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From Concept to Canyons: Creating a New Scent

This month, we are launching a new Limited Edition scent called “Canyons.” One of the most common questions we receive is, “How do you create a new scent?” With that in mind, we’re taking you on the journey from concept to Canyons.


The inconspicuous package arrived in summer 2019. Unremarkable, save for the faded smell of perfume hinting at the precious cargo within: three round glass vials filled with wax, the outsides labelled “Wise Desert 1, 2, and 3” respectively. 

These were the first samples of our newest scent, the working name of which was, in fact, “High Desert.” As had often been the case, our perfumer, Christophe, had changed the name. “Wise Desert” provided him with more clarity in exploring this novel scentscape. 

Ripping open the pouch, we carefully placed the vials on our studio table. Three potential worlds lay within. 

“You go first.” 

“No, let’s smell one each at the same time?” 

Tentatively, we unscrewed the lids, closed our eyes, raised the vessels slowly to our noses, and breathed in.


Beginnings


The first phase of a new scent creation is determining the overall direction of the concept. Scent allows for so much creativity, and an empty canvas can be overwhelming, so we have established some clear boundaries for ourselves: 

  1. Inspired by nature: we are inspired by the innate beauty of the natural world and fostering our connection to it.
  2. Connected to experience: we listen to our own curiosity and experiences, as well as those of our community of Keapers.

 

Some words from recent scent ideas from our Keapers, abundant with natural inspiration.


But the three vials didn’t arrive by inspiration alone. Getting to these first tantalizing samples of a new scent had taken half a year already. We had crafted the High Desert concept in early 2019. The inspiration came from personal experience — Stephen had visited the stunning and fragrant landscapes of Santa Fe in summer 2017 — and from our community ideas (“spicy, folky, warm, smoldering, stone, sandalwood, earthy, sunsets”).

There were other exciting ideas jostling for our attention too. Rainy forests and fragrant groves. Crisp, snowy peaks and warm, rustling meadows. However, as we journeyed into these landscapes in exploration, we came across new stories that pulled us inexorably towards the desert.

 

Scent-spiration boards for other potential new scents, 2019



From Concept to Clarity


One major source of inspiration behind the desert concept was the writer Edward Abbey, whose book Desert Solitaire is considered a 20th century masterpiece in writing about the natural world — up there with Thoreau’s Walden and Lopez’s Arctic Dreams. Abbey captured an early sense of the Western world’s mistreatment of nature and the disconnection driving it. His evocative descriptions brought to life the landscape he sought to capture, while reminding us of our own deep-rooted desire to protect and reconnect with nature.

“The fire. The odor of burning juniper is the sweetest fragrance on the face of the earth, in my honest judgment; I doubt if all the smoking censers of Dante's paradise could equal it. One breath of juniper smoke, like the perfume of sagebrush after rain, evokes in magical catalysis, like certain music, the space and light and clarity and piercing strangeness of the American West. Long may it burn.”


High Desert became an embodiment of our own personal experiences, our community’s dreams, and this pulsating landscape loved so profoundly by Abbey and many other beings spiritually connected to the desert environment. Through pictures, quotes, stories, and fragrant notions, we crafted a full brief to share with our perfumer, Christophe Laudamiel.

 

Aromatic juniper, creamy woods, dry grasses, and earthy sage formed some of the scent facets we wanted to capture in High Desert.



Crafting Worlds in Tiny Vials


For a perfumer to evoke the particular scent you seek, they have to understand what our noses (and brains) are after. Yet, we lack sophisticated language for describing the complexity of smell, thanks in part to a lack of education about and use of this critical sense (particularly in the West). The sharing of the scent brief begins a creative process of sensory clarification and experimentation.

In his perfumer’s lab, based in Midtown Manhattan, Christophe uses his combined skills as a creative artist and organic chemist to judiciously pluck a series of bottles from his laboratory shelf (he apprenticed for decades with the world’s top perfumers and has a master’s in chemistry). He already knows the smells that might begin to manifest this desert place, but the exact recipe remains a mystery even to him and will require our input, too. With pipettes and measuring scales ready, Christophe begins to blend.

Soon, the three precious vials arrive in the mail. Christophe’s renaming of the scent — from High Desert to Wise Desert — feels fitting: it adds animacy to the landscape. A high desert is merely descriptive, but a wise desert speaks to all that a living desert has to teach us (it is, after all, our elder by billions of years). With vials in hand, we prepare to learn and finally breathe in the desert.

 

Christophe in his perfumer’s laboratory, Credit: C. Ilolahia.



Adjusting the Landscape


Smelling a scent for the first time is a moment of meditation. We allow each scent to speak to our senses and tell us its story. We’re taken on journeys within the liminal space between the scent, our own experiences, and our imaginations. We do this for each scent, and then we convene to discuss our impressions. Some objective details about each scent — “3 has luminous orange ethereal note in the grapefruit family to evoke the sunset”help us put words to things we might be sensing intuitively.

To help narrow in, we gather feedback and spend a full afternoon at Christophe’s lab smelling individual notes providing guidance. Thus begins a series of iterations involving Christophe’s brilliance and our search to put words to our own subjective, smelled experiences. Many more vials arrive by mail. Each new delivery is full of anticipation and uncertainty. What might have changed? What should we expect?

Snow falls outside our windows in Brooklyn. It’s November, and the holidays will soon be upon us. 

“I’ve got something for you!” 

Our postman pulls a small envelope off his cart. Hearts race in unison. Is that what we think it is? 

Wise Desert 43 stands proudly, singularly on the table before us. The number “43” means this is the 43rd iteration of the original recipe Christophe started in the summer. Forty-two adjustments in. Could this be the one? Tentatively, as we’ve done 42 times before, we unscrew the lids, close our eyes, raise the vessels slowly to our noses, and breathe in.

 



Completion to Candle


The events of 2020 put an unexpected hold on any plans we had to launch Wise Desert 43. Investing the time, money, and energy into the launch of a new product was simply not possible. It wasn’t until almost a year after completing the scent that launching it became fathomable.

The most critical piece would be deciding on our launch name. “Wise Desert 43”... wasn’t going to work! We spent time considering words that captured the scale and majesty we were looking to evoke. Desert Trails. Red Sands. Mesa. Crags + Pinnacles. Burning Juniper. Desert Solitaire. Too specific, or silly, or just not quite right. 

The proud, simple, grandeur of Canyons! The heart knows when it’s right.

Name in hand, we set in motion the other steps required by launch: creating new iconography, writing scent descriptions, ordering the fragrance oils. Perhaps, we think, it might be fun to cover the journey of creating this new scent in a blog post? 

 

 

As I sit here writing this, I am so excited to bring our newest scent, Canyons, into the world. We are proud to have created a scent that will both connect you to the desert landscape and, I hope, renew your spirit of appreciation for the world around you. As Edward Abbey remarked in 1968:

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”


May we continue to remember this and act accordingly.

Keep the fire burning,

— Stephen


P.S. You can sample Canyons for free if you buy a Keap sample set between 3/26 and 4/15/2021


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