Marissa Zappas is an anthropologist turned perfumer who has combined her two passions into an artisan fragrance collection called Redamance. It’s a historical project that connects “women of the past to women of today on a sensory level.”
After studying anthropology in graduate school, specifically, the history of perfume and how it coincided with “the history of cemetery construction around the French Revolution,” Marissa focused her work on smell, and perfumery as an extension of the body. This unique and deeply personal approach to fragrance is inspired by Marissa’s own experience of wearing her grandmother’s perfume Shalimar, to “channel her spirit and invoke her strength.”
With her degree in hand, Marissa went on to work at the renowned fragrance manufacturer Givaudan, where she was a lab apprentice to Master Perfumer, Olivier Gillotin for two years. It was at Givaudan, and under Olivier’s mentorship, that Marissa trained her nose and began formulating Redamance, with the idea that each perfume would be an olfactive portrait of a woman from history who never received the recognition she deserved. The women who inspired Marissa’s collection and for which the perfumes are named, include: Mary the Alchemist, Imperia La Divina, Ching Shih and Queen Nzinga.
As she prepares to launch the first (Queen Nzinga) of the four fragrances, we connected with Marissa to learn more about Redamance and how she, and the brand, aim to “disrupt the fragrance industry and shift the focus to more relevant, intelligent and nuanced ways of invoking feminine strength.”
What inspired you to create Redamance?
One important way I’ve worn perfume is to connect with other women. I often wore the perfumes of my best friends or crushes and I also wore the perfumes of my grandmother. It made me felt less alone in the world channelling them. When I came up with this idea, at that time I was thinking a lot about erased histories, and so it made sense to try and simultaneously bring the stories of overlooked women from history to life in a way that was engaging and empowering for women today.
There are many remarkable women from history, how did you choose these four to represent Redamance?
I selected each woman for three reasons. I wanted them to be complex, relatively unknown and lived long lives. The four I selected, Mary the Alchemist, Imperia La Divina, Ching Shih and Queen Nzinga (as depicted in above photo) are also very different from each other in terms of time period, personality and environment.
Mary the Alchemist was the first alchemist ever, from Ancient Greece. She had a theory about how metals reproduce, which has been referenced by both Socrates and Carl Jung, however there is so little information about her life. I was fascinated by her.
Imperia La Divina was from 15th Century Rome and the first courtesan to achieve “celebrity” status. Imperia La Divina would pose in her windows and charge passersby to walk down the street. She also had strict rules her clients needed to embody, for example they had to bring “esprit, wit and good mood and leave money or a considerable present when leaving.” She was painted by Raffael and was just a classic Venus archetype. Her funeral was one of the largest celebrations Rome had ever seen.
Queen Nzinga was a 17th Century Queen of Angola. She was a brilliant military strategist and not only did she actually fight on the front lines with her troops, but she defeated the Portuguese twice, saving Angola from invasion (they came back and took over after she died, but…). She was totally revered by her people.
Ching Shih was a courtesan in 18th Century Shanghai, but then she married a pirate, took over his ship, expanded his trips by 70 and grew to be arguably the most powerful pirate in history. The Chinese and Portuguese governments were after her for decades and she finally surrendered herself for a large sum of money, took that money and opened and ran a gambling casino in Shanghai until she died an old woman.
These women all showed up for life in this way that I find so inspiring. They fought and stood for what they believed in, and while I’m sure it wasn’t easy, they lived through it all. I am honoring them in this moment, when I think so many of us feel defeated and disconnected from erased histories. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of any of these women prior to doing research, and through Redamance, I can shed light on their stories and bring them to life through scent. You can learn more about each scent here.
In a very crowded fragrance market, what makes Redamance stand out?
The remarkable stories and of course, the scents themselves. I wanted to create perfumes that are unique, exquisitely constructed, take up space and are almost obnoxiously beautiful.
Commercial perfume tends to all smell very similar. When I worked in the industry we would use the same formulas, just slight variations, for different clients. There are certain notes, accords and/or perfumes that test well in the market and because of this, are used over and over. I yearned for perfumes with something more interesting to say.
With Redamance, each fragrance is truly a labor of love and I made them with no outside influences. Olivier and I worked for years. We took time to develop each formula and you can really tell the difference when you smell them. They are striking and complex and truly embody the stories of each woman they represent.
How is Redamance poised to disrupt this fairly traditional industry?
I see myself and Redamance as disrupting the industry on multiple levels. First, I think integrating the idea that time is invaluable to the development of a good perfume is so important. So by taking my time, and producing perfumes that don’t really smell like anything that’s out there (genuinely), I am already doing something different.
But more importantly, I am also disrupting fragrance advertising. It seems even in fashion and beauty, the tides are finally turning. More relevant ways of depicting women are being embraced (including the questioning of a universal experience of “womanhood”), but the fragrance market is still seemingly stuck in representing women through the male gaze. I am including stories and images of women who were penalized for their very existence, but continued on nonetheless and survived (and thrived!). Not just thin white women who ride horses naked (which is a shockingly redundant visual in perfume ads). The stories Redamance tells are not conventionally romantic. These women were not tame in any way. The first four perfumes feature a pirate, a military strategist, a courtesan and an alchemist. They are truly, truly remarkable.
What is your hope for the future of Redamance?
I have written and completed the fragrance formulas for all four perfumes. With my current crowdfunding campaign ending soon soon, I am looking forward to finally getting Queen Nzinga out into the world. The other three perfumes will be released next year – 2020.
My hope? That people will wear the perfumes as a source of courage, inspiration or to manifest a future self.
To make Redamance a reality and launch the first fragrance of the collection, Marissa is currently running a crowdfunding campaign…