Artisanal perfumer Janna Sheehan creates olfactive elegance with Ojai Wild
“They’re a real chi changer.”
Janna Sheehan is speaking about the power of the fragrances she creates. The local artisan perfumer is the creator of Ojai Wild, “fresh, pure extract of botanicals, resins and woods sourced by hand in California.”
“They’re not meant to overpower a room,” says Sheehan. “They’re a fleeting experience. Like a moment of beauty.”
And yet they’re powerful.
Working in her studio in Ventura County, Sheehan uses a 17th-century tincture method of extraction to produce the essential oils she uses in her fragrances.
“Plants are ethically harvested or grown on our farm in the Ojai Valley,” explains Sheehan. “[Then they are] crushed, pressed and soaked, releasing the unadulterated and undiluted bloom.”
What is left is the true essence of the plant, including the plant’s healing benefits and mood-altering effects. Hence the term “chi changer,” coined by one of Sheehan’s friends. While other distilling methods result in large molecules that sit on the skin, the tincture method Sheehan uses results in smaller molecules that are more readily absorbed into the skin. Sheehan explains that her fragrances are designed to be sprayed throughout the day, whenever a breath of calm or a fresh lift is desired.
“My fragrances have a high vibration,” says Sheehan. “They are joyful and have a light, fresh quality.”
Formally trained as a painter and printmaker, Sheehan developed her love of creating fragrances after meeting Tricia Peterson, a perfumer and aromatherapy expert who became Sheehan’s teacher and mentor. The transition from painter to perfumer was a natural one. “Fragrance became my art medium,” Sheehan explains, adding that both pursuits are about “creating something beautiful.”
“Simply put, creating beauty is one of my basic instincts, and my relationship with scent and perfume is primal,” Sheehan says on the Johnny Was blog. “Somewhere in the texture of those qualities and my love of embracing any emotion as a source of healing is the seed of my creativity.”
After two years of studying and developing fragrances, Sheehan released her first collection called Trance Essence. These scents feature intoxicating blends of elements like fig, rose, lavender, musk, amber and vanilla. The collection, which includes such fragrances as Whyte Rabbit, Pink Kat, Genie in a Bottle and Hail Merri, are available through C.O. Bigelow.
An opportunity to create another line of fragrances came several years later. Lisa Casoni, co-owner and co-curator of Porch Gallery in Ojai, approached Sheehan about developing fragrances in collaboration with an exhibit that would capture the essence of the Ojai Valley. Sheehan rose to the challenge to channel the spirit of a place she adores.
“Ojai holds the essence for inspiration,” muses Sheehan. The result is Ojai Wild, a collection of fragrances that are, essentially, Ojai in a bottle. Notes include white sage, juniper berry, peppercorn, jasmine and citrus.
When it came to creating the packaging of Ojai Wild, Sheehan knew it would have to be a work of art, too. The over-caps are made of reclaimed wood, handcrafted and finished by Brooklyn designers Rob Bezrutczyk and Cole Bennett. The exterior art, designed by Ojai local Dustin Byerley, features “God’s eyes,” “a universal symbol of mystery,” which Sheehan explains “alludes to fragrance notes through color and gradation.”
Collaboration, whether it’s with fellow artisans or with clients, is very important to Sheehan. When asked to create a signature fragrance for Johnny Was, the California-based clothing brand, Sheehan looked to sweet vanilla, patchouli, musk, jasmine and orange blossom to capture the “dreamy and bohemian essence” of the laid-back Johnny Was lifestyle. The fragrance Talia was born and is now available as a fragrance oil and in candle form.
Sheehan collaborates with private clients as well. “It’s a very intimate process,” she explains. Conversations over tea will naturally turn to favorite fragrances, emotions, sensitivities and memories. One client reminisced about summers spent sailing on the ocean. Sheehan created a fragrance filled with summer blossoms that transported the client back to those idyllic times. Creating a signature fragrance is even trickier than capturing lightning in a bottle. It’s capturing a memory. And yet, Sheehan does it time and again. Perhaps it all stems from Sheehan’s ability to find the heart and the truth of the matter — whether it’s a beloved botanical or a person — and coax it into the light.
Now many of the botanicals Sheehan uses are grown on her very own farm nestled in the Meiners Oaks area of the Ojai Valley. She works with farmer Shawn Fulbright to grow organic yarrow, chamomile, marshmallow, lemongrass, white sage, roses and more. As business evolves and grows, the farm is a reminder that nature and harmony will always be at the root of Ojai Wild. As Sheehan has said, “This line is not meant to be mass produced.”
Even so, the world is taking notice. Ojai Wild won best fragrance and best packaging at the 2017 Indie Beauty Expo.
No matter how many people discover Ojai Wild, each fragrance is different on every person. As Sheehan says, “fragrance must be worn.” Each fragrance comes alive in a different way for each person who wears it. The true nature of the botanicals meets the true nature of the person. Life force meets life force. Moments are captured. Chi is changed. Love is found. Fragrance may be fleeting, but that is not.