Sustainability, spirituality and scent with Mauricio Garcia of Herbcraft Perfumery

Maurico Garcia is a Bay Area perfumer, certified aromatherapist and co-founder of the Coalition of Sustainable Perfumery (COSP). He’s also been a much-loved member of the Tigerlily Perfumery and Ministry of Scent teams. We talked to Mauricio about the relaunch of his brand, Herbcraft Perfumery, his exploration of scent for wellness, and the important mission of COSP.

Q. Hi Mauricio, we miss you! It seems you’ve been keeping busy during these chaotic times — what have you been focusing on to help you stay centered and moving forward creatively?

A. I miss everyone, too! And the garden! And, of course, the perfume. If I had to prescribe a word to 2020, it would be “distillation.” We are seeing, more clearly than ever before, what works and what does not make sense in our lives, communities and species.

Perfumery is an art form entangled with the roots of antiquity. It has witnessed the births of empires and been sold in tiny bottles in shops built above their bones, and I have no doubt that it will celebrate revolutions in the future.

I’m not very good at separating what I am from what I “do”, but what I want is to help plant the seeds for a beautiful future. This vision is what I carry with me throughout my work.

Q. You recently rebranded Herbcraft and reformulated your fragrances in the line (we love the new blends!). Can you tell us what prompted this and how they’re different?

A. Thank you! I’ve spent the past handful of years expanding my understanding of ingredients, sourcing sustainability in the industry, as well as exploring how fragrance materials fit in with my other, more esoteric interests. The first distinction is the fragrances are no longer all-natural. The original formulations of Daemonica and Memoria included vanilla absolute. Vanilla is not only an endangered species, but is also a cause of deforestation because demand for it is so high.

I wanted to be able to make the most informed decisions around my ingredients as possible, and there is a lot to learn, but this is one way in which I can navigate more sustainable fragrance formulation.

The fragrances also come in larger bottles and new concentrations: Eau d’Esprit—Spirit Water. Along the edges of an eau de toilette and eau de parfum, these fragrances are reminiscent of the spiritual colognes used to purify and consecrate.

Q. What is the meaning behind the mysteriously thematic names of your perfumes?

A. They were inspired by the late Dale Pendell’s luminary work on entheogens and poisonous botanical species. He was a poet and ethnobotanist who used prose to describe his explorations with these powerful plants.

Daemonica is a play on how people often demonize and fear their desires and dreams. I’ve been told Daemonica is very successful at dissolving inhibitions and encouraging self-expression, and I hope she continues to be so. Hypnotica is a tribute to the narcotic powers of white flowers, and Memoria is named after Memorial Park, a redwood state park here on the Peninsula. Ofrenda is the Spanish word for “offering,” which pretty accurately describes its scent and purpose.

Q. Has growing up in the SF Bay Area influenced your perfumery?

A. Very much so. The fog, the redwoods and cypress trees, the ocean and the rainbow of people here—all of these things make their way into the stories my perfumes tell. And I feel like it’s very Bay Area of me to want to make and celebrate things that can just be.

Q. What is the Coalition of Sustainable Perfumery and how are you involved specifically?

A. The Coalition of Sustainable Perfumery (COSP) is a group of makers and industry experts coming together to promote sustainable, renewable and ethical practices around materials sourcing, packaging and education. We don’t know everything. There are many questions and a great deal of disconnect, but it is our goal to foster conversations that can answer some of them and inspire collaborations to maybe one day solve some of the problems that our planet is facing.

I am co-founder of the COSP, along with Heather D’Angelo, Molly Brennan and Sydney Buffman. I’m particularly interested in compiling resources for perfumers to reference, such as the list of threatened aromatic species we’ve made available at, as well as lists of reputable suppliers, non-profit organizations and farms that supply renewable and sustainable fragrance ingredients.

Q. Why did you decide to get certified in aromatherapy and how do you integrate wellness practices in your perfumery?

A. It was more that I wanted the information and knowledge, and the certification came as a bonus. The program I completed focused on the chemistry of essential oils, and how the compounds they are made of (the very molecules we work with as perfumers) affect the human body in myriad ways. We evolved alongside the plants that produce them, and while we might not use pinene molecules to determine where to give birth like some moths, we know that scent also affects our emotional, mental and spiritual bodies. Why else would we love perfume so much?

My perfumery is based upon the spiritual, physical and emotional qualities of the ingredients I choose. It may make more sense to think of my fragrances as spells: their purpose determines the materials, and the intelligences within the materials orchestrate themselves in accordance with the shape I give them. Phytotherapeutic qualities, cultural relevance, historical significance, mythology and folklore are all things I take into consideration when choosing ingredients based on what I’d like them to do.

Q. You’re an excellent teacher and we truly enjoy hosting your classes. You’ve taught perfumery, aromatherapy and also fragrance courses related to your spiritual practices. Can you tell us more about how your spirituality and perfumery are integrated?

A. How kind! Depending on who you ask, it was elemental spirits, gods or fallen angels who taught humanity perfumery along with the other occult Arts: metalsmithing, jewelry-making, writing and herbalism. These crafts are all alchemical processes, taking refined raw materials and distilled spiritual concepts, and fashioning them into something entirely new. Or at least that was the idea.

I think that through perfume, people can change their reality, and that the perfume industry can lead the charge in global shifts to prioritize the health of our planet and its people. If I can be a part of that in some way and leave the world even just a little more beautiful, I believe I will have fulfilled my spiritual purpose.

Q. With the Herbcraft rebrand, you’ve also released a new fragrance, Ofrenda. What can you tell us about it?

A. I had always wanted to make a Mexican chocolate scent that took its inspiration from the ofrendas you would find on an altar on Dia de Muertos. It opens with lime and mezcal, a smoky little sparkle above flowers floating in warm chocolate spiced with chili peppers. The flowers are all indigenous to Mexico—Cempasuchil (Mexican marigold), Omixochitl (tuberose) and Cocaloxochitl (red frangipani), and its notes also include cardamom, corn silk and a sustainable vanilla accord.

Ofrenda was created as an offering to ancestral spirits. For me, it is the warm glow of emotion one feels when giving offerings and lighting candles at an altar dedicated to a loved one.

Q. 20% of sales from Ofrenda are donated to @farmworkerjustice, which helps farmworkers and their organizations improve wages and working conditions, as well as working on immigration policy. Why did you pair this specific organization with sales of this perfume?

A. As the ancestral altar is our connection with the world beyond life, so is food our connection to the planet. We are made of the things we eat, and the people (often undocumented immigrants) who grow our food are neglected and abandoned by the majority of society, as though they do not have their own rights to justice, health and dignity.

My grandfather, Alfredo Portillo, first came to California through the Braceros program, a migrant manual labor initiative between the United States and Mexico. He spent his life doing what he could to support and empower his community. This is a way in which I can continue a piece of his legacy.

Q. What should we expect from Herbcraft next?

A. There are some exciting collaborations that will be revealed in the near future, as well as the release of Elemental anointing blends in early 2021. And one never knows what wicked things Halloween might bring.

 Explore the Herbcraft Collection, and Mauricio's most recent creation, Bramble