If anyone understands the connections between music and perfume, it is Heather D’Angelo. As part of the successful three-member band Au Revoir Simone, the oft-conservationist, writer and entrepreneur has been developing her musical ear and nose for scents for many years now.
D’Angelo’s eclectic background includes a decade-long musical career with the band, Au Revoir Simone, publishing tropical ecology research conducted at Columbia University, and formerly contributing to Mongabay as a reporter on conservation and restoration. Though she no longer practices fieldwork in tropical ecology and conservation, she has long relied on her experience in those sciences to guide both her life and business choices.
That includes perfume.
“Making perfume has a lot in common with composing music,” said D’Angelo during a recent interview. She points out the common vocabulary that binds the two art forms such as “note” and “chord.” In years past, D’Angelo toyed with different scents for personal use, pursuing the perfect blend of her all-time favorite: sandalwood, then combined with saffron.
D’Angelo continued to experiment just as her work as a tropical ecologist took her to far corners of the world for weeks at a time. Her band was also taking off, which made things complicated.
“When I was doing tropical ecology and music it was a very confusing time,” D’Angelo said. “I was [doing things like] going on tour and then going to the rainforest in Malaysia.”
Eventually music became her main occupation, and a rather successful one at that – D’Angelo and her band tour all over the world. They were featured performing in an episode of Twin Peaks last year.
But the magic of the rainforest has never left D’Angelo. In fact, she finds that being in the music business and the fragrance business complement each other.
“Perfume, weirdly enough, it brings both together,” she said.
Her combined love of music, the rainforest, and pursuing the perfect scent was the inspiration for her debut fragrance Moena 12|69. It is a scent of her new environmentally-responsible venture, Carta. Moena 12|69 is an extrait de parfum that centers on the essential oil of Moena Alcanfor, which has never been used in perfume before.
The oil was distilled by Camino Verde, an NGO based in Peru’s Tambopata Province.
Moena 12|69 also includes notes of “soaked moss, golden ginger, brewed tea and tobacco leaves, and redolent woods,” according to the Carta website where it sells for $295 for 50ml or $15 for a 2ml sample.
Renewed focus on essential oils
D’Angelo isn’t the only one looking to essential oils for inspiration. Long used for a wide range of applications and products, essential oils are becoming an increasingly promising as a non-timber forest product. A recent market research report projects the global value of the essential oil market will reach $9.8 billion by 2020.
In Camino Verde’s corner of the world on the banks of the Tambopata River, essential oils mean extra income for brazil nut small concession farmers who also hold and produce other nuts and fruits from within the Peruvian Amazon.
For D’Angelo, Camino Verde represents the type of sustainable model she believes is worth supporting, especially with Robin Van Loon at the helm.
Along with Ursula Leyva, the company’s director, they focus on community-building and crop diversification among small-scale farmers in the hope to slow the rampant pace of deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon.
Race against time
According to current forest loss data estimates, 1.8 million hectares of the Peruvian Amazon were lost between 2001 and 2015. That is nearly the size of the state of New Jersey, and it’s largely due to conversion to cropland from natural forest, cattle, and mining.
Monoculture growth of a range of plants from papaya to cacao and palm oil are also driving deforestation, particularly in more remote areas where the income is sorely needed.
“[Robin’s] vision for conservation began with the belief that empowering farmers to diversify their revenue sources to include a range of non-timber forest products, such as essential oils, would allow them to rely less on producing ecologically damaging goods,” D’Angelo states on Carta’s website.
Camino Verde’s nursery pumps out 20,000 seedlings per year from a variety of over 100 species. The seedlings end up as new residents in previously clearcut forests and in the hands of area farmers to plant.
When it comes to the Moena trees, D’Angelo was “relieved” to find out how the branches for essential oil are harvested. The lateral branches and leaves are pruned selectively in a way that is healthy for the trees. Only what is needed is taken to extract limited quantities of essential oils at any one time.
For D’Angelo, her ventures into the world of a music-mogul-entrepreneur are now on a new level. She was recently featured in Vogue for joining her love of the rainforest with her love for creating, or “cooking” a new scent.
In reality, all three worlds blend and overlap, colored by the rainforest’s undeniable influence.
“I can’t say I know that much about beauty,” D’Angelo insists. “[But] I composed the soundtrack for the landing page video of my website using bird songs I recorded in the field.”
Banner image: Heather D’Angelo in front of a Moena Alcanfor grove in Peru. Photo by Shahrzade Ehya with permission.
Genevieve Belmaker is a Forests Editor for Mongabay.
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