Let’s summon some fragrances of our city: Fresh baked and sweet pan de huevo and empanadas… newly ground and roasted coffee from downtown roasters and baristas… crackling piñon pine fire, with its smoke wafting from chimineas in holiday time. We are fervent sniffers of the scents that permeate our environs. There are mysteries in all to inspire our imagination, and a local artisan who inhales, tests and bottles these experiences in her crafting of La Curie perfumes.
Lesli Wood Peterson’s studio is set with groupings of glass bottles, notebooks, fragrant essential oils, other raw perfume ingredients and some ‘synthetics’ needed for something nature can’t provide. The label maker is a favorite tool along with her clear glass bottles, so she can organize and see the colors of her ingredients. She is a student of history, culture and how the reminisces of natural smells can be compounded into familiar and evocative scents that can change over time or according to individual physical chemistry.
Culture informs my craft, Lesli says: “When I started the line, I wanted a unique way to present perfumes. I realized my love of history and myth would be the perfect muse to develop scent themes and names. On the list of future perfumes is one themed on space travel and one set in northern Africa.” When she contextualizes themes like this for a new scent or a specific ingredient, it keeps her interested on more levels than just developing what people smell in the bottle. “Each scent has such a rich sense of place and story,” Lesli continues.
Smell as Destination
The Sonoran desert has rooted Lesli’s craft. “Inspiration comes easy to me but clarity and focus have been challenging throughout the years,” she notes. “Tucson has a calming effect on me. Settling down here has given me the ability to really focus on my craft and business and turn my inspirations into a way of living.”
Locally sourced ingredients are important in the creative process, continues Lesli: “I wanted to make a desert-themed scent to try to capture that combination of the moment (when) the dry, parched earth and pavements get wet for the first time. I knew creosote had to be one element of the perfume. When I was researching ingredients for it, I quickly realized I couldn’t call into the magic perfume ingredient store for some larrea tridentata so I had to resort to kitchen alchemy to get some scent out of the chaparral (creosote) bush myself to see what I could do with it. I thought, if my neighbors are harvesting mesquite bean pods to make flour, I can probably pull this off. Another neighbor had tinctured their own creosote to make massage balm so I was able to get advice on technique.”
Art as Inspiration
Smell is most powerful of our senses, Lesli believes. She is not a chemist, but carefully prepares and documents formulas that infuse a potent mix of the desert’s signatures. She is inspired by a long list of pioneering scientists and artists from throughout history. One inspiration is Artist Ruth Asawa: “I was very lucky to attend an intimate workshop from her daughter, to learn her mother’s special technique for weaving metal. It’s a very meditative craft. Like painting a wall but better,” says Lesli.
In our creative city, Lesli also enjoys these sources of inspiration:
- Tiradito shrine
- The sky (“I’m constantly looking at the sky both during the day and night. I can actually star gaze from my yard as the neighborhood is very dark with almost no lights,” says Lesli.)
- MOCA Tucson (Museum of Contemporary Art).
Tradition bearing is important to our creative community, Lesli affirms: “For me, I think it’s important to be around other makers just to see them evolve over time and go through developing their own small business.” The fragrances are sold locally at MAST in Mercado San Agustin. Each fragrance is its own universe, she continues, with the desert a place where she is inspired by beauty and able to write its scented stories.
- Smithsonian and Perfumers: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/for-hire-perfume-nose-160582702/?no-ist
- Smell and Culture: http://www.sirc.org/publik/smell_culture.html
- “Making Perfume from the Rain,” The Atlantic: www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/04/making-perfume-from-the-rain/391011/
- The Science of Scent: https://www.ted.com/talks/luca_turin_on_the_science_of_scent?language=en