Janna Sheehan captures California in a bottle. The artisan perfumer’s new brand Ojai Wild revolves around pure botanicals sourced from her home state that are extracted for scents using a 17th-century tincture process, and blended with essential oils and absolutes. Its first four eau de colognes, Pink Peppercorn, Redwood Leaves, White Sage Leaves and Juniper Berry, have landed at the stores Shen Beauty, Beauty Heroes, deKor & Co. and Coutula.
“Ojai Wild is about getting the most authentic fragrance from the plant that one can extract, and combining harmonious notes for structure and composition. It’s making art with scent,” says Sheehan. “The extraction is complicated, but the notes are simple. Ojai Wild smells so fresh and so alive. I know what I’m doing when constructing a fragrance and can control it to introduce all natural fragrances to the general public that aren’t an acquired taste.”
The brand is Sheehan’s second. In 2007, she launched Trance Essence, which is still sold at C.O. Bigelow though Sheehan is turning her attention to Ojai Wild. She describes Trance Essence as giving her an MBA in the fragrance business, and a key lesson was it’s important to knock it out of the park with packaging. Sheehan went through two packaging designers before hiring Dustin Byerley, an Ojai local who understood her vision.
The exterior packaging features God’s eyes that allude to fragrance notes through color and gradation, and the bottles are topped with reclaimed wood caps crafted by Rob Bezrutczyk and Cole Bennett. Originally, Sheehan intended the packaging to incorporate skulls made from vines and flowers, but Byerley persuaded her that a God’s eye was more meaningful. “It’s a universal symbol for mystery. He loves the idea of the mysticism and feeling the God’s eye invokes,” she says.
In early goings, Ojai Wild’s Pink Peppercorn eau de cologne, a spicy floral mix of pink peppercorn, fruity cassis, Juhi jasmine, Golden Champaca and bergamot, has garnered a particularly strong response. “The smell of the actual plant is so obvious that it immediately evokes memories for people of being in nature, and everyone pretty much has a good experience in nature, so it makes them happy,” says Sheehan.
So far, Sheehan reports retail buyers at upscale beauty and home stores have reacted favorably to Ojai Wild. She’s planning to expand outside the U.S. to Asia in the spring. Meanwhile, Sheehan is busy concocting scents. Her product development pipeline calls for two to four eau de cologne releases annually as well as two limited-edition scents per year. Sheehan divulges it cost roughly $150,000 to get Ojai Wild off the ground and, in its initial year on the market, she expects the brand to generate $100,000 to $150,000 in revenues.
“This line is not meant to be mass produced. It will constantly be evolving. White Sage Leaves has a lemongrass note in it that was aged 35 years. When we are done with that lemongrass note, we are done. I will have to recreate the formula with another note,” details Sheehan. “That being said, we want as many people to be able to experience Ojai Wild as possible. We worked very hard to keep the price point under $100. It’s been a real dance for us to make our margins and put a product out there that makes the retailers happy, too.”
Sheehan has lived in Ojai, a city of less than 10,000 people 90 miles from Los Angeles that combines a certain California new age quirkiness with refined art, design, food and hospitality, an enviable Mediterranean climate and brilliant pink sunsets, since the dissolution of her marriage in the 1990s. She left L.A., where she worked in films as an art and set director, for Ojai to enroll her two children in the progressive Oak Grove School to give them stability she worried they lacked at home due to the tumult of the divorce.
The tight-knit community has been integral to Sheehan’s perfumery career. After a chance encounter on the roads of Ojai with Tricia Petersen, who developed products for the brands Arcona and Kamasutra, Sheehan scored an apprenticeship of sorts, and worked with Petersen to create hundreds of fragrance formulas. “She was a fascinating, brilliant person, and we had two creative years together,” she recounts, crediting technical perfumer Michael Licciardello as also important to her professional development.
“At the risk of sounding airy, I felt I always had an instinct that led me to designing fragrance,” says Sheehan. “I loved everything about the sense of smell.”