A Conversation with Patrick Kelly from Sigil Scent


An Introduction

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SIGIL SCENT is a small batch and natural perfume company that grew out of a love of nature—each scent smells like a bottled walk through different landscapes and seasons—and a fascination for the history of perfume. The fragrances are modern, yet rooted in tradition.

SIGIL SCENT is natural, but not overly simple. Our fragrances are complex, blended for long wear, and ensconced in beautiful violet glass. From blend to bottle, they are meant to evoke a sense of purpose, of weight and substance.
— Patrick Kelly

The company launched in 2015 with founder Patrick Kelly at the helm. Founded on the principle of delivering a pure, long-wearing and complex perfume, without diverging from their core values. All the ingredients are sourced with care, and based on availability are either organic or wildcrafted. Each product is vegan, never tested on animals, and the company is a proud member of 1% for the Planet. '1% for the Planet's mission it is to build, support, and activate an alliance of businesses financially committed to creating a healthy plant.' All member businesses donate at least 1% of annual sales to grassroots, and earth-conscious non-profit partners.

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The Scent

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To me, all four scents are captured memories of time spent out in nature—with Patrick's love for the desert coming through in each blend. Each holds a petrichor quality to it—gathering up of scents into stone, released once the rain hits.

Several of the blends are rich in floral scents. In a meadow kind of way—lying down amongst the grass, flowers, and weeds, that slight scent of earth underlying it all. Never cloying, nor whimsical or candy layered.

Each fragrance has a plant in it with a fixative quality, elemi for OPEN, oakmoss for GROUND, labdanum for BALANCE, blue cypress for FOCUS. It's deep and personal, and each of them—aside from their own qualities—feel like placeholders, waiting for you to slip in and blend with your own scent.

In my conversation with Frances Shoemack, from Abel Organics, we talked about the beauty of unisex fragrances that mingle with the wearer's scent.

(...) And, room—because of it’s organic ingredients—to uniquely blend with the wearer’s own scent. For me, the difference between synthetic and natural is this: a synthetic colour gives you what you ask, most of the time it’s even the exact colour on the box. You can dilute it in water, but if you want it to surprise you, you’ll need to start mixing it with other colours. But, even then there’s a kind of predictability about it. When you work with natural colours or you brew or mix your own batches made from plants, it’s almost a study in patience, a relationship you build up. You learn that natural colours can be stubborn, with a seeming will of their own, and almost no batch will turn out exactly the same. It runs closer to the idea that the only constant is change. So, it teaches you to appreciate the now. This colour right here, right now. This scent, in this moment mingled with you. But a few moments later it might have changed, deepened or faltered, growing with you.
— Julie Smits, from a conversation with Frances Shoemack

SIGILS SCENT and Abel Organics, one small batch, the other limited edition, share these qualities. Qualities of change and acceptance—of embracing the wearer, and not trying to cover him or her up.

 

OPEN is a warm flooding of spice—like biting into a piece of crystallised ginger—backed by cool florals and an undercurrent of musk and smoke. 

In Patrick's words: 'It evokes ice-chilled gimlets, tangy-treacle ginger chews, full lung breathing, and key lime tarts.' With key notes of ginger (Zingiber officinale), rose geranium (Pelargonium graveolens), and elemi (Canarium luzonicum).

SIGIL_Ground.png
 

GROUND is the captured tonal variations of a forest going through its seasons. New growth layered over the dry of summer, mingled into damp moss, and the crisp of fall. It roots you down, and like its name suggests, it's deeply grounding.

In Patrick's words: 'It evokes ancient forests, meditative states, damp moss between toes, and blood orange bourbons.' With key notes of vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanioides), amyris (Amyris balsamifera), and oakmoss (Evernia prunastri).

 

BALANCE is a gathering of bitter and sweet citrus scents woven into an herbaceous background. With a pull towards something deeper and slightly intoxicating.

In Patrick's words: 'It evokes sweetly astringent wild meadows, floating with fingertips tingling over blades of grass, singed flowers, and dried tobacco. With key notes of labdanum (Cistus ladanifer), palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii), and lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora)—The Hungry Child has a plant profile up for lemon verbena.

 

FOCUS smells like the transition between spring and summer. Of freshly grown green things, with a weaving of bitter orange guiding you into the warmth—just before the dry heat of summer can weigh it down.

In Patrick's words: 'It evokes coffee at sunrise, Mother's herb garden, and thousands of orange blossoms—vibrant, susurrating, breathing.' With key notes of juniper (Juniperus communis), neroli (Citrus x aurantium), and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis).

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Depending on the scent and your own disposition, the fragrances should last between 5 to 12 hours. Lasting wearability depends on where you've applied the scent, whether that area is exposed or tucked between layers of clothing. Exfoliated and moisturised skin is better at holding on to a fragrance. 

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A Conversation

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I really like the name you picked. It provokes something older and quite unique. Why Sigil?

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Patrick - SIGIL SCENT derives its name from our rootedness in old, forgotten lore; from grimoires and folklore and modern magic. A SIGIL is a unique symbol, crafted both for and as a product of its user's intentions. In the most modern sense, a SIGIL can be used to channel one's focus and set forth with strength and conviction. It's our hope that each bottle of SIGIL SCENT—and the intimate ritual of applying fragrance—can act together as a beacon, guiding its wearer through his or her journeys in life, every day.

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A pictorial representation of one’s intent, would you call it similar to a mantra?

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Patrick - Yes, I quite like this comparison. Whereas a mantra is spoken, the sigil is a graphic representation of one's state of consciousness, focuses, and will. When executed properly, both are about channeling the deepest recesses of mind and body toward some outcome. Lately I've been using a prayer bowl, mantra, and a spritz of GROUND to start my day. It's less about specific, prescriptive steps, and more about the user's will and intent.

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You’ve started with four scents, four intentions, why these four?

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Patrick - Four is a number of strength, rootedness, and stability. In Tarot, 4 is the Emperor, who presides with masculine authority and strength. For as much as the Emperor embodies the Animus, his counterpart in Major Arcana 14 (Temperance) embodies balance, connection to the subconscious, and interplay between the physical and immaterial. Interestingly, Temperance is also bi-gender (a hermaphrodite), a perfect representation of the Animus and Anima.

We also gave consideration to the energy of colors and the resonance of our blends in relation to the 7 Chakral points of the body. The scents aren't intended for medicinal/aromatherapeutic use—at least not outright—but we did want to incorporate a certain element of wellness and intentionality into the experience of choosing, holding, and wearing each blend.

GROUND, for instance is brimming with arboreal, green, almost mouldering notes. It's decadent without being indulgent, and the symbol + color combination evokes a sense of rootedness.

Temperance by Julie Smits - click image to see the full illustration + making of

Temperance by Julie Smits - click image to see the full illustration + making of

 

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How did your relationship with plants build up during the years? 

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Patrick - I grew up around women who loved plants. My grandmother on my father's side had lots of citrus trees and herbs growing in the back of her little South Florida house. (She also had about 10 chihuahuas. Unrelated, but amusing.) On my mother's side, we would visit her mother and often spend time helping to landscape and garden her whole front lawn. While laborious, I remember these moments as especially powerful due to their physicality and their connection to scent.

I've always been inclined toward time in nature over time indoors, and throughout my adolescence took it upon myself to experience as much of the sights and smells offered on earth by hiking, camping, traveling, and growing.

I think it's important we don't lose sight of the tactile, sensorial magic of plants, especially as we grow continually more connected to electronics and modern conveniences. To keep myself honest about this, I go out for a hike at least once a week, to wildcraft some yummy plants, which I'll oftentimes dry and use to smudge my studio.

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Why organic? 

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Patrick - For several people there’s a sticker shock that comes with buying organic produce and products. Though, looking at the price alone is rather short-sighted, especially when weighed against the enormous and obvious ecological and social benefits of organic. The label itself is costly for producers, but as consumers we rely on it. Not everyone has the means or knowhow to connect with farmers and producers. So, we have labels, a way for us to trust without going directly to the source. I feel we all have a responsibility, and should feel a sense of stewardship, in terms of our relationship to our environment. There are small ways to minimize impact, without stretching the bank thin. The easiest place to start is local, and not just in terms of produce. If you can't buy organic when it comes to the things you put in and on your body, you can at least Buy Less and Buy Local.

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Why do you think there was a shift from natural scents to artificial scents in the industry?

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Patrick - I would say that the main reasons for the industry’s shift to synthetic are and were cost and availability. Some raw materials are so precious that it hasn’t always made sense to utilize natural extraction methods. Where possible, perfumeries have cut corners by subbing synthetic for the real goods.

However, there are instances where an aroma is damned difficult or outright impossible to produce naturally. Nowadays, savvy noses and advanced technology can make use of hundreds of minuscule portions of natural scents, meant to mimic those scents which we aren't able to extract. These are called "melanges".

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I think it's quite interesting to observe it through a socio-historical lens. Ignoring the health ramifications—quite simply, artificial scents are cheaper to produce. Which guarantees lower production costs, and predictability within the performance and availability of their raw materials. But, those lower manufacturing costs, also lowered the price threshold, and an entire new part of the populace could take part in a beauty ritual which they might have coveted before, but remained out of their financial reach. But, then the question arises: What is the actual cost? And, who pays for it?

Oakmoss (Evernia prunastri), one of the key notes in GROUND. Oakmoss (not an actual moss, but a lichen) is used as a fixative, it grounds a fragrance and evokes the scent of a damp forest.

Oakmoss (Evernia prunastri), one of the key notes in GROUND. Oakmoss (not an actual moss, but a lichen) is used as a fixative, it grounds a fragrance and evokes the scent of a damp forest.

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Through its verbal misuse and abuse ‘natural’ has become a rather empty description

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It's true that ‘natural’ has very little meaning, as far as certifications toward "plant-based" or "non-toxic" are concerned. That's why we choose to purchase certified organic ingredients wherever possible. For those ingredients which aren't available in an organic certification, or where price is a concern, we elect to purchase wildcrafted ingredients (those which are sourced by hand from the wild, not from a conventional farm). In this way, we can altogether mitigate harsh toxins from finding their way into our products.

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Quality and means of extraction are everything . Even the organic essential oils a health food store might carry can warp your idea of what a certain scent/oil is truly like. Some oils, depending on their extraction method are safe to ingest (diluted and/or undiluted). I can apply certain Tea Tree oil brands straight to my skin without a burn or rash, I once tried this with a random health food store's bottle of Tea Tree (Malaleuca alternifolia) oil and I suffered a burn mark on my neck for three months straight. What is the spectrum of extraction like that causes it to differ so much in safety and scent?

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Organic certification is one thing, but (to your point) is not always a measure of quality distillation methods. So much can come into play and turn awry, from the way the raw materials are transported—and how long before they are ultimately processed—to the packaging and handling of the finished essential oil. Also key to quality is the processing itself; as you've hinted, there are so many (often immeasurable) factors here, including potential contaminants, human error, or a bad season. We are as much about proactive measures as reactive here at SIGIL SCENT. If something smells or feels awry, we will investigate. Ultimately, product quality and customer health and satisfaction are what's most important to us.

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What would you recommend to someone who’s never tried essential oils before. What would you advise them to get?

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This is an excellent question. So much of the user experience hinges upon being able to smell the blends in order to choose. This is the ever-present struggle of web-based fragrance sales; perfumes are experiential, with especial need for engaging the old sniffer. That being said, we did build each fragrance with a multi-sensory selection process in mind. I would advise anyone new to "natural" or essential oils based fragrance to check out our website and follow this process: 

Look at the names of our four blends. Which one or two intentions stand out most to you? These could be aspirational words for you, or ideas you connect with in some way or other. Feel assured that the blending process was directly tied to the name (intent) of each blend, and so wearing and experiencing the corresponding blend of essential oils will help to evoke that mood or intention.

+ Look at the colors and symbols. These were chosen and created for their ability to evoke very specific moods and feelings. For instance, we chose the color and symbol for OPEN to evoke a sense of opening outward, of allowing concepts, ideas, and feelings beyond oneself to enter into one's consciousness. Think of the crown chakra in Ayurveda (colored similarly, too) and you're headed in the right direction. This same principle has been applied to the symbology and naming conventions of all four blends.

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SIGIL SCENT has four fragrances out at the moment. Do you have anything brewing that you’re excited to share in the coming year?

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We are excited to premiere a Room + Body Spray this month. It's a larger format, new scent, and great for creating an inspired environment—for meditation, yoga, or general yummy-ness. In June, we are premiering our candle at West Coast Craft. Separately, we are working on a roll-on perfume and functional, scented body oil. These should release sometime in the next year.

SIGIL_Bottle_GROUND_Illustration_by_Julie Smits.png

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Where To Find SIGIL SCENT

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You can buy the SIGIL SCENT perfumes on their site, as well as these resellers—so far shipment is restricted to the US.

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Notes

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Thank you to Patrick Kelly for the lovely amount of back-and-forth-ing we've shared and our continued correspondence. Getting to know you has caused me to delve deeper into the art and history of perfumery. You were my catalyst into starting plant profiles for The Hungry Child, as well as adding greatly to my collection of essential oils, and my new obsession of smelling tiny bottles and matching them up.

Patrick will return to the journal in a few weeks for the blending guide we've collaborated on. It's a primer on blending essential oils and creating your own blends and scents. As well, as a brief discussion on some of our favourite plants and scents.

My personal favourites—since I couldn't pick just one—are GROUND and BALANCE, aside from being utterly lovely blends that I love wearing, they are both deeply soothing, and I can keep breathing them in, and in, and in.

A note on the mixed spelling: I follow British spelling rules (colour - utilise), whereas Patrick follows American spelling rules (color - utilize). It seemed silly to change either one of our parts to the other, so if the mixture annoyed you, my apologies.

Illustrations—If you'd like to see how the illustrations for this interview were made, you can do so here: SIGIL SCENT BottlesTemperance illustrationoakmoss illustration. If you'd like to hire me for freelance work, you do so here.



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