We sat down and sniffed with Erica Vinskie, Founder and Formulator of HENNY FAIRE Co. Join us as we step into her world of fragrance and see how early musings in her mom's bedroom began her fascination with fragrances and how a quince tree in her yard as an adult paved her scent-inspired path.
We found great pleasure in learning how people and her environmental surroundings play such an inspirational role in the development of her perfumes and other scented luxuries. You'll even find out who Henny is!
Q. How long have you been interested in scent and perfume? How did you start learning about it? Did you have any mentors along the way?
When I was very young, I was fascinated with the vanities of the older women in my Northeastern PA coal-mining village. I would sometimes go with my mother in the evenings visiting around our hollow. While the women talked in the kitchen or parlor, I would sneak into the bedroom or bathroom to sample our host’s perfumes.
Coty, Chanel, Jean Nate, Guerlain, Avon, Penhaligon’s, Dior, Prince Matchabelli…I couldn’t distinguish high from low. All of the fragrances were like a portal transporting me out of our hollow to a wider world I was only beginning to imagine.
Despite this early fascination with fragrance, I only began studying perfumery five years ago. That fall, I brought a bowl of quince indoors from the tree in the yard. I wanted to create a wearable scent from the aroma of the ripening fruit, with its facets of pineapple, lemon, violet, and oakmoss. But lacking the requisite skill to achieve complexity, progression, and longevity, my first attempts at composing fine fragrances failed. “Dappled Quince” worked wonderfully, however, as a home scent. So I reached for the low hanging fruit (pun intended ;) and began making and selling candles and scented bath goods.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, I was investing in professional perfumer materials and equipment and obsessively studying the art and science of fine fragrance. (Shout out to the fine folk over at BaseNotes and Fragrantica for so generously sharing their expertise.) Successful accords eventually became fully fleshed-out fragrances. fter four years, I had three EDP – LUCIDA, MALA, and TILIA – that I felt I could release to the public.
Q. What is your process or your inspiration for a new fragrance?
All of our scents begin with native Appalachian botanicals (which is why we call the line, “Foraged Fragrances”). I experience the plant in the wild, or here on my property where my husband grows many natives. I then enter my workshop and build the accord molecule by molecule. When creating the native plant accord, I aim for photorealism. It’s only when blending in the other notes that I endeavor for beauty, intrigue, harmony, refinement. My goal is to give the wearer a somewhat rarefied experience of our Appalachian wilderness.
I’m sometimes asked if the fragrances contain the actual wildcrafted plant material. Whenever sensible, I harvest and extract the plant matter to add another, albeit subtle, dimension to the fragrance. For instance, VESCA gets some of its greenery from a tincture of the leaf of the wood strawberry shrub.
LUCIDA contains a glycerite that we make each summer from the Virginia wild rose we grow here on our property. (Incidentally, the glycerite does double-duty, as it also helps extend the fragrance on the skin.)
Q. How do you know when a fragrance you’re working on is finished? How long does it take you to create it from start to finish?
The short answer is: I don’t.
I know when a formula approximates the concept I have in my mind well enough, and is sufficiently balanced, beautiful, and interesting. I can then release it to the public. But I’m always discovering new materials that I think will help me reach that Platonic Ideal of the fragrance that I carry around in my mind. I’m always resisting the urge to reformulate.
Q. The name of your brand is HENNY FAIRE Co. Can you tell us more about Henny and how she is an inspiration to you?
I’m so glad you asked! Henny was a real person who had an outsized impact on my life, and on the lives of many children in our coal patch. She was a skilled forager and herbalist (as were many of the women and men of her generation in those parts). Yet, despite the rustic image one might have of an Appalachian mountain forager, Henny was elegant. She relished what she called “life’s finer things,” and she admonished us girls to make sure to enjoy them, too.
Henny’s vanity was the one I raided most often. Bottles of Chanel, Guerlain, and Gucci (which she pronounced “Gussy”) sat alongside tinctures of skullcap, maypop, goldenseal, and others. Mixed in were her Princessa Borghese lipsticks, Merle Norman creams, and Caswell-Massey soaps. To this day, her toilette inspires me, as it epitomized the meeting of refined and rustic, luxury and resourcefulness, Old World and New.
Q. What are you most proud of with your brand?
I love that our brand can bring positive attention to Appalachia, in particular, the struggling, overlooked corner of Northern Appalachia that is the Pennsylvania Anthracite Fields. Despite their proximity to New York and Philadelphia, the PA Coal Regions share the same social ills, resulting from the same environmental exploitation, as the rest of Appalachia. That’s why HF donates a portion of our proceeds to support community and environmental renewal in Greater Appalachia. From north to south, the region shares common challenges and a collective fate.
Q. Outside of fragrance, what are some of your other loves?
The activities I love most – hiking, kayaking, and puttering around the garden with my husband – are ones I am excited to start in the next few weeks!
I do get tremendous fulfillment from teaching. In addition to an Intro to Artisan Perfumery course I give periodically, I continue to keep one foot in the world of academia – my former career (now side-hustle ;). At a nearby college, I teach Appalachian culture and literature part-time.
Q. Where do you consider your happy place?
Q. If you could describe your brand in 3 words, what would they be?
Wild. Beautiful. Sustainable.
Q. What’s next for you?
We get a lot of requests for light, sheer scents that would be suitable for everyday. So I’m working on a line of eau de toilette soliflores. The first to release, hopefully by summer, will be Virginia Rose.
We’re also at work on a line of aromatherapeutic environment sprays that won’t smell like a health food store.
Q. Is there anything else you want our readers to know?
I’m over the moon to have HENNY FAIRE Co. featured on Olfactif! What’s more, I’m thrilled to discover that Olfactif is headquartered in Scranton, PA, in the northern Anthracite Fields. I’m sure Danielle and her team join me in a desire to bring beauty to this place we call home.
Olfactif says, yes, we do!
We were pleased to feature Vesca in the Febuary 2020 Women's and Deluxe Collection along with Lucida which was featured in the May 2020 Women's and Deluxe Collection. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram!
Photo credit: HENNY FAIRE Co.
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