Rodney Hughes is the founder and perfumer behind the New York based Therapeutate Parfums, named after an ancient sect of ascetic Egyptian healers. A Reiki healer himself, and successful entrepreneur in multiple areas (a green home & garden store and a cafe), he now gives sermons once a month at a non-denominational church and constructs fragrances with only natural, organic ingredients. He has kindly listed his line on Portives including a discovery set, and here is his scent story:
Interviewed by RJ Kaufman – founder of Portives
Can you tell me the story of the first memory, or most interesting, that comes to mind when you think about smelling a particular fragrance?
I was on one of my walkings in Manhattan, boutique jumping in the West Village. I happened to pass Fresh, and decided to pop in, smell a few scents. I came across this one fragrance, Patchouli Pure, and sudden found myself on a journey back to my childhood, and very present with my Dad. I could smell him, as if he was right in front of me, talking to me. I was like that’s strange because my dad had been deceased since I was about 3 years old.
What is the story of your most profound experience involving a particular smell?
Probably the most profound experience around smell would be the time I slept over my aunt’s place. I must have been in my early teens hanging with my cousin Junior. We all went to sleep thinking everything was fine. I’m not sure if I smelled the carbon monoxide or having a very sensitive stomach woke me up. But it was probably the connection I have between my sense of smell and my stomach that saved all of our lives that morning. This incident is the earliest recognition I have of the importance of smell.
During the lockdown, anxiety and stress are most certainly on the rise for many people. Can you tell me which of your fragrances would be best suited to calm and refresh people?
I would recommend Cardamom Rose because it brings balance and grounding. Rose has one of the highest vibrations in the botanical kingdom and works to balance out the chakra system. This fragrance also has notes of sandalwood, which works well for grounding. My other choice specific to the time we find ourselves in would be Royal Water, overall because this perfume acts like a protective shield. It combines an array of citrus, herbs, amber resin and patchouli that create a beautiful smoke, which envelopes the wearer.
Do you have any hard-won advice for aspiring perfumers?
I’m not sure I have much hard-won advice for aspiring perfumers because perfumery for me is a love I found following my calling to heal. I never set out to be a perfumer, essential oils and aromatherapy were first a path I took to heal myself, and then I brought others along with me on its journey.
However, I highly recommend research and reading, travel and play. Don’t be afraid to gather some ground information, purchase a perfumer’s kit, and then jump in and play. If you’re really excited about this path, I highly recommend seeking out formal training in perfumery. We offer a virtual course through Therapeutate Parfums for levels one and two.
Formal training is so important if you’re looking to take your play to the next level. After teaching myself the basics I went on to study advanced perfumery with some amazing teachers, here in the USA and in France.
How can you tell when a fragrance is complete?
I always start with a written brief, a feeling, or a direction I want to follow. I make a general list of what notes the composition will be composed of, and then it’s pretty much drop by drop, creating accords and layering until I achieve the terrain I want to inhabit. For me, it’s like painting landscapes using the perfumer’s raw materials. When I get where I imagined the fragrance to smell like, I then know I’m close, I start thinking more about highs and lows, and what the fragrance needs to push its limits, to make it next level or out of the ordinary. Then I go into refining my story by reduction of present notes, and seeing how I can make others sing higher, more clear within the chorus of notes. For me it’s a very mental process, and methodical until I achieve the statement I set out to make. When I have achieved a good balance between what is classical, and looks to the past, with what’s modern and / or otherworldly, I know it’s finished. The fragrance should communicate to me that it’s complete as well. Striking the perfect balance is key to my approach as a perfumer.
Could you recommend any books to our readers, maybe some good resources for learning more about the metaphysics and mysticism you’ve studied?
The first book I read on the subject upon completing art school was Shakti Gawain‘s, “Creative Visualization.” But piece-de-resistance is Octavia L. Butler’s the “Patternist Trilogy.” These three sci-fi novels changed my perspective on life and what humans are capable of achieving. The forth book in this array is “Clay’s Ark.” This book completes the “Patternist” series. My personal list is quite lengthy, but I have discovered that the Bible has a lot of jewels for those willing to do the investigating to uncover and understand the metaphysics and mysticism contained within it. It’s in plain sight, if you’re willing to throw off the misinformation and misuse that’s been spoon fed to us.
Can you tell me something interesting about the historical role of fragrance in spirituality?
Fragrance has historically gone hand and hand with spirituality and rituals that honoring and acknowledge the spirit world. Perfume has often acted as a conduit between the physical and the non-physical world, most often in the form of a scented smoke. In the Sword of Solomon, there is a prayer contained that is meant to remove malevolent spirits from perfume before its giving or sharing with others.
Do you have any other scent rituals?
I burn incense often in my home to keep the air clean and stagnant free. I love to burn hand rolled sticks of white sage, dragon’s blood, coral, rose and jasmine. I love to drink fine tea, first flush Darjeeling or Jasmine teas are one of my favorite. In our home, we cook almost everyday, so the smell of fresh herbs and spices fill the house acting like a savory perfume. Smell is very much apart of my life, and I’m very conscious of smells. I notice the subtlest smell, even when those around me say, “they don’t smell what I’m pointing out at the moment.” They are like “what, what are you talking about?”
And what new projects are you working on right now?
Currently, I’ve been putting a great deal of time into developing our Natural Perfumery Training course that we began offering this year. Our first classes were live and in person, but since the pandemic, we’ve spent a great deal of time moving the fragrance training into an online format. Now, I’m starting to think about the development of a few new fragrances to round out the Therapeutate Parfums line up, a light eau de cologne and a modern take on the fougere.