Illuminated Perfume: An Interview with Roxana Villa

Hey, everyone – special treat today!  Here’s an interview with Roxana Villa, founder of Illuminated Perfume.  Roxana relocated to Santa Fe a few years ago, and I’m excited to talk to her.  We conducted an email Q&A, and there’s a giveaway!

Q: What drew you to Santa Fe?  (I bet it had at least something to do with the smells here, which made a huge impression on me the first time I visited and even now I can catch scent-glimpses of, which I hope will improve over time.)

A: Yes, scent was absolutely part of what drew me here, as well as the beauty, clean air, etc.

I was introduced to Santa Fe by way of my first husband, Ben Neuhart, whose parents were regular visitors because of their working relationship with the Eames and Alexander Girard. We were married in the autumn of 1988 and spent our honeymoon exploring the landscape, and spending time at Ten Thousand Waves.

I remember instantly falling in love with the beautiful architecture that worked so harmoniously with the serene landscape, the scent of burning logs of piñon in the fresh, crisp air, the overall vibe of the city and vibrant artist community along Canyon Road.

Q: Your journey has taken you many places thus far — from Argentina to LA, to Brooklyn, back to California, and now Santa Fe.  How do think these various places have fit into your journey in natural perfumery?  I’m particularly intrigued by your childhood, with the family farmacia and home remedies.

A: I’d like to begin answering your question with a quote by the artist Robert Henri from his book the Art Spirit:

“There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom. If one could but recall his vision by some sort of sign. It was in this hope that the arts were invented. Sign-posts on the way to what may be. Sign-posts toward greater knowledge.”

Traveling has an expansive affect that occurs when we experience the sight, sound, smell and flavors of cultures other than our own. Now that I’ve been on the planet for a while, I can look back on all the various journeys and stand witness to the individual sign posts in terms of the bigger, overarching tapestry of my life. One of the prominent threads comes from the strong matriarchal lineage of women I was born into. These ladies came from European roots with a rich culture in cooking, knitting and home remedies. I grew up with the use of herbs for ailments, such as breathing the steam of eucalyptus leaves for respiratory challenges and drinking boldo tea as a digestif after meals. As a little girl, I remember how my grandmother in Buenos Aires would head out early each morning to purchase bread, croissants, meat, vegetables, milk & cheeses, dulce de leche, etc., all fresh, from a series of small independent vendors. I would wake up when she had arrived back from her outing, to a fresh croissant and hot cocoa waiting me at the head of the very formal, large oak table in the dining room. Yes, I felt very much like a princess when I would stay at her sprawling apartment off of Libertador in a region called Belgrano. While I ate my little breakfast, the work would begin in the kitchen for the big family lunches that took place daily during the workweek, it was quite a fabulous ritual, and a memory I cherish.

Q: Tell me more about the School of Lost Arts.  (And is that how you hooked up with Dora Goldsmith?)

A: The School of Lost Arts manifested rather spontaneously when I had to move my online perfume course to a new platform. I realized that a few of the repeating themes for me were: creating something with one’s hands, working with nature and an appreciation for the old world arts, thus the term Lost Arts was a perfect fit.

It was my perfume student Eli that connected me to Egyptologist Dora Goldsmith.

Q: This workshop series on Egypt looks fascinating!  Can you tell me more about that?

A: The olfactory landscape of ancient Egypt is like no other, revealing aspects of a culture where no boundaries existed with perfume, medicine and food. By examining the written sources Dora takes us into various aspects of this olfactory rich civilization exploring a panorama of scents and rituals from sacred temples, personal gardens and the afterlife. Dora and I decided to offer a series of seven classes that can be attended separately or all together as a “certificate” course. We meet on Sundays, via ZOOM, here are the seven subjects we explore:

  • Scents of Mummification & the Afterlife
  • Hknw, Meaning JOY (Ancient Egyptian Perfume)
  • Kyphi
  • Unguent Cones
  • Temple Smells
  • Garden Scents
  • Scents of Lovemaking

For extra fun Dora has created kits using authentically sourced materials to enhance the learning experience.

Dora’s area of expertise is investigating the ancient Egyptians’ perception of the world through the sense of smell and then recreating their smellscape. She is currently a PhD researcher of Egyptology at the Freie Universität Berlin.

The attendees of the classes have been from all over the world, and each one has absolutely loved them and Dora. It’s so great to find a community of fellow nerds, like me, who are fascinated by the Ancient Egyptians. I have read and taken quite a lot of classes on the subject, what Dora presents is very unique because of her translation of written sources.

Q: I mentioned my loss of sense of smell to you, which I’ve talked about on the Posse.  This is obviously a source of personal pain for me, as well as one many people are struggling with right now due to COVID.  The only upside I can see is: for the first time, people are taking a sense of smell seriously, and treating its loss with the attention and importance it deserves.  Can you tell me more about the products you’re thinking of developing for sale to assist with restoration of sense of smell?

A: I was so very sorry to hear of the loss of your sense of smell, and all who have struggled with this. My sense of smell is so strong I often wish to take a break from it.

In the early nineties, when I was studying to complete my certificate in aromatherapy, I learned that inhaling essential oil of rosemary has the ability to restore the sense of smell. Shortly after moving to Santa Fe I asked my mother to send cuttings from a large rosemary bush I had planted while living at her home. I have infused those cuttings to make a deliciously scented salve with essential oils and a few other infusions that will be part of a body care line I’ve been developing. The salve can be inhaled and/or applied for respiratory system as well as a chest balm, to the temples for focus and even used for the scalp or on the ends of the hair. I’d like to point out that the ancient Greeks wore crowns of rosemary for mental clarity. I suggest subscribing to my newsletter for when those products will be released.

Q: What else would you like to tell me?

A: I’d love to share a very exciting, recent development, I have been working with Bishops Lodge, an Auberge Resort, that just re-opened here in Santa Fe. They have brought me on board to formulating products for a few of their hotels, as well as take individuals on a series of scent related “experiences” for their guests:

Thank you dear March, the entire Posse and all the readers for providing such a wonderful, vibrant hub for us lovers of scent.

Xoxo

# # #

Everyone — Roxana is offering to one lucky commenter a spot in one of the classes in the Scents of Egypt series. Please comment below if you’d like to be entered in the drawing, with which class you would like to attend, and I will announce the winner in a couple of weeks.  Thanks again for taking the time to talk with me, Roxana.

Photo credits:
Roxana at the Santa Fe Opera by Elizabeth Evans
Farmacia Estrella by Gabriela Giusti
Perfume photos: Roxana Villa
  • tammy says:

    I so enjoyed this amazing interview with one of my favorite scent magicians! Ms. Villa’s fragrances or unlike any others; Lyra, Vespertina and Greenwitch have been with me for many years now. Vespertine in particular resonates with me on so many levels, blending as it does all my passions ( fragrance, music, and medieval aesthetics)

    Pardon my fangurling…. and yes, I’d love to be able to take any class, Scents of Mummification and the Afterlife or Kyphi especially! Thank you!

  • Patty says:

    Oh, that was fun, and the classes sound great. DNEM, obvi. I may need to sign up on my own just for funsies!

  • Kathleen says:

    Thank you for the introduction to Roxana, her perfumes, and classes. Is Ten Thousand Waves still there? I have so many fond memories of that special place from my visits to Santa Fe. Magical!

  • Sara says:

    I’d love to be a part of it. Like Roxana I grow up in Argentina and now I relocated in Spain with the smells of the mediterranium.

  • Dina C. says:

    It never fails to fascinate me. This perfume hobby which seemed simple when I started it has been like the proverbial peeling of the onion: there are so many layers to it! I never stop learning more about the possibilities of scent from around the world, whether it’s in plants, resins and incense, animal sources, or the ancient world. I love having a hobby where there are new things to discover. Thanks, March, for sharing this interview with us. It sounded very interesting.

  • Musette says:

    DNEM because tacky – but I just want to say how heart-lifting this conversation is. Too often I focus on the bad, ignorant, draining things that come from the Internet and Social Media (I know, GET OFF MY LAWN!) that I often forget that it also allows us entrance into truly transcendent experiences that we might otherwise know nothing about. This interview was a transcendent experience. Thank you.

    I love rosemary for mental concerns (tale tells of a Roman emperor’s wife who put rosemary sprigs under her husband’s pillow, to assuage nightmares) . Adding scent reclamation to its many powers!

    xoxo

  • Cinnamon says:

    Thanks, March, for such an interesting read — and Roxana for participating of course. I read The Art Spirit decades ago. This makes me want to revisit it.

  • Roxana Villa says:

    Hello dear Posse, what a treat to be here! Wafting much gratitude to March and to dear Portia who put us in touch. I invite each of you to come visit and look forward to having one of you attend a class on the Scents of Ancient Egypt. xo

  • Portia says:

    Heya March. I’m so glad you and Roxana have connected. One of my most memorable days in the USA was when Tom took me out to meet her and husband Greg. We had so much fun in the perfume room creating a FEET SCENT. Looking longingly at both their art and learning so many ideas/scents/directions it was overwhelming.
    When you go to see them please send them all my love.
    PS: DNEM.
    Thanks,
    Portia xx

    • Meeting you in Los Angeles was a blast. I so enjoyed spending time with you. I do not remember the “foot perfume” (could be a new fashion trend!), but do recall the scent of your sweet presence. Thank you for your loving words about Roxana’s artistry. We must get you out here to Santa Fe! We have an Aussie here right now from Adelaide who is working with Roxana developing scents for her product line. And/or maybe we will come see you in Australia! Much love.

      • Portia says:

        Hey Greg,
        Your beautiful painting is hung so it’s a direct sight line from the living room and on the way to office, bed or bathroom. I see it at least 20 times a day and love it every time.
        Yes, we are locked down tight here and until Oz gets itself at least 70% vaccinated international travel will continue to be hard.
        Hopefully we will be back in the USA by 2024.
        Portia xx

    • Roxana Villa says:

      Portia xoxoxox I remember your visit with Tom so clearly, what fun times! Love you dear heart, come visit soon.

      • Portia says:

        They were extremely fun times. Hopefully next time we are in the USA Tom will get some time off and we can bring him with us to visit you. It would be a very happy reunion.
        Love you.
        Stay safe and well over there,
        Portia xx

  • Carolyn says:

    Roxana is one of my all time favorite perfumers and I am lucky to have spent some significant time in her Santa Fe studio exploring all her gorgeous scents, a number of which I own. I highly recommend exploring her line of gorgeous perfumes and if you are ever in Santa Fe, making arrangements to visit her incredible studio. She is as gracious and warm as she is phenomenally talented…truly a remarkable human being.

    • Roxana Villa says:

      Thank you Carolyn, I appreciate your support over the years and adore the auspiciousness of us connecting here in Santa Fe. Look forward to seeing you again soon, much love from my heart to yours.

  • shiva-woman says:

    I’m fascinated by both ends of the spectrum: scents of mummification, and scents of love making.
    Her approach to perfume and her knowledge are particularly interesting to me. My favorite perfume of ALL TIME, the one I never wear, actually, because it’s so sacred to me unless I need a “super lucky” perfume is Vallee des Rois by Mira Takla, and it was this perfume that sent me down the rabbit hole of all perfumes starting with SL and now just about everything Indie, niche, big house. I still have plenty of VDR, but purportedly Takla too is an Egytpologist, and last I heard director of The British Egyptian Society. I think this perfume was her “one-hit-wonder.”
    At any rate, I’m interested in the materials ancients might have used that are still in use, the scents, the utilization of herbs and plants, the rituals–everything. And now I have another house to explore. Thank you for this interview with Roxana Villa–and I really hope you get your nose back, even if it means snorting powdered rosemary. Whatever it takes–steroids, psychedelic mushrooms, anything.

  • Patricia says:

    Hello Dora! I cannot think of any more exciting area of study than ancient Egypt. Our Cleveland Art museum has a myriad of Egyptian artifacts which have mesmerized me since I was a child . And with perfume..what could be more heavenly. I would be honored to study this unique mix through your course. What a treat!
    Blessings
    Patricia