaging. A modern-day perfumer I admire is Roja Dove. He has class and some of his perfumes I tried in his store in Harrods in London I enjoyed as well as the bottles and packages. My style of perfumery is classic and I admire perfumers and perfume houses that still honor that style.

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JoAnne Bassett Perfumes in hand-blown glass bottles

  1. Describe your brand to us: tell us about the kind(s) of perfume that you make, as well as your brand’s philosophy or ethos.

When I was five I started wearing fragrance so by the time I was in my late 30’s I became chemically sensitized and could no longer wear my Joy or Chanel 5. So for me to wear perfume I had to create it from essential oils and absolutes. My indie, artisan and niche brand is based on 100% natural perfumes using only essential oils, absolutes, tinctures and macerations that I make from my own plants, and flowers. I use organic and wild crafted oils when I can find them and really like supporting the small distillers and farms.

My favorite material I like to work with is rose otto and have a good collection of them including Bulgarian vintage white rose. It is the “flower of light”. I love working with the vintage oils I have and use them mainly in my Custom Bespoke Perfumes.

My perfumes awaken the beauty within™.

  1. How do you come up with the idea for a new perfume? For example, do ideas come to you spontaneously, do you work conceptually, or do you try to fill gaps in your range?

My perfume collections have come to me as a result of my travels. The places, and the memories they evoke make it easy for me to be transported back and to create my experience and put it in a bottle. If I discover a new essential oil I may create a collection around that like my Royal Alchemy Collection has sacred frankincense from Oman and I named them Sacred Frankincense 1-6. Often a name or an idea comes to me and I just create the perfume from there. It is very easy for me to do.

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Le Voyage by JoAnne Bassett

  1. What element of your perfume making process do you think readers of this blog would be interested or surprised to learn about?

Being a Royal Alchemist I perform alchemy on the fragrances I create. They are filled with energy and intention. They are much more than perfume.

I am a Couture Custom Perfumer and I create custom perfumes that transform people’s lives using my gifts of clairvoyance and more. In my 22 years of creating one-of-a kind bespoke perfumes, I have seen miraculous transformations in my clients’ lives. My gift of working with Divine energies enables me to combine precious oils to support clients and miraculous changes come quickly and effortlessly. Both my male and female clients have experienced miraculous changes in their relationships, finances, jobs and where and how they live.

  1. What are the current challenges you face as a perfumer, both creatively and in regard to manufacturing, distributing and marketing your perfume?

In the US we have not had the compliance issues that the IFRA (International Fragrance Association) regulations of Europe have caused. I feel it is a matter of time before we will have to comply also and can no longer use oakmoss and some of the ingredients they suggest. It affects our distribution as we have to follow their guidelines to sell to the countries being regulated.

There are also many new artisan and indie brands coming to market; both natural and synthetic brands. The market is full of new perfumes and the niche brands are saturated. Finding a way to be different and to be found is key. My quality of ingredients sets me apart and you can smell the difference.

Some of the JoAnne Bassett range of eau de parfums

  1. How has your work as a perfumer affected your perception of everyday smells?

My nose has always been very sensitive. So nothing is different there. I continue to be curious about any smell I do not recognize.

  1. Many ingredients that are edible are also used in fragrance (chocolate, vanilla, coffee and rose, to name a few). If you could reverse this process and turn any perfume ingredient into an edible ingredient, what would that be? Which fragrance ingredient do you think would taste nice as a flavour?

Tuberose would be my choice. It is so sensual.

  1. If you had a time machine, which historical period in perfumery would you like to go back to and work in as a perfumer?

The Belle Epoque (“Beautiful Age”) in France.

  1. If you could invent a new olfactory gadget, tool or technology, what would it be and how would it benefit perfumers and/or society?

The ability to extract raw materials like lilac or violets easily and effortlessly would be a dream. Now we have to tincture or enfleurage raw materials and it is a lengthy process.

  1. What is the purpose of perfume?

In general to make you feel good. My purpose is to Uplift Humanity’s Consciousness Through Botanical Fragrances™.


I hope you have enjoyed today’s interview with JoAnne Bassett. I would like to extend sincere thanks to JoAnne for taking the time to answer these questions and to share some of her thoughts and philosophies with us. I really enjoyed finding out about JoAnne’s interesting work with alchemy and clairvoyance: such an interesting way to create perfume, infused with healing energies. If you want to find out more about how JoAnne became a perfumer and her journey into scent, her book, Sacred Scents, delves into these topics more deeply.

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Sacred Scents by JoAnne Bassett

To find out more about JoAnne Bassett’s perfumes (and to purchase them) and her classes, visit her website here. Joanne’s perfumes are also listed on Fragrantica and Basenotes.

Next Week:

Visit Perfume Polytechnic next week to find out how the marvellous Andy Tauer answers the thirteen questions in Thirteen Thoughts, a Perfumer Interview Series. Sign up to follow this blog so you don’t miss an episode of this series with fabulous perfumers from around the globe.

Intellectual Property:

All interview answers and photographs were provided courtesy of the perfumer, and remain their intellectual property. All interview questions remain the intellectual property of Perfume Polytechnic. Please do not reproduce interviews or images without permission.

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Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series – Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes

thirteen-thoughts-v2_800_shadow1Thirteen thoughts from perfumers around the globe. Each perfumer profiled at Perfume Polytechnic has been presented with the same set of thirteen questions that probe into scent memories, imagination, education, history, the creative process and philosophy. How each perfumer answers these questions, and what form the answers take, is up to them. Tune in each week for a new instalment to learn more about the olfactory arts and how perfumers think about smell.

Today marks the launch of Series Two of Thirteen Thoughts, a Perfumer Interview Series. There will be five, weekly instalments in the new series, featuring perfumers Mandy Aftel, JoAnne Bassett, Andy Tauer, Ellen Covey and Shelley Waddington.

You can catch up with Series One of Thirteen Thoughts here.

Today, Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes answers the thirteen questions. As Mandy is such an iconic figure in the perfume world, I hardly need to say very much about her. As many of you will already know, Mandy makes the most wonderful natural perfumes and scented wares, as well as the Chef’s Essences range of food flavourings, and organic teas. Mandy is also a perfume educator, and is the author of several key, influential texts about perfumery and the sense of smell, including Essence and Alchemy, Aroma: The Magic of Essential Oils in Food & Fragrance (co-written with chef Daniel Patterson), and Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent.

The intention of Thirteen Thoughts is to let each perfumer speak for themselves about who they are, what drives them, and what they do with fragrance, so without any further ado, let me introduce you to…

Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes

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Mandy Aftel

  1. Tell us about a significant olfactory memory from your childhood.

I remember being struck by, and very interested in, the impolite smells of my own body… I liked them, and found it fascinating that they were made by me.

  1. What is your “origin story”? When, why and how did you decide to become a perfumer?

More than 20 years ago I wanted to write a novel, and for no particular reason decided the protagonist should be a perfumer. I imagined a character with some mysterious, sexy allure, but knew next to nothing about the profession, so I began to research it in my usual obsessive way. Besides collecting over 200 antique books about perfumery, I took a solid perfume class at the local aromatherapy studio. I was completely smitten by the absolutely gorgeous natural essences, they spoke to me in a way, and I made such a wonderful perfume in class that a friend who took the class with me said we should start a perfume company. We founded Grandiflorum Perfumes and started selling in Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman’s. So I actually fell into it quite by accident, and never did write the novel.

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Some of Mandy’s antique perfume books

  1. Do you have any formal training in perfumery, or are you self-taught? Have there been any mentors or other personal or cultural influences on your work as a perfumer?

I am entirely self-taught, inspired by the magic of the natural essences — and old books about perfumery. I am heavily influenced by Bob Dylan; the whole way he’s done his art and life are a complete inspiration. I love that he’s so gifted with words, but goes after a particular kind of sound that’s in his head. I can feel that from his music, all the different ways that’s been manifested. It informs my own efforts to express — through scent — things that are locked inside my head.

  1. Who are your favourite perfumers or perfume houses, and what do you like about their work?

The only perfumes I really follow are the ones that are made by my students, and I especially enjoy watching both them and their perfumes develop over the years.

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Aftelier Perfumes fragrances

  1. Describe your brand to us: tell us about the kind(s) of perfume that you make, as well as your brand’s philosophy or ethos.

The first company Grandiflorum Perfumes came to a bad business end. Now I love being able to combine my love of research, writing, and flavors & aromas into creating perfumes for my own line, Aftelier Perfumes. I find my creative inspiration in the natural perfume materials — I totally enjoy the hunt for the best versions from around the world (I actually enjoy everything about my business!).

I think of my perfume line as a whole work in itself, almost like a book to be edited and fit together chapter by chapter. I consider the relationship between my fragrances, trying to complement and diversify the emotional experience that people can have with my perfumes. Sometimes I myself get bored with some part of my line and look for the experience that is missing or can be done better.

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Mandy Aftel at her Perfumer’s Organ

  1. How do you come up with the idea for a new perfume? For example, do ideas come to you spontaneously, do you work conceptually, or do you try to fill gaps in your range?

My main goal is to capture a memory or experience I’ve had and share that through scent – like a poet would do with words. My perfumes start as a conversation between two ingredients; that wouldn’t be obvious when you smell the finished perfume at the end, but that’s the way it starts in my head. I’m always trying to solve some aesthetic problem that’s just beyond my comfort zone, so I’m always learning something new on everything I make, which I enjoy.

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Antique oil bottles

  1. What element of your perfume making process do you think readers of this blog would be interested or surprised to learn about?

I’m pretty ruthless about my work, I don’t pay attention to what people think or what’s fashionable. I don’t think about the past or the history of perfumery — maybe because I use a natural palette and there’s so little history to go on, or maybe it’s just my nature.

I am inspired by food, color, and good writing — also by the quirky beauty of the past, I need some of what I consider beautiful every day. I cannot believe my good fortune in working every day with materials that are so gorgeous, diverse, and historical.

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Palimpsest by Aftelier Perfumes

  1. What are the current challenges you face as a perfumer, both creatively and in regard to manufacturing, distributing and marketing your perfume?

Every new perfume presents a creative challenge – that just comes with the territory as part of it, not something new or special. I relish the hunt for the materials – both completely new essences and better versions of ones that I already have. Over the years I have bought an astounding amount of stuff that turns out not to be any good, and I have to throw it out, but that’s part of the challenge that I love. I get bowled over by my good fortune at making perfumes that speak to me and please me, and that miraculously have found an audience with other people; it’s quite gratifying to do something that other people believe in. I love creating a handmade product, so I’m actually not facing any challenges about growing or increasing my production or distribution. I’m not interested in being in stores; I love the personal connection of selling directly to the customer. If it weren’t for the internet, I couldn’t do it this way.

  1. How has your work as a perfumer affected your perception of everyday smells?

Well, I like the funk, in the perfume and period. Having such a wide palette of natural aromas to work with has increased my awareness of the smells from doing gardening, or just being out walking – I’m aware of how vibrant they feel to me because it’s my métier. Smells are very personal to me, not so much about identifying things individually, but to learn the subtle differences and variations between smells. There is such a glorious panoply of fragrances in the real world.

  1. Many ingredients that are edible are also used in fragrance (chocolate, vanilla, coffee and rose, to name a few). If you could reverse this process and turn any perfume ingredient into an edible ingredient, what would that be? Which fragrance ingredient do you think would taste nice as a flavour?

Because I like odd things… I think frankincense would be interesting to cook with (I already use it in my perfumed tea). Or finding some way to cook with patchouli would intrigue me.

Frankincense

Frankincense resin

  1. If you had a time machine, which historical period in perfumery would you like to go back to and work in as a perfumer?

I’d love to see the turn of the 19th century, when most of the natural perfume materials were in play. It was just on the cusp of thinking of perfume as an art form, and before it became so dominated by the synthetics. But honestly, I’m very thrilled to be working in this period, it’s a wonderful time where I can choose from a wealth of very high-quality natural materials, create a perfume that expresses my personal aesthetics, and have a direct relationship with my customers.

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Mandy Aftel’s solid perfumes, housed in beautiful antique cases.

  1. If you could invent a new olfactory gadget, tool or technology, what would it be and how would it benefit perfumers and/or society?

Well, this isn’t very complicated, but what I want most right now are some really really beautiful — like sculpturally beautiful — perfume blotter holders, to keep the scent strips organized while creating a perfume. I like every part of the perfume-making process to be beautiful (I’ve already invested in letter-press printed, all-cotton heavyweight perfume blotters).

  1. What is the purpose of perfume?

I make perfume, and people wear it, as a vacation from reality. It is a place — an ideal place — that you can visit without traveling. It is restorative and it makes you feel good. It has no practical purpose whatsoever; we wear it as a personal adornment like jewelry. It simply allows us to inhale bliss and however briefly, stop time.


I hope you’ve enjoyed the first instalment of this second series of Thirteen Thoughts with Mandy Aftel.

I want to thank Mandy for taking time out of her very busy schedule creating and travelling to answer my questions. Mandy has been a delight to communicate with throughout this process, and so friendly and approachable! I really enjoyed reading her very personal and considered responses.

I will be writing a feature article on Mandy’s Chef’s Essences flavour sprays in the coming weeks. Stay tuned, or follow Perfume Polytechnic so you don’t miss reading about these fabulous food flavours and how you can use them in your cooking.

If you’d like to find out more about Mandy and her fragrant wares (and buy them), visit the Aftelier Perfumes website. You can also find Aftelier fragrances listed on Fragrantica and Basenotes.

For those of you who want to learn more about perfumery, the sense of smell, the history of perfume and/or how to use essential oils in cooking, you can read more about and purchase some of Mandy’s books on these topics at the Aftelier website.

Next week:

Stay tuned to see how perfumer JoAnne Bassett answers the thirteen questions in Thirteen Thoughts, a Perfumer Interview Series.

Intellectual Property:

All interview answers and photographs were provided courtesy of the perfumer, and remain their intellectual property. All interview questions remain the intellectual property of Perfume Polytechnic. Please do not reproduce interviews or images without permission.

Perfume Meetup at Fleurage Perfume Atelier

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Perfumer Emma Leah in front of her work space

A small group of Melbourne perfume aficionados recently had a wonderful and immersive experience learning all about fragrance from botanical perfumer Emma Leah at her perfume atelier Fleurage. Back in September I created my own fragrance with Emma, and wrote about it in one of my early blog posts. We ended up with a magnificently rich and original fragrance called Karatta, a fragrance based on scent memories of my childhood holiday house at the beach. It was such a lovely experience and on the day, Emma and I discussed the various perfume groups I’ve been a part of, both online and in person. She very generously offered her space for a perfume meetup, and I arranged for a group of six of us to meet with Emma and her partner Robert, at Fleurage, for a supper meeting.

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Emma talking with the group

Emma offered to talk about her practice and show us her perfume-making materials. The format of the evening took the form of a free-form conversation between Emma and all of us. She encouraged us to ask questions throughout, and it was these questions that guided the conversation. We got to hear about Emma’s own perfume education and training (traditional, botanical), her process of making fragrances, the materials she uses, her opinions of the new IFRA restrictions, the price of materials and their availability, and so on. So much was discussed that I can’t possibly record it blow-by-blow here, but it was a fascinating and very educational experience.

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Emma talking with the group

Emma also passed around some of her own fragrances periodically for us to smell. These are wonderful, botanical, vintage-style creations, and I recommend anyone in Melbourne go and visit Fleurage and give them a try; they are truly beautiful and sophisticated fragrances and like nothing else on the market today. We also got to smell some of the perfume ingredients that Emma uses to make her fragrances. It was a real treat to be able to smell real iris – which had everyone in raptures. Iris is one of the most expensive and hard-to-come-by ingredients used in perfumery, so none of us had smelled it before as a discreet ingredient. Iris smells very much like violet (which surprised me), and much less “flat” and waxy than it does in the iris-heavy fragrances I’ve smelled. We also smelled several types of lotus (from memory, pink, blue and white), which were also beautiful, but the highlight ingredient of the night for many was cèpes mushroom. This unusual perfume ingredient smelled of an intensely savoury and rich combination of mushroom and vegemite. I would love to smell this ingredient in a perfume one day, I think it would be earthy and marvellous!

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Gabriella sniffing the cèpes mushroom – a magical ingredient!

All of those who attended the meetup were very grateful for the opportunity to meet with Emma and have an open conversation about perfume. Being able to have an in-depth discussion with a perfumer and to have access to her fragrances and materials was wonderful. Thank you Emma and Robert for sharing your fabulous perfume atelier and your time with us!

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Emma Leah’s fabulous perfumes

If you are interested in learning more about Fleurage Perfume Atelier and Emma Leah’s perfumes, you can visit the website here.