Autodidact: self-taught

Jul
22
2013

Villainess

by V. L. Craven

Villainess Logo

Several years ago I came across an ad in the back of a magazine for something called ‘ Villainess Soaps ‘ and thought, ‘Whatever that is, I must try it.’ ( This is my original review from back then.)

I was not disappointed.

Blood Soap

My first order was a bar of Miss Edith soap and lotion (called Whipped ). On the Fragrances Menu , Miss Edith is described as: ‘Lemony black tea with milk, English Lavender and Roses beneath a thick layer of dust.’ I liked that it sounds like the character in a Barbara Pym novel or a kindly librarian. Or a kindly librarian in a Barbara Pym novel.

Since then I have tried Ginger Snapped, Blood, Antihero, Truffle Trade and Bathory, as well as some others and the free samples you get in every order (two per order) and my own mix of the Smack  (an exfoliating scrub of wonderfulness). My husband and I particularly enjoyed trying different blends of that.

Fragrances are handmade in small batches so they don’t keep every single thing in stock year-round, which means you may miss out on something you’d really like to try (Arsenic & Old Lace, Cobwebs, Nightshade, Pyromania, and Shrapnel are on my list), so sign up for the newsletter.

Datura Smooch Stores in Canada, the U.S. and U.K. stock the line, and, of course, they’re online. Shipping has always been quite fast, in my experience, and they include, aside from the previously mentioned freebie soap samples, a couple sweets with each order.

I’ve recently had the opportunity to chat with Brooke Stant the creator/owner of Villianess.

How did you get into making soap and how long have you been doing it?

I have struggled with dry, over-sensitive skin for my entire life, so I was already interested in alternative skincare brands and paying attention to ingredients. I was in a particularly bad eczema flare in late 2000 when I ran across a copy of “The Soapmaker’s Companion” by Susan Miller Cavitch. When I realised I could control what went into my skincare, and formulate a bar of soap for my skin needs? I fell completely in love. I made my first batch in December 2000, so I have been making soap for nearly 13 years.

Porchswing Smack When did you create Villainess and how did you come up with the name? (It’s the reason I checked out the site in the first place, several years ago. I think I saw an ad in Bitch or somewhere.)

Villainess.net was originally a catch-all domain for web-dev projects that launched in 2001. The idea was that going upstream, or taking a path that contradicts conventional wisdom is framed as rebellious, villainous and upsetting. You rarely see the archetype “anti-heroine” but “villainess” is common. So, the name choice is slightly sarcastic. When I was ready to launch the soap line in 2003 we had a selection of poison themed scents (Arsenic & Old Lace, Nightshade, Strychnine, Silk & Cyanide) and spent several months looking for a brand name that would suit our scents. I felt a little silly when it dawned on me that I’d already been working with Villainess for two years, and that it was a perfect fit for my scent concepts!

How many people are involved now?

We can be a 6-person team, depending on the time of year, projects on the table, and collaborations we’re involved with.

Perfume Clear About how long does it take to make a batch of something you’ve made before and how many bars does one batch produce?

I generally work in 60 bar batches – that’s about 17 lbs at a time. At that scale, it can take the same 30 minutes to make either a 10 bar batch or 60. The time spent in soapmaking comes in the waiting for melted oils and lye solutions to reach room temperature. The actual hands-on manufacture goes fairly quickly, because my soap formula traces rapidly and must be poured into the mold before I have a large stainless steel pot full of solid soap.

You have an incredible range of scents . How on earth do you come up with new ones?

Our fragrance development can start with anything from an idea, a single word, a tableau, or a single note. We do a lot of “atmospheric” scents which are designed to evoke scent memories – layering smoke, ozone, and petrichor over more specific notes, or finding a balance that still creates a wearable bouquet. Sometimes we approach oddity for its own sake, and it’s a question of which single notes in juxtaposition will create something new and interesting. In those cases, I push into unexpected accent notes or pairings instead of softening a blend with something like vanilla or chocolate or citrus.

Oddity for it’s own sake is always good, in my book. What does your ‘laboratory’ look like? I’m picturing something like the potions room in Hogwarts, please don’t disabuse my illusion.

The lab may disappoint you! It is unadorned, but we have various bottles and projects stashed varying degrees of completion. There are usually several beakers with prototype scents, cut soaps waiting to go into another batch, and stacks of soap molds hanging around.

Villainess Laboratory. At least it has a skull.

Villainess Laboratory. At least it has a skull.

Once you have an idea for a new combination, what goes into actually creating the different products–what does that process look like? And what lucky souls get to test it?

At this point, most of our formulations are established so we are doing less testing for product safety and performance. We had a great bunch of volunteer customers sign up, not too long ago, to test a shaving cream prototype for us. All along, our customer base has been incredible about letting us know what works, what doesn’t work, and what they’d like to see more of. Sometimes we work with our resale partners to test-run fragrances. Because they are exposed to more scents professionally, they can always offer good feedback on a scent’s performance, unique qualities, and marketability.

How did the testing of the shaving cream go? Is there a release date on that? What fragrances will that be offered in?

The general consensus on the shaving cream was that it didn’t have enough “slip.” We’ve shelved it, long term, until we can find a more cost effective way to concentrate the mucilaginous herbal concoction.

Frostbite

Who writes the fantastic descriptions of your scents? Ditto for the designer of your site and labels, etc.

I handle both scent composition and copywriting. For some scents, copy exists long before the fragrance has been mixed up. For others, I find it’s easier to translate the creative process myself, rather than having someone else describe the end product. Our designer is Kira Butler, of Elixireleven.com . We’ve been working together since 2008, and it’s been one of the happier collaborations in our history. Kira’s creative vision is always spot-on. There have been a few releases where I didn’t know which direction we wanted to take them, in terms of branding and making them distinct, and she has happily surprised me every time.

Are there any new scents or products on the horizon you’d like to give us a hint about?

We’re currently working on several experiments – a cucumber/currant/raspberry concoction, something called “Killer Tomatoez,” and a spiky green mess called “Once Bitten.” We’re also ironing out the plans for our 10th Anniversary Release. We celebrate our birthday in September, even though we turn ten in mid-August. That event should be delicious.

What is your favourite ingredient to work with? That blends well with other things.
I tend to use a lot of leather. I joke that I want to blend leather with everything, but I find that both the synthetic single notes and our in-house “rawhide” esential oil bouquet will lend a cool base note and homogeneity to almost any blend. I think my favourite was coconut, leather and ozone/sea salt. After leather, I find that dragon’s blood is a go-to in atmospheric blends, and I tend to rely on peach a little heavily with fruitier scents.

Villainess Mixing Bar

Villainess Mixing Bar. Notes galore.

Are there any ingredients that you thought would work out well and just… didn’t?
Cilantro. I cannot get cilantro essential oil to play nice in any blend. Even in small quantities, it doesn’t just overpower, but it remains intact. When blending, I’d like to hit on a combination where the whole is a new concept; not just individual notes dumped together. Cilantro will not morph, no matter what I pair it with.

Which is rather ironic, since a lot of people say cilantro tastes like soap.  What are your personal absolute favourite products and scents to use?

I love our Slick! oil cleanser. I am a big fan of Urban Decay’s 24/7 eyeliners, and… they don’t come off easily. Slick! is my hands-down favourite makeup remover for really saturating makeup and rinsing away without a lot of scrubbing. After that, I still use my own soaps. Right now I’ve got a bar of our olive oil blend, Satiate (all essential oils, vetiver, lavender, oppoponax, pink grapefruit), and one of Precipitate (the avocado oil and shea butter soap from a recent release). Usually the limited editions, and special runs end up in my bathroom, but I always love going back to Ginger Snapped. It’s still the perfect balance of warm spicy sweetness.

Slick is the one product I haven’t tried (yet). When is Miss Edith making a reappearance?

Miss Edith usually makes a February appearance – I think it’s been several seasons since it’s been released, so we can aim for this winter.

Villainess Samples

Villainess Samples: You get two per order, because they’re awesome.

And the question I ask all the creative people: Do you listen to music whilst making soap?

Oh yes! The tiny iPod speaker dock has a permanent home in the soap room. Radiohead, The National and Soundgarden get a lot of play.

And one other, geeky, non soap related question: You mentioned villianess.net being a catch-all for web-dev: So, were you a web developer/do you still do that or is soap your life now?

I was never a professional web developer – mostly a hobbyist who did a little free-lance work. It was an awesome skillset to get me into e-commerce with a smaller financial investment. Soap is my life now – full time. I’m grateful for the transition in many ways, because it always me to focus on the one thing I do well. But I often miss the web development field, and it’s frustrating to be so out of touch. I pretty much have to outsource help for site upgrades nowadays.

Well, you’ve definitely found your niche, I think. Thank you for your time!

Thank you, Victoria!

Villainess Redefiniton

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