It took over twenty years to finally get Onycha into ‘clear enough’ focus to start work on a formula. One of the things that made it clearer was the arrival of traditional ‘Choyas’ on the aromatics market. I am sure that in India and many parts of the ‘olde world’ these fragrant beauties were nothing new but to western artists, they were something exciting and new coming our way. Choyas, like traditional ‘attars’ or ‘ittars’, are co-distilled essential oils. Whereas, attars are generally co-distills with Indian sandalwood (Santalum Album) as the partner to flowers, herbs, and the like, choyas have charred Himalayan cedarwood (Cedrus Deodora) partnered with incense / resin materials, and in the case of Choya Nahk, seashells. Yes, that’s right: roasted seashells. 🙂 The first time I saw this oil offered I immediately began considering it for Onycha. Perfect, right? Well, part yes, part no. Choya Nahk has it’s beauty, but it is dry…really, DRY. Intensely so. I don’t generally like sugary perfumes, but this was a bit beyond the pale. It was going to need some help.
As I worked in some resins that I thought would balance the intensity of the charred nuances, and of course high doses of benzoin and labdanum as the other two notes in the “onycha” triad, I wondered if there were any aromatics sellers that had the actual seashells that were used, before they were roasted. A quick internet search found some incense purveyors with something they were offering as ‘onycha seashells’. SOLD. I ordered them and began tincturing. At this point in the formulating, I decided to make this perfume an ‘all naturals’ project instead of mixed media. Not just because it’s depicting an ancient concept (the Secrets of Egypt collection is all mixed media, with the intent on creating updated interpretations of the ancient designs) but using an all botanical palette seemed to give the ‘antiquity’ feeling I wanted to convey and I wanted some of that murky, slightly inky quality that many all natural perfumes have. (It’s not a bad thing to be murky / inky, at times).
After introducing the seashell tincture, I vacillated between a densely smoky incense perfume like being in a temple filled with burning censors…but this just didn’t work (nope, too much in the vein of Axis Mundi, which I also released last year) plus, it is way too easy to just make ‘smoky smoke and more smoke’. And a sweeter, purely resin-based kind of incense scent seemed kind of bland. Then the whim to just push it toward woods and amber came and I followed the impulse. Choya Loban (cedarwood and frankincense) and Choya Ral (cedarwood and sal tree resin) both made their way into the design in subtle proportion as well as precious woods (eagleswood, Siam wood, more Himalayan cedarwood, and amyris) and ambery resins ( more benzoin, labdanum, and oppopanax). Yes, this push of the ambery aspect brought out even more of the salty / umami and subtly briney aspects of Onycha that I was hoping for. As well, I love what the woods did to build the space to allow the resins, smoke, and oceanic pieces to move around and ‘swirl’ in the way I later envisioned it.
In creating Onycha, I had to dig deep into my past and remember all that had inspired me about the concept when I was first falling in love with fragrance and seeing it as the art form that it is now, generally, recognized to be. It’s also allowed me to examine some of my early work, universally, and bring it full circle. ❤
This post gives me the opportunity to give thanks for some of the lovely reviews of Onycha:
Thank you Trish at Scenthive for her wonderful words for Seve de Pin and Onycha; and the immensely poetic review from Lauryn Beer at CaFleureBon. I am blessed by your beauty.