Laurie Arbuthnot bottles up her memories. Maybe yours, too.
The owner-perfumer at Wild Coast Perfumery in Cowichan Bay, along Vancouver Island’s Pacific Marine Circle Route, creates “scent memories” of British Columbia locations. “I try to paint a picture with fragrance,” she says. With names like Whistler, Sunshine Coast, and Salt Spring Island, the perfumes evoke a definitive West Coast Canadian experience enhanced by natural native ingredients.
With her Tofino fragrance, for example, Arbuthnot wanted to recreate her childhood anticipation of walking down the path to Long Beach, so she blended gentle scents of wild rose and Western red cedar. “I’m remembering how it made me feel a certain way from being in a certain location,” she explains. Indeed, smells spark powerful memories—olfactory clutches of the heart with the whiff of a father’s aftershave or blooming roses from grandma’s garden.
Arbuthnot uses many natural plant, wood, and floral notes in each of her products, and she also blends custom fragrances, working with clients to encapsulate their emotions and recollections in scent. As to be expected, it smells delightful in the compact and minimalist Wild Coast Perfumery shop, which backs onto Cowichan Bay’s picturesque marina. Wooden shelves display simple square bottles of fragrances for customers to try; products are packaged in pretty white boxes with narrow black ribbons.
The store is also Arbuthnot’s blending lab, featuring rows of dark glass bottles containing natural plant essences from all over the world. In addition, she makes distillations from local flora that she forages herself: there’s citrusy, slightly bitter Douglas fir and rich Western red cedar, for starters; and lichen, called oak moss in the perfume world, “puts me in mind of the end of the summer with the hot sun beating down and the grasses that are crispy and brown,” Arbuthnot says. The Wild Coast storefront opened in 2017—it was a big accomplishment for Arbuthnot, who had dreamed of selling her own custom-blended scents since visiting a legendary Capri perfume house in 1986. She studied for years before launching her company, taking classes in herbology, aromatherapy, and natural perfume-making, plus tutorials with legendary San Francisco herbalist and aromatherapist Jeanne Rose.
Today, her modest collection acts as a calling card for the wild, wet West. A standout fragrance is the woodsy Carmanah, a genderless option Arbuthnot blended for a man from San Francisco who asked her recreate a scent from his youth that stirred powerful memories. She found that it also reminded her of the Carmanah rainforest, located northwest of Port Renfrew. The blend instantly took this author back to the majestic Avatar Grove old-growth forest, not far from Carmanah and considered a not-to-miss experience on Vancouver Island.
With one spritz, stand among the towering hemlocks and firs, with fragrant spruce tips and soft moss under feet. That is the power of scent, distilled and bottled.
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