I am often asked to make bespoke products, a perfume for a bride from the flowers in her bouquet, a cream to make eczematous skin calm, an oil combination to keep moths away from ancient textiles and once, I tried to capture the scent of an elderly lady's garden to draw her momentarily back from the confusion of Alzheimers.
Mine is work of infinite variation and surprising requests and it is these contacts with people and their relationship to a particular scent memory, a need for soothing and the pleasure of involvement in life's precious moments that make it so interesting.
It is a rare however to be given a free reign, an opportunity to explore an unfamiliar landscape, gather plants and create a set of products guided only by a desire to reflect the place in the products. Thus it was with complete delight that I agreed to a commission to make a very special range of products for the Isle of Harris Distillery (http://www.harrisdistillery.com/social-distillery). The brief was also intriguing, requiring a commitment that everything connected to the distillery - every product - should be for, with, from Harris and that as makers we needed to be persuaded by the idea that one should be, rather than seen to be. Authenticity, individuality and a commitment to the community being the guiding principles.
Harris is one of the Hebridean Islands, connected to Lewis by a thin strand of land. Although part of Scotland it is distinct, populated by Gaelic speakers who ally themselves not to the mainland but rather to the other islands that lie off the shores of Scotland. An alliance of islanders drawn together by a common language and culture.
The landscape is simply breathtaking. Mountains of rough grey rocks with edges rounded from endless years of unrelenting wind and rain or pink, stratified rocks gleaming in the sun, sharp strong splinters resisting an unforgiving climate, lochan filled with peaty water and water lilies, the margins providing a spongy texture underfoot. Closer to the sea, the white shell sand stretching into the distance, complete emptiness avoided only by the occasional walker or windswept dog. The sea sometimes passive, shining turquoise or lapis, more often wildly tumultuous with white capped waves battering the shore line - the uplifting scent of ozone filling the air . Between sea and mountains lies the machair, an area of meadow growing on shale sand with plants so plentiful and diverse I skipped around in joyful delight.
Sea, beach, dune, machair, mountain. An island landscape in 5 words.
The products will be available from the Isle of Harris Distillery in April 2015 - just now the botanicals gathered so carefully by me, Alison, her sisters in law and their children plus Matt the ranger are divided up and steeping in alcohol or oil or awaiting distillation to be transformed into aromatic water and essential oil. The tests so far are really encouraging and as I sit now, I can smell the aromatics on my skin and like every good scent, it evokes the memory of a magical island and a sensory adventure.