Janna Sheehan finds beauty both in dissonance and method.
For this natural perfumer (with the heart of a poet), scent has always represented more than simply a nice aroma. Even from childhood, she felt the strong pull of emotion present in its olfactory layers.
It was after moving to Ojai Valley in California’s Central Coast during the 90s, and becoming fascinated with the surrounding environment and the formulation of natural fragrance, that she began experimenting with creating her own handcrafted scents. She’s been toiling every since.
Sheehan’s perfumes are meant to help wearers renew and rediscover a relationship to their bodies, minds and desires. Her most recent aromatic line, Ojai Wild, embodies the area’s natural ecosystem, using raw botanical extracts from hand-sourced ingredients to retain authentic essences. Her new Archival collection, which focuses on divergent notes, is limited-edition, beginning with only 300 bottles of Chamomile Flower.
Here, Sheehan explains why scent is beauty, and beauty is everywhere:
Live The Process: Before you moved to Ojai and created your company, had you worked with beauty or fragrance?
Janna Sheehan: Not specifically beauty or fragrance products, but I’ve always been involved with beauty in some form or another. Beauty for me is a perspective more than a product. I’ve always strived through focus and discipline to seek beauty, in my own way, by digging deeper into a process—perfecting a craft. At one time in my life, I was completely focused on perfecting pie-making. That resulted in beauty for me.
My relationship with the natural world as a spiritual sensory vehicle is what inspired my interest in fragrance. Smell registers in emotion, and I think we are all trying to sort out the hows and whys of our lives, much of which stems from childhood. I have many scent associations from that time: the smell of danger, the smell of loneliness, comfort, love, etc. These are all identifiable in smelling the notes of my fragrances; they’re very emotional. My life was unstable. Smelling became my perception for survival.
LTP: What first inspired—and continues to drive—Ojai Wild?
JS: Alchemy and art is what inspired the founding of Ojai Wild. I was on a journey to discover the entire process of natural scent formulation, from seed to skin. Very shortly after embarking on this, I was invited to design a fragrance to embody the spiritual essence of the Ojai Valley for an art exhibit at the Porch Gallery.
I wanted to get to know the California landscape intimately, so I started tincturing everything I could get my hands on with a variety of mediums. I have a library of at least 50 raw extracts. When no heat is used in the extraction process (so the ingredients are raw), it yields an essence that smells as close as one can get to the actual smell of the plant.
The simplicities of everyday life inspire me. Toiling, getting my hands dirty, wanting to be fully immersed in where scent comes from—this is what inspires my interest in fragrance as an art form. Unwinding the complicated (man vs. nature) by way of this discovery—decrease instead of increase.
LTP: Can you tell us a bit about your raw colognes and divergent scents—the most recent launches? What are those?
JS: Chamomile Flowers is our first Archival release; we produced just 300 bottles. Archival presents unusual, rare pairings—surprising botanical subcategories that are more experimental and primal.
It was born out of my desire to be more experimental and less attached. My thought process here is often about the botanical origins, like trees and the qualities they take on in their own process. The chamomile was harvested from our farm in Ojai. It grows right next to the sage, so that was of primary interest.
With a limited release, there’s a deeper sense of appreciation because it won’t be repeated, so there’s more freedom in the creative process. We refer to the line as “divergent” because of the harmony resulting from the many smells that construct the fragrance. It’s the symphony that arises out of conflicting or contrasting scent qualities—a dissonance and resolution.
LTP: Aside from your own fragrances, what are some of your current beauty, healing and/or wellness obsessions? What rituals keep you feeling balanced and healthy?
JS: I am obsessed with all the interesting natural skincare products flooding the market. I love reading about them—their formulation, ingredients and target areas—and then testing them. I recently went to Violet Grey and spent hours trying nearly every product there, including the makeup line Westman Atelier for a very natural and clean look. (I don’t wear much makeup.) The only product I haven’t tried, but I’m dying to, is the new Olio Maestro. I believe wholeheartedly in our body’s ability to heal itself, so this product interests me greatly.
I’ve also been obsessed for some time with smoke as a fragrance. I’ve always found synthetic incense to be overwhelming, so, I’ve gotten into experimenting with all sorts of resins, woods and herbs as incense. I’ve got a collection created from many herbs, resins and woods now that all have a different quality: Pink Peppercorn, Sage, Juniper Berry, Lemongrass and Monterey Pine. I dry them and pulverize them into a powder, then drop a pinch on a burning ember. The translation of smoke and smell is always a gentle reminder that I can be still.
My ritual every morning is always burning a pinch of frankincense. I focus on a dream or wish, drop the powder on the ember and let the smoke carry my prayers to heaven.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
JS: Happiness, to me, is in finding or experiencing joy.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do that more each day?
JS: To me, “Live The Process” means be in a constant state of discovery. As Bruce Lee famously once said, “Be like water.”