When you think of the scent of your LA 'hood, what comes to mind (or nose)? For Krystal Quinn Castro, it's a musky aroma with a hint of honey and a pinch of pink peppercorn. Inspired by a newfound passion for perfumery (and a major transition to a cleaner beauty routine), the fashion industry vet set out to capture her cool enclave's essence in a bottle. The result: Los Feliz Botanicals, a new line of natural fragrances inspired by California landscapes.
Mixed by hand in Downtown LA, the natural perfume brand currently offers five different scents ($55 per bottle or $18 for a sampler of all five scents) that evoke Castro's favorite Golden State road trip stops. For instance, Fresno's Blossom Trail is interpreted as a light citrus and floral fragrance that'll appease neroli lovers (a cognac finish offers "a delicious and bright dry down"), while the Yucca Valley's desert spirit is channeled into an earthy tobacco scent topped off with leathery flouve and peppery roses.
Red Rock Canyon State Park is also represented in the line ("an arid and unusual fragrance" made of white sage and mitti attar) alongside the Huntington Library (a complex fragrance that combines violet and gardenia). The next stop on Castro's aromatic road trip: a perfume balm that summons the Sierras with the scent of pine needles, cedarwood, and black spruce.
Here, we get to know Los Feliz Botanicals' Canada-bred founder, who recently trained with perfume guru Mandy Aftel. Read on below to find out how Castro's recently-detoxed beauty bag led her to explore her hobby further, how long it takes to perfect each perfume, why she donates to Charity:Water with every bottle sold, and more.
What's your professional background, and how did you get into creating fragrances?
I've worked in corporate fashion retail and wholesale for the last 12 years, but started learning aromatherapy and natural perfumery about four years ago. There's something about the history and sort of preciousness to essences that has always drawn me in. I've always had a few oils on hand — lavender, eucalyptus, tea tree. I find them endlessly fascinating and love working with them. It grew from a hobby to an all out passion.
What inspired you to give your vanity and bathroom cabinet a "clean" makeover, and did you notice any effects on your skin and body?
A colleague of mine co-wrote an amazing book called No More Dirty Looks; there's an accompanying blog that is fantastic as well. After learning about the petrochemicals and carcinogens that we absorb every day through the multitude of products we use, I started making the switch.
I've always struggled with a lot of skin issues — acne, dry patches, eczema, roughness on the backs of my arms, and fairly frequent styes from eye makeup. Over the next few months, most of these issues faded away. I haven't had a stye or any eczema since (knock on wood), and my skin is much softer. I also haven't missed too much. There are so many great natural brands out there that there are natural options for almost any mainstream product.
How long did it take to develop each fragrance, and which one was the most challenging?
Each fragrance had between 25 and 50 different versions and tweaks to get to the formulae I was happy with. I would tinker with them over the course of a few months, and let the essences marry, while checking in on them every few days to see how the scent was evolving. If it evolved in a direction I didn't like, I'd tweak the formula and try again.
The most challenging was definitely the namesake perfume, Los Feliz. This was the fragrance I made for myself. It kept me up at night — I had the fragrance I wanted in my head and it took a lot of work to get it to come through in the finished product. I'm really proud of that one.
What's your favorite California road trip you've ever taken? (and do share your itinerary/tips!)
My husband/business partner and I have driven all over the U.S. and Canada, but I still will always remember my first trip to Joshua Tree. It really is the most magical place. We stayed at the Pioneertown Motel behind Pappy and Harriet's and I was blown away by the night sky, the silence, and the landscapes. When you drive through Joshua Tree National Park, you hit multiple elevations and the landscapes will change drastically. It's like driving on another planet. We've since spent a New Year's there and had our wedding a mile away from Pappy and Harriet's. It will always hold a very special place in my heart.
Why was it important to donate a portion of sales Charity:Water?
Living in California, we are very aware of how precious water is. We've been in a drought for years and yet we still have access to clean water. This is an incredible privilege that 1 in 10 people worldwide do not have. Charity: Water goes into communities and provides sustainable solutions to bring in clean water, and is a cause I have donated to personally for a long time. It doesn't take much to make a difference — $20 a month will go a long way. We hope that by donating ourselves we can encourage others to donate as well.
Our olfactory sense and memory are so tied together — what is the one memory you have tied to scent that stands out the most?
It's such a funny thing, because you won't necessarily know it until you smell it and you're transported. The smell of peeling a clementine always makes me think of my childhood. Orange Pekoe tea with milk smells like my grandmother's house. It's amazing how a city smells too — I [recently] had a super short layover in Montréal, where I'm from, and just the short walk from the plane into the terminal, where you kind of get a bit of fresh air, brought in a rush of memories because I could smell the city [and] the leaves turning. We don't get too much of that fall smell in LA — so it was a bit emotional.