alchemy Photo by: Mariana Schulze

Aromatic alchemy

Trance Essence converts simple materials into fragrant gold

By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer 11/21/2013

Move over, Chanel — a fresh wind is blowing in from the Ojai Valley, and it’s redolent with the hypnotic scents of nature. Trance Essence has been offering handcrafted artisanal perfume since 2008, using essential oils, organic botanicals and absolutes (highly aromatic, oily substances extracted from plants) to create distinctive fragrances that enchant, empower and inspire in equal measure. The company’s scents, employing such elements as fig, rose, lavender, musk, amber and vanilla, were designed with individual lifestyles in mind; there’s a blend for every mood and taste. The creative force behind these ambrosial concoctions is Janna Sheehan.

Formally trained as a painter and printmaker, the Indiana native moved to Ojai from Los Angeles in 1997, and immediately fell in love with the valley’s beauty and abundance of nature. Sheehan became intrigued by the art of perfumery a decade ago, as niche and artisan fragrances started appearing on the scene to challenge the “corporate beauty giants” who dominate the industry. She describes herself as mostly self-taught, crediting perfumer and aromatherapy expert Tricia Petersen as her mentor and tutor in the art of fragrance development. Petersen had created beauty products for brands like Arcona and Kama Sutra before she took Sheehan under her wing. “My experience with her was absolutely transformative,” Sheehan recalls. “There was no classroom setting. We worked together in my art studio and living room for two years building my initial six Trance perfume scents.” From this collaboration, Trance Essence was born, along with the company’s original fragrances: rich and sensual Abbey Rose, light and fresh Chen Xi, seductive Genie in a Bottle, earthy Hail Merri, floral Pink Kat and the crisp and clean Whyte Rabit.

Like perfume makers throughout the centuries, Sheehan prizes essential oils (of spices, grasses, flowers) for their intense aromas, but she is equally impressed by their aromatherapeutic properties. “My passion is nature and scent. I love all scent, but tend to like the natural essences more because of the gorgeous aromas and powerful medicine. They’re more visceral, unadulterated.” She believes in both the mood-altering abilities of essential oils and scent memory, whereby odors evoke an emotion or recall an event. She associates lifestyles, nature and experiences with fragrance materials, and attempts to distill them in her formulations, essentially capturing the human experience in scent form. “Once, at a dinner party one of the guests was describing his early evening surfing session at Emma Wood, a beach that runs along the freeway in Ventura. From the water you can hear the cars screaming by . . . I thought it would be interesting to create a scent that reflected a snapshot of this kind of man vs. nature experience,” she explains.

While Trance Essence remains a local cottage industry, its reputation has spread. In addition to her own line, Sheehan creates and consults on private-label formulations for perfume, bath and body products, most recently Talia, the signature scent she designed for Los Angeles boho chic fashion house Johnny Was. Which isn’t to say she has neglected her home business: Trance Essence launched its website over the summer, featured a line of nectar butter creams at the HOLY COW 2013 Ojai International Yoga Crib in October, and has debuted the new Prayer fragrance. In addition, the perfumery will offer its scents, as well as bath oils, bath salts and other fragrant delights, at the Deck the Halls Holiday Pop Up Shop at the Ojai Ranch Inn on Dec. 7.

Trance Essence’s mix of traditional craftsmanship, aromatherapy and artistic expression creates fragrances that are intense, complex, deep and long-lasting — and completely original. Sheehan believes that comes from her hands-on, artisanal approach. “My perfumes are a reflection of my sensibilities. They reflect my uniqueness, my thought processes,” she says. “I believe there’s a certain quality scent holds when it’s inspired or artisan, as opposed to fulfilling a market demographic. This translates into emotion for the customer.”

Find Trance Essence perfumes and more at, Beauty Habit (, CO Bigelow ( and Modern Folk Living at 306B E. Matilija in Ojai. 


Other Stories by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

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