Any mystical mind probably already knows “the wand chooses the wizard” but what about perfume? What supernatural forces are at play when it comes to divining the scents we’ll vibe best with?
With the world feeling heavier, searches for all things occult, esoteric and spiritual have grown as a place for us to escape to. See, for example: witchtok; an outpost on TikTok where users can gather to discuss everything from how to determine whether they’re a witch, to beginner spells. The same feeling emerged after the world wars which saw a boom in supernatural literature. Fortune tellers took off as clients sought out their prophecies, and amulets were worn or carried to offer protection and to ward off evil.
It feels, now more than ever, that scent can offer up its own invisible amulet thanks to its ability to comfort, soothe and reignite nostalgia. Likewise, fragrance can shift your mood according to the notes and aura it projects. When you find a scent you click with, it can bolster strength, conjure creativity, or transport you to another place entirely. That’s magic right there.
However, is it possible we can get in our own way when it comes to finding “the one”? If you take away marketing and packaging, if you discard the traditional “scent families” you’d normally fall into, if you listen to your psyche and give a whole spectrum of scents a chance…who knows what might happen?
That’s exactly the approach that Joy Isaacs, founder of Argentum Apothecary, has taken with her scent wardrobe. I visited her store in Notting Hill, along with our beauty writer, Shei, to sit down for a fragrance reading to see what it unearthed. For context, Shei is a fragrance connoisseur. She’ll layer up the most boujee, mysterious concoction so she never smells like anyone else. Meanwhile, I routinely reject most fragrances that cross my path and struggle to connect with them, given that they sit so closely and intimately on my skin. It means I rotate the same handful of scents on repeat.
When we arrive, the store feels modern and clean and the monochrome black bottles that neatly line the shelves encircling the shop add order and mystery in equal parts. In the centre of the floor, a small seating area flanks a circular table where, already, there’s a fragrance wheel waiting, holding 13 scents. Beside it, sits Joy, who welcomes us in, offers us a menu of herbal teas and introduces us to the fragrance reading. Given its ancient and mystical concept, you’d be forgiven for expecting a witchy figure, dressed in head to toe velvet. Instead, Joy – dressed smartly in a black top and trousers, with voluminous auburn collarbone-length hair and a soft, lilting South African accent – is a very modern empath. Her career saw her weave through finance, HR and marketing before the idea for her skincare and fragrance brand came to her in a dream.
The scents were the fruits of a seven-year journey, working with French perfumer, Delphine Thierry, to build a fragrance collection that interacts with your outward character and your inner subconscious. The approach to discovering your scent in many ways mirrors that of tarot. You pull a card from a deck, examine the image upon it and explore what it could mean for you and your life. Although, Joy points out, technically speaking, the process taps into Carl Jung’s 12 archetypes which are illustrated across the cards, rather than the traditional characters on tarot (which she also reads). This offers a gentler and more open interpretation that picks up on the facets we already have within us: The Lover, The Rebel, The Jester, The Ruler, The Caregiver and so on, plus one extra scent “Become”, which blends a little of all the characters and sits in the centre of the ring. Each scent mimics its archetype’s energy. “When you think of a rose, you’d move to love and the colour pink. These are things that you don’t really think about but we project onto archetypes,” says Joy (who we’d guess is describing The Lover card). “They really define these particular character traits and we have created the fragrances that match that,” she adds.
As for the process, “you draw a card and see what energy is drawn to you. It’s quite explorative,” says Joy. “It’s a really fun way of connecting with a scent. It allows you to journey and work with the scent you’ve pulled.” Sometimes, she says, people are surprised by what comes forward. Perhaps the scent has a way of showing us what we need versus what we already have. For instance, if you’re a Caregiver who could do with ditching everyone else’s emotional baggage and going renegade. “Other times it can enhance an archetype energy that is already quite powerful and dominant. It can bring it back into balance or push it forward a bit,” Joy explains.
After introductions, Joy spread a deck of cards out in front of me and told me to pick whichever was calling to me. The first card I pulled was The Creator. Next she instructed me to voice what I felt and saw when looking at the picture on the card. I was drawn to the safe nurturing hands, releasing a bird to freedom. The sun shone in the background, in the bottom there appeared to be peaceful waves and fresh leaves fell from the sky. It was safety (the hands ready to catch) and self-assurance (the bird who knew it could fly) in one hit. To me, it symbolised freedom and euphoria. And while I couldn’t be wrong – Joy was quick to insist that whatever we saw in the cards was right for us – her reading solidified that I was on the right tracks. The creator card “balances self-assurance, daring and optimism, while fostering creativity, self-acceptance and individuality.” It’s bringing something forward and making something happen – an idea or concept, she said. She encouraged me to think about what that could mean for me. A note that came with the fragrance also pushed me to “awaken your promise”. That really resonated with me and the projects I’m currently working on.
Being a creative by trade (I’m a beauty journalist after all), the scent didn’t feel like a stretch too far from my comfort zone, but it wasn’t one I would have categorised for myself. I’m an earth sign on the zodiac, and I tend to like woody scents or citruses. It took some elements that I liked but executed them a little differently.
Each scent is split into a fire, earth, water or air scent, and beyond that other notes – like floral, powdery, musky spicy – are added. Mine was an “air sugar spiced” fragrance with nuzzly soft suede and powdery iris, a tiny dash of spicy cumin and then optimistic osmanthus blossom and zingy bitter orange up in the top notes. I wouldn’t have necessarily identified it as an airy scent at first sniff – there’s definitely something very grounding about it – but it also has a weightless feel. It gave me soft, fluffy cloud vibes. It was sugary, soft and serious all in one go and grew on me, the more it settled into my skin.
As for Shei, she drew The Explorer card. She saw mountains, adventure, escapism, strength (courtesy of the Cheetah taking up the foreground) and a destiny yet to be written (thanks to the paintbrush, still drawing the spots). While Joy explained that exploration doesn’t always mean travel (it can mean searching your own heart and desires), it can also be taken very literally. “It can mean celebrating personal freedom with individuality, travel and adventure,” Joy told us. As for the North star in the corner, it symbolises holding true to your beliefs “to forge your unconventional path to authenticity.” This really connected with where Shei’s at. As for the scent, an earth spiced amber, it blends hazy labdanum, patchouli, ambrette, cardomom and a tiny pinch of sichuan pepper, tempered with a zing of grapefruit that settles softly in the mix. It has Chai latte vibes with a fresh twist. To Shei, it smelt like lots of different spaces in one. It felt familiar and comforting, but with an edge and the feeling of something new.
The good news is you don’t necessarily have to trek to Notting Hill to get involved. You can also draw your card online. And there’s a discovery set of all the fragrances for £68, if you want a scent wardrobe for whatever mood you’re in. But, having someone to talk through the cards felt like its own therapy session. For both Shei and me, it was a weirdly emotional and reflective process. “What surprises me is the healing element of the fragrances. Sometimes we can have an archetype in us or a facet of our personality that we project that needs a bit of recalibration, maybe it’s in shadow, it may just need a bit of comfort,” says Joy. “Spraying the scent has a magical affect and it helps people to align with the frequency of that particular archetype. It’s been really rewarding to see how people react – sometimes in a really emotional way.”
Yes, it’s an exercise to sell perfume, but the tarot aspect offers a wellness experience that, irrespective of whether or not you buy the perfume you pull (or any perfume for that matter), feels illuminating, fortifying and a little magical.
Of course, you don’t have to go with the first card you pull. As Joy talked us all the way around the board, both Shei and I opened up to scents we’d never have normally reached for. But, even if you don’t want to extend your perfume collection, the experience made me more purposeful about which scents I pull for the day ahead. Some days I’ll want peace and seek out the familiar, but the experience also encouraged me to push out of my own comfort zone and dust off those offbeat scents that I’d normally skip. They could be just what I need.
For more from GLAMOUR’s Beauty Editor, Elle Turner, follow her on Instagram @elleturneruk
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