After studying farming and cheesemaking, then dabbling in natural skin care and aromatherapy, Jennifer Botto decided to follow her nose. Last year, she launched her Somerville small-batch perfumery, Thorn & Bloom, working with botanical ingredients vetted by the Natural Perfumers Guild. But she still draws on her rural roots. “In upstate New York, we had about 20 acres on my parents’ farm,” says Botto, who tapped childhood memories for several of her line’s current scents, as well as her forthcoming Evergreen fragrance, boasting notes of fir cone, pine needles, cedarwood and vanilla. “We were constantly going to the forest and having those smells around us.”
But Botto’s sources of inspiration go beyond the personal. “For me, working with naturals is about knowing the history and story behind it and keeping those aromatics cultivated, alive and relevant,” she says. Those backstories range from the romantic—Cleopatra and her rose-scented sails—to the not-so-romantic: “Jasmine has this very interesting molecule, indole, that’s actually prevalent in feces.” Some sniffers find it unpleasant, but it’s just the flower’s way of attracting insects. “What you’re getting is a story of its life cycle and how it’s interacting with its world.”
Jasmine is merely one ingredient among the more than 300 aromatics Botto tinkers with at her Artisan’s Asylum workspace. “My perfume organ has five, if not more, of each ingredient because I like to see the difference in terroir from one place of the world to another.” Based on location, weather, extraction method and other factors, each can have a drastically different olfactory profile. After Botto starts with a basic idea—like a particular middle note or fragrance family—it takes her at least six months to land on a blend’s final 12 to 15 notes. “I see where the scent leads me,” she says. “When I’m smelling, the aromatics just kind of fit together like puzzle pieces.” She sells the resulting creations online and at the South End and Greenway open markets, topping each with a stopper made by local woodworker Joshua Beckmann. Get a whiff of four of her current offerings below, and stay tuned for new scents featuring cilantro and coriander, lavender and osmanthus, and clementine and green grass.
“My dad used to smoke cherry pipe tobacco. I just loved that smell growing up,” says Botto, who also included notes of leather and amber in Stranger in the Cherry Grove.
Wild Rose, with notes of raspberry, took Botto about a year and a half to finalize. “I was fighting with it—it’s changed a lot.”
A 2016 Art and Olfaction Awards finalist, fruity, floral blend Bird of Paradise also features frankincense and sandalwood.
Savage Garden uses ylang-ylang, an incense wood—“It gives this ozone freshness, like after a thunderstorm”—that’s complemented by bluegrass and palo santo.