Meet the Underground Perfumer Who Conjures Scents of Night Blossoms and Vintage Reggae on Vinyl
After a decade researching apothecaries for her forthcoming novel Bright Lines, writer Tanwi Nandini Islam started creating tinctures in her Brooklyn kitchen. Her company, Hi Wildflower Botanica, now includes complex scents, cleansing nectars and body oils that balance floral notes like jasmine, Moroccan rose and wild lavender with herbaceous balsam and spices like cardamom, tobacco and clove. “Perfume is gratuitous, but it feeds the spirit, as do candles. The skincare nourishes you. It’s about practicing rituals that strengthen our sense of self-care,” she says of her philosophy. Islam prints a poem on some products, but even her descriptions are intoxicating. One hand-poured soy candle called Burning River Blossoms has “notes of singed petals, bonfire and honey—inspired prayer flowers lit on the Ganges River.” Made with tonka beans, sandalwood and rosewood, her perfume Lovers Rock “is a sensual, redolent scent evocative of slow dances, pipe tobacco and vintage reggae on vinyl.” Here, Tanwi lets us in on some of her everyday rituals and explains how food inspires her alchemy.
Do any of Hi Wildflower’s products start in the kitchen?
Oh my gosh, yes. I have this series Wildflower & Woods, a skincare system, and one of the things that I put in the facial serum and cleansing nectar is an herbal infusion of grapeseed oil with different herbs and plant matter: lavender, lemon verbena, chamomile, willow bark, rose, all this amazing botanical material. That just sits on low heat infusing for five or six hours.
Another product I love for the winter is the body butter. I mix mango butter, shea butter and coconut oil and add essential oils and infusions. Everyday spices and herbs can also translate into perfumery and skincare—something like cardamom oil—which I use a lot in body butter, massage oil and serum—because it’s uplifting aromatically and has a nice astringent property. Cloves are another one of my favorite spices, and as an Ayurvedic medicine, they’re great for pain relief. Those are little things that are cool intersections between food and personal care.
I’m very drawn to food in terms of how it smells and the color and aesthetic. Aromatics are super important. Like, pilau is one of the simplest things to cook in South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine, but there are so many things thrown in to give it a certain aroma: cinnamon, cardamom, cloves. You don’t want to bite into a cardamom, but the scent it’s releasing is warm and delicious.
It sounds like there’s an overlap in the smells and tastes that you’re drawn to.
Totally. Very earthy, spicy. That’s the chicken-and-the-egg situation, right? I grew up in this household full of these flavors and scent profiles, and that’s the stuff I like to make.
TANWI’S WILLIAMSBURG RECOMMENDATIONS:
For lunch: Caracas Arepa Bar has an amazing lunch special, an arepa and salad, that’s wonderful for these cold-weather months. I love the La Mulata (with black beans, red peppers and sweet plantains) and Los Muchachos (with chorizo)—the jalapeño cheese is amazing.
For dinner: I'm a lover of street food of all stripes, and La Superior’s tacos are a perfect, delicious and inexpensive meal. My go-to four are the rajas (poblano pepper and cream), hongos (mushroom), chorizo toluqueño and carne asada. With the guava margarita, this is one of my favorite meals ever.
For cocktails: Donna Brooklyn has the most nuanced and gorgeous cocktails I've had. (My custom Donna candle—an intoxicating blend of smoke, mezcal, clove and orange bitters—is inspired by them.) The Brancolada—an iced Branca Menta, coconut and mint libation—transports me to a beautiful tropical place.
For fashion: I'm a complete lover of vintage clothing, especially one-of-a-kind pieces. My friend's vintage warehouse, Dusty Rose Vintage, has public hours on the weekend, where we vintage-loving denizens can go through bins for dresses, jackets, accessories and more.
For goodies: Aelfie is a home-goods company with gorgeous handmade and vintage wares. The geometric, colorful rugs in Moroccan Atlas Mountain and Berber styles are so much a part of my inspiration.
Wildcard: I am a huge supporter of indie jewelry designers, and one of my new loves is Robbie Simon Jewelry. Drawing from Tibetan and Burmese motifs, with her eye for graphic, bold design, her creations are super wearable and long-lasting.
A designer I’m loving right now: William Okpo is everything. The aesthetic is super clean, feminine and a touch bohemian, which embraces the free-spirit chic vibe I'm trying to build with Hi Wildflower.