Illuminated Perfume: An Interview with Roxana Villa

Hey, everyone – special treat today!  Here’s an interview with Roxana Villa, founder of Illuminated Perfume.  Roxana relocated to Santa Fe a few years ago, and I’m excited to talk to her.  We conducted an email Q&A, and there’s a giveaway!

Q: What drew you to Santa Fe?  (I bet it had at least something to do with the smells here, which made a huge impression on me the first time I visited and even now I can catch scent-glimpses of, which I hope will improve over time.)

A: Yes, scent was absolutely part of what drew me here, as well as the beauty, clean air, etc.

I was introduced to Santa Fe by way of my first husband, Ben Neuhart, whose parents were regular visitors because of their working relationship with the Eames and Alexander Girard. We were married in the autumn of 1988 and spent our honeymoon exploring the landscape, and spending time at Ten Thousand Waves.

I remember instantly falling in love with the beautiful architecture that worked so harmoniously with the serene landscape, the scent of burning logs of piñon in the fresh, crisp air, the overall vibe of the city and vibrant artist community along Canyon Road.

Q: Your journey has taken you many places thus far — from Argentina to LA, to Brooklyn, back to California, and now Santa Fe.  How do think these various places have fit into your journey in natural perfumery?  I’m particularly intrigued by your childhood, with the family farmacia and home remedies.

A: I’d like to begin answering your question with a quote by the artist Robert Henri from his book the Art Spirit:

“There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom. If one could but recall his vision by some sort of sign. It was in this hope that the arts were invented. Sign-posts on the way to what may be. Sign-posts toward greater knowledge.”

Traveling has an expansive affect that occurs when we experience the sight, sound, smell and flavors of cultures other than our own. Now that I’ve been on the planet for a while, I can look back on all the various journeys and stand witness to the individual sign posts in terms of the bigger, overarching tapestry of my life. One of the prominent threads comes from the strong matriarchal lineage of women I was born into. These ladies came from European roots with a rich culture in cooking, knitting and home remedies. I grew up with the use of herbs for ailments, such as breathing the steam of eucalyptus leaves for respiratory challenges and drinking boldo tea as a digestif after meals. As a little girl, I remember how my grandmother in Buenos Aires would head out early each morning to purchase bread, croissants, meat, vegetables, milk & cheeses, dulce de leche, etc., all fresh, from a series of small independent vendors. I would wake up when she had arrived back from her outing, to a fresh croissant and hot cocoa waiting me at the head of the very formal, large oak table in the dining room. Yes, I felt very much like a princess when I would stay at her sprawling apartment off of Libertador in a region called Belgrano. While I ate my little breakfast, the work would begin in the kitchen for the big family lunches that took place daily during the workweek, it was quite a fabulous ritual, and a memory I cherish.

Q: Tell me more about the School of Lost Arts.  (And is that how you hooked up with Dora Goldsmith?)

A: The School of Lost Arts manifested rather spontaneously when I had to move my online perfume course to a new platform. I realized that a few of the repeating themes for me were: creating something with one’s hands, working with nature and an appreciation for the old world arts, thus the term Lost Arts was a perfect fit.

It was my perfume student Eli that connected me to Egyptologist Dora Goldsmith.

Q: This workshop series on Egypt looks fascinating!  Can you tell me more about that?

A: The olfactory landscape of ancient Egypt is like no other, revealing aspects of a culture where no boundaries existed with perfume, medicine and food. By examining the written sources Dora takes us into various aspects of this olfactory rich civilization exploring a panorama of scents and rituals from sacred temples, personal gardens and the afterlife. Dora and I decided to offer a series of seven classes that can be attended separately or all together as a “certificate” course. We meet on Sundays, via ZOOM, here are the seven subjects we explore:

  • Scents of Mummification & the Afterlife
  • Hknw, Meaning JOY (Ancient Egyptian Perfume)
  • Kyphi
  • Unguent Cones
  • Temple Smells
  • Garden Scents
  • Scents of Lovemaking

For extra fun Dora has created kits using authentically sourced materials to enhance the learning experience.

Dora’s area of expertise is investigating the ancient Egyptians’ perception of the world through the sense of smell and then recreating their smellscape. She is currently a PhD researcher of Egyptology at the Freie Universität Berlin.

The attendees of the classes have been from all over the world, and each one has absolutely loved them and Dora. It’s so great to find a community of fellow nerds, like me, who are fascinated by the Ancient Egyptians. I have read and taken quite a lot of classes on the subject, what Dora presents is very unique because of her translation of written sources.

Q: I mentioned my loss of sense of smell to you, which I’ve talked about on the Posse.  This is obviously a source of personal pain for me, as well as one many people are struggling with right now due to COVID.  The only upside I can see is: for the first time, people are taking a sense of smell seriously, and treating its loss with the attention and importance it deserves.  Can you tell me more about the products you’re thinking of developing for sale to assist with restoration of sense of smell?

A: I was so very sorry to hear of the loss of your sense of smell, and all who have struggled with this. My sense of smell is so strong I often wish to take a break from it.

In the early nineties, when I was studying to complete my certificate in aromatherapy, I learned that inhaling essential oil of rosemary has the ability to restore the sense of smell. Shortly after moving to Santa Fe I asked my mother to send cuttings from a large rosemary bush I had planted while living at her home. I have infused those cuttings to make a deliciously scented salve with essential oils and a few other infusions that will be part of a body care line I’ve been developing. The salve can be inhaled and/or applied for respiratory system as well as a chest balm, to the temples for focus and even used for the scalp or on the ends of the hair. I’d like to point out that the ancient Greeks wore crowns of rosemary for mental clarity. I suggest subscribing to my newsletter for when those products will be released.

Q: What else would you like to tell me?

A: I’d love to share a very exciting, recent development, I have been working with Bishops Lodge, an Auberge Resort, that just re-opened here in Santa Fe. They have brought me on board to formulating products for a few of their hotels, as well as take individuals on a series of scent related “experiences” for their guests:

Thank you dear March, the entire Posse and all the readers for providing such a wonderful, vibrant hub for us lovers of scent.


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Everyone — Roxana is offering to one lucky commenter a spot in one of the classes in the Scents of Egypt series. Please comment below if you’d like to be entered in the drawing, with which class you would like to attend, and I will announce the winner in a couple of weeks.  Thanks again for taking the time to talk with me, Roxana.

Photo credits:

Roxana at the Santa Fe Opera by Elizabeth Evans

Farmacia Estrella by Gabriela Giusti

Perfume photos: Roxana Villa

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