"Perfumes are structurally similar to music with chords and notes" Interview with Emily L'Ami of Bodha Therapeutic Perfumer


1. What is the meaning of Bodha?

Bodha’s a Sanskrit word meaning ‘the blossoming of knowing’. We founded Bodha to help you come back to yourself through the power of scent. Nurturing a connection with yourself is the most fundamental thing you can do to be happy. We all have a clear & wise inner voice but it gets lost amongst the noise & distraction of daily life. Our senses are our way into connection and of all our senses smell is the most powerful, with the ability to instantly shift your subconscious. Scent’s an important part of the experience of being alive that we’ve really lost touch with. We’re sensory beings and the more we connect with that the more we connect with the deepest parts of ourselves.

2. When did you first become interested in the healing capacity of scent? What sparked this?

My mum always worked in holistic health, so I grew up using essential oils for everything from skin-care to cleaning. After experiencing their power firsthand I wanted to understand the science, so I studied aromatherapy in New Zealand. From there I went to perfume school in Los Angeles and this is where the idea for Bodha began. I saw a way to create a new world of therapeutic scent, bringing together the science of aromatherapy with the structure & refinement of perfumery. With Bodha we want to make things that smell beautiful & work on you at a deep level. All of our products are designed with a single purpose in mind – to help you come back to yourself through the power of scent.

3. Can you tell us a bit about the science of aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is the fragrant pharmacy. It uses pure essential oils (the concentrated essences of plants, flowers, barks, rinds & mosses) for therapeutic benefits. Essential oils are nature in one of its most powerful forms. Science shows they’re incredibly potent and unlike chemical drugs don’t leave toxins or stay in the body. Aromatherapy works in two ways – you can breathe in the scent, which has an instant effect on your subconscious, and you can apply the oils topically (as long as they’re diluted in a carrier oil), so you absorb them directly into your bloodstream.

4. Is there a specific creative process behind developing new scent profiles – what inspires you? Do you find there’s a balance between research & instinct?

Every scent begins with a feeling - emotional, physical & spiritual. Once I can describe how I want it to make you feel I think about the scent sensorially - is it silky or rough? Warming or cooling? What color is it? Then I start pulling ingredients, smelling and making notes. The inherent qualities of the ingredients are my biggest inspiration. I work with a tight palette of natural materials sourced from a handful of suppliers we know. It can take months of trials to get something I’m happy with. And even once we’ve released a new scent I don’t ever see it as ‘finished’, I’ll be tweaking and refining it forever.

5. Are there plants & scents particular to the places you grew up in that have stuck with you over the years? Does it create a visual memory for you? If so, what is it?

There are three scents I always associate with growing up in New Zealand – the very particular deep wet green smell of our native bush, the sharp mineral saltiness of the coast and the sweet buttery warmth of my nana’s shortbread.

6. You took Bodha to the visual realm with The Plum, what was the concept behind the short film? How did it come to be?

With our first short ‘The Plum’, we wanted to remind you of how it feels to come back to yourself. It’s a simple visual expression of the truth that happiness comes in the small sensory moments of your day.

7. Expanding to other senses…if Bodha fragrance notes were musically represented, what would it sound like? Could you match a song to each of your incense &/or perfumes?

I’m always thinking about the sound of a scent. In the classical Japanese art of Kōdō (the way of fragrance) there’s a concept of ‘listening to scent’. And perfumes are structurally similar to music with chords and notes. When I’m developing a new scent I create a playlist for it, adding & deleting songs as I go until I’ve refined it down to a few essential tracks. For me Vibration Nº1 Earth is Journey into Satchidananda by Alice Coltrane, Vibration Nº2 Plants is Deep, Deep Breaths by Carlos Niño, and Vibration Nº3 Air is Dream Baby Dream by Suicide.

8. We’re excited to hear about the Incense Island, can you tell us about your time there?

Incense is the original form of perfume & where Bodha began. Last year we spent time on Japan’s incense island where our sticks get made. For hundreds of years families on the island have been passing down the craft of incense making. The level of skill & reverence of the art is unparalleled. We even met some makers still going in their 90’s! Our favorite was the original factories where the walls are made from slats that can be turned individually to allow the air to rotate and dry the incense with the sea breeze.

9. What are some other activities or things that ground you?

Time in nature is always the most grounding thing for me. I feel like when you’re in nature you can literally sense your heartbeat aligning with the pulse of the elements around you. And if I can’t be in nature then bathing, meditation, reading and cooking are my best grounding friends.

Photos by Tiana Petrullo

Bodha is available at LoQ store in Los Angeles. Contact to purchase.

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