An Interview with Artisan Perfumer Janna SheehanNovember 12 2013
Shop TALIA fragrance oil (photo: Chris Dibble)
We caught up with Janna Sheehan, scent guru at artisanal fragrance company Trance Essence. Janna worked with the Johnny Was team to create our new fragrance oil, TALIA. They set out to bottle the dreamy, bohemian Johnny Was lifestyle by using sweet vanilla combined with touches of earthy patchouli, musk, and exotic jasmine, and finished off with a strikingly beautiful tart wild orange essence - a favorite of Johnny Was designer Biya Ramar. Read on to learn more about Sheehan's journey in creating the intoxicating scent that is TALIA...
Janna Sheehan (Photo: Fanny Penny)
JW: Tell us a little about yourself and Trance Essence, your perfumery.
JS: Simply put, creating beauty is one of my basic instincts and my relationship with scent and perfume is primal. Somewhere in the texture of those qualities and my love of embracing any emotion as a source of healing is the seed of my creativity. It’s interesting how the sensory experience migrates to your brain and triggers emotion. Scent is acute – it has a ‘knowing’.
JW: In a way, creating perfumes does seem like a "lost art." How did you find your passion, and how did you master your craft?
JS: My training is a little esoteric and not so conventional. I cut my teeth under the tutelage of a talented and creative perfumer, aroma therapist, and beauty product creator, Trish Petersen. She created scents and developed beauty products for iconic 90's brands like Arcona and Kama Sutra.
For two years, we worked in the classroom of my art studio and living room formulating and blending different combinations of botanical essences and perfume oils. She understood the chemistry, math, materials, industry, and most importantly the alchemy of scent. It was one of the most transformative experiences of my life.
Later, I studied intermittently with two other perfumers, in a more formal "workshop" environment, though it really didn’t translate for me. I didn’t finish either of the classes. While I learned a lot, the group structure and pace were limiting.
Designing perfume is a work in progress like any other art form. The learning curve is never ending. I am a relatively new perfumer so I feel that I cannot say I have mastered it.
Hand-poured perfume as part of the artisan process (photo: Mariana Schulze)
JW: It sounds like more of an art practice than simply a job! What do you love most about what you do?
JS: Artisan perfumery offers me a limitless state of learning and discovering where there is no line between work and life. I’m not in a constant state of love with it - at times it can be frustrating and requires patience. And the business side of marketing and selling is very challenging, which I find rewarding but often illusive.
JW: How long have you owned your own business? What have been some of your challenges, and what advice would you give aspiring female entrepreneurs?
I established Trance Essence in 2007 and it's been both incredibly rewarding and challenging. It’s so satisfying to create something out of nothing and do it with an intention – it’s everything, really.
The challenges of building a profitable business are continuous and require tremendous focus. But with online commerce and social media you have the opportunity to penetrate markets that previously weren't available to a small business.
My advice to women entrepreneurs is that faith and complete confidence in your vision are key. Be a terrier and surround yourself with like-minded people, and a support and mentoring system.
Palette of materials, essential oils, and perfume oil (photo: Mariana Schulze)
JW: Great advice! So let's talk more about your creative process and what led you to create the TALIA fragrance oil.
I get a significant amount of inspiration from the natural beauty of the California coast. I live in Ojai, California about an hour and a half north of LA– a nice drive up the coast. I am in awe of the natural beauty of Ojai, which is a constant source of inspiration. I find it easy to contemplate and be quiet here. And the small town atmosphere gives it an old fashioned familiar feel – like home.
The creative process cannot be described without limiting the possibilities of the outcome for the wearer. It’s so much more interesting to not try and put words to it but rather allow the wearer to have their own unadulterated experience. But I can describe some of what inspires me in general. Esoteric lifestyles interest me, and nature of course. It’s perfect in every imperfect way. I have a lot of inspirations during hikes or conversation. I take notes and write about encounters with people and things.
Raw Benzoin rock, to be compounded and used as a base note (photo: Mariana Schulze)
JW: Which people and things served as your inspirations in creating TALIA?
Talia is a scent about the sensuality of the Southern California culture and bohemian lifestyle that Johnny Was personifies. Growing up in the Southern California surf culture gave me instant access to the dreamy and distinctive influences of Talia.
The hot dry desert climate and warm salty ocean, music of the 60’s and 70’s like the Mama’s and Papa’s and Fleetwood Mac, salt & peppered with irreverent iconic Easy Rider rebels like Peter Fonda, set the stage. And, I always found myself referencing my little salty and sweet muse for this scent: Allie Buckley, who is a dead ringer for Michelle Phillips. Her poetic presence and that lusty sun kissed So Cal persuasion was the backdrop for the road trip that inspired the Talia journey.
Talia is distinctive and delicious with warm sweet notes of benzoin and ancient amber mingling with musk, vanilla absolute and jasmine and kissed by light and fresh wild sweet orange.
Singer Allie Buckley, Sheehan's muse for TALIA (photo: Pierre Auroux)
JW: TALIA does have that very enchanting, bohemian Southern California quality to it. Does that speak to your personal style, as well?
Sometimes, it depends on my mood, I feel elegant and quiet a lot of the time, if those count as a style. Personal style is individuality. One's true nature is a reflection of their character. – It’s not really an affect.
Johnny Was suits my bohemian style sensibilities – always. I can mix and match little slips with tops with dresses, for almost any occasion. I’m especially drawn to the soft ethereal qualities of 4 Love and Liberty. Then there’s Agnes B, and Fiorentini and Baker boots – I have 4 pairs and wear them all year round. I live in my boots! My style muses are Coco Chanel, Patty Smith, and Marianne Faithful.
Sheehan's style muses: Patti Smith, Coco Chanel, and Marianne Faithful
TALIA fragrance (photo: Chris Dibble)