I love how fragrance evokes memories, it’s my way of time travelling. There are certain smells that take me back to my childhood in the Cotswolds. A beautiful rose reminds me of my grandparents and their walled gardens, freshly made stables with their deep straw beds, the cutting of the hay in the late summer, the back of a beaten-up old Land Rover, with its wet canvas flapping and being squished in with my sister and several stinky labradors. Steaming horses post ride, a tack room with leather bridles and saddles, linseed feed cooking in the winter, mugs of hot Ribena, smoky bonfires and open fires, all transport me to those carefree days of my early adolescence. There is a reassuring constancy for me in the fragrances of nature, years can pass by, yet they remain the same, the comforting mossy old oak trees, the deep green scent of the riverbed and the cool damp air of the forest are perfect portals for my travels back in time. But why is this?
A recent article in the Harvard Gazette goes some way to explain this. “The sense of smell is the only fully developed sense we have in the womb, which remains the most developed sense up until the age of ten, when sight takes over.” There is a science behind these connections. In an article for American Scientist, Sabrina Stierwalt writes that “as we come into contact with an odour, the neurons that make up the olfactory receptor cells send a signal to a part of your brain called the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb runs from your nose to the base of your brain and has direct connections to your amygdala (the area of the brain responsible for processing emotion) and to your hippocampus (an area linked to memory and cognition). Neuroscientists suggest that this close physical connection between the regions of the brain linked to memory, emotion and our sense of smell may explain why our brain learns to associate smells with certain emotional memories.”
The Wider World
When travelling as a young model, I found that every city had its very distinct aroma. I loved New York with its busy traffic and steam coming up from the street, the mouth-watering aroma of pizza slices cooking on every downtown corner and the wild smell of grass being smoked on the sidewalk. In Paris it was baking sugar and fresh bread floating out of the patisseries, heavy red wines and dusky vintage markets, Chanel and Dior perfumes elegantly spilling out onto the Champs-Élysées and the dank clandestine passages weaving alongside the Seine, that really enchanted me. As I travelled the wider world, I was mesmerised by Indonesia with its with riotous combination of exotic florals, clove cigarettes, roadside fires and abundance of holy offerings. Then India, with its similarly potent, heady mix of jasmines, sandalwood, chai tea and burning incense, all vying for attention with the dirt and strong odours of the streets, where rickshaws and cars jostled with cows and the occasional elephant. My trips to Morocco, most recently have uplifted my olfactory world, with its magical souks, magnificent rose gardens, divine orange blossom trees and one of my favourites of all time, the celestial wafting of frankincense resin burning on coals.
I started the AJA Botanicals range towards the end of last year and wanted to incorporate all of my favourite scents, the resinous and smoky, the deep forest fragrances, the spicy notes and exotic florals, to make a natural wax candle fragranced with essential oils. My first port of call was John Stephens, a world class perfumer based in the Cotswolds. Although he understood what I wanted, he explained that using too many essential oils in a fragrance just doesn’t work, in the same way that if you use ten different paint colours for one picture it will mostly likely end up a sludgy brown, instead he created two different but very complimentary fragrances. As I wanted them to be very natural fragrances, we removed as many synthetic elements as we could, in the end I settled with an 80/90% ratio of pure essential oils, as I learnt that some of the fragrances I love are too heavy in their molecular structure for a candle or just way too precious to burn.
It was at John’s suggestion that I look for a perfumery course as I knew what I wanted but I didn’t have the vocabulary or proper knowledge to translate it. To my joy I discovered that a brilliant perfumer and old friend, Marina Barcenilla was running an online “Advanced Natural Perfumery” course. Three months in and my olfactory world has been blown wide apart. There is so much to learn, chemistry, maths, the history of fragrance, the fragrance families and more, we are working with sixty-five essential oils and resins. It’s a fascinating world and I am grateful for the opportunity to learn again. I often choose brands that use essential oils, but have found that although many aromatherapy ranges are lovely and therapeutic, sometimes the fragrances can be a little simple. My aim with AJA Botanicals is to go beyond aromatherapy to make exquisite and luxury products that are accessible, affordable and effective, combining the powerful energies of nature and artistry of fine natural perfumery.