Kathleen Currie artfully blends essential oils in her new perfume line.
Marianna Massey photographs
Fragrances serve many purposes, whether it’s the more superficial purpose of making something smell nice, or the powerful function of evoking memories in vivid detail. For Kathleen Currie, the blend of nine essential oils that would become the fragrance called Smoke functioned as a comforting companion.
“I had just discovered vetiver, which I really love. It’s got this grassy, earthy scent to it. All of the oils have a different quality that they bring. Vetiver’s very grounding, jasmine’s very sensual, and citrus is very uplifting. So I think I actually created [Smoke] seeking the benefits of the oil,” Currie, a massage and aroma therapist, says. “When I was wearing the blend at the time I did really feel that. It felt almost like this invisible cloak. I was going through a lot of change in my life. I just moved here, just moved to the French Quarter – it was just kind of a wild ride. So it felt really good to have those qualities.”
Currie would later turn this personal blend into a full-fledged fragrance line sold in New Orleans stores and online. Currie created the blend after moving back to New Orleans after time spent in Arizona training to become a massage therapist. Her mother is from Belize, and that’s where she was born and grew up, but her father is from New Orleans. Taking advantage of a direct flight from Belize to New Orleans that existed at the time, the family would take frequent trips to the city. When she was a teen, the family moved to Mississippi, and as soon as Currie was old enough to drive, she would drive to New Orleans and “park in the French Quarter and get into trouble.”
Currie moved out West, but after Hurricane Katrina, she felt a pull back home, which brought her to New Orleans and an apartment in the French Quarter.
“We lost the family home in Mississippi and … I think if it hadn’t been for Katrina I would have kept moving further and further away,” she says. “Losing that made me realize how important home and family are and how much this was my home.”
It was in that period that the idea for Smoke began to take shape, and today the line includes a roll-on fragrance oil and, on a more limited basis, a candle, scrub and even wearable fragrance diffusers made of porous terra cotta (“It’s a more subtle way to wear perfume. If you’re someone is easily overwhelmed by perfume, this would be a good option,” she says).
The fragrance and the packaging of the roll-on oil, provide a full-sensory experience. The woodsy-but-bright scented oil is encased in a triangular vessel made of reclaimed cypress and pine, and it’s emblazoned with a logo that looks like mysterious, witchy carvings on a tree. Presentation is very important to Currie; even her business cards are little pieces of wood carved with her information.
Currie is planning to launch a new fragrance, Ritual, around Oct. 1. Like Smoke, it is also unisex, something very important to Currie. It’s a blend of about eight oils, the main ones are cinnamon and neroli. “It’s really warm but kind of floral as well,” she says.
Although she calls herself a “one-woman band,” she does have the help of a designer and woodworker to execute Smoke’s branding – but it wasn’t always that way.
“I’ve always been very visual. I’ve always been very creative. This was a kind of perfect melding of all my worlds. The packaging is so important … at certain points along the way, I did a very DIY version where I had a little glass vial, and I drilled a hole in a cork and put a porcupine quill dauber in and I branded the cork. It was beautiful, it was super DIY, but it’s hard to mass-produce that,” she says. She debuted the fragrance and the DIY vessels at Avant Garden, a local art event. “That was just great to see the response. People were so excited about it. It was validating. It helped me realize, ‘I’m onto something, and I’m going to keep moving forward.’ But not in this packaging. The porcupine quills would break. It was bad. But it was endearing.”