Amanda Walker – Organic Perfumer

Goodlifer: Amanda Walker - Organic Perfumer

Did you know that most mainstream perfumes contain toxic, potentially cancerous, chemicals? Amanda Walker certainly does. Her company, A Perfume Organic, makes perfumes that are as luxurious as they are natural. I met Amanda at a “smelling party” she arranged for friends, fellow perfumers and members of the curious public (that would be me) interested in learning more about organic perfumes.

What immediately struck me when smelling all the different natural perfumes was how much more complex and refined they are. Like fine wine, real perfume takes training to appreciate, but once you have conditioned your senses toward it you will never want to go back to the artificiality of synthetics. I caught up with Amanda to talk out about her inspirations, how she got started and to find out what a perfumer’s workspace actually looks like.

A Perfume Organic's GREEN is a juicy herbal potion with rose (New York's state flower), black truffle, blue and roman chamomile and an overdose of ylang ylang with a smooth woody finish. Citrus fruits, rare spices and precious herbs from the West Coast, inspired by an amazing, and unforgettable hike in Silver Falls, Oregon.

A Perfume Organic's GREEN is a juicy herbal potion with rose (New York's state flower), black truffle, blue and roman chamomile and an overdose of ylang ylang with a smooth woody finish. Citrus fruits, rare spices and precious herbs from the West Coast, inspired by an amazing, and unforgettable hike in Silver Falls, Oregon.

Hi Amanda, can you tell me about your background and how you got started in the perfume-making business?
I’ve always been aware of scent; smell is such an important sense. I’ve been making and adjusting my own beauty products since before kindergarten. I used to play ‘Avon Lady’ with my Grandma and sneak into my mom’s closet to find her antique bottles of Estee Lauder perfume and White Shoulders powder puffs. I spent the summer after High School in Grasse, France studying natural perfume. I loved spending time at Fragonard and touring through the lavender fields.

Sounds lovely. So why did you decide that your perfume line needed to be certified organic?
Perfume started out being made from the finest, rarest and most luxurious materials — like frankincense, clay, citrus, and rose oils. I wanted my perfumes to be very close to nature. Certifying them organic was an extra assurance to myself and to my customers of my cognizance and respect for the sources of my materials and the agricultural concepts of producing the plants sustainably. I also believe beauty should promote health both inside and out. The oils in my perfumes have unbelievable health benefits. Anything you apply to your skin is absorbed into your blood stream and can therefore benefit you. I also wanted to support American organic agriculture.

Amanda Walker's workspace is filled with inspirational objects, drawings and ideas. A perfumer's studio, filled with books, fresh flowers, essential oils, fragrance samples. Photo by Payam.

Amanda Walker's workspace is filled with inspirational objects, drawings and ideas. A perfumer's studio, filled with books, fresh flowers, essential oils, fragrance samples. Photo by Payam.

I’m very curious to hear what kind of workspace a perfumer has, can you tell me about yours?
I try to keep my workspace very organized, labeled, stocked, and clutter free (I am a virgo.) But when I’m formulating new perfumes, I like to have tons of photo boards, food, flowers, chocolate, mementos from travels, stacks of books and magazines everywhere to refer to and music blasting. I also rely on my Boston Terrier, Bean, for inspiration. If Bean approves it’s usually a winner – she loves Mejica.

Of course she does! Do you think a good nose is something that you are born with or something that can be cultivated over time?

I think scent appreciation is something that you are born with. My friends jokingly call me the “bionic woman”, because I’m so extraordinarily sensitive to scent. I also love to describe and write about scent to challenge my vocabulary on describing different smells. I like to use color, texture, food and mood to explain what my nose is sensing.

 

A perfumer's studio, filled with books, fresh flowers, essential oils, fragrance samples. Photo by Payam.

A perfumer's studio, filled with books, fresh flowers, essential oils, fragrance samples. Photo by Payam.

How do you go about starting to create a new perfume? Do you try to recreate something amazing that you smelled somewhere or does it all come from the imagination?
I like to design scent using experience and imagination. I rely on memories as well, like my childhood memories of jelly bracelets, cherry chapstick and stickers — or an amazing meal at B&B in Las Vegas of white truffles, pasta and cold pinot grigio. Anytime I can experience a natural surrounding, I’ll rub the tree leaves, smell the dirt, scratch the tree bark and marvel at how well they all work together.

You worked for multi-billion dollar beauty brands for a while, can you tell me about that experience?

It was an amazing opportunity to work in beauty in New York City among the best of the best.  Being able to see behind the curtain, how these huge companies function and achieve success was awesome. I worked with amazing colleagues on the coolest projects. It definitely helped me in my own venture, but also made me a wiser consumer. But, on the other hand, it was also very intimidating to see how much money, time and resources were invested in targeting consumers, marketing to very specific demographics and the extreme focus on profitability. Sustainability was never really a priority, which bothered me. I saw the demand for healthy beauty and wanted to develop perfumes that did it all — smelled great, were healthy for the body and environment and paid attention to sustainable packaging and processes.

Essential oils fill the shelves in Amanda's studio. Photo by Payam.

Essential oils fill the shelves in Amanda's studio. Photo by Payam.

When it comes to perfume, I’ve heard a lot of talk about synthetic and natural fragrances, what is the difference and why is one better than the other? Synthetic fragrance is man-made. Scents are synthesized in a lab down to their molecular components. Labs are able to submit a natural scent for analysis and recreate it artificially almost exactly. Natural scents come from nature through water, steam or carbon dioxide distillation, and if not treated with solvents (absolutes and concretes) are incredibly healthy, as the aromatic molecules that cause the plant to have scent are actually the plants’ immune system or “medicine.” Plants existed before humans and have been fighting virus and bacteria much longer than humans; we can use the evolution of these materials to make us healthier.

What advice can you give to the average consumer who wants to stay away from perfumes that are potentially toxic? Are there any specific ingredients one should look for and avoid?
Try to avoid products that include solvents, petrochemicals, and artificial ingredients. Organic essential oils are amazing if purchased from a reputable source. I also try to avoid any detergents or alcohol.

Even though she is based in New York City, Amanda Walker's main inspiration is nature. Photo by Payam.

Even though she is based in New York City, Amanda Walker's main inspiration is nature. Photo by Payam.

You are a vegan as well, what other lifestyle choices have you made in order to tread lightly on our planet?
I am very cognizant of where I spend my money and what I purchase. I never buy something that I don’t think I’ll wear or use for at least 5 years. I try to keep my consumerism to a minimum and purchase from companies that support a cause, are revolutionizing an industry or are sustainable.

What inspires you?
Nature.

Where do you see yourself and your business in 5 years from now?
I’d like to have a brick and mortar apothecary for certified organic fragrance, body, and educational workshops. I’d want to distill locally grown materials on site — the freshest ingredients possible!!  How great would it be to walk into a shop and have them distilling rosemary and lavender?!

A Perfume Organic's latest scent, Mejica, is a blend of three vanillas, rare resins and spices. It was imagined as tribute to the wonderful vanilla orchid — a plant that changed the world.

A Perfume Organic's latest scent, Mejica, is a blend of three vanillas, rare resins and spices. It was imagined as tribute to the wonderful vanilla orchid — a plant that changed the world.


That would be great. What, in your opinion, is the best scent in the world?

The seashore

What does the Good Life mean to you?
Access to amazing people, places and opportunities — this is why I live in New York City! Also, having amazing health and being surrounded by the people and creatures you love.

A perfume Organic is available online and at several retailers nationwide, including Organic Avenue, Cow Jones Industrials, Urban Outfitters, The Standard Hotels, Kaight and ABC Home.

Workspace photos by Payam, others courtesy of A Perfume Organic.

About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
4 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. I am very excited to get a bottle of the Mejica perfume. Thank you for the information about how we can use pure oils and scents to heal our bodies.
    Good Luck on creating a sustainable revolution!

  2. There should much more of this fantastic product made easy for the world to find out! the public needs to educated about the cruelty that happens to innocent animals around the world because of our ignorance and not having other products to turn to instead! This needs to be put out there everywhere and tought! Thanks for your beautifull way. Evelyn P

  3. Great article on Amanda and her perfume line. I would just like to add that Amanda is a very generous soul and loves helping others in natural perfumery. Her willingness to lend a ear, to give a referral and all kinds of other advice regarding perfumery is admirable.

  4. Amanda’s workspace seems so serene and well organized. I envy that kind of organization. Wonderful article, and kudos to Amanda for creating such lovely perfume and designing such a gorgeous space in which to create them!

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