UNO Documentary: Kathleen Currie, natural perfume local business owner

What: Kathleen Currie, local perfume shop owner speaks to her own experiences with her organic perfume shop.

Film By: Emily Mouton

Editor’s Note: University of New Orleans filmmaker Emily Mouton interviews Kathleen Currie, the founder of Smoke Perfume Shop.  This local business was founded in New Orleans, and all of the scents are made to reflect the culture and distinctive elements of the city.  Loyal to New Orleans, Kathleen Currie started as an aromatherapist for massage clients, where she developed her passion for mixing scents.  This highly eco-friendly and sustainable perfume shop has been open since 2013, and Kathleen says she loves the idea of being a niche local perfume shop and has no plans to leave New Orleans. 

Full Transcription: 

Kathleen Currie: I found my way into perfume through my background with massage therapy. I was working as a new massage therapist in 2009, and I got really into essential oils. We had a whole aroma-therapy course in school so I was blending oils for my clients and blending blends for myself and stumbled upon vetiver, which is an essential oil and I became obsessed and started wearing it all the time. I started blending aromatherapy blends with vetiver, found this one which was just the one I kept coming back to.  It has vetiver, and jasmine, and citrus, and so I would wear that and put it on my clients.  People started complimenting me on it and on that scent and the idea to launch a perfume came from that blend as a one off project. I just thought it would be a creative project to launch just to sell perfume. 

I had no business plan, I had no intention of launching a whole company, so I was approaching it as a creative project. But it was pretty accidental in the beginning, pretty organic. I launched smoke in 2013; it took me a few years to find the right name and designer and everything. 

My work with perfume and scent has always been drawing on that background of body work and getting people to slow down and connect to their breath and their bodies.  I view my perfumes as perfume, yes, but also a tool to expand awareness to come back to the body, come back to the breath, to the self, a bit of a self-care product, and since that ethos has been how I’ve built my business.  Every product I make is something that either helped me on my healing journey or helped my clients’ healing journey, or just something that’s particularly well to the nature that we have in New Orleans, like the ingredients of New Orleans.

It’s been a journey of about seven years and in February I opened my store.  I just had this opportunity to take over this store space in a collective and it seemed like really good timing for me with where the brand was at.  So, it’s been a pretty organic process that started a little accidentally and has become much more intentional and very clear since then. 

I would say my synesthesia is pretty selective; it’s not something that impacts my daily life, but it certainly plays a role in how I create perfumes.  So all of my scents, the inspiration for all of them comes from various places, but for the most part every scent I make is associated with a color for me. That’s always been very very clear. For example, my scent Night Cloud is my most recent scent and is purple. It’s just always been amethyst and purple hues and inspired by the purple night skies of New Orleans. I knew that scent had to have lavender in it and I knew the branding needed to have some purple elements in it.  And the same goes for WellSpring, which is inspired by the rainforest; that obviously has always been a very green scent to me.  Ritual is gold — that’s always been really clear to me — and then Smoke has always been white or clear. It’s pretty selective synesthesia, but it does factor into how I draw inspiration for my perfumes and the ingredients that I select. 

That idea that I am creating new perfume, it’s never rushed, it’s never for a particular season. It’s always designed with the ingredients in mind or with the story I want to tell with the perfume. I just don’t want to limit myself by being binary or gendered in my fragrances. I think a huge role for Smoke is just educating the consumer: This is what a natural perfume feels like on your skin; this is what it smells like on your body; this is what it smells like differently on each person. The act of wearing a natural perfume is so different from wearing a synthetic big-box perfume in the way the ingredients react with your chemistry. 

I usually, when I’m working on a new scent, I will start with one or two ingredients that I know I want to compose the scent. It doesn’t matter if both those ingredients fall in the base camp or one is a base note, one is a middle note. None of that really matters. It’s really just about finding the symbiosis between those two ingredients and building from there. So most perfumes I make have anywhere from eight to 15 ingredients total in the perfume.  It’s a lot of editing; it’s a lot of rounds and rounds and rounds of editing, playing with the ingredients and what works, what doesn’t work, what throws off the balance. Again, because I create around two ingredients, I want those ingredients to shine. 

I package everything in glass, I try not to use plastic, but it’s hard with bottles — you know, finding caps that aren’t plastic. All of my packaging does unfortunately have some plastic elements, because it’s just challenging in today’s world as a small business to not have any plastic. Now I package everything in paper bags and cardboard so it can be composted. It’s important, I think, to promote sustainability as much as possible in a studio where I do a lot of online sales. So when I’m in my studio shipping online orders I ship everything in biodegradable packing peanuts and cardboard.  I try my best and I just think that’s all any of us can do. It’s that balance of individual action and just trying to avoid unnecessary plastic. 

I like all of them for very different reasons. Smoke is the original scent. It launched the whole brand. That’s that vetiver scent I mentioned earlier, so that’s sort of my everyday go-to scent.  Night Cloud, I wear all the time.  Well Spring, I wear all the time.  The one I wear the least is Ritual, but Ritual is probably my best seller, so it’s very weird.  I don’t know why I wear it the least; it’s not that I don’t like it. It was the second one that I made, so it’s always been really important to my line. So yeah, I find myself reaching for that one the least, but it’s definitely one of my best sellers. 

I encourage people to play with scents just as they would makeup or clothing. I really love the idea of being very hyper-local in New Orleans and I don’t have any major plans for big expansion. I don’t really see Smoke as being a brand that is going to be in Sephora; that’s not necessarily a goal of mine. So I love the idea of just being a very niche, small perfume house and I just don’t know what the future holds. It’s just a little uncertain. 



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