May 25, 2011
While Vajra clearly takes her work seriously, there's also a tongue-in-cheek sense of fun to Conjure Oils that immediately comes through when you peruse her site. Last week, for example, her site featured a very limited LE set, Rapture, Doomsday or just Saturday?, featuring Rapture! and Doomsday, inspired by the end of the world prophesies of Harold Camping and his followers. There is also her Whore on Tour series, whose latest (Whore on Tour: Italy) has now been added to the permanent Mythos collection, as Fortuna.
In addition to perfumes, Conjure Oils offers a rotating selection of soaps, lotions, scrubs and sprays in the Oddment Emporium(whose May 2011 offerings look scrumptious!).
Check out our interview with Vajra below to learn more about this creative powerhouse and her fantastic blends.
I believe I remember reading that you've been making oils since you were young. Could you tell me a bit about how you got started?
Sure! When I was about 14 or so, I identified as a Witch. Like most folks in the Craft, I had copies of Incense, Oils and Brews, Magical Aromatherapy and Magical Herbalism (all by Scott Cunningham), and made most, if not all, of the recipes I could. I got a taste for it then started experimenting with my own formulas. It just spiraled and evolved after that – I had mad essential oil stock, read Tisserand, Jeanne Rose, anything on herbs and herbalism that I could get my hands on. I dug up an herb garden in my suburban Detroit back yard, and learned how to make scented oils through enfleurage. My teenage bedroom looked like something out of a fairy tale with herbs hanging from the ceiling to dry and jars of bright flowers and dark roots packed tightly into golden oils. It was a good beginning.
It's obvious that spirituality influences your work, and you have a lot of ritual/magickal oils. Do you have any tips for their most effective uses (bearing in mind the standard legal disclaimer, of course ;) ?
I have studied several religious traditions in depth as I searched for where I belonged in the world, so I like to think I take a part of each of those systems with me.
Now how you use an oil is going to depend on its spiritual tradition. I’m kind of a stickler for keeping traditions intact and not creating buffet-style spirituality. So, if you’re going to use a Hoodoo oil, learn how the hoodoos use it! If you’re using a Western occult oil, like from the Book of Shadows collection, learn the techniques!
One day I’ll do a write up on how to and post it on the site. That’s been on my to-do list since 2007!
What sorts of other things inspire you to create scents?
Most of the site is an homage to everything I find inspiring – religion, mythology, fantasy, magic, beauty, art, truth, history, dance, revelry, fictions and realisms. Honestly, I think most of my ideas are channeled. With Limited Editions, I create in kind of a dream state where I start with a feeling, or a sudden interest in something I’m not usually into, and then I start writing the descriptions, formulating the concept in my mind. I often feel like I’m being guided and shown what to make, write and do. I’m a vessel. Sometimes after working on perfumes all day, I’ll go back and look at the recipes a couple of days later and not really remember the ingredients, or I’ll be confused as to why I did things in the proportions I did. But it works, so I don’t fight the muse. I just let her do her thing. Some blends take me years to perfect (like the Cryptozoology line), some blends come in a flash of inspiration (my most popular perfume, Whore of Babylon, was created in one take!). I can’t control it. It comes when it comes.
Do you personally like all the scents you create, or are there some that you know are good fragrance combinations, even though they don't appeal to your personal taste? (And if the latter, how do you judge a scent that you might not personally use?)
I’d say I like most of what I make. I don’t so much care for aquatics and ozone scents, but I’ve been told I do them well. I’m also particular about vanilla. It took me ages to perfect a vanilla accord that didn’t make my teeth itch! Most of the time, I can “feel” when a scent is done, even if my logical mind says it isn’t. I give it time and see how it blossoms. It’s a very intuitive process. I guess I trust the creative intuition/spirit/muse that helps me blend enough to listen and go with that.
Is there one that you consider your "signature scent"/personal favorite?
Ella’s Demons from the Pick Yer Poison collection. That, to me, is a work of art. I love how it smells, feels, looks (yes, I see scents – in fact my blending oils are all organized by the colors I think they represent), and it lasts! I have a few bottles of my own blends on my dressing table: Shakti and Whore of Babylon from the Mythos collection, Vanilla Smoke from the Apothecary, and Black Heart of Innocence from the Feri Tradition collection. The Whore on Tour: Italy — I have that one in my purse! I’d have loads more, but I know I can always go and sneak a pip if I must!
What are you favorite everyday smells?
The scent right after it rains: petrichor. Old attics, bookstores, Michigan in the fall right around Halloween, coffee, Aveda products (I’m an avid devotee). Also gasoline, asphalt, motor oil, kerosene.
I know you're a semi-new mom, and you've created several scents inspired by milestones in your daughter's life. Are there other ways Miss Lucy has influenced your work?
Miss Lucy is a muse for sure! I have piles of photos that could easily inspire a new Miss Lucy! I wanted to have something that she could take over one day (ambitious, I know!). She’s going to have the coolest sleepovers ever! We can make perfumes, scrubs, lotions and soaps...
In all honestly, it’s hard having Lucy and running Conjure Oils. She’s still very young and very clingy and doesn’t want to be put down. It’s hard for me to get the work I need to done at the breakneck pace I’m used to. She’s at once irritating and elating, and that’s my truth; I ain’t gonna sugar coat it. I’ve struggled with Post Partum Depression since the birth of Lucy, and I think that has had a negative impact in a lot of ways. Depression is a cancer of the soul, for sure. But sometimes the pain I feel inside is translated into good work. Some days are better than others. I try to work on the good ones and be kind to myself on the bad ones. It’s only me, and I can only do so much, and that’s ok.
I'm a big fan of Seanan McGuire's work, so obviously I have to ask you about the Toby Daye collection. Did you work closely with her on the line, or did you just create the line with her blessing?
That came about because my friend Wynne is pals with Seanan, and she got the two of us together. Her job was to write the copy for the perfumes and blab about them often and loudly, and my job was to read the books (poor me, I know!), formulate the perfumes, and send her samples and fragrance notes. It all came together really nicely and they’ve been received really well by Seanan’s fans.
Which of the Toby Daye scents is your personal favorite?
Dare! Amber and apples are amazing together. Who knew?
What has been your greatest challenge in creating Conjure Oils?
To continually make a perfume that is more innovative and creative than my last. Every time I do a Limited Collection, I wonder, “How can I top this? This is awesome!” I get so proud. Then I'm suddenly anxious: “Oh god! How am I ever gonna top this?” To stay creative, relevant, edgy yet true to who I am — that’s the real challenge.
What do you feel has been your greatest achievement/the thing you are most proud of?
The community that’s been created around Conjure Oils! I am most proud of the ConjurePunks! They’re the best group of folks out there: so real, so smart, so generous, so willing to cheer me on, lift me when I’m down, inspire me when I’m dry and keep me going. I love them.
[Note to readers: Check out the Conjure Oils forum at conjurecounty.lefora.com.]
There are a number of "Coming Soon" areas on ConjureOils.com. Can you give us any hints about what's next?
Spoilers! No, seriously, my goal is to have everything up by the end of Summer. And that’s all you’re getting on that! :D
/// ScentBase Random Q&A ///
What are your top 5, must-have-on-a-desert-island albums?
Today, it would be: The Script of the Bridge by The Chameleons, Garlands by Cocteau Twins, Disintegration by The Cure, Grace by Jeff Buckley or The Tower by Legendary Pink Dots (can’t decide!), Pink Moon by Nick Drake.
If you could choose to have any one superpower, what would it be and why?
Don’t know if it’s technically a super power, but time travel would be pretty sweet! I’d love to go and witness ancient societies as they are being created, then see the eventual collapse and destruction of the universe, and be back home in time for dinner!
Name one random fact about you that would surprise most people.
I can mirror write: forwards with my left hand as my right hand writes the same thing simultaneously, only backwards.
If you could only live in one season for the rest of your life, which would you choose?
Spring! It used to be Fall, then I moved from Michigan to Oregon, and I just can’t stand the rain anymore. It’s like the Tell Tale Heart and starting to drive me mad with its incessant drip drip drop.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you choose?
Somewhere with blue water, warm weather and good food. Any suggestions?