Getting Olfactory With Local Artist and Perfumer, Megan Hepburn

Photos courtesy of Alex Muir

Megan Hepburn is a visual artist and the creator of Cracher dans la soupe Parfum, a line of beguiling scents handcrafted in the Fraserhood.

This season you can sniff Megan out at three local craft fairs: the East Side Flea (November 23rd and 24th), Toque (November 29th to December 1st) and the 4th Annual Franklin Street Studio Sale (December 15th).

Although there is a definitive visual aspect to Cracher dans la soupe Parfum, by the looks of it, you seemed to have shifted your focus from visual arts to concentrate on your fragrance business over the last couple of years. What inspired this new venture? How much of your life is filled with art and creativity versus business and production, these days?

I wouldn’t say I’ve shifted focus. The business came out of my art practice, though I do consider them separate entities. I have worked with scents in various artworks over the past couple of years as well as making wearable perfume available purely for pleasure. I’m also still painting. I think working with the different senses is pretty natural for many artists. Maybe not many get as nerdy about perfume as I do, though I know a few artists here who are hardcore perfume nerds.

Turning this smelly obsession into a business happened at first because of the lightness I felt in enjoying perfume and concocting my first extracts and infusions. The human sense of smell is so emotional, and I like that – I didn’t want to intellectualize it too much or weigh it down with the critical approach I take to painting. Working with scent in artworks has opened up new possibilities as well – and in my research and practice I’m specifically interested in learning about and developing vocabulary around scent experience — but the simple enjoyment of wearing a perfume because it’s beautiful is what I love best about the business. Even though there is nothing necessarily simple about making that experience!

When did you first become interested in fragrances?

I was into making perfumes as a little kid. My sister and I would pick our neighbours’ flowers and mash them up in a bucket, and then bottle that mess. I wasn’t interested in it as a teenager, I had no idea it was something a person could really do. The interest came back in my twenties when I moved to Montreal and started to smell artisanal and niche perfumes for the first time.

What was your first scent?

What is your current favourite scent to wear and why? I’d say my first scent was frangipani from my earliest years growing up in Australia. My first perfume was unfortunately something by Hugo Boss in the early 90s that I don’t wish to recall! I wear many different perfumes now. I think my current favourite on myself is Bergamotto Di Calabria by Perris Monte Carlo. They also make an incredible Tubereuse. For some reason I’ve been really into citruses since having a baby this summer.

Your website includes an open call to local suppliers, growers and distillers – what has been your experience connecting with these communities so far? What has been the most exciting and/or unusual relationship that has been forged as a result? Who would you like to collaborate with in the future?

It has been exciting to work with artists from various disciplines because they approach scent from different angles. I’ve made sculptural fragrances for a script by painter and poet Tiziana La Melia; I’ve also launched fragrances in tandem with fresh tulips grown and arranged by floral designer Daisy Fung. These collaborations put the scents in very different places and highlight unusual relationships to odour.

In terms of sourcing materials for ongoing fragrance production, I’ve mostly had one-off connections so far — people get in touch with one plant or project in mind. They’re all exciting but I’m still looking for more long term trade and especially with local growers and foragers. I’ve recently been hearing about indigenous artist and ethnobotanist T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss everywhere I go — her name comes up constantly and I very much want to go on her plant walks.

To do what you do you must be very aware of your environment and surroundings. Are you a sensitive person by nature? What scents, sights and sounds are currently catching your attention?

Yes, you get constantly turned around when you are following your nose, very easily distracted. You start to pay attention to everything around you in a different way, it’s like the world opens up in more depth and detail. At the moment my sensory world is filtered through my new baby – which is kind of spectacular. He’s taking everything in for the first time, with no conceptual logic to make meaning out of what he’s taking in, just waves of sensory information constantly washing over him. So my interaction with the sensory world is changing, I would say it’s fine tuning right now – I find myself fascinated with single notes, such as apricot, lavender or cedar moss, rather than the complex integration of fragrances I was fond of before pregnancy. You find that these seemingly simple smells contain worlds of variation. I’ve also found that my patience with synthetic perfume materials is a little shorter. Some of them are fascinating but the majority are all the same: powerful, hard and flat. A similar experience is happening with sounds, I can’t handle things super loud right now, or projected through poor speakers, and I think this is to do with awareness brought forward by the baby.

Each of the scents in your Natale collection come with their own evocative narrative. What is the personal significance of each story? Do you keep a journal of experiences or places that you’d like to conjure?

Yes, those perfumes started from an experience — real or imaginary — that I wanted to re-create. I don’t keep a journal but I do take notes of perfume ideas based on experiences. These can be places, objects, dreams, or sometimes people.

Speaking of the future, Natale was released in 2017 – do you have any plans for a second collection? If so, how will its theme vary from the first one?

Yes, in fact, I’ll be releasing the second collection later this November. At this point, I’m still figuring out what this collection is — that kind of recognition of the whole often has to follow the creation of the works. This series is less seasonal than Natale, which was based in how our cravings change with the weather. These new fragrances started from an attempt to engage with scent traditions or genres that touch on a long enduring history of collective experiences and not necessarily only or just my own personal ones. I consider all my scents unisex, but the new ones are perhaps more what would have been considered “masculine” in the past. With one exception, they are less sweet than Natale, and darker. They are also in a wider range of concentrations – from the strongest which is an extrait de parfum, to a light and fresh cologne. I’m excited about this because it allows me to offer them even more affordably, while still using the most high quality natural raw ingredients, which can be quite expensive: some worth their weight in gold.

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