Venus Libido

VENUS LIBIDO

Illustrator, activist and all round boss bitch Venus Libido tells us all… 

Tell us how you got into illustration?

I started illustrating at the beginning of 2017 after deciding to move out of London to focus on my mental health. It was a great way to articulate my emotions and better understand why I was feeling the way I was. Very quickly it became my form of therapy. When I started drawing I would draw personal scenarios in which I had found myself in the previous year. Scenarios including my alcohol addiction, overdosing and just generally not being happy with my physical and mental state. I wasn’t sure if I should share them online until my partner convinced me that what I was drawing was important and others might find it helpful.

Where do you turn to for inspiration?

My Inspiration comes from my everyday experiences as a woman, dealing with my mental health and my journey to self love. I try to be open and honest about the things I draw and I keep a long list of ideas in my phone. Every time I have an odd thought or experience an uncomfortable feeling or situation I document it so that I can come back to it.

Who or what has pushed you to keep going?

My followers. I know my work has helped a lot of people feel not alone with their personal problems. I get a lot of messages from girls explaining how I’ve helped them go through difficult situations because what I draw is honest and relatable.

What advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago?

I have a few…

  1. Be more selfish
  2. Being alone is ok
  3. You do not exist to please others
  4. Your body is beautiful, continue to love it
  5. Masturbation is not just for men
  6. Talking is the key to recovery
  7. Everything WILL BE OK!

Who has inspired you the most in your day to day life?

I would definitely say my mum. I have watched her bring up 3 children with no help while also caring for my dad who has a disability. The strength she has to keep going everyday despite the amount of obstacles that have got in her way is truly inspiring. She’s a bad ass woman!

What was it like doing a photo shop free photo shoot?

Absolutely amazing! Firstly I was made to feel so comfortable and the team just made the whole thing so fun and beautiful! For me it is important to embrace who you are and photoshopping is a big NO NO.

Tell us your plans for 2019 so far…

I have a few things lined up including hosting a huge event with my fave girls at Women of Power and Sister Magazine. ELEVATE will be a amazing and empowering day. Full of workshops, talks and brilliant like minded brands. Come join in at the Curtain hotel in Shoreditch for a day of exploring how to find balance as a creative in work & business. 

I am also collaborating with a few of my favourite brands this year which I am super excited for. However my main goals are to do more traveling, more charity work, continue to work on my journey to self love and I also have some ideas that I want to film.

Oh and I would love to do another big animation!

Did you make any new year’s resolutions this year?

I made a list of goals and things I hope to achieve this year rather than things I want to change which include;

  • Move back out of my parents house
  • Go to LA
  • Make more animations
  • Watch more live comedy
  • Learn how to make the perfect Porn Star Martini
  • Mastrubate more 🙂

Are you more of a witch or a bitch?

I am definitely a REEK BITCH! I took me a while to find my confidence but now I feel in control and no one one is getting in my way.

Describe your favourite REEK perfume in 2 words…

Sweet yet Spicy.

What are your favourite smells and why?

Lavender oil because it relaxes me and coconut and papaya because it reminds me of being on holiday. I also love the smell of burning wood and pizza ovens.

Want to see more of Venus’s work? Yeah we thought so!
Follow her HERE

Get your tickets for Venus’s ELEVATE event. A day of networking, panel discussions and brilliant brands (we’ll be there with free stickers and perfume too!)


Sonia Cooper

A SELF LOVE STORY

Sonia Cooper tells her story of self love…

Your message of body positivity is inspirational, tell us your story…

So what happened to me is that I was cooking pasta at a friend’s house, I fell asleep and when I woke up I suddenly remembered the pasta so a ran to the kitchen but I slipped and when I tried to get up I leaned on the handle of the pot (’cause I was still half asleep). All the boiling water and the pasta fell on me burning all my chest/breasts and arms. So 15% of my body had 2nd and 3rd degree burns.

What does the ‘body positivity’ mean to you?

To me “body positivity” is to learn to love and embrace your body no matter how it is and no matter what other people can say. Just love yourself.

What is are you working on at the moment?  

I want to finish my bachelor’s year to finally start my stewardess studies, to work on something I really love and be totally independent. I would love to have my Cabin Crew Attestation this year, but because of the accident I missed a few month of classes, so now I have to repeat the year. Still, that leaves me a year to finish my recovery and to undergo the two surgeries I still have to do.

Who has inspired you most along the way?

When I was in the hospital, my mum sent me a video of a young woman (who is also a burn survivor, of 40% of her body) talking about her experience some years ago and I cried a lot because she described exactly how I felt. She gave me the hope and the strength I needed to face the situation. Thanks to her, my confidence was boosted and I promised myself to never be ashamed of my scars. She is @douzefevrier on Instagram.

Tell us about a campaign/advert that made you angry.

In general I dislike hair removal adverts which show women shaving hairless legs as if body hair doesn’t exist. I think it’s ridiculous because all people have hair on their bodies. And most people act like it’s gross or not normal and that doesn’t help to normalize it. It’s okay to shave if we want and it’s also okay to not touch it. Every woman should be free to choose for herself.  Those adverts are trying to make us ashamed of something normal. And ashamed of our bodies.

Are there any issues you see people face in your day to day life that the world can find easy to ignore?

Yes, because every person has their own problems. But it’s not because someone has more or less issues that they have to be ignored. Many people have problems that they don’t want to talk about, maybe because they’re ashamed or because they think they’re not important enough. I think everyone should be able to talk about their problems without thinking they are going to be judged. We’re no one to judge other people issues.

Pick a slogan to put on one of our equality stickers?

Equality is something that should already be in our society, if we have to fight for it, it’s because the world has a big problem.

What advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago?

To be patient and very strong to face everything.

What are your three favourite smells?

The smell when I walk next to a bakery, pizza and my love’s clothes (I love to smell his t-shirts when I wear them).

Witch or bitch?

Bitchy witch hahaha. But always witch.


In The Nuddy

IN THE NUDDY

We get the dirt about soapy plastic free success nuddy from founder Kassi Emadi. She wants you to lather up and get in the nuddy… 

Tell us all about in the nuddy and how you got into such a soapy venture…

We launched the nuddy range in the UK in July. Our products are vegan-friendly soap bars. We found that the majority of soaps and body washes on the market are not only full of rubbish, but also packaged using plastic materials. nuddy is proud to be 100% plastic free and created using only the best ingredients, right here in the UK. We use a vegan-friendly Shea butter base, so our soap is inclusive to just about every Tom, Francesca + Harriet. Since launching, the response has been amazing – we’ve been shortlisted in the ‘Best new British beauty brand’ category in the Pure Beauty Awards, featured in Harpers Bazaar, Marie Claire and Refinery29, as well as making an impact on social media.

I was working in London as Head of PR at a creative marketing start-up when I first started working on nuddy. As a self-confessed soap bar addict – whenever I used to go out to buy a bar of soap from any large retailer, I’d find a selection of maybe 5 outdated brands on the bottom shelf. This literally broke my heart. None of the brands were even trying to form a connection with me as a consumer. I was totally uninspired. I couldn’t get my head around how or why we’d let this amazing product die a death. So, I decided to quit my job and move back home to North Yorkshire where  I started nuddy and developed my own brand of soap which I hoped, would transform the market, re-connect with consumers (particularly the millennial generation) and make soap bars cool again.

Was there a particular moment that inspired you to start it up?

It sounds so cliche and almost unbelievable, but I genuinely had a ‘light bulb moment’ whilst I was in the shower. I was holding a bar of soap and I sort of just looked at it and thought ‘why don’t people love soap?’ From there my mind started unfolding all of these ideas. I jumped out of the shower, ran to my diary and started writing things down. I then rang my mum and started shouting ‘SOAAAAAP’ down the phone. I wish someone had caught all this on camera, cos I would have indeed been #inthenuddy

Your ethos and products are eco friendly, is that an important factor in all things nuddy?

SO important. We identify as a mission brand – we want to help change consumer behaviour when it comes to purchasing goods. The reason I created this brand was not only to bring life back to the market but to also start a movement. We want to encourage people to switch to soap when they wash, to reduce the amount plastic used when getting in the nuddy. It’s widely talked about that there’s an excess of water bottles and plastic bags – these are  common everyday single-use items. But what about the other plastic containers people are taking for granted – shampoo, conditioner, body wash?

What are the big problems you see women facing in business?

Fear and lack of self confidence, I feel, is one of the greatest. Most people are, unfortunately, exactly who they’re told to be – this is inbuilt from infancy and  people rarely break the mould. You’re told to act in a certain way and do certain things, in order to achieve x,y+z. For a long time, women were told that they couldn’t lead and influence – it wasn’t expected of us. Well some bloody great women broke that mould, and gave more women the confidence to do so. It’s important for the women who have found the confidence to encourage others to do the same.

Are there any issues you see people face in your day to day life that the world can find easy to ignore?

Mental health issues. I know there have been some amazing campaigns in the last year or so to increase awareness of mental health and the effort to ‘normalise’ and remove the stigma. This might suggest that the world is not ignoring it. But I still feel that day-to-day people do ignore it, and a lot of people just don’t get mental health and the effect it can have on a person. The mind is an amazing, powerful and beautiful thing. I don’t think we know enough about what our minds are capable of, good and bad. When I worked at my first job in London, I was told that I was being kept from progressing because I wasn’t as ‘happy and excited’ as I used to be. At the time I was suffering from anxiety due to certain life events, yet, at work I was performing better than ever. I felt so let down by the ignorance of my manager that I ended up deciding to leave, which was really sad. As individuals we should try to be better at understanding each other.

Tell us about a campaign/advert that made you angry.

I used to HATE the old Yorkie adverts. ‘It’s not for girls’ – it still makes me angry because I used to love Yorkie bars and I can’t think of a more ridiculous and offensive advertising campaign to upset an 11 year old Yorkie loving GIRL. I still used to eat them though, just to prove a point. If I had social media back in the day, I would have been tweeting them pictures of me eating my Yorkie bar.

Are there any soapy facts we don’t know about? Tell us the dirt!

I love soap facts, there are so many. Ok, my favourite is that ‘soap operas’ are named that because the earliest dramas from the 50s & 60s were sponsored by soap making companies. Everyone uses the phrase, but honestly, I bet hardly any millenials know why.

What are your three favourite smells?

Real Christmas trees, nuddy mango soap and petrol… (I’m just being honest)!

EDITOR: a lot of people say petrol, including REEK co-founder Molly, you crazy bitches. Maybe we need a blog post about that… 

What nuddy soap would be the biggest bitch?

Less bitter than your ex – FACT. That’s our Pink Grapefruit soap. I love the phrase. Sometimes you just gotta be a sassy bitch, right? I know my ex is bitter, and I’m pretty sure that everyone else can relate to that too.

Are you more of a witch or a bitch?

My dad has always called me and my mum witches, so I’m going to have to say witch. Although if needs be…

Follow nuddy on instagram or get your soapy fix HERE 


Alice Dyba Wise Words

PAINTING WISE WORDS

Artist Alice Dyba gives us her bitchy/witchy take on the female form and the importance of daydreaming with smells and spells.

Tell us about some women who inspired you.

I am inspired by wild, creative, free women. Ground breakers, artists and misfits. Punk rock goddesses, Silver Factory Superstars, Women who refused expectations in different times in this world…

June Miller, Frida Kahlo, Edie Sedgwick , Anita Pallenberg,Marianne Faithfull, Patti Smith, Alison Mosshart, Tracy Emin, Jemima Kirke… the list goes on!

How integral is body image to your art?

Body IS my art. Female form is present in pretty much all of my pieces. The nudes I am creating are the strongest. They have no clothes on but after one look you will know that they are queens of fucking everything. I LOVE painting women and got absolutely no desire to do anything else. Bodies in my art are distorted, skinny, crude … all those things, but that makes them perfect. I tend to play with female form, I capture the body in quite classical,academic way but then distort it with my natural need for strong lines, vibrant colours and a never-ending game with rules of anatomy. Some bones seem broken and limbs bend in unnatural ways which in the end feel right. There’s also a lot of movement involved so even though the subject matter may seem HEAVY and STRONG it gives it certain lightness… Think Courtney Love wearing pink fairy wings… That is the clash of heavy and light I’m talking about.

Which image you’ve created is your favourite?

Every new image is my favourite. Then I am done and I let it go freely to make other people feel. Whether it’s love or desire or horror or mixture of them all. I don’t cherish my work, I want to spread it around and if you decide to glue it to the wall like a concert poster I will be happy. I don’t make art to put away, I want it to live in different spaces, with different people. I adore the fact that most of my buyers are women. It gives me a feeling of complete accomplishment. There I am, celebrating the female form, with all these nudes but it’s not empty sexiness , created for some guy’s bedroom wall. It is for women who think it’s weird, beautiful, strong… That is what I am about.

As a female artist what are your biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge is the fact of just being female. There is very few women in history of art books. People I know from art schools are pretty much all dudes. So boring! The challenge for me, like many female artists, is to support each other against male domination in art world. Times are changing and I know that history of art books will be far more interesting in few years time. It’s so inspiring to see talented female artists online. It’s a complete explosion of uncompromising talent. From fine art to tattoo art.

What advice would you give yourself a year ago?

I would repeat like a mantra – Bitch, do not compare yourself with anyone. Ever. Be confident in what you are doing. You are talented and you got it. The future starts slow. You will get there.

More advice – you don’t need to be high or drunk to express yourself in art. Be healthy and strong, don’t try to be a Rolling Stone when you can be Alice Dyba.

Tell us about a beauty campaign that made you feel angry or ugly.

I don’t want to have anything to do with ‘beauty campaigns’. They are worthless. Fake promises, perfectly shaved legs advertising waxing products, porcelain skins and I’m here with my breakouts. NO. Thanks. Women should be saved from that bullshit, especially young ones who might believe it and strive for unrealistic goals. I want to see campaigns with women with body hair and tattoos, like myself. Otherwise go away. I think women should be shown an alternative approach to health and beauty. Natural ways/ingredients. There is so much out there but we are bombarded with fake stuff. I want to go back to oils and herbs. I always try to share my knowledge with other women. If something worked for me it might work for you and it’s not made with half of Mendeleev’s periodic table. We all need some hemp oil in our lives right?

What smell sums you up best?

POWERFUL, STRONG, ORIGINAL, MYSTERIOUS, RAW, REEK. Smell is so important to me. I am low maintenance as hell but I am not leaving my house without a bottle of perfume. Smells help me in my daydreaming and going back in time. It’s magic. It’s incredible how one perfume can smell different on each person. Fascinating chemistry! I always put perfume on before I leave the house in the morning, it’s a ritual, a sort of a spell that can keep all the bad stuff away. It makes me feel strong, confident and complete.

Are you a bitch or a witch?

Although I’ve been called a BITCH many times I am definitely more of a WITCH. I’ve hidden some good spells in my paintings. See for yourself.

See Alice’s work here


Page, stage and poetry

PAGE, STAGE & POETRY

Iona Lee casts her poetic magic over us. From page, stage and poetry Iona tells us about the importance to hold the door open for the ones coming behind …  poems are spells.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Iona Lee and I am a poet, performer and illustrator raised on the beaches of East Lothian. I live in Glasgow with my pet rat Egon. I fell into the spoken word scene as a 17 year old, and it has gradually taken over my life ever since. I enjoy old pubs, new notebooks, Indian ink, Angela Carter and wild swimming. I have a pamphlet out with Polygon and I front a band called Acolyte.  

Was there a particular moment that inspired you to get into poetry?

Not quite a moment, more a culmination of many. I have been writing short stories and poems since I was wee. I cherished being read to and spent my formative years around performers, actors and theatre-makers so I have always adored stories and the many ways they can be told. I remember a storyteller with a clarsach coming to my school; she bewitched us.

The work of a performance poet oscillates. You have to be good at spending long periods of time alone, and then you also have to be outgoing and sociable, good at taking control in loud bars and venues. I think that my personality suits those two extremes and so while I accidentally fell into spoken word as an art form, I am realising with time that it is the perfect art form for me.

What issues do women face in your industry?

There are – roughly – two camps in the poetry world and you can live in both or focus more on one or the other. We call them ‘page’ and ‘stage’. The two are inextricably linked, but while they are related there are definite differences. Stage poetry has fewer gatekeepers, it has a more DIY feel (you could technically set up a spoken word night wherever you wanted) and so there are more marginalised voices. The ‘published poet’ looks more like the typical archetype of the older white man, though there are loads of small presses out there doing amazing work on poetic equality. As with all things, gender in poetry is an intersectional issue.

As a female performer your sexual attractiveness and your age, your class and your accent, your race and your confidence all feed in to whether people want to listen to your stories or not. It is important to hold the door open for the ones coming behind, and to remember the generations of women before who held the door open for you.

Tell us about a campaign/advert that made you angry.

I feel cynical about most campaigns. Someone in a smoking area in a pub once told me ‘there aren’t countries anymore, there are companies’, and while that is a simplistic statement it has stuck with me. The grey area where feminism and capitalism meet is filled with insidious facts. Did you know, for example, that Dove (love yourself girls, you are all beautiful, look, this woman has a back roll!) and Lynx (women with airbrushed bodies and bouncing tits running at entirely mediocre men) are owned by the same company, Unilever?

What message would you put on our on our sticky bitches? (gender equality stickers, free on our site worldwide)

I am in touch with my inner labia.
*Brilliant, REEK agrees this should be on a sticker. 

What’s your favourite word at the moment?

Ancient

What are your three favourite smells?

Blown out candles, damp forests and swimming pools.

Are you more of a witch or a bitch? 

A witch; poems are spells, and anyway I care far too much about what people think of me to be a bitch.

 


Scottish Feminist Judgements Project

SCOTTISH FEMINIST

JUDGMENTS PROJECT

100 years ago the suffragettes changed the law but how does the law work for women these days? We spoke to the crusading bitches at the Scottish Feminist Judgments Project looking into exactly that…

Tell us about your project and where it came from?

This project follows in the footsteps of other Feminist Judgments Projects, inspired by a Canadian initiative – the Women’s Court of Canada – that published feminist re-writings of key court decisions. By the time we joined the party, there had already been projects in England & Wales, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland & Northern Ireland; and projects have now begun in India, America and Africa –  it really is a global phenomenon.

What surprised you most – something you didn’t expect that came out of Scottish Feminist Judgments Project?

It’s been full of little surprises. It was a surprise that we were able to convince a group of legal academics to take part in a theatre workshop where we role-played the voices inside a judge’s head (!) but one of the biggest surprises has been the momentum of the project’s creative strand. We always knew we wanted to move beyond a textual engagement with judgments and the judging process, but none of us foresaw how big that would become. We were lucky that our exceptionally energetic and talented creative co-ordinator, Jill, came on board to manage that part of the project. We have just held an exhibition at the Scottish Parliament, and it’s been gratifying, if not exactly surprising, to see how many MSPs were drawn in by the work and willing to talk about the project. We’re hoping to roll out more creative engagement activities in public exhibitions – so fingers crossed for more surprises to come.

How are your emerging conclusions about Scotland’s system of justice comparing with those of similar projects from around the world?

Like many other places in the world, Scotland has areas of law and policy that are worrying from a feminist perspective. What is distinctive about Scotland, though, is the way the legal and political have come together over time in the construction of national identity. We explore this further in the book that is coming out next year, which contains all our re-written feminist judgments, as well as commentaries from legal and other experts, such as Rape Crisis and the Scottish Trans Alliance. Another idea we explore is that, historically, Scots law had a certain flexibility built-in that allows judges more discretion than they might otherwise have. One of the things we want to show in this project is that we need to question who is exercising this discretion and who it benefits. What we’re doing  doesn’t only show gender ‘blind spots’, it shows how dominant and powerful voices can marginalize and oppress people in all sorts of ways, whether on the grounds of their ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, gender identity, or class.

Why was it so important to combine the views of the academics involved with the project with the contributions of creatives?

Art has a universal appeal. Even though the art world can be as elite and inaccessible as academia, there aren’t the same barriers to understanding: everyone can have an opinion. It’s visceral. As we’ve said, there was an appetite in the group to move beyond textual engagement and because art has a democratising effect, we felt its inclusion would result in a more varied, and in some senses more meaningful, engagement. Art speaks in a different language to law so hopefully by using these different languages we can reach more people and find out as much as we can about their understanding and experience of law.

What is the place of activism within the law?

One of the things that lies at the heart of a feminist approach to law is rejecting the idea that law is a detached, objective and coherent system of rules that we can apply to any particular case. Law is deeply political, and the politics it tends to support often reinforce women’s exclusion or disadvantage relative to men. Every area of law is different, every case is unique and some areas of law are more progressive than others, but we think the place of activism is to highlight law’s blind-spots, challenge its partiality, and expose its impact in the daily reality of women’s diverse lives. There are always limits to law. Frequently, the laws  in the statute books are not where the problem really lies. It’s about how those laws are applied (or not) in concrete cases, but also in the social structures and systems that empower women to access those laws. To think that law alone can solve the ‘gender’ problem would be naïve. Law holds a lot of power and sends a signal about what we as a society consider important, so activism – and art – has to engage with it. But also art and activism can provide other spaces, outside of law, to make visible and challenge power and injustice, in ways that are not constrained by the legal system’s rules and concepts.

If you could pick one thing to improve the situation, what would it be?

It might seem that the obvious answer here would be more women judges – and that is important for all sorts of reasons, not least ensuring a more diverse range of role models. But as history has shown, having women in positions of power does not necessarily ensure feminist progress (sometimes far from it!). A diversity of experiences in interpreting the law is crucial, but so is being able to empathise with the perspectives of others who may be different from you. In other words (as one of our feminist judges put it), whereas law tends to ‘see’ disputes as snapshots – a moment frozen in time – justice requires that we see these disputes like scenes in a movie – part of an ongoing rich story that requires context and human engagement to make any sense.

Who are the women who have shaped/inspired you?

Jill: Jo Brand, Joanna Scanlan and Vicki Pepperdine for writing one of my favourite ‘comedies’ “Getting On”. Louise Bourgeois for being a seminal artist who firmly attested that emotional responses in her work (and in general) were not gendered. Louise Wilson for being the most inspiring (and terrifying) arts educator the UK has ever known – I always wish I’d been taught by her.

 

Chloë: Sophia Jex-Blake, the protagonist in the case I am re-writing for the project. Jex-Blake faced a huge amount of bullshit in her attempts to get access to the medical profession and she didn’t let it crush her. She kept pushing back.

Vanessa: So this is a tricky one – the list could be endless. But if it is not too cheesy, I am going to say my little girl, Ailidh. She is 4 years old. She is brilliantly feisty. She speaks her mind freely and without filter; she is brimming full of confidence that she can achieve anything she puts her mind to; and she questions claims to authority on a regular basis. As her mum, that has its challenges sometimes (!), but it is a spirit I want to make sure she holds on to as she grows, and that inspires me daily.  

Sharon: I want to say my granny because she was a character and smart, joyful, funny and resourceful even though she had no education and no money, and took no bullshit, especially from men! I was really inspired by Patricia Williams, a US critical race scholar who was told her writing was too personal to be academic and that if she published it she would be perceived as ‘unstable’. There are too many personal and political influences to list here, but I’m pretty blown away by my fellow feminist judgments project damn rebel bitches!

What are your favourite smells and why?

Chloë: I am not saying I’d wear it as a perfume, but one of my favourite smells is petrol. Not sure why exactly!

Sharon: I think for me, it is the smell of fresh toast, or that gorgeous rich earthy smell you get when it rains for the first time in ages. And tequila.

Vanessa: So, it has to be the smell of the sea, especially on a blustery day; or failing that pipe tobacco.

Jill: Spray paint. Damp (particularly in box rooms, attics and old books). Jasmine.

What do you think makes a DAMN REBEL BITCH?

A mirror. Not just because it neatly ties into the theme of Jill’s artwork… but because every woman who looks at her own reflection is looking at a Damn Rebel Bitch. Rebellion can be dramatic, loud and merciless, systematic, organised and conformist or quiet, personal and private. Because of the societal expectations placed on *all* women (many of which we subconsciously internalise), even questioning your identity and place in the world is an act of rebellion. We’re all Damn Rebel Bitches.

How can people get involved?

Come to the shows! You can see our events here. We have one coming up in February at Southblock in Glasgow – we want to pick your brains and will have lots of creative engagement activities to take part in. Other than that, follow us on twitter @Scottishfemjp – your digital support means so much…. And smash patriarchy every chance you get – obvs.

Learn more about the Scottish Feminist Judgements Project on their website & join in the conversation on twitter and their sister projects in Ireland, India & America.


BUTTER & PERFUME

Queen Midas of Vermont: Gardener’s Glove,

First Cut & Frost by St.Clair Perfumes

Brilliant bitch and scent writer, the Silver Fox, on the debut of American perfumer, Diane St Clair and the beauty of her process. From butter to perfume, get ready for a smelly treat… 

As a scent writer one of the main reasons I gravitate toward niche and artisanal perfumery is that the makers, creators and artist perfumers are born to tell stories. Theirs is a different route to scent as opposed to those who enrol for perfume school and courses, inhaling their way through the exacting tenets of commercial perfumery. There is of course nothing wrong with this route and the olfactive world would be a poorer place without the dedication and determination of each new generation of perfumers trained immaculately with access to the world’s top materials courtesy of connections made as they worked their way through thousands of odours, both natural and synthetic.

I have been writing for many years now on perfume, the allure, oddities, passions and revulsions of olfaction and the remarkable people who dwell in this odd and sometimes infuriating world. Artisanal perfume makers create from the ground up. Selecting raw materials, blending, compounding, bottling and selling it; some stock sent off to selected and trusted distributors around the world. These makers are people who are instinctually gifted, raw talent that hones itself against a critical world with home-schooled gut instinct and repetitive trial and error. Some people can move a pencil across a sheet of paper, but they are hardly artists. Others can sway to pop music’s insistent beats, but principal dancers in a ballet company they are not. There must be vital fire, a natural creativity that makes such people curious and restless.

Many of my favourite artisanal perfumers are naturally gifted in other ways. Mandy Aftel, the Artisan Godmother was a weaver when she first moved to San Francisco, making her own natural dyes for yarns and she also trained as a successful therapist; these two facets of Mandy, creatrix and nurturer are still at the heart of how she conducts herself in the world of perfumery.  Her generosity and kindness are legendary. Hans Hendley is a photographer, David Moltz and his wife Kavi of D.S.& Durga are musician and architect respectively. Antonio Gardoni is an architect and designer, Dannielle Sergeant, John Biebel, Bruno Fazzolari and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz are all painters, Carlos Huber, the Director/Perfumer of Arquiste trained as an architectural historian and Paul Schütze… well, the man is a polymath with a quiver of many arrows; composer, photographer and of course composer of unique perfumes that resonate like his soundscapes and eerie electronica. Ellen Covey of Olympic Perfumes is not only an award-winning perfumer but also an expert orchid cultivator and world-renowned expert in bat echolocation informatics that was useful when she created Bat for Victor Wong’s Zoologist perfumes. Vincent Micotti at Ys Uzac was a concert-playing cellist before he embarked on his journey of musically inspired compositions. These are people who create; from ground to sky, hands stained with fretful failure, crafted elation and the beauty of personal endeavour.

Now I add the extraordinary Diane St Clair to my list of love.  She is a dairy farmer in Orwell, Vermont down on Animal Farm (yep…) Her gorgeous cows are the soft grass-fed Jersey kind, those beautiful perfect cow-cows that you picture as a child, caramel brown, big eyes and remarkable lashes. It seems somehow wrong to refer to Diane’s cows as a herd, they number only ten or eleven, so I think family is somehow more appropriate.  The butter she makes is literally like gold and despite her quiet Orwellian existence; it caused a sensation in the competitive, high-octane haute cuisine world of American top-tier eating.  Now she is composing exquisite, atmospheric perfumes reflective of herself and the world she inhabits.

She posted a picture on Instagram recently of her alluring butter and the bismuth hue vibrated with intensity. It looked more like colour pigment, linseed oil and yellow powder folded together. A decade ago Diane decided to learn how to turn buttermilk into butter the homestead way, with hard work and studious attention to detail, each part of the process with her hands on it, her nose in the milk as it were, sniffing the cow, grass and Vermont terroir that she loves so much

My interest in Diane was originally piqued by an insightful two-part essay by my friend Kafka for their blog and I urge you to read it, examining as it does Diane’s bold yet somehow understandably vivid urge to explore the full range of her terroir senses. Kafka’s scrupulous examination of the St.Clair perfumes is important in terms of how this experienced writer places Diane’s’ debut creations in the artisanal spectrum. The critique made me hungry to smell Vermont grass, thorny pollen-soaked air and rubbed leaf ambience.

Cows, butter, perfume.  Intrigued yet? Such an arc of ambrosial ambition.  The words seem simple and evocative, tugging at whatever associations we have with them roaming in our recall. But all three things in the heart, hands and mind of Diane St Clair make rich, redolent sense.

The school bus yellow of Diane’s celebrated butter is quite astonishing: a result of the rich creamy milk she is given by the Jersey cows that she loves and cares for. I asked her about the colour and she told me that the Channel Island breeds process the carotene in the grass differently from other bovines. On pasture, this translates into the sunflower yellow hue and also according to Diane a taste and whiff of seasonality. In the summer months the cows’ lush greener diet imparts a sweeter verdancy and herbaceous mouthfeel to the butter and the dry hay in the winter-feed ramps up the buttermilk content resulting in a more luxurious creamy taste. Butter that tastes of love and shifting seasons.

There is inherently a sense of uxorious unease with butter; its very animalic nature and love/hate relationship with food-lovers and diet gurus make it a sensual and forbidden substance- spreading it like molten gold over freshly cut sourdough, moist Russian rye and wrenched steaming baguette.  Oil is oil; butter is decadence.

There is a sense of wonder in what Diane does; her immersion in terroir: grass, hay, earth, rain, starlight, sunlove, her soft beloved cows, their husbandry, midwifery… their heat, colour and comfort. All of this is folded and creamed into moreish gold.

Diane hand-works her butter on marble like patisserie chefs turn pastry and chocolatiers temper chocolate; this allows her to work the fats and I suspect gives her another level of connection with the processes that matters so much to her. As well as being the colour of gold Diane’s butter has the culinary status of the precious metal. Early on she sent a hand-written note to the celebrated American chef Thomas Keller along with some of her butter – a quarter pound round, packed in a plain transparent Ziploc bag. To say he was impressed is probably understating his reaction and even now his legendary French Laundry restaurant in the Napa Valley is one of the few places where you can taste Orwell Farm butter.  Keller owns Per Se, Bouchon and Ad Hoc along with French Laundry and he was the first US chef to hold multiple three star ratings in the Michelin Guide.  In 2011 he was the first male US chef to be made a Chevalier Légion D’Honneur for his commitment and upholding of French traditions of cooking in American cuisine. He greedily (but understandably) buys nearly all of Diane’s butter with small amounts going to a couple of other blessed chefs and any leftovers or glut butter being sold along with the buttermilk at Middleburgh Natural Co-op near the farm and Saxelby Cheesemongers in NYC.

Happily for the process, the quality of her product and the welfare of her cows, Diane has resolutely resisted any obvious opportunity for expansion and more money. She is committed also to the artisan quality of her perfume process – her senses tuned to the Vermont surroundings. It seems on the surface an enviable work/life balance but I get the feeling it is has been hard fought and while the idyllic nature of pioneer-style butter making and cow devotion looks alluring, her dedication and single-mindedness has been gnarly and sleepless.  

Writing about these St Clair perfumes during an intensely fraught period of convalescence has been the most beautiful escape. I sense the perfumes’ slipstream in the air, graze fingertips through grass, and inhale air redolent with pollen and the mote-drunk air of seasonal variance. There is such immediacy and personal welcome in Diane’s perfumery, her notes, accords and blending are more akin to well-written words, pulling you into a bucolic fiction of Thomas Hardy landscapes. This mix of expanse and privacy is a key part of the sensual appeal of the St Clair scents as if Diane has an unspoken hesitancy about her skills while at the same time knowing that her compositions have instinctual memoir.

The move from butter into perfume is not as strange as it might at first seem, Diane carries her detailed preoccupation and awareness of her surroundings into acutely observed olfactive impressions of Animal Farm and its shifting seasons.  I sense an inquisitive spirit in her, someone who is aware on many levels of the odours around her and how they might fit together to create immersive scentscapes. Lots of us might feel we notice things, smell the air and flora, take in the hidebound ripeness of animals and imagine these things casting the spell of a blissful rural wander. But few of us set out to truly capture them.

Diane very kindly sent me samples of all three perfumes, but I ended up buying them, I realised I needed them in my collection. The samples were dabbers and I wanted to spray as liberally as my mood required. The mix of air and perfume in atomisers is always preferable to me unless the concentrations of essential oil suggest otherwise. The difference in atmospherics was subtle but different enough to create shifts of Vermont weather on the skin.  You also get a true sense of how richly botanical these perfumes are and the careful balancing act that Diane has achieved between surging horticulture and quiet contemplation.

As the perfume bug bit, Diane realised she would need help. She approached olfaction in much the same way as butter, small batches of excellently made product, created using the finest natural ingredients.  Diane attended a workshop held by Grasse-trained perfumer Eliza Douglas who splits her time between the UK and New York where she works for DreamAir, the highly regarded and innovative fragrance factory founded by Christophe Laudamiel, one of the most fascinating and original scented voices in the business today. With some of the industry’s big hits under his punkish belt (like A&F’s Fierce and Polo Blue…) he finds oddness in seemingly mundane accords, surrealism in the ordinary. The perfumes he created for Strangelove NYC are magical lavish constructions of carefully considered materials that both harmonise and sing along. His debut collection The Zoo is startling, each perfume loaded with dazzle and addictive intrigue. I am obsessed with Scent Tattoo, a post-coital sandalwood and leather scent that glistens and refracts like petrol spills.  The name has a brilliant double reference: scent akin to ink patterned, swirled and traced onto skin and also the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the dizzying annual spectacle of Christophe’s beloved tartan, musical ceremony and military tradition that unfurls on the dramatic esplanade beneath Edinburgh Castle each night in August.

Eliza agreed to work and communicate with Diane, thus becoming a valued mentor, teacher and friend.  Trials, accords and hope travelled back and forth between Orwell and New York and slowly but surely Diane painted her world into a detailed and beautiful trio of perfumes.  Christophe has also helped, sampling her work and making suggestions. His payment? Diane’s delicious butter of course. He is French after all. He even visited her in Vermont and was very taken with the beauteous Jersey cows. This invaluable assistance has helped Diane hugely on her journey as a perfumer, working her way through the technical challenges of olfactive assembly and the difficulties of building accords that would hold together and help her ideas bloom.  Frost, Gardener’s Glove and First Cut are the work of a woman entranced by her environment, learning as she inhales, pulling ideas from soil, air, water and sky. They are learning scents, but the curve is divine.

Quiet is the new black.  The conception of hushed perfumery and its private harmony with skin is truly to be prized.  Bombast and targeted pomp despite selling well in some markets is ultimately unfulfilling and generic. As I have withdrawn from the world my search for authenticity in many things become paramount, including fragrance. This doesn’t mean organic or necessarily 100% natural but it does mean personal, properly artisanal makers in touch with their materials from inception to wearer.

When you work with naturals there will always be a concern that the resulting perfumery is more hushed in comparison to more conventional fragrance or the feral radiation of ouds or dessert tables groaning with gourmand excess.  Each to their own and my collection is no stranger to excess, but perfumers like Hiram Green, Rodney Hughes at Therapeutate and Tanja Bochnig at April Aromatics are using measured stillness and elemental power to explore the minutiae of environment and mood. We pause and walk their worlds, taking care to absorb the scentscapes. Diane St Clair’s terroir perfumes are the perfect embodiment of this style.

Now, onto the perfumes themselves. There is a gleeful rush of smashed jasmine in the opening of Gardener’s Glove, mixed with the green yeastiness of linden and divisive curves of waxen lilies. It is quite the start. A smartly arranged trio of apricot, saffron and enigmatic bittersweet lemon underplays the floral opening as it settles into a muted yet arresting pollen mood. This is pungently shot through with the gourmand familiarity of blackcurrant bud, deliciously tea-like, heightening the sense of garden and meadow harvest, broken stem and trodden leaf.

The concept of Gardener’s Glove is beautiful. Garden tools and paraphernalia gather gradual soul with the accruement of dirt and decay, the rubbed, snapped history of hedgerows, borders, orchards, meadows, flowerbeds, fields and woods. And there are the evocative delights of spades, trugs, secateurs, trowels and twine, bamboo, flowerpots, seed trays, kneelers and wheelbarrows. These objects, much used and well loved, they smell and feel potent with age, dust and blooms crushed across iron, wood and leather.  I’m aware that many of us don’t have access to working gardens, something that makes my heart ache as I age. Daily wanders through the Royal Botanic Gardens assuage the longing, but not quite enough.

Diane has conjured up this extraordinary concept of a gardener’s glove. I think the singular glove subconsciously is an important part of the fiction, something elegantly familiar, used over and over in a semi-feral garden drenched in bees. The leather of the glove has been healed with waxes over the years and these have absorbed the shed, porch, greenhouse and pull of leaf, berry, thorn and rain-soaked petal. Earth and chlorophyll stain the map of unfurled cracks that over time have moulded into the malleable palm.

One of the things you notice with all three St.Clair perfumes is the big naturalistic embrace of the openings, Diane imprinting the details of terroir upon us. While you are being seduced by the notes on skin you realise the diffusion of Vermont mood into the air around you. I think this frisson of weather turning, arresting us, only really comes with artisanal perfumers and the way their souls seep into the essence of their work.

Spraying Gardener’s Glove creates a rush of abandoned greenhouse, the air has a slightly different weight in my nose, and the texture somehow smells brighter, more sparkled. I get lost in meadow notes, cut grass and the odour of whispering flora. Diane has used leather and saffron to suggest the body of the glove, bolstered by a delicate use of patchouli, benzoin resin and a distinctive rice-like vetiver.  Some wicked, mucky castoreum (a synthetic form of beaver musk) and smoky fir needle add eccentricity and fleshiness to the layers of grasses, resins and citrus. This glove has rubs of intense jasmine, the blossoms leaving giddy impact on the leather. Perhaps a little soapy on the flooded nose, but then increasingly joyful and alive. No matter what else they gather, the ghost of these sensual blooms will haunt the glove like persistent enfleurage.

Each occasion of wearing affords new and subtle pleasures. The sensation of wearing nature in its tactile hazy summer residue way is at times quite moving. In the wrecked garden of the family home that my parents sold in the wake of a deeply unsettling and often bitter divorce were the remains of a Victorian coach house. In front of this was a sullen mossy greenhouse where I have blurred recollections of dissolvable seed trays and the sharp lemon-green finger sniff of tomato plants. Many of my home memories have been tainted by the rendering of a forty-five year marriage, but that top corner of the garden remains a heady recollection of linden, elderflower and decay, mingled with the abandonment of tomato plants, fractured glass and weary aluminium.  There were feral fruit trees and a mossy stone bench that had collapsed like an ancient henge. These memories were lured into life again by the dizzying, close capture of Diane’s perfume work.

They say the first cut is the deepest. Diane’s First Cut is certainly an olfactory incision of sorts in air, on skin, of some arresting beauty; the chafed herbiness of basil and rosemary initially rich, buoyed up by the honeyed pressure of a lovely rose. The effect is of early morning light in a still, warm kitchen.  Over the years of writing I have developed a reserved preoccupation with immortelle, its gorsy cicada warmth adds a sense of stillness to the opening weather of First Cut, working beautifully as the top notes mellow the yuzu fruit, its expressive facets oscillating between grapefruit, litsea cubeba and mimosa. This beautifully made start flickers and floats on card as a cold, cold hay note rises; not a tobacco, coumarin exhalation as I might have expected but the olfactive vision of a worn Shaker table scattered with fresh straw, low light, as evening falls.

It is of course skin that causes revelation and Diane’s work is no exception. First Cut is more intensely abstract and cohesive on flesh, the elements harder to read. On card it is easier to track and recognise materials but on skin, as it should be, it becomes more elusive, yet all the more fascinating. It is here that the golden-sweet hay St. Clair leitmotif stains First Cut in the most addictive way.

During the preternaturally hot weather that sulked over the city and most of Europe in June and July, First Cut felt like the most divine stint of rehab; lost in a green-thrashed floral bower, light filtering through layers of chlorophyll-rich leaves and shrubby air. A lemon tree sweats a citric mood into your recovery and lavender, roses and the lovely dry barkiness of oakmoss catches on the edges of a thousand imagined sensual throats. I really love the hay absolute Diane has used; it’s a hard note to control, small doses often dissipate and leave an uncomfortable space, but calibrated correctly and blended with imagination, hay absolute brings beautiful atmosphere and warmth to compositions.

I generally rise early but this summer I was getting up at five am to work in the residue of any night coolness before the hammer blow of the heatwave fell. With repeated wearings I’ve realised it is the entwining of rose and immortelle in First Cut, a kind of buzzing ochre-smeared madder that transmits blond pipe tobacco on skin.  In the mornings this odour utterly delights me and right now, calms the fuck out of a weary fox. As the tobacco forages skin it aids the gentle development of smoke and a grassy vanilla. The kitchen-rubbed basil and rosemary don’t completely fade but sink into the base like piquant culinary memory.

If I had to choose one of Diane’s trio that felt somehow different, it would be Frost, inspired by Robert Frost’s poem To Earthward, it is a little more insistent with a mood and reach that points to future direction and thought processes. It is the strongest of the three or at least the one from bottle to skin with the most powerful flesh bounce and echo.

It is also the part of the trilogy I have taken longest to love but that love has deepened to something akin to obsession. When you first hear the name Frost it will settle in your psyche depending on how you hear the word and your associations with it. For most of us this will be chill, cold, Jack Frost, first frost, hoarfrost and gardens veiled wedding white as dawn breaks on gelid petals, stalks and blooms. Intriguingly there is none of this in Frost, but those of who read poetry, especially American poetry will hopefully think of Robert Frost, nature poet par excellence whose emotive words profoundly shaped how America has considered its rural environs, listened to its skies and inhaled its weather. In times of bleak shadow I have often picked up my collected poems and lost myself in Frost’s revelatory natural minutiae of the human condition. I had to re-purchase my copy of his Collected Poems after lending mine to someone who lost it. (LOST IT! Don’t lend books people. Your heart will always be broken.)

Reading Frost’s poems again chronologically, I felt the power of his connections to land and spirit swell, falter, crack and mend. His words remind me that perfection is impossible and chasing it is sad folly. To Earthward, from Frost’s 1923 collection New Hampshire that also includes Nothing Gold Can Stay, and Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening is an eight-stanza poem that celebrates a journey of loving; the first four verses look at that intoxicating first flush of passion when anything seems possible. Love renders us immortal, senses alive to everything around us and we cannot imagine how it could ever come to an end.  The second darker, more rooted half explores the shadows of reality creeping over the light of love. Difficulty, struggle, smoke, amertume, weariness. Time marks us. The ceilidh of infatuation and first crush fades. Love is grounded.

To Earthward is not a particularly easy poem to open, but poetry like with many things in life, interpretation is subjective and often dependent on personal experience. I personally never quite forget the power of reading new poems, discovering new poets and feeling their words and rhythms blow through my mind like squalls of unexpected weather.

It was delightful to discover a poetic homage to Frost, tipping an olfactive hat to the poet’s understanding of American flora and fauna. Love as flower, love as trees, spice, petal and ground. To Earthward breaks the back of sadness and exposes the burial of love after a lifetime of shared intimate detail.  There are key natural motifs in the poem, redolent images that echo the shifting schematics of giddy all-consuming first love to the charred aromas of endings.

Frost is a noticeably stronger perfume than either First Cut or Gardener’s Glove and its initial overture is divine, a scent of Christmas homemade pomanders; mandarins studded patiently in cloves and then rolled in orris powder and left in a dry, dark place to desiccate slowly. The orris adds its own alluring odour of powdered mystery. My mother used to make these, inspired in part by Eleanor Farjeon’s poem The Clove Orange.

I’ll make a clove orange to give to my darling.

The mix of clove absolute in the base, Meyer lemon, bergamot, mandarin and woody sweet petitgrain is the most perfect rendition of freshly made pomander, the fruits sticky and dusty with labour, lined up on a juice scattered table top.  It is a persuasive start and this pomander note drifts like a heritage phantom throughout Frost’s journey on skin. It becomes less clovey as Diane replaces its sweet spiked spice with a moody smokiness in the final stages to remind us that love and the fumes of passion are essentially ephemeral concepts.

‘Now no joy but lacks salt,

That is not doused in pain

And weariness and fault;

I crave the stain

Of tears, the aftermark

Of almost too much love,

The sweet of bitter bark

And burning clove.’

If you read this out loud savouring the taste of the words in your mouth, you can smell the odours; an aftermark of woody bark and the madder-mist of clove. (The word aftermark makes me sigh with joy). The aftermark of Frost on skin, the shadows of materials lingering like past conversations in empty rooms is why I find this particular perfume so compelling. Diane has in some respects used To Earthward like a recipe, words handed down from mother to daughter, and perhaps over the years women have scribbled notes on the page. But Frost is more than this, Diane, like Frost is profoundly influenced by her surroundings and the Vermont terroir.  

Frost’s ‘…sprays of honeysuckle, That when they’re gathered shake, Dew on the knuckle.’ are given soft luminosity by the Stil de grain yellow accord that Diane surrounds with rose geranium and elderflower absolute with its lovely chocolate-dipped apricot nuances. The vividness of Frost’s ephemeral wet words is quite visceral in its olfactive rendering. When I worked in perfumery I was asked many times for sweet peas and honeysuckle, two blooms deemed as old-fashioned and unextractable. Things have moved on considerably in terms of technical applications and creativity but ultimately it is still the instinctive skill of the perfumer that allows us to experience such flowers.

The gift, or trick if you want to be churlish, is to balance the fleeting knowability of such blooms yet also impress upon us their beauty and classicism. Poets use economy and huge emotional resonance in their arsenal to move, enrage, romance, shock and awe us. The perfumer must do something similar, creating from a palette of natural materials in Diane’s case to illuminate, hopefully prompting us to inhale and momentarily conjure memories of fragile and elusive flowers.

The nostalgic paroxysm of honeysuckle, a lipstick blur of rose geranium, grass, the earth beneath us, air, grapevines and musks; these things move like weather through To Earthward as the love rises and falls to the soil, grounded by the weight of time and perhaps our own expectations of desire. Love is in the details, the minutiae of time spent together and eventually the drydown of our lives is both humbling and scented with relief, honeysuckle and the beautiful drift of smoke, clove and setting sun.

This essay has taken me months to write, Diane St Clair’s debut trio deserved this attention and intense scrutiny. They made me think a lot. I have chatted back and forth to Diane and she has been immensely kind and generous with her time. It is not telling tales to say she questions this olfactive shift in her life, immersed in the brutal delicacy of perfumery as she creates her treasured golden butter and mothers her creamy, dreamy Jersey cows.  She wonders if her work is perhaps too quiet for an olfactive world preoccupied with money, blatant trends and repetition. But as with modern cities and banal architecture there will always be delicate flowers and verdancy that peek through paving, split facings and commuter pathways. These things are all the more beautiful and valued because of their rarity and unexpected loveliness.

I search now for quietude in my life but I still want moments of intensity and difference; these don’t have to be accompanied by flashing lights and booming aromatic pomp. The fact that Diane St Clair has thought to move her considerable skills sideways from conscientious animal husbandry and artisanal butter making into the often divisive and highly competitive perfume world makes me feel at once passionately supportive and fearful. Niche is on it knees and mainstream scent is running on wearisome empty. True innovation or a natural awareness of real beauty is rare. There is a lot of talk of finely sourced materials, as if these will transmute mediocre visions and skill sets into perfume gold.

Each wearing of Gardner’s Glove, First Cut and Frost reminds me why I love artisanal scent and the world of creative olfaction but also poignantly why I chose to stop being a part of it, halting more regular essays and my social media presence, withdrawing into a world of floral photography and botany.  The words flow slower, my mind focuses a little less, burned out I guess by disaffection. But then Vermont weather dawns, my skins smells of meadows in sunlight, grass pollen and peaceful woodland. Flowers sigh, insects hum and I say to myself…Diane St Clair thank you for slowing time a little, creating perfumes of such personal resonance and grace.

Read more from The Silver Fox here.


Sexual Health with SH:24

SEXUAL HEALTH WITH SH:24

SH:24 are helping to make sexual health more accessible from HIV testing to contraceptive information. We speak to one of the team members Linnéa about what started this innovative project… 

Tell us about SH:24 and what you do?

SH:24 is a London-based online sexual and reproductive health service. We provide free home STI testing in partnership with the NHS, free oral contraception sent to your home (available in Southwark and Lambeth), and support from clinicians via web-chat, phone and text. I am the creative content designer, so I make  illustrations for instructions and leaflets and manage and curate our Instagram account @sh24_nhs. My day to day work life is spent researching and planning posts and campaigns, and drawing occasional genitalia! 

How did the organisation come about?

In England, there have been large governmental budget cuts to sexual health services which means clinics are under a lot of pressure and severely oversubscribed, and many people are turned away due to lack of capacity. SH:24 came about as a way for people not experiencing symptoms to get regular testing without having to go to clinic. This frees up capacity in clinics to deal with more complex cases. We are part of an integrative service with clinics, which means we work together to offer sexual health and contraceptive support to a larger number of people, rather than replace clinics.

What do you see as one of the main issues people ignore about sexual health in the UK?

There is a lot of stigma attached to sexual health, and I think a big problem is the way we ignore the impact this has on people accessing sexual health services. Public health campaigns often use fear-mongering as a way to get people to take charge of their sexual health and access services, which I don’t think works and only feeds feelings of shame. It’s important to see sexual health as part of your general health, just as you would regularly go for check-ups at the dentist or GP. Anyone can get an STI, and it’s important the we work towards de-stigmatising STIs as a way to get more people to take responsibility for their own health. I think many people also ignore the impact that stigma and shame has on their actions – I can definitely say I used to be like that! Before working here I had only done a STI test once even though I was sexually active, and I was too scared of going to a clinic for fear of being judged.

How can people get involved with SH:24?

Join our new contraceptive forum – it’s about bringing together clinical expertise and user experiences, so that people considering their options for contraception can get a nuanced view of the pros and cons about different methods by reading other people’s experiences and having accurate medical information. It’s a place where contraceptive users (of any gender) and clinical staff can meet to support each other and answer questions around contraception. This part of our service is still being developed so we would love feedback from users!

You can also follow us on Instagram. I love hearing from people on Instagram,so whether you’re a service user who wants to share your experience of using SH:24 or a sex educator looking to collaborate on a campaign, get in touch!

Is there a service you find people aren’t aware that SH:24 provides?

We are working on expanding our contraceptive services, and besides the above mentioned forum, we also offer contraceptive advice via web-chat with a clinician.

Another service people aren’t always aware of is that if you test positive for as STI you have the option of opting in for partner notification, which means we will text any current or previous sexual partners that might have been exposed, so they can get tested. The notification is anonymous so there is nothing should be nothing in it that links back to you.

Tell us a campaign or movement that is close to your heart and why?

I love HERO and GMFA’s recent campaign “I test for: Me. Him. Us.”. The campaign, developed by and for BAME gay and bisexual men, aimed to increase HIV testing but also address the lack of representation of BAME queer men in public health campaigns. As Marc Thompson from BlackOutUK, an advisor on the campaign, put it: “The lack of visibility of men from black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities in sexual health promotion has been well documented as having an impact on BAME men’s sexual health and risk taking, which ultimately plays a role in the disproportionate rates of HIV infection in this population.”

I love the positive message of the campaign. The images are of loving, caring, black queer relationships, without the common stereotype of hyper-sexualisation, and positions HIV testing as a natural part of a healthy relationship. It shows HIV testing as an act of caring, for yourself and for others. Positive accurate representation is so important in determining if people feel included and engaged in public health, and I really believe this approach is an important step towards changing people’s attitudes and eradicating sexual health stigma!

Visit the SH:24 website for more information… 


WITCH HUNTING

WITCH HUNTING

Suzy Nightingale writes about the late night,  cabinet of curiosities event about the witch hunts at the National Archives in Kew.

Poisonous gossip accusing women of witchery, the mysterious scent of Egyptian mummies during a theatrical ‘unwrapping’ and the ‘First Ladies of Egypt’ – fearless Edwardian women and their pioneering work in Egyptology were merely three of the fascinating topics covered at Kew’s National Archives at Night event. Hosting a suitably macabre itinerary for Halloween, the Archives building was bustling with hundreds of guests eager to delve into the darker side of history. Of course we felt most drawn the witches, on which we’ll focus here; and oh, it certainly got dark…

The persecution of women during the infamous Pendle witch trials is well known, but did you know that, twenty years later, it all began again thanks to the accusations of a young boy and his pushy father? Setting neighbour against neighbour, poisonous gossip, suspicion and superstition entwined to create a volatile atmosphere that once again cast a dark shadow over an entire community. In a talk entitled The Second Pendle Witch Scare: The Lancashire Witch scare of 1633-43, Dr Jessica Nelson read a letter sent by one William Conway, describing in a state of some excitement, the fact that a pack of up to nineteen female witches had been “discovered” in Lancashire. Witch scares were not uncommon, the previous Scottish scares inspiring Shakespeare to include them as malevolent characters in Macbeth; but this was a witch hunt with a difference. The finger that pointed at the women this time belonged to a ten year old boy.

Encouraged by his father, Edmund Robinson declared he had seen witches congregating in their small community, and was toured around communal gatherings with the claim he alone, for a fee, could point them out in the crowd. One of the accused was an elderly woman called Margaret Johnson, who came to be known as ‘the penitent witch’ as she was the only one to ‘confess’ to her crimes. Under interrogation by the Privy Council, she claimed a man dressed in black had repeatedly approached her, offering the power to hurt humans and beasts as she wished, in exchange for her soul. At first she turned him down, she said, but his seductive offers eventually persuaded her to sign her name in his book of captured souls. As the interrogation continued, it became clear (even to The Privy Council, who expressed their concerns in a report) that Margaret was a very confused and frail old lady, perhaps with what we’d now recognise as dementia, who changed her story many times. Interestingly, no matter how hard and how often she was pressed to ‘admit’ the other accused were fellow witches, she strongly protested their innocence, citing their daily prayers in the cells and stating they were true, godly women.

Another of the seven women Edmund accused, Mary Spencer aged 20, gave a spirited defence and denied outright being a witch. Her male neighbour, a man by the name of Nicholas Cunliffe,  said she’d bewitched a bucket, bidding it run to her (as Dr Nelson wryly pointed out during her talk, one might think this a ‘rubbish use of witchcraft’), but Mary explained she liked to roll her bucket down the hill and race it to the bottom, the court record showing she “…prays God to forgive Nicholas Cunliffe, who having borne malice to her and her parents these five or six years has lately wrongfully abused them.” Her parents having both been condemned to death in the previous assizes. During the court proceedings, Mary often complains the overwhelming noise from the public gallery is so loud she couldn’t even hear many of the accusations against her, so how could she properly defend herself? A chilling reminder of the mass panic and blood-lust that had been whipped up by this pervasive atmosphere of malice among neighbours. In yet another case of a woman being accused by a male neighbour with whom she’d had a previous disagreement, Francis Dickinson stood firm in her denial of witchcraft, passionately using attack as her form of defence, and detailing the disagreement she’d had with her male accuser over the purchases of a cow and, later, some butter that led to bitter arguments culminating in her eventually being accused of being a witch.

During their investigations, the Privy Council took it upon themselves to carefully examine the bodies of the women, looking for signs their familiars had suckled from hidden teats, even examining the cervix for unusual markings or dried blood from a recently suckled spot. Somewhat surprisingly, the concluding report of surgeons and midwives stated nothing unnatural was found on any of the women, no extra teats (in the cervix or elsewhere), no signs of evil-doing. And so, the Privy Council had nothing to go on but one confession from an old, confused woman whose word they already seriously doubted. In the end they resorted to interviewing Edmund Robinson, without the presence of his father (who’d previously refused for his son to be questioned alone). Eventually (we don’t know how long) Edmund confessed he had made up the whole thing up. But why? He’d first invented the tale as he’d been told to collect the cattle in for his parents, but went to play instead. To evade punishment he thought back to the stories he’d heard of the first Pendle witch trials, thereby getting himself out of trouble and enjoying the attention they afforded him. When others then surged forward to further accuse the women he’d named, it became clear rumours and suspicions had long been bubbling beneath the surface against any women who dared to argue with a male neighbour or caused trouble in any way. Edmund didn’t know what a bandwagon to be leapt upon his stories would cause, and Dr Nelson made the point that his father was most culpable, as he’d been the one to seize on the money-making opportunity in which his young son could now, for a pocketful of coins, travel around looking for and ‘recognising’ witches.

So what became of these women once the Privy Council had Edmund’s confession, confirming what they’d already feared was a case of hysteria following false accusations? Were the doors to gaol flung open as the women were triumphantly released? Far from it. In fact, from what records we have, we know most of the accused women died in prison. Despite their now assumed innocence, they’d been kept imprisoned in such devastatingly terrible conditions they became ill and died there. There are no records of what became of Margaret. We can only suppose that, already elderly and frail, she’d succumbed early to the vile conditions she’d been kept under. Pontificating on why the women had not been released, Dr Nelson assumes their deaths provided a convenient underlining of the whole, poisonous affair. Had the women been released back into the community, we can perhaps imagine their righteous fury at the neighbours who’d accused them, the continuing whispered suspicions, an on-going miasma of malice. A sad, stark truth we must consider is that these angry – innocent – women who’d refused to back down were seen as better dead than making mischief. A community washing their hands of blame by turning their heads. A wiping of the slate with bloodied hands…


A Brief History of the Witch Trials

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE 

WITCH TRIALS

It’s almost Halloween and we’re feeling witchy. Here is a brief history of the witch trials and one case we find particularly interesting…

Where it happened? 

In Europe the worst were witch trials were in Scotland and Germany. From about 1590 to 1670 at least 4000 people were killed in Scotland and some estimates go as high as 7000 deaths. 75% of them were women. In Germany it ran from about 1560 – 1670 and the numbers of those killed were higher – certainly over 10 000 people and some estimates go as high as 20 000. There were witch trials all over the Europe and America, famously in Salem. The Scottish and German trials were undoubtably the most far reaching and gruesome.

What happened after the trial?

Once they were found guilty, witches were drowned. It was believed that their bodies might rise from the dead, so the corpses were burned publicly. A lot of people believe that witches were burnt alive at the stake but this was quite rare. Some women escaped but in the main if you were accused you were convicted – it was very difficult to get out of. In many cases several charges were brought against individual women and they might manage to get out of some of the charges but not that of being a witch. 

Who were the witches? 

Mostly it was women on the fringes. Those without protection. So working class women and often older women were those particularly prosecuted. Anyone could be accused but those who were ‘different’ or who spoke out, perhaps fell out with their neighbours were more likely to be accused. Sometimes people with disabilities were targeted. Once a woman was accused she was questioned (and that included torture) to see if she would turn evidence on her coven. These women were terrified. Many turned in neighbours, family and friends just to stop the pain. 

Where can we find out more about witch trials? 

The court records still exist in archives – the handwritten notes from the trials. Parish records where they survive can also be helpful.This was a time before birth certification and so details of people’s lives were held by the church. Most archives are available to the public though you have to provide ID and follow the rules of the individual institution like only being able to take in pencils (no pens). There are also lots of witchy artefacts in museums – spell boxes for example and instruments of torture. If you’re interested in finding out the real nitty gritty about female history your local archives and libraries are a good place to start. 

Here is little about a witch trial that us bitches and witches  think is particularly interesting…

 There isn’t much information about the women prosecuted of witchcraft unless they were particularly well to do or the odd infamous case. Because most women accused of witchcraft were workers, we mostly don’t have many details about their lives – birth dates are out of the question, as there was no system of certification in those days. They have, however, left their marks in some places on the landscape. Take Kitty Rankine who was burned as a witch in Scotland in 1603. Growing up in a small village, Kitty was said to have second sight, which she inherited from her mother. When her mother died, Kitty found work at Abergeldie Castle and the Lady of the house consulted her, for her powers. Kitty would have been well advised not to play ball, but she screed (put water in a bowl and looked into the future) The Laird of the castle was overseas and she saw him sporting with other women. She told the lady, who was furious, and asked Kitty to raise a storm to kill her husband on his way home. Kitty refused, saying she didn’t have that kind of power. But as it happened, a storm did kill the Laird when he was on his way home and Kitty was charged with causing it and drowning him. The 400th anniversary of her execution was marked in 2003 by a bonfire on the Creag nam Bam (Hill of the Women) near Ballater, where she was killed. The wind on the top of the Creag is very loud and locals say it is the ghost of Kitty Rankine, screaming.

“We are the grand daughters of the witches you weren’t able to burn” – an apt quote from Tish Thawer.

Although historical witch craft is often portrayed in the media there are still cases of women being prosecuted. In 2011 Amina Bint Abdul Halim Nassar was beheaded in Saudi Arabia for practicing witchcraft. 

So we are the grand daughters of the witches that you weren’t able to burn, but we stand by the women still being persecuted. Witches unite. 

We want to highlight forgotten females from history. If you have a story you’d like to share get in touch with Molly at info@reekperfume.com