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Sense of Place: Smoke Perfume

We talk with Kathleen of Smoke Perfume about her upbringing and journey into wholistic healing, artisan perfumes, and blending them both.

Photo: Michael Tucker

We talk with Kathleen of Smoke Perfume about her upbringing and journey into wholistic healing, artisan perfumes, and blending them both.

Where are you from originally, and what’s your story?

I'm from Belize originally, and moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast when I was twelve, which is where my dad is from. After I graduated high school I moved to Arizona where I attended college at Prescott College, and then massage school in Tucson. I moved to New Orleans nearly ten years ago to be closer to family, and it's here that I've grown my private bodywork practice and launched Smoke Perfume.

What was it like growing up there and how has that influenced your work?

Growing up in Belize was magical and expansive. I had a strong connection to nature, and spent a lot of time outside as well as exploring the country with my family. Everything was so fresh there — from the food, to living sans AC or commercial chain stores. There was a strong sense of community both culturally, and we grew up on a family compound with my grandparents and cousins all close by. Everything about my time there, from the tropical temperatures and vibe to the smell, is infused into my cells and influences me daily. It's a part of who I am, a sense of place, nostalgia, and home that is who I am. It's hard to explain how it's influenced my work, but I do think growing up there fostered my creativity, and my creativity is a huge part of my work today!

Kathleen at her home in New Orleans

“Growing up in Belize was magical and expansive. I had a strong connection to nature, and spent a lot of time outside as well as exploring the country with my family. Everything was so fresh there — from the food, to living sans AC or commercial chain stores.”

How did you get into fragrance in the first place?

I've always had a strong sense of smell, and been drawn to scent, but in my twenties I got really obsessed with the idea of finding a “signature scent”. I embarked on a journey of discovering my scent amongst commercial perfumes. This ultimately led me to Tom Ford's brilliant line, which became a huge inspiration as I feel like he was an early adopter of gender neutral fragrance. At the same time, I was a new massage therapist and was using essential oils in my work with aromatherapy. I began experimenting with custom blends for myself and my clients. I've always enjoyed cooking, painting, combining medium, so combining scents was pretty natural. One day it clicked, and I landed on the blend that would become Smoke...it all grew organically from there!

When and how did you start Smoke Perfume? What is it that compels you to continue growing it?

Once I landed on the blend of Smoke, I scaled it up and began pursuing launching it as a product in earnest. I had no real ideas beyond just wanting to launch the one scent as a fun and interesting project. After years of touch and go, I finally launched with one scent in February 2013, and it has continued to organically grow since then. One thing that compels me to grow is using the company as a platform for my various interests. For example, I went on to take an herbalism course, and that inspired new products. So it's the fun part of launching new products that I believe in, seeing other folks enjoy them brings a lot of satisfaction.

What is it about New Orleans and the region that makes you wanna be here?

It's great being close to family, and now I feel deeply rooted here. My businesses are based here and feel established here, and my partner (who is also born and raised here) and I continue to grow a life together here. I once had a love-hate relationship with New Orleans, but approaching my tenth year here has felt extremely inspiring! My dad's family has been here since the 1840's and my mom's Belizean family has a strong connection to New Orleans, so it feels literally in my blood and bones to build a life here. I feel like New Orleans is a good home base for me, and has a lot that feels right for me from the size to the culture, and even the humidity! There's an ease here that feels natural to me.

How have you found the community that you have here? What can you tell us about the people you are surrounded with and the support you share with them?

Like many folks I know here, my community consists of multiple circles with varying degrees of overlap. I love the smallness of New Orleans, and my community is pretty tight-knit because we just get to see each other a lot! But I truly have a ton of support...there's the personal circle, but also my business circle of supportive colleagues and fellow makers and body workers.

“I hope to inspire folks to take better care of themselves and work on their own healing so they can be the best versions of themselves they can be...and truly believe this has a ripple effect on the entire community.”

What do you hope to accomplish with your work?

I hope to inspire folks to take better care of themselves and work on their own healing so they can be the best versions of themselves they can be...and truly believe this has a ripple effect on the entire community. I hope that both my bodywork practice and natural products will inspire moments of self care, connection, and healing.

What’s your process like?

My process varies everyday. A typical day is I'm usually in the studio working on Smoke from about 10am-3ish, then home to my home studio to see clients in the evening. My process can be very tangible...like physical work of computer work and packing orders/making products, to more esoteric as I research scents and create a new fragrance at my perfume organ...and then my bodywork practice I get to leave computer work, and be fully in my body, my intuition, and present with my client. I love the balance and contrast.

What products/fragrances are you most proud of and why?

The original Smoke Perfume because it's what launched my whole brand (and still the scent I wear the most), as well as my infused body oils, because I get to forage for cypress leaves as well as work with a local rose grower for our rose petals. This process is so special to me.

You do such a good job of shining a light on your community (smoke sisters series) and sharing information/education (self-care tips, recipes, etc). How important is it for you to play a role in education and sharing what you have learned?

Thanks! I consider myself to be a bridge builder, and value the educational role tremendously. I guess I've always felt drawn to teaching, and a huge part of massage school was learning how to educate our clients and give them homework. I believe that we won't really grow if we are just spoon fed, and that the best learning is experiential learning. So, yea, teach a person to fish and what not.

There seems to be a genuine concern for helping and healing others. How do you see this aspect of your practice expanding?

I am in the process of stepping into a new role as a breathwork healer and facilitator. I think there is ton of room for me to expand my healing work with this new-to-me modality and the potential for group work it offers.

Would you like to talk about breathwork and your client healing practices? Do you see these as existing outside of Smoke Perfume, or are all your projects intrinsically linked?

It's funny you mention that, because I am just now in the process of creating a platform for my breathwork and craniosacral therapy. I have kept my bodywork practice completely separate from Smoke for years, and I am just now seeing them as intrinsically connected, and am in the process of figuring out how best to bridge them and being them both to the table. It's a fun challenge, and one I'm deeply in process with – stay tuned!

Smoke Perfumes at DNO Downtown

“I've always felt drawn to teaching, and a huge part of massage school was learning how to educate our clients and give them homework. I believe that we won't really grow if we are just spoon fed, and that the best learning is experiential learning.”

Do you have any artists in other mediums that greatly inspire your work?

Rosemary Gladstar, Walter Anderson, Kat Fitzpatrick, Judy Chicago, Sally Mann, Georgia O'Keefe, ancient Mayan civilization.

Wisdom you’d share with your younger self?

I've always been so incredibly hard on myself. I think my younger self wasted a whole lot of time working way too hard, being super type-A, and driven to the point of injury, pain, and distress. I'd offer my younger self the wisdom of softness, and the gift of self love much sooner than I was actually able to cultivate it.

“I'd offer my younger self the wisdom of softness, and the gift of self love much sooner than I was actually able to cultivate it.”
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