Get to Know Lina Hanson: Interview

This interview with Lina Hanson is part of an event hosted by Bergamot Beauty that includes a YouTube review of Lina’s exceptional line of skin and body care and a giveaway on Instagram. If you are not familiar with Lina Hanson’s Global Beauty, you will discover a line that uses only the purest, highest quality natural ingredients that are ethically sourced and organic, wildcrafted or fair-trade.

Earlier this year I reviewed Satori, Lina’s beautiful all natural perfume that was inspired by her travels throughout Southeast Asia. (Please click the link if you would like to read more about Satori).

I hope you enjoy learning more about Lina as her answers are very thoughtful and quite illuminating. I would also like to take this moment to give her a huge thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, and again to Bergamot Beauty for hosting this giveaway. Don’t forget to pop on over to Instagram to check out the giveaway details! Additionally, you all can take advantage of a 20% discount off all Lina Hanson products at Nov. 28-Dec.4 with code linahanson16.

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Interview with Avery Gilbert

When I met Mandy Aftel at her Berkeley studio this past spring, I had the good fortune of meeting Avery Gilbert. He was on his way out the door as I was on my way in, but he was very gracious and chatted with me for a bit.

Avery Gilbert is a sensory psychologist with a specialty in olfaction. He is the author of What the Nose Knows for which he was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Science & Technology finalist.

Scent Hive: In your book What the Nose Knows, you inform us that there are approximately 1000 chemicals in nature that we humans can smell, but there are thousands more that we can’t smell. As you say, those non-smellable chemicals might round out a scent, making it more nuanced or more complex. Do you believe that we experience odor molecules from a natural source differently than we do synthetic ones, particularly in perfume?

Avery Gilbert: There are two kinds of non-smellable molecules in natural products: those we are able to smell but which are present at non-detectable concentrations, and those we can’t smell regardless of concentration (perhaps because we lack receptors for them).

When it comes to a natural lavender oil, for example, we are sniffing a complex and variable mixture of molecules. The non-smellable components (perhaps intended for insects and other pollinators) are probably modulating the parts of the bouquet we can smell. A synthetic lavender, composed of the top dozen odor-contributing molecules found in the oil, will lack the ballast of these non-smellables, but most people will recognize it as lavender. If it’s really well composed, it will be difficult to tell apart from the real thing.

In perfume, the aesthetic adequacy of a synthetic substitute depends on how much care (time and money) the perfumer and client care to put into it. You can have a cheap, thin, lavender impression that falls apart in a half hour, or a costly version that works like the real thing. In the final analysis, the brain processes a complex odor as a single object, not as a bunch of different molecules. If you get close enough to the natural target, the brain fills in the details.

SH: I love how you discuss the power of smellscapes in your book. My most profound smellscapes are from my childhood in Phoenix, AZ: orange blossoms combined with sun-warmed cement with a cherry popsicle in hand, or the scent of hot dust from an impending monsoon storm, followed by the first drops of rain on hot asphalt and the smell of chlorine in my hair. Why are these smellscapes so powerful and what are some of your smellscape memories?

AG: Funny how powerful smellscapes usually date from childhood—something that’s been confirmed in the lab. Maybe it’s because kids are encountering them for the first time, but it could be that we’re especially open to smellscapes at that age; almost a “sensitive period” in which we absorb all the sensory qualities of our environment.

For me, growing up in another hot and dry locale—Davis, California—there’s a certain dusty, straw and thistle smell of the baked summertime fields that is very evocative. I like your mention of hot asphalt—just thinking about it takes me back to the endless hours I spent roaming around on my bicycle. Ditto for chlorine: I’m back at the campus rec pool, remembering people I haven’t thought of in years. Recently I’ve gotten to re-experience another childhood smellscape with my own kids: the hot rock and pine dust of the High Sierra, especially the Cal Alumni camp at Pinecrest, near Sonora Pass. Something about the altitude seems to sharpen the olfactory experience.

SH: The most intriguing fact I gleaned from What the Nose Knows, is the existence of scented butterflies. You mention that the butterflies’ scents will vary from species to species and possess fragrances like vanilla, lemon and musk. This seems rife with possibilities for a perfumer in terms of inspiration as well as marketing. This is more of a comment that a question I suppose, but would you care to comment?

AG: You’d think someone would have marketed a Butterfly Scent Series by now, no? I mean it’s a ready-made marketing concept. You could even analyze the scent with butterfly-friendly headspace techniques. The brief writes itself.

When I was at Givaudan-Roure, I invited one of my grad school professors to pitch bio-prospecting in Costa Rica. Dan Janzen—a MacArthur Fellow “genius” and winner of the Crafoord Prize (biology’s Nobel)—helped start Costa Rica’s national park system and was looking for ways the local inhabitants could earn a living from their intimate knowledge of the ecosystem. He brought us specimen boxes full of butterflies, some of which had beautiful sweet scents. Unfortunately, I left the company before I could put a deal together.

SH: You talk a lot about the sense of smell as an integral part of taste and experiencing flavor. But cooks and chemists have found that “sensory diversity is achieved with relatively few ingredients”. Can the same be said of perfumery?

AG: In large part, yes. The evidence is those charts of “fragrance families” used to classify perfumes. You can cover most perfumes with a mere dozen or so fragrance families. Don’t get me wrong—there’s a lot of nuance within each family, and blending between families generates endless creative possibilities. But the point holds: the perfumer’s palette is relatively simple.

Years ago I did a scent-sorting experiment with Sarah Kemp. The goal was to see whether natural odor categories emerge when people sort smells into groups—no verbal descriptions, no scoring system, just “put them together if they smell similar.” We saw evidence that groupings created by regular people resemble the perfumer’s fragrance families. We never got it published but it’s a project I’d love to revive.

SH: You elaborate on Emily Dickinson’s love of cultivating fragrant flowers like mock orange, honeysuckle, and jasmine. I didn’t realize that in the 19th century these intoxicating flowers were too suggestive for the drawing room and were kept for her private enjoyment in the bedroom and at her writing desk. The image of these blossoms surrounding her in an intimate setting while writing is very poignant and speaks to me in regards to why I love the close-to-the-skin quality of natural perfume. With the abundant use of synthetics in perfumery, is it possible that we’ve lost some of that intimacy?

AG: You might be on to something. I’d make an analogy to music. In Dickinson’s day people sang (harmony even!), often around the piano. Chamber music, dance music, popular songs—it was all voice and acoustic instruments; anyone could pitch in. Music was personal and intimate. For several generations, pop music for us has meant massive electronic amplification. Big beats at a rave are one thing; but even weddings and bar mitzvahs are amped to the max. Intimacy is blasted out of the room.

The big synthetics enable scent amplification; they’re great for making a big impression. For a while in the 80s perfumers went crazy with loud formulations: we were blasted by Giorgio and other blockbusters. Sanity returned with the swing of the style pendulum back to lighter, “transparent” formulas. I think you are right that naturals are quieter and allow a conversational experience between the wearer and the scent.

SH: Another quote from your book really resonated with me when you were discussing the use of scent and marketing, be it in a hotel or department store. You said, “when a scent calls attention to itself, people feel obliged to decide whether or not they like it”. This is exactly how I feel about the Anthropologie signature scent. Whenever I step foot in an Anthropologie, I am fully aware of this scent, but haven’t figured out if I like it. Do you think your quote applies to personal fragrance as well?

AG: Sure, insofar as a loud personal scent screams “look at me!” It might not be a distraction if it’s worn by an equally dramatic woman. But not everybody is Auntie Mame or Lady Gaga.

SH: As illustrated in your book, genetic modification is now being used to enhance the scent of flowers and produce including roses and tomatoes. The use of GMO is controversial as environmentalists are concerned about potential negative outcomes related to genetic manipulation. Where do you fall in this debate?

AG: We’ve been genetically manipulating plants since the domestication of wheat and other grains about 15,000 years ago. It’s what got us edible potatoes, corn, and rice, not to mention citrus and stone fruit. Just because we do it via gene transfer rather than old fashioned cross-pollination makes no difference to the resulting hybrid. Some people worry that an inserted gene might “jump” to other, less desirable species. But genes jump all the time—a species’ genetic boundaries are quite porous—and countervailing natural selection keeps things from getting out of hand.

I think the “Frankenfood” scenario is a ridiculous one cynically promoted by the enviro lobby. When the “greens” convinced hungry nations in Africa to refuse US corn because it has a useful gene, their moral preening cost people their lives and health. On a happier note, why shouldn’t we use biotech to restore the natural scent to a rose that our ancestors bred out of it?

SH: This last question is out of sheer curiosity. Do you wear fragrance, and if so, which ones are high on your list of favorites?

AG: For obvious reasons I prefer to stay mum about what I wear; I don’t wear when writing or doing data because it keeps calling attention to itself. (Maybe it’s just me.) I’m not particularly fond of aldehydics, but I’m a sucker for a woman who can wear a big Oriental.

In addition to being an author, Avery Gilbert is also a blogger. You can find him at the First Nerve.

Posted by ~Trish


Interview with Alexandra Balahoutis

Alexandra Balahoutis is the the founder and perfumer of Strange Invisible Perfumes. She creates vibrant, compelling, beautiful perfumes, the latest being Essence of IX. Essence of IX is a limited edition fragrance, inspired by the “ghostly aromas” present in a wine glass. She collaborated with Ann Colgin of Colgin Cellars in creating this rich and complex fragrance that I will review at a later time. (Spoiler alert: I love it). It truly is an honor to have her answering questions here on Scent Hive.

Scent Hive: Your new fragrance Essence of IX was born out of a collaboration with Colgin Cellars. How was that experience for you?

Alexandra Balahoutis: I loved working with Ann Colgin and I learned so very much through the design of this fragrance. I shadowed the winemaking process and tasted wine in various stages of its development process. Spending time at the vineyard and inside the winery was heavenly. It was such a lovely collaboration.

SH: Is the process different when you create a limited edition vs. a fragrance for your permanent collection?

AB: What I love about creating limited editions is how impulsive I can be. I don’t have to put any thought into selling these fragrances on a larger scale. All of our fragrances are unique and stem from sincere inspiration, however these here-today-gone-tomorrow fragrances afford me artistic gratification without the commitment of a formal launch. Releasing limited editions is the marketing equivalent of a fling, no strings attached and no long-term commitment.

SH: I want to say congratulations on the launch of your new website design. It is aesthetically beautiful and so easy to navigate. How involved were you in the new design?

AB: Thank you very much! We designed the site completely in-house. I would say that I art-directed the look and experience along with our in-house designer/project manager who composed all the layouts. We hired a programmer and just sent him the precise artwork and content for each page. He was instructed not to change a single thing. We wanted the site to be distilled yet rich with nuance, in-depth or quite basic, depending on each person’s interest level and attention span. Most of all, we just wanted it to be true to the story and essence of our company.

SH: You are clearly very devoted to using only the highest quality, natural ingredients in your products. How do you ensure that quality, and make sure the botanicals are harvested ethically?

AB: Well, in many cases we distill our own essences. We own property in Ojai and Kentucky so we have unique opportunities to grow some of our own plants. We then hydro-distill them in-house with our full-time distiller. In other cases our distiller/head of production sources amazing essences from all over the world. We only buy essences from distillers we know. We do not buy from third parties or essential oil houses. The only way to know essences is to know the people who extract them. On a side note, our entire staff is going to Ojai at the end of April for a distillation we are doing of orange blossoms. We also recently distilled organic, locally grown Meyer lemons at our lab. We post photos of our projects on our Facebook page. People love to see the process of essences being crafted. It demystifies the process and connects them to the lovely reality of what they are buying.

SH: Your SIP alchemical lab is undergoing organic certification. What does that mean exactly?

AB: We currently use certified organic ingredients in our products whenever available. Once our lab obtains organic certification, everything we distill in our lab will be certified organic. This certification will be another measure we take to assure people as to the purity of our methods and products. Our standards of purity are often higher than those of organic certification, however we do respect the confidence that certified organic products inspire. As diehard purists, we address quality and purity from every angle.

SH: Why do you prefer hydro-distillation rather than steam distillation? And can you explain to us how the two processes differ?

AB: Steam distillation is a very commercial technique of distilling plant material. It is certainly the most common method used. In contrast, the technique of hydro-distillation is quite rare. It is not used nearly as often as it does not yield as much essential oil. Hydro-distillation does, however, ensure a beautiful odor profile that cannot be achieved with steam distillation. While steam distillation yields more essence, this method does not capture the fine aroma chemicals that make up an ideal odor profile. Sometimes these chemicals make up only 1% of the essence but they still influence the aroma significantly. Essentially, steam distillation loses very fine constituents of the plant vital to presenting the plant’s truest aromatic beauty.

SH: In terms of botanicals, what is really exciting right now for you to work with?

AB: There is a gorgeous, organic extract of black currant that I want to put in just about everything at the moment. Quite fittingly, I used it in Essence of IX, the fragrance we designed for Colgin Cellars. I’ve been using a lot of cedar leaf and cocoa as well. As for flowers, exquisite essences of ginger lily and kewda have found their way into many of my recent formulas.

SH: What are your current inspirations aside from scent?

AB: I’ve been wildly inspired by gems and music lately. I can’t seem to tire of canary tourmalines and the White Stripes.

SH: Moon Garden continues to be one of my personal favorites from your line. (I particularly love how you can smell the heat of warmed resins within the perfume). Can you speak to your feelings regarding Moon Garden?

AB: I am in love with Moon Garden! Tuberose has been my favorite flower for such a long time. People that know me very well tend to send me tuberoses on my birthday. I wanted to make a tuberose composition that told the whole story of tuberose blossoms, not one that smelled like a tuberose scented perfume. I used warm, eccentric resins to reinforce the deep textural scent of fresh, blooming tuberose petals. This flower has so many facets and I wanted to light them up. I didn’t want to glaze over them with the typical, confectionary interpretations of old-fashioned tuberose fragrances.

SH: You have traveled quite a bit throughout your life. If you could travel anywhere right now, would you revisit a special place, or take a new adventure? And where would that be?

AB: I automatically feel guilty for not answering “a new adventure.” Lately I have been thinking of places I haven’t been in a long time. I have been longing to revisit Paris. I almost feel like I want to reclaim something I left there. London is also calling. Afterwards, I think I will probably begin longing for new adventures. For now I’d like to have some new adventures in cities that are old favorites.

SH: You’ve mentioned in other interviews how childhood memories of scent have deeply affected you. Now that you are an adult creating perfumes, will you share with us how wearing your own fragrances affect you?

AB: I wear my own fragrances and the experience is somewhat fascinating. Have you ever wondered whether or not you are in love? You think and think and consider all of the variables as you experience the dynamics and chemistry between you and the person you are with. That is how it feels for me to wear my own perfume, which I do almost everyday. I tend to love and analyze each fragrance as I wear it. Right now, I am wearing a fragrance I designed called Tribute. It is something I made that reminds me of the perfumes my mother introduced to me to when I was little. My mother has a very good nose and excellent taste in perfume. In many ways she cultivated my nose when I was a little girl. When I wear this perfume it reminds me of the elusive reasons women wear perfume in the first place and of the admiration I had for time-honored, French perfumes. I have been enjoying the hell out of wearing it but I will never sell it. It is strictly for friends, family and the people that work for Strange Invisible. But you never know. I have been talked into relinquishing every private perfume I have ever made for myself. I really have to learn to say no. I just don’t enjoy doing so.

SH: What fragrances from your permanent line are you currently wearing the most? And are there fragrances from other natural perfumers that you enjoy?

AB: Honestly when it comes to perfume I’m a real tart. It is a different scent each week. I’m not a signature perfume wearer. I’ll entertain monogamy when it comes to romance but never fragrance. Magazine Street, Moon Garden, and Fire and Cream are very high on my list, however. As for the work of other perfumers, John Steele makes a botanical perfume called Mango that I love and wear from time to time. The distiller I work with also designed a floral perfume featuring ginger lily, especially for this past Christmas. I love it and wear it whenever I get really dressed up.

SH: And finally, (this is a request within a question), do you have plans to expand your lovely bath and body collection?

AB: Yes. I do. We are reformulating the collection and I have some plans to switch up the format a bit. That’s all I can say for now, but I promise there are some nice developments on the horizon.