It was a unique pleasure for me to interview Maria McElroy of Aroma M Perfumes recently, for many reasons, one of which was a spontaneous Vulcan mind-meld that occurred (read on for explanation). The trajectory of Maria's career as a perfumer is an interesting one, as are her various cultural influences. As a fragrance writer, living in a world where there are upwards of 1200 new perfume launches a year, it's refreshing to meet someone like Maria who chooses to focus on quality over quantity.
Maria in her native NYC
CM: There has been an overwhelmingly positive response to your latest fragrance launch, Geisha Amber Rouge. What was your process like when you created it?
MM: Thank you so much, it has been such a wonderful journey creating my latest fragrance. Geisha Amber Rouge was inspired by my trip to Tangier two summers ago and also the lingering memories of my travels to Istanbul. I have always felt such an affinity to that part of the world. The crimson pink light of the desert set against the azure blue sea, and the evocative scents and sounds of the ancient markets, set my imagination aflame when in creating Geisha Amber Rouge. Once I experienced the extraordinary perfume oils in Morocco, I knew then that I had my next aroma M perfume.
Geisha Amber Rouge
CM: It was surprising for me to learn that it’s been five years since the last Aroma M launch! Why did you wait that period of time to release a new fragrance?
MM: Each of my fragrances has had a different gestation period. The longest being Geisha Rouge. It took five years to finalize that scent. I do not like to create fragrance, on a schedule. Like painting a painting, there is a process that takes hold and you have to see it through. Some fragrances are easier and quicker than others. I always have a very definite idea of how my perfumes should smell, so it makes it a bit harder, as I do not rest until it is exactly as I have imagined.
Maria in Morocco
CM: Your fragrances have a well-edited aesthetic to them which is very much in line with their Japanese influence. What aspects of traditional Japanese culture do you connect with the most, and why?
MM: That is a lovely compliment, thank you. There are so many aspects of the Japanese culture that work their way into my life and therefore into my perfumes. I love the Zen purity and the “wabi sabi” concept, which finds the simplest objects interesting, fascinating and beautiful. Fading autumn leaves would be an example as well as the clouds lightly covering the moon-a natural simplicity, which is actually very difficult to achieve. This is an aesthetic seen in Japanese cuisine, traditional dance and painting as well. I hope that these values come through in my perfumes.
CM: I recently told you that I had a dream that you released two specific new scents in your Geisha line, and you’d responded that you had indeed already thought of doing them. That was a very cool “a-ha!” moment for me. Have you had other moments of odd synchronicity like that in relation to your creative process?
MM: I have to say Carrie, that experience with you was a first! I was so astounded when I heard about your dream. Indeed, so cool! I have had though, a very wonderful creative synchronicity in collaborating with my Cherry Bomb Killer Perfume partner, Alexis Karl. It has been so fun and fascinating to share in the creative process together. Our latest collaborative perfume, Immortal Mine, which was created for the Clarimonde Perfume Project, has had an incredible response, one that neither of us could have imagined. After almost seventeen years of working on my own at aroma M I am really enjoying the collaborative process.
CM: Besides perfume, do you work with any other medium to create art?
MM: I love flower arranging and I write a bit of poetry that I only share with my husband and kitty, Tama!
[flower arrangement by Keiko Kubo]
CM: I sense many different types of feminine energy in your fragrances and find that there is a different face (or character) one can put on for every mood or whim. Is this something you went in with the intention of doing?
MM: I have always wanted to make sure that each of my perfumes was different and distinct. When my line started growing it became even more important to me. I wanted to create a perfume wardrobe so to speak, one you could wear for every mood. It is a challenge to keep each fragrance unique, as I have sixteen perfumes now. I hope that they all maintain a certain aroma M personality, which might be the feminine energy you find. By the way, I love that you sense that about my perfumes!
CM: Do the different seasons inspire your work at all, and if so, how?
MM: Yes, I think that the seasons and climate have a great effect on my perfume process. The way that Central Park smells after the first snow fall of the year, the warm night air in Tangier perfumed with Jasmine flowers, the sweet scent of orange blossoms mixed with the salty Mediterranean sea of the Greek islands, the incense- laden air hanging heavy in the ancient street of Kyoto are some of the inspirations that come to mind.
CM: Finally, as is the tradition here at eyeliner on a cat, do you have any cats, and may we ogle them?
MM: Yes most definitely!! I have had two Maine Coons; my beloved Bogey of 18 years passed away this last summer, and our new six-toed Kitty Tama! Tama has the most perfect eyeliner that any girl would love to have…we adore her!
we must give respect to those special kitties who have passed over
the new addition to the family
[I happen to have a thing for Coonies because my mother has several, and they all have way more personality than any cat should be allowed to have. I've always had mutt-kitties, but a Maine Coon cat is a beautiful thing to behold.]