Scents and Sensibility

Alchemist Jill McKeever, creator and owner of For Strange Women, brings memory to life through her all-natural perfume line

Jill McKeever (seated) with her staff, Ash Miyagawa (left) and Tara Milleville

 

In 2009, Jill McKeever quit her job as a graphic designer and took her experimentation with making fragrances full-time in her Crossroads studio. Since then, the owner of For Strange Women has expanded her line of natural scents to lip balm and custom perfumes, all while keeping her health-conscious vision in line.

How did your journey to creating your own line of perfume begin?
JM: It began as I was trying to escape the world of unnatural medicine and everything that we’re usually exposed to, as well as chemicals and cosmetics. I was really into taking care of myself in a way that was natural. I wanted more of an idea of what was going into my body. I got into the perfume mostly because I really love working with scents. I’ve always been attracted to nonvisual art forms; I pulled from my art background as well as my passion for a natural lifestyle and natural ingredients.

What’s your creative process like when it comes to fragrance?
JM: For my line, I have hundreds of plant essences that I work with, and I’m so familiar with all of them that I can usually put together a scent in my mind before I get started with it. Now I feel like I know exactly how each essence is going to interact with the other ones, and which ones don’t play well with others. It really took a lot of time. And there are still new extracts available that I try, but for the most part I know exactly what to put together.

What was the first scent you created?
JM: The first perfume I created was Moss & Ivy. It was supposed to be a summary of my trip to Ireland, which was just a green overcast landscape that was covered in moss and ivy. I just wanted to capture it, bottle it up and take it home with me, and when I got home that’s what I started doing. I realized that I had a natural ability to combine essences in a way that I was able to achieve the really specific scents I was going for.

You use only natural ingredients in your fragrances. Why should buyers be concerned about the ingredients in mass-market perfumes?
JM: There are all kinds of chemicals that are hidden under the term “fragrance,” so any time you see that word, it means chemical cocktail. And that’s really scary. That contains phthalates, hormone disrupters and known carcinogens. On top of that, they usually add parabens and things that are very harmful to our bodies that can cause major health problems and environmental problems. Perfumes are one of the biggest offenders, and that’s why a lot of people get headaches just by walking by the fragrance counters. They’re just so bad.

Is it more difficult now to sell your product in a market with more natural brands?
JM: At the time I began, there were very few independent perfume brands and very few natural perfume brands. I think now that more companies are using natural ingredients, it’s actually helped spread awareness so more people are actually looking for it. I don’t think it’s really competition, because it’s just making it that much more prevalent.

Lip Service
mk_strangewomen_lipFor Strange Women is known primarily for its fragrances, but the idea of adding lip balms and elixirs to its online shop was originally dismissed by McKeever.

“I never really wanted to go into the realm of skincare or soap, because what I’m interested in is the art of scent,” McKeever says.

Although she was hesitant to add product to her brand, the demand for a chemical-free lip balm was too strong for the alchemist to ignore.

“Customers really wanted something completely natural without harsh ingredients,” McKeever says. “People love them, so I’m not going to get rid of them.”

Now the shop offers a variety of balms in unique flavors like absinthe, clove and pine cone at forstrangewomen.com.

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