THE SCENT SEEKER | SIBELLA COURT
Collaborating with Sibella, otherwise known as Nomad, Treasure Hunter or most recently, Garden Alchemist, is always a whirl wind of creative conspiracy. Her belief that we have sailed the seas together in another lifetime is as true as there be pirates on the high seas but I am sure as hell glad we are consorting together in this one. When she called and said she wanted to be a beekeeper, I was like ‘sure, of course, and Silver needs to be the bee’. The next thing you know, we are standing in the most magical of gardens being smoked out by a bee smoker. Just like that. Sibella is as magical as the world she creates and her newspaper Society Inc is no exception. Here we delve into her world and how in Edition Three she explores the world of Australian scents, garden mapping and of course bees.
How did the newspaper come about? Aren’t you busy enough?
It was just for fun to support The Society Inc wholesale hardware range that we launched at the end of 2016 and explain a bit about me & the creation of The Society Inc. I have a huge library of content & have the added benefit of friends with great pics that I can call on (that would be you Sheree!) or who don’t mind contributing & sharing content. The first issue I had to write very little & we had much of the content. Since then all content is created specifically for each edition of the newspaper. They go something like this; Joseph Banks & his cronies go on a lengthy seafaring adventure to collect botanical specimens and go star gazing (edition #2). I love publishing & will always make a little extra time for it & for doing something because I like it.
How are you finding this new love of being a “nose”?
Whilst galavanting around the globe gathering images & ideas for my books, Nomad & Gypsy, it occurred to me that I could in fact gather so much more than what I could just see, and began listing all that I could smell. Each country smells so very unique and then each season, each town smells different again but regardless of those layers & varieties of scents the combination remains within you & you can be transported back instantly upon smelling it once again.
A magic carpet kind of travel that transcends space & time, triggered by scent memory. This magical world has enchanted me and my journey to become a nose has begun. I predict that I will be qualified in about 30 years.
To get a few steps closer to my goal, I recently flew to Berkeley, San Francisco to attend a 3 day workshop with natural fragrance custodian, Mandy Aftel.
To learn the magic of Labdumun, Benzoin, Ambergris, Spikenard, Lapsung Sochung, Tiare, Onycha a cauldron of magnetic (somehow familiar) scents ; caramels, grassy, smokey, heady, resiny, thick, warm, exotic & inviting.
Her perfumer’s library referred to as an Organ sits pride of place & is the central hub to create scents. Each Organ is bespoke to its creator & is a reflection of how like to categorise & work. With over 400+ scents Mandy generously encourages her students to dip, smell, try anything & everything and play with the invaluable, irreplaceable, illegal ingredients that are seeped in history, secrecy, intrigue and adventure as they familiarise themselves with the characteristics & idiosyncrasies of each scent.
Each oil is divided by A-Z in top, middle & base all in different glass stoppered vials (I think becomes a much as a addiction as collecting fragrances) and the room is lined in a reference library of books; rare, hard to find, antique; all on perfume, scents, fragrances & their histories, that you are encouraged to peruse.
Mandy has opened a magical world of scent, alchemy, romance, language, history, intrigue, adventure & it has already infiltrated my dreams as I try to capture an elusive note! I feel she has given me a key into a Narnia-like world that I can visit & explore for the rest of my life.
If you were a scent how would you be described?
I inherited a corked glass vial from my great-grandmother which still has remnants of its original tattered label reading ‘Attar of Rose’. The scent is still vivid & intoxicating with its origins from the fresh petals of Rosa Damascena.
When I was gifted this I was choosing the destinations for my book Nomad and it lead to me on a journey to Syria to seek out the historical heavenly scent in the ancient spice markets of Damascus.
Souk al-Bzouriyya leads off from a courtyard where I had freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, it’s darker once you head into the souk, with centuries of packed dirt under foot. The stalls are a mix of spice ingredients piled high in sack of rich colours, apothecary shops carefully fitted out with shelves & arches stocked with bottle perfumes, oils, concretes & absolutes and scattered amongst these are the talisman stalls that spill out in to the covered lanes with a jumble of hardened puffer fish, coal, alligator skins, stones, sponges, tortoise shells, starfish, strung cloves & chillies. The souk is solidly built of grey & white striped sandstone & basalt and has a number of ancient caravanserais from the centuries of trade on the ancient silk road.
Somehow scent & amulets are tied up together in the intriguing world of witchcraft, magic & alchemy.
I wish I smelt as so utterly divine as this scent as I have long dreamed of reimagining the scent and now it has been brought to life, housed in a beautiful crafted porcelain shield vessel with a hand-tinkered zinc lid. The vessel is made to be kept & used for jewellery, trinkets, loose change or secrets, and so it becomes the perfect gift that travels well and continues to give after its contents have long gone.
I think though if I was a scent it may be a little murkier than attar of Rose.
What do you think it is about scent that is so nostalgic?
Everything. Almond for example smells just like Perkins paste, the hard white glue from my kindergarten that transports you back to age 5/6. There are not many things that can isolate a time & a place so completely & vividly.
There is a lovely word in french, sillage – The lingering trail of scent that is left by a fragrance; French for wake, much like a boat’s slipstream.
“Become a Pirate” is pretty much the best name for a scent I have heard of. What was the process in discovering this?
I like to tumble together history with a big dose of make believe, so for a scent I was toying with what I called ‘Become A Pirate’. I imagined the seafaring adventures of the 1700’s collecting botanical & marine specimens as well as stargazing at the Transit of Venus. The voyage from Tierra del Fuego to Tahiti was a long 4 months at sea. It is rumoured that after being at sea for many moons you can smell land weeks before you sight it: soft florals, fresh water, green leaves , happiness. I built my fragrance with a seaweed forest, clothes crunchy with salt, musty & deep base that opens & lightens as the ships sails shoreward.
Base notes: Onycha, Tree moss, Celery, Agarwood & Ambergris.
Middle notes: Octanol, Cinnamon absolute, Violet Leaf, Tiaré, Turkish Rose
Top Notes: Sugi Wood, Pink Pepper CO2, Linden Blossom Aged, Fresh Ginger.
It is no masterpiece but I will build on it for the next 30 years or so as I wait for my sandalwood tree to mature & I learn the trade of a Nose.
You seem to take a memory or an experience and let it lead you on a journey to creative lands, what was the experience that led you here, to botanics and beekeeping?
I have this inherent trait that is constantly taking tangents & delving down rabbit holes of research. I choose only things that spark my endless curiosity, I follow my leads, frolic in my new knowledge & then write them into my designs, ideas & works at hand. In my next chapter I dream of a food forest and bees make the world go round. I can be a modern day Botanical Explorer in super cool outfits.
Describe an average day in the life of Sibella Court? Starting with breakfast to be precise. I’m curious about what you have for breakfast.
Nothing solid to eat in the mornings, I’m just not ready & then its time to rush out the door – I have a swig of some herb liquid concoction then some fossil flour earth stuff then some apple cider vinegar! A chai once I get to work or on the way, traffic dependent.
Every day is very different. It can go with anything from plane trips, location shooting for our hardware catalogue, a campaign, designing a cattle station, finding samples, making samples, learning to watercolour, familiarising myself with my scent library, holding a workshop or public speaking at an event, visiting a trade fair, reading, buying books, more research, editing my book, writing contracts, signing contracts, presenting ideas, designing products for my hardware range, meeting with my blacksmith, site visits, writing for the newspaper & our many blogs & travel pages for Belle, styling my shop, dreaming up travel destinations & where I am going to stay, coming up with cool ideas & mapping out how they may work – the never ending list of fun stuff.
Your style is very distinct and authentic. What is style to you and how does it translate through your work?
I like to think that I have a hallmark. Don’t you love the makers marks used for ions on silver, gold, pottery & masterly crafted objects, well I like to think my style is just one big (or discreet) hallmark but very good looking. The look & feel can be so different in application of each job but the underlying touch, style & emotion is consistent.
Style in general is something that is thoughtful, considerate & inspiring whether its shines in the foreground or just creates the oh-so-perfect backdrop.
You have a fine attention to detail. Does this also apply in your personal life?
Everything is in the detail, a blank canvas with layering of details in what I wear, my interiors, my books, my research , the things on my desk!
How has the birth of your daughter Silver impacted the way you work?
I want to include Robin Hood adventure play in all my jobs.
What were you like as a child? Girly girl or tomboy? I bet you were a curious little thing.
I am just an older version of that younger self. Forever believing in magic & make believe (fairies are born out of the unfurling of a fern you know!) and losing myself in my imaginarium. Collecting, making & beach combing have always been my favourite things and I wrote them in to my job description.
Has there been anyone in your life that has played a pivotal role in your career? That someone who gave you insight or courage to pursue your dreams?
My mum encouraged any & every creative whim I had – calligraphy, pottery, dance, paper making, any craft class I wanted to do, she made it happen. Her attention to detail, love of master craftsmanship, travel, thirst for research & life, forever curious was passed on to me. She always said, never lose the spring in your step.
Both my parents thought/think I was great & was going to be great regardless of the ‘phase’ I was in. They encouraged me to study what I loved (history at Sydney Uni) and have a good time doing it. I use the knowledge & life skills from that degree on a daily basis.
For other women wanting to start their own creative endeavours, can you share with us one do and one don’t that you stand by?
Never say no to yourself. Dream big, work out the details after.
If it doesn’t exist make it up
Stay clear of negative Nancy’s
Share with us one thing we don’t know about Sibella Court.
I can’t watch scary movies because my nightmares are too vivid.
Last but not least, can your share any handy tips on sustainable practices that you implement in the home or work place?
Keep cups are a must.
Buy well buy once.
recycle recycle recycle.
Oh, and I’m saving the world from plastic bags by shopping with my Olliella wheels basket which is the chicest thing you can see at Woolworths!
Sibella wears | Ralph Lauren | Acler | Dolly Up Vintage Emporium | Catgk Vintage