Interview with Jill McKeever of For Strange Women
March 21, 2014 § Leave a comment
Jill McKeever is the creator of For Strange Women, a perfumery and apothecary devoted to using only natural ingredients and evoking emotion through the senses. From her home studio in Kansas City, MO, she puts traditional techniques into practice on organic and wildcrafted botanical essences to bring to life the things she wishes existed. Her style brings to mind images of the Victorian era, in all its dark, romantic elegance – and the struggle in that era, which continues to this day, of trying to find a balance between nature and the Industrial Revolution.
You’ve spoken about your typical schedule and the importance of working with the natural cycles of time. Can you tell me more about this?
I have found that the moon, the seasons, the cycles of nature have an effect on my own work flow. I don’t try to force deadlines and since I have to switch my mindset for what I am doing so frequently, I also do not force when I work on what. I let nature dictate, and I am a Cancerian, ruled by the moon, which makes my schedule for everything I do fall into the moon cycles very easily.
What kinds of software and computing devices, if any, do you use to get your work done?
I have a computer at home and one at my studio, and I use adobe creative suite for all of my design and photo work.
You’ve mentioned that immersing yourself in your work is a mental process that helps you be creative and get work done. Can you tell me more about this and about your workflow/creative process in general?
My workflow used to be something I had to write down on a calendar, but after 5+ years of this career, I don’t have to plan my process, I just live it every day. For instance, if I go on vacation, I am fixated on scents and nature and am inspired to create based on my new surroundings and energy. I don’t go on vacation to “get away from” or take a break from work, because my work isn’t work so much as it is play.
You’ve talked about your inspiration coming from within, rather than from external influences, as well as your creations being ways to express who you are. Can you tell me more about this?
I think for me working with natural scent was a wide open playground of potential. I wanted to fill a void that nothing else was fulfilling. I wanted to do something that had not been done, at least to my knowledge. That allows me to pull memories and emotions from my own life. I also find inspiration from my muses to my rituals to my deepest comforts. Scent is an important part of our life, and I am simply finding ways to take all of these things from my experiences and package them into an invisible life in a bottle. I would not say that the inspiration is not external. It does come from an external place. Ideas don’t come from my head, they come from a force that anyone can tap into.
What does “handmade” mean to you?
There is thought, care, attention, and personal energy that goes into each and every piece created.
What do you believe is the upper limit of handmade (versus machine-made/mass-produced), and why?
All of society used to make almost everything by hand, in small quantities. Mass production is a recent phenomenon that is full of waste, thoughtlessness, pollution, and abuse. The lower prices of the products are not worth the consequences. If people realized this everything could go back to normal, which is small businesses that care about each product they produce and the environment from which it is made. Yes, everything would cost more, but this would also help to make people become more conscious with their decisions to buy things. Right now the mass production economy depends on blind consumerism, irrational decisions, and waste.
What do the objects you create mean to you?
They are my curated favorites of the natural world of scent.
What do the materials you use mean to you?
I make every decision based on the sensory experience. I don’t stop with scent or even visuals. I even ensure the tactile nature of the materials I choose are pleasing.
In comparison with the more abstract feeling of communicating with text online, how would you describe the importance of that physicality of the experience to the connections you make with your customers?
For me there is a bit more mystery and glamour I think in the eyes of my online customers. They may imagine my perfume being made in a magical forest by someone who is way cooler than me…and I think that’s fun.
How do you balance the physical and the digital? Do you prefer digitized media or analog media, etc.?
I really am not a fan of digital but it does make things easier! I try to incorporate as many analog elements as possible, as well as hand printing and stamping most of the labels.
Can you elaborate on why you’re not a fan of the digital?
It has a soulless nature. Analog media has the energy of the creator infused into it, and those sensitive to energy will be able to recognize this. Digital is dead.
What do you believe to be the ideal relationship between humans/the natural world/sensory and bodily experiences/handmade craftsmanship and industrial machines/digital technology?
Technology can be so useful and important, but we have come to the point of dependence on it at the cost of our health, attention spans, relationships, and so much more. We have traded speed for quality. We have become very irresponsible with our use of it, and ideally, we would be much more thoughtful and cautious about taking each step forward with technology. But no one questions it, instead we just keep adapting and allowing exponential growth of it before we have even understood the consequences.
How do you use the internet to connect with others interested in the same kind of work and aesthetic? How do you interact with them offline?
Sometimes people find me and we send emails back and forth about the things we love, but for the most part I am a bit isolated in the perfume world. I don’t want to be influenced one way or another by another perfumer’s line, so I don’t seek out groups or forums or guilds. I like being in my own little world. I do have some close friendships with artists that have a similar aesthetic, but who work with different mediums. I meet with and collaborate with them as much as possible.
Which artists are these? What would you say are the similarities between their work and your own?
For instance, Scarlett Garnet, who designs jewelry for my perfume, have a similar aesthetic. Kelly Louise Judd and William Leonard Elder are artists that have made gorgeous illustrations for my packaging. And Two Tone Press has a great understanding of the look I am trying to capture, and they make a lot of great recommendations for my letterpress labels. These are mostly all friends of mine in Kansas City, and even if they do not have a similar style to mine, they know me personally and what I like.
Do you consider yourself part of a subcultural community? What name would you give it?
I have heard several subculture terms for my style… Antiquarian Avant-Garde is a good one.
Would you describe your work as having mass appeal or niche appeal? Why?
Niche appeal. It is always interesting to do shows, where hundreds or thousands of people visit my table of perfume in one day. I always hear people say “your packaging is beautiful” but those people rarely make the effort to smell the perfume inside the packaging. Scent is in itself a niche art form and product. And natural scent is just in recent years becoming reintroduced to the mainstream. My natural perfumes are particularly strange because they are not marketed to make you sexier, more attractive, or even better smelling. They are designed with the intention of accessing your memories, emotions, and offer a feeling of comfort. It is all about your inner self to me, not the exterior. Most people just want to look beautiful and be desired, and since I’m not selling that, I do not have mass appeal.