On his travels across the globe, perfumer Simon Constantine met three extraordinary survivors of hardship.
He was inspired by them to create three distinct portraits in fragrance.
In the first - Old Delhi Station - the spice of black pepper mingles with the warmth of clove bud and patchouli to recreate memories of India and bottle the good-natured warmth of the Tibetan monk Simon met there. In Australia, a fascination for Aboriginal culture and art that begun for Simon in school days, was stoked by the members of a remote community on the Eastern edge of the Kimberley range. Drawing on the surrounding local materials, the woody, floral scent Fire Tree combines bright lemon myrtle with evocative fire tree oil to reflect the Aborigines’ struggle to lay claim to land that is rightfully theirs. Finally, in London, Simon met Sami Al-Hajj shortly after his release from being held in Guantanamo Bay. Simon’s recollections of the day created the rich, powdery Oudh Heart, filled with precious oudh, sandalwood and frankincense.
A common factor runs through the three tales; each is a narrative of freedom. Brought together, they become The Smell of Freedom.
Over to Simon…
Part One: Old Delhi Station
“A short but powerful man beckons us. His name is the Venerable Ngawang Woebar and he’s a Tibetan monk. He welcomes us into the small room of his office and asks what it is we want. I struggle to explain that we are looking for a way to help Tibetans in their plight. We have travelled all the way to Mcleod Ganj in Dharamsala to ask this question. I now feel a bit awkward.
He takes us outside onto the balcony overlooking the pines. He describes how he came to be in Mcleod Ganj. As he talks, sweet ginger, lemon and honey tea is laid on the table and he quietly unravels the tale of his epic journey from Tibet to India.
When he was a young man he became an activist in Tibet, protesting for rights of Tibetans and supporting the Dalai Lama. The Chinese authorities imprisoned him for handing out leaflets and waving the Tibetan flag. After four months without trial and suffering interrogation and abuse throughout this time, he was released. Being further victimized and expelled from his monastery he decided to leave.
Without a passport or permission he had to take the treacherous route to Nepal. The three week journey was a tough one, travelling 30 miles a day across the Himalayas, carrying all the supplies he needed. The day before his group reached Nepal they ran out of food. They resorted to eating rolled balls of snow with salt sprinkled on top. Barely sustained until he arrived at the Nepalese sanctuary he was deported to India where he joined the many thousands of desperate Tibetans who had to flee their homeland.
What was so endearing and powerful about his story was his delivery. Calm and warm, he smiled as he recounted the torture that he had been through. A look of quiet resilience that his experiences and his faith had endowed him with was the most moving thing of all.
As we arrived back in to Old Delhi station the fragrance of spices mixed with the smell of humanity were indelibly imprinted in my memory of meeting Ngawang and hearing his amazing story.
Part Two: Fire Tree
"I have been in love with Aboriginal culture and art since my school days. Having taken several trips to Australia, I had begun to get disillusioned with the way such a rich and mystical culture could be so decimated by Western living.
On my last visit to Australia, I was fortunate enough to have time to visit the Warmun art centre. In a remote community on the eastern edge of the Kimberely range, the art centre is a modern yet modest facility for the local artists in the Aboriginal community of the Gija people. One particular painting of a solitary baobab tree left a lasting impression on me. It was inspired by seven Gija people who lost their lives there. Thought to have stolen cattle from the ranch where they had been settled, the suspects were taken to the creek and shot. Now the baobab tree stands as a memorial to the event and a small plaque has been added to commemorate the sad loss of life.
Later that same day, I met a lady at a community gathering. To all intents and purposes she was a young aboriginal lady. When we talked, I realized that not only was she remarkably young-looking for her age but that she had led an incredible life. She had travelled extensively through Europe and South-East Asia as an artist before settling with a French duke in Darwin to have children. Nowadays she has moved back to her home and lives a mixture of modern life and bush tucker.
It struck me that the seeds of recovery had been sown there. It was good to see that such a rich and rewarding life could be led by a person who a generation ago would have been actively ‘bred out’ and whose culture still struggles to survive.
Part Three: Oudh Heart
“Our light and airy London office on Carnaby Street is a long way from Guantanamo Bay. Shoppers bustle by, Pret churns out paninis and lattes and we’re all sitting quietly in the office, waiting. The buzzer sounds and someone picks up the receiver. “Hi, it’s Reprieve”, the voice says over the intercom and the buzzer opens the ground floor door.
Reprieve provides free legal help to prisoners around the world to secure each person’s right to a fair trial. In 2008, Lush first contributed to Reprieve's work by taking part in their ‘Fair Trial My Arse’ campaign. All our staff wore oversized orange pants with the phrase ‘fair trial my arse’ emblazoned on them criticising the use of illegal prisons such as Guantanamo. We also sold two bath bombs, each with a picture of a prisoner from Guantanamo bay trapped in the centre. As the bomb fizzed away your particular prisoner would eerily float to the surface of your bath. One, Sami Al-Hajj, was on hunger strike at the time, being force fed by tube daily.
Over the next two years we continued the campaign, updating on progress as the team at Reprieve battled on for fair trials or release. Political pressure mounted and Lush itself came under fire for getting involved in events that were ‘none of our business’. Then the news came that Sami would be coming home, no charge, free to go. Frail and 55 pounds lighter than he was when he was captured, but he would be returning. The wife and son he hadn’t seen for seven years were waiting for him as he struggled off the plane.
The news was received with great emotion at Lush as we had all become very attached to the plight of Sami, who, at the time of his illegal imprisonment was an Al Jazeera cameraman travelling to Afghanistan with a legitimate visa. I was nervous and excited about being invited to meet him.
So on that day, accompanied by Reprieve representatives, Sami, whose photos we had become all too familiar with, entered the room. Looking healthier again he shook our hands and smiled widely. Sami had made a remarkable recovery in the few months after his release. As we sat down he gave a great speech to us. He was resolute in his commitment that what had happened wouldn’t overshadow his future. He wanted to create something positive from his ordeal and to move forward. He appreciated the thoughts and support from people all over the world and he took strength from the fact people had acted for him throughout his imprisonment."