Art and Literature News

The Scents of Middle-earth: Interview with Cat Marx of Deep Midnight Perfumes

Have you ever wondered what a cheery hobbit party might smell like? Or perhaps you want to evoke a sense of grace and beauty like that of the elves. For fans of fantasy literature and film, oftentimes the sense of smell can get overlooked. Certainly, the smell of old book pages is a delight, but you can’t help but dream about what sort of fragrance might linger in the air.

The vast world of Tolkien has inspired all forms of artists and craftspeople for many years. It is always incredible to see what different people will create based upon what Middle-earth has given to them.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Cat Marx, the owner of Deep Midnight Perfumes. While some people may paint a picture with paints upon a canvas, Cat uses fragrance to evoke a mood rather than a brush. Cat creates fantasy inspired perfume oils and you can find everything from a Mad Hatter inspired fragrance to various steampunk scents.

'The Hobbit' sampler set

‘The Hobbit’ sampler set

Cat even has perfumes for Tolkien fans with fragrances inspired by The Hobbit and The Silmarillion among her wares. A sampler set of five perfumes inspired by The Hobbit includes: The Halfling’s Party, House of Healing, Dungeons Deep, Dragon’s Orb, and Black Arrow. Each scent is inspired by a different race of Middle-earth. Men, dwarves, elves, and hobbits are represented along with the dragon Smaug. My personal favorite perfume is The Halfling’s Party which I plan to wear it to the midnight premiere of Desolation of Smaug on Friday!

Cat was gracious enough to answer a few (okay a lot) of my questions regarding her inspirations, creative process, and what Tolkien means to her. Plus, keep reading to find out about a special sale just for Middle-earth News readers!

 

Middle-earth News: How long have you been making perfumes? Was this something you were always interested in or did you start out crafting other things first?

Cat Marx: I started making perfume oils in 1996 for myself, friends and family. In 2003, I began selling a line of lip balms, soaps and perfume oils in local artisan boutiques. I opened my etsy shop in 2010.

I have loved perfume since I was about ten, thanks to my mom, who had a vast collection of scents from France and England. My mom and her sisters always smelled wonderful! I have always loved creating. My grandmother taught me how to knit when I was five. I have done a lot of sewing and weaving my whole life. I have crafted sterling and gold jewelry using the lost wax process, dabbled in pyrography, Chinese brush painting, pen and ink illustrations, leatherworking, and writing. I love to stay busy and learn new skills. I take special enjoyment in giving life to the things I imagine.

Perfume oils became my way of telling a story in a unique medium. I want my scents to transport the wearer to another time and place—just as they would be by reading a good book or looking at a fine painting—because of the strong interaction between scent and memory. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I believe a scent is worth ten thousand.

ME: We of course love The Hobbit inspired perfumes in your shop. What inspired you to create these

"Dungeons Deep" fragrance, inspired by dwarven lords such as Thorin Oakenshield

“Dungeons Deep” fragrance, inspired by dwarven lords such as Thorin Oakenshield

Tolkien-themed fragrances?

CM: The Hobbit was the first high fantasy book I ever read as an eager twelve-year-old, and it remains one of my favorite books to this day. I couldn’t imagine not trying to bring it to life through scents. Tolkien is a master storyteller and wordsmith, and I am so inspired by all his tales.

ME: Please tell us about your creative process. What is the process like from conception to the final product?

CM: It usually begins with the thought of a person or place. I begin to think of the scent as a character or setting, having a unique personality and story to tell. I often dream about perfumes and scent combinations, and wake up to write them down and try them in the morning.

With most scents, I start with a base note I want to work around. Then I add depth, dimension, and complexity working with the base, middle and top notes.

Most perfumes go through several incarnations before they are the way I wish them to be. Then I test them on friends and family for dry down, impressions of the scent, longevity, and how it unfolds on different people’s skin.

When a perfume is ready to be listed in my shop, I try to photograph as many of the listings as I can

The "Black Arrow" perfume inspired by Bard the Bowman

The “Black Arrow” perfume inspired by Bard the Bowman

myself. I like to use models or scenes that represent the character of the scent. After all, how many times do you want to look at a bottle over and over? Using models or settings is also part of my way of telling the story of the scent. I also like to include a little story or poem to help set the scene for the wearer.

ME: I had the pleasure to receive a sampler set of all your Hobbit inspired scents and it is incredible to me how spot on the scents are. Each one makes me think “yes this is definitely the Houses of Healing etc.”. I even used the Halfling’s Party on my cloak to make it smell more “hobbity”. How do you pick what will be in each fragrance and evoke the “perfect” scent each time?

CM: Often the creative process turns into a dialogue between me and the scent. I coax its story out of it, asking it about its environment, the things that are around it, and what story it begs to be told. I find myself adding notes that I never anticipated or considered at the beginning of the process because of this dialogue. It’s all part of the joy, satisfaction, and surprise of creating.

The "Halfling's Party" fragrance is a unique scent with notes of sweet tobacco and apples among other "hobbity" things.

The “Halfling’s Party” fragrance is a unique scent with notes of sweet tobacco and apples among other “hobbity” things.

ME: Craftiness seems to be most associated with hobbits. Do you consider yourself to be a hobbit or is there another race you identify with more? Why?

CM: I’m definitely a hobbit—all 4’11” of me! I certainly love being crafty, and while I do love a good adventure on occasion, I am a homebody at heart. I love spending time with my family and cat-children. Plus, I’ve been known to throw a good party every now and then with lots of food and presents.

ME: You have an entire collection of incredible scents in your Etsy store: do you have any favorites? Do you have a special perfume that you have blended solely for yourself? Or do you share all your creations with your customers?

CM: That would be like asking me which is my favorite cat! I have had several perfumes I originally blended for myself, but ended up releasing them all in my shop—Ladies of London, Catrianna’s Cauldron, White Moon (inspired by Dragonlance), Temple of Artemis, to name a few. I just can’t keep them hidden. They must be shared.

ME: Can we look forward to seeing more Tolkien related scents from you in the future?

CM: Absolutely. I already have two others in my shop—Halls of Waiting and Black Sword, inspired by

"Halls of Waiting" perfume  inspired by Beren and Luthien

“Halls of Waiting” perfume inspired by Beren and Luthien

The Silmarillion. I will be rounding these out with a several more to make another set, and more inspired by The Lord of the Rings as well.

ME: In the about page in your Etsy store, you mention that some items in your shop are designated to go to different animal charities. Can you tell us a little about them? As we approach the holiday season of giving, what can our readers and your customers do to support donations to your favorite charities?

CM: I think it’s so important to give back and pay it forward, even if it’s just in our own small ways. Currently the charity I sponsor is Saved by a Whisker Rescue. They are a fantastic local group of people who rescue cats and kittens. In the past I have also donated to the Blind Cat Rescue, Aslan’s Cats, Whipstaff Ranch and Rescue, A Dog’s Life (sponsored by Supernatural Cares), Calliope Rescue, and C.L.A.W.S. J So far in 2013 Deep Midnight Perfumes has donated close to $1,000.00 to various animal charities.  I may not be Bill Gates, but I try to help where I can.

I always have an animal charity listing of four surprise samples in my shop. The full retail amount currently goes to Saved by a Whisker. Up until December 18, 2013 all orders for this listing also get a free gift from yours truly. On my Facebook page, I call it a PIF (pay it forward). People get to donate to a charity, and they get to sample my perfumes and receive an extra gift. Win-win.

ME: You also mention that your ingredients are 100% vegan, can you tell me a little more about that?

CM: All of my perfumes are cruelty free, alcohol free, preservative free, and contain no animal products (even the musk and honey notes) so are completely vegan. I use only premium essential oils and fragrance oils with a carrier oil (a carrier oil must be used in perfumes oils to carry the longevity of the scent and protect your skin).

The carrier oil is derived from jojoba plants grown in the U.S. from 100% organic sources. Jojoba oil does not turn rancid like other plant and fruit based carrier oils do over time. It has an almost indefinite shelf life. It does cost more than other carrier oils, such as coconut, almond or rice bran oils which can be bought for pennies per portion at any health food store, but the longevity of organic unscented jojoba makes it the best option available and it actually mimics the oils in our own skin. Jojoba oil is not a food oil, it’s a cosmetic oil, and therefore not processed in a facility where say both rice brain or coconut and peanut oil are made (which could be a nightmare for someone with peanut allergies!).

A full size bottle of perfume

A full size bottle of perfume

My bottles and vials are cobalt blue and amber colored to protect the oils from damage from UV and ambient light that can ruin the character of the scent. I go out of my way to ensure my ingredients and packaging are the very best, both for the sake of my product and my customers.

ME: Judging by your shop, you seem to be a huge fan of fantasy and Tolkien in general. What are some of your favorite books and stories from this genre?

 

CM: I do indeed love everything Tolkien. I also enjoy Dragonlance and just about any fantasy book I can get my hands on. There’s a lot of talent out there, and I enjoy reading a lot. I have a lot more fantasy inspired perfumes in the works, but I don’t want to give them away just yet.

ME: If you could spend a day in Middle-earth, how would you spend it?

CM: Killing orcs, of course! Just kidding. If I could visit the locale of every race of Middle-earth in one day, I would do it. I would love to have a party in the Shire, visit the house of Elrond, delve into the depths of the Lonely Mountain, and wander through forest and dale taking in the beauty of this magical world.

If you are interested in Cat’s perfumes you can check out her Etsy store Deep Midnight Perfumes, additionally here are individual links to each Hobbit and Silmarillion inspired fragrance for ease of browsing: Halfling’s Party, Dragon’s Orb, Dungeons Deep, House of Healing, Black Arrow, Black Sword, and Halls of Waiting.

As an exclusive offer just for our readers, be sure to enter “MIDDLEEARTHNEWS” at checkout to receive 15% off everything in Cat’s store (with the exception of the animal charity set).

If you want to hear more from Cat,  you can check out her Facebook, blog, and her Twitter.

Be sure to check out her shop: you know you’ve always wanted to know what Bilbo’s birthday smelled like.

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3 Comments

  1. Thank you for the lovely interview! Best wishes—Cat 🙂

  2. Deep Midnight Perfumes are the most amazing perfume oils I have ever used. Halfling’s Party is my absolute favorite!
    Thank you for the wonderful article!

  3. Fantastic interview, Rachel! Cat – you are amazing! So much thought goes into all you do, and it shows. Cheers!