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All Smoke, No Mirrors: Kathleen Currie on Crafting a Soulful Unisex Scent

In 2009, Kathleen Currie moved into a beautiful old apartment in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Invigorated by her new surroundings, she was experimenting with essential oils, wearing them daily and mixing up different combinations. Her creative process eventually led her to a blend that would become Smoke Perfume, a unisex, vetiver-based fragrance that evokes New Orleans’s charm and history. Four years later, Smoke has received some serious recognition (New York magazine called it a “national treasure”) and Currie is hard at work on a candle version. We caught up with her to learn about Smoke’s trajectory and influences.

BB Man: Tell us about the path you took to perfumery.

Currie: I studied holistic health in college, and became a massage therapist in 2008. Aromatherapy was something I'd casually used for years, but was really excited about at the time I created Smoke. I would often make custom blends in my sessions with clients, and it was pretty natural for me to create a blend for myself to wear. The science of scent is fascinating, because not only do pure plant-based essential oils smell great, but they have qualities that can affect our health.

BB Man: What can you tell us about Smoke’s main ingredients?

Currie: Vetiver is derived from the roots of a grass native to India and Sri Lanka and often grown in Haiti. It has a mossy, earthy scent. The vetiver in Smoke was grown in Louisiana to shore up the levees—the roots go quite deep and help prevent soil erosion. There is also some citrus in it, which is very uplifting. Also jasmine, one of the flowers New Orleans has always been associated with. It grows wild here, and covers fences, homes, and telephone poles. The smell wafts through the city, especially at night.

BB Man: What feelings does Smoke evoke or capture about New Orleans for you?

Currie: Biking around and taking in the jasmine, the smells, the people, the colors, the sounds—happy, grounded, and falling in love with this really magical place. New Orleans has two old perfumeries in the French Quarter, but there are no contemporary perfumes. So it feels good to bring that to the world. We are famous here for our food, music, and creative spirit. Why not the art of fragrance as well?

BB Man: What did your friends say when you started wearing Smoke?

Currie: Mostly, people would just sort of stop dead in their tracks and sniff the air saying something like, "you smell great!" People would say it reminded them of nature, the forest. Those familiar with vetiver pick up on that right away.

BB Man: We love the roll-on applicator and the wooden prism packaging. How did you decide on those?

Currie: The product has a high oil-to-alcohol ratio, so it was a little thick for a spray. The roll on is a bit more portable, and lasts longer. The wooden vessels are made in New Orleans using locally sourced reclaimed wood. They mimic the woodiness of the scent, and showcase the organic nature of the product. The vessel itself is inspired by old apothecary weight boxes—my contemporary nod to the look and feel of old apothecary objects. The vessel is meant to be a decorative keepsake. You could put a test tube in it to create a bud vase, or leave it as is and put feathers, air plants, or dried flowers in it. You could also fill it with sand to create an incense holder.

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