x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Scents and sensibility: perfumes to suit your star sign

The founder of Essence of Chi combines her expertise in Chinese horoscope with that of the French perfumer Sylvain Fourre to create bespoke fragrances.

Deanna Fries can decipher your Chinese horoscope and create a fragrance. Antonie Robertson / The National
Deanna Fries can decipher your Chinese horoscope and create a fragrance. Antonie Robertson / The National

"Don't eat spicy foods in 2013 because you need to avoid fire, not feed it. Don't wear red; stay with mainly blue and black - colours that will control the fire. White and green are OK, too. Oh, and don't sleep in the south or south-west," says Deanna Fries, a Dubai-based Chinese horoscope master.

"And you could wear a monkey," she adds.

"A what?" I ask, conjuring up images of walking around the UAE with a primate hanging off my shoulder.

"A jade monkey around your neck or your middle," she explains, adding that the monkey combines with the snake in 2013 to create my supportive element: water.

Fries's unusual advice for the rest of the year ahead is based entirely on my Chinese horoscope, which signals that my health may come under the spotlight.

But, as well as wearing a jade monkey to ward off illness, I could also apply a dab of a bespoke scent created exclusively for me by Fries. For, in addition to being a Chinese horoscope master and feng shui consultant, Fries is the founder of Essence of Chi, a new concept that creates perfumes for clients based entirely on an individual's Chinese horoscope.

Launched by Fries late last year, Essence of Chi uses the ancient Chinese theory of the five elements - water, wood, fire, earth and metal - and translates the elements customers need to balance their life energy into a scent.

"If you wear your own essence, it's going to make you feel good because it's giving you the elements you need to feel good," says Fries, who has been studying the Bazi, or Chinese horoscope, for the last 10 years.

"There is the scientific aspect of making you feel good, but there's also the aspect of having something that's created just for you - nobody will ever have that perfume again."

How Fries goes from a horoscope to a scent is an interesting journey. The creative process begins with Fries delving into my horoscope. To do this she needs the date, time and location of my birth.

As someone born in December in England in the year of the tiger, it actually turns out that I am a yin earth person and have a special form, making my horoscope somewhat harder to interpret.

While I'm not entirely sure what this means, Fries elaborates: "When I look at the Bazi chart, it gives me a clear indication of who you are and what was happening at the time of your birth on an elemental level."

Fries turns to a piece of paper covered in pencil-written Chinese symbols. My entire life is mapped out on the chart with each column representing 10 years of time.

According to Fries, the Chinese believe we are born with three different kinds of luck, or "chi", and those three forms of luck go with us on our life journey. There is heaven's luck, or heaven's chi, which takes place in the stars at the time of birth; earth chi, which focuses on the place of birth with elements such as the weather and landscape; and human chi, which relates more to the socio-political environment a person is born into. It also relates to how hard a person is willing to work in life.

"This is one luck you can manage and if you're not willing to put the work in to be successful with what you have, then you are not going to reap the benefits, no matter how strong a chart you have."

After the crash course in Chinese horoscope, Fries explains how the interaction of the elements in my horoscope paints a picture and offers clues of the imbalances in my life.

There are interesting insights, such as how my life was happy between the ages of 28 and 32 - it was - and how, while I have been coasting along for the last few years, I am about to enter a good period for my career and money making. Now that's good news.

But how does all this translate into a scent? Quite simply, by looking at my horoscope, Fries can see the elements that I need to balance my life and these are the elements she includes in my scent.

No Bazi master has ever attempted it before, which explains why Fries took three-and-a-half-years to bring Essence of Chi to fruition.

The former model and corporate communications executive, who moved to Dubai with her hotelier husband and three children six years ago, came upon the idea when she was in the garden of her Arabian Ranches home.

Holding a tangerine in one hand, she picked some kumquat flowers and after pressing them together and sniffing them, she ran inside, asked her husband to smell the combination and said: "I've just created pure wood chi."

While many men many baulk at such an announcement, her husband responded with: "Imagine if you could bottle that?"

Unsure if it was possible, Fries spoke to her teacher and mentor, Grand Master Chan Kun Wah, who divides his time between Hong Kong and Scotland. He told her it would be very difficult, with the main problem being translating the elements into smell.

Undaunted, Fries toured a beauty expo in Dubai, looking for a perfumer who could help. After having her idea dismissed as unworkable by many, she stumbled upon Sylvain Fourre, a perfumer from the Grasse region of France who had been in the industry for 40 years.

"I believed in her immediately," says Fourre, who has run his own perfumery, Atelier de Productions Aromatiques, for the past 25 years. "I thought it was a very special story; the challenge was very interesting so we tried to do it."

The two set about translating the elements into smells. While Fourre needed to learn the history behind the five elements, Fries needed to understand perfumery.

"I explained to him which flowers and plants I thought belonged to certain elements. I'd show them to him and sometimes he said: 'well, from a perfumery point of view, that plant doesn't necessarily have that function.' So together we've come up with a formula that marries the world of perfumery and feng shui to create elements and the perfume. That's why it's taken so long.

"If I was trying to create yin wood, for example, I needed wood that was young, fresh and gives that uplifting energy. So we used plants that were delicate such as bergamot, lemon and young woods."

As Fries creates the formula for my scent, inspired entirely from my horoscope, she exclaims with joy as each new smell is added to the formula.

There's ambergris - whales' saliva - a touch of lavender, some hyacinth, mandarin, lotus and birch.

"It builds until you hit that lemon note on the top. It's like having those candies that fizzle in the mouth; it just pops, and you need that - it's something that will really give you energy," Fries says.

I smell my creation. It's a sexy smell, almost manly, but also very fresh and uplifting.

Creating the formula can take many days to complete and that's on top of the 10 hours or so it can take to decipher a horoscope.

"Sometimes it's really easy and it just comes to you and speaks to you and that is that. Sometimes, with a special form like yours, it can take hours or days. The energy sometimes messes with you and you can't get the answers you're looking for," says Fries.

The formula is then sent to Fourre, who fine-tunes it until it is perfect. The final creation is then given time to mature, before being sent to the client up to six weeks later.

When the perfume is handed to the client, the luxury experience continues with a glass bottle, handblown in the Czech Republic, that sits in a wooden bowl, hand-turned in the south of England.

The ceramic stopper is coloured according to the person's individual element; for example, a fire person has a red top, a wood person a green top and so on.

The bottle is then placed in a box that has funnels to help refill the bottle, a sprayer and a purse spray that comes in a handmade silk pouch.

The whole process may cost Dh6,800, but Fries says, for her, it is not about the money.

"Most perfumes on the market have a huge profit margin and it's all about image and packaging. My profit margins are negligible in comparison, what with all the love and attention that's goes into each creation. Essence of Chi is truly a labour or love; it's not a commercial product."

It's not surprising when you realise Fries's passion for Chinese horoscopes was ignited as a child. Her mother was a sinologist and master calligrapher, teaching her about the forces of nature. Then during a stint working in communications in Hong Kong, feng shui took hold.

Fries's husband was having a difficult time at work, but after hiring a feng shui consultant to assess the energy in their apartment, his problems disappeared. When the couple relocated to London and a red dining room caused family conflict over the breakfast table, once again a feng shui expert guided them towards a more balanced household energy.

Inspired, Fries began studying the ancient science in 2002, a journey that saw her become a feng shui master and now the founder of Essence of Chi - something she is deeply passionate about.

She also creates bespoke scents for businesses, hotels, shops and restaurants, but says it that is not her first love.

"Doing someone's perfume is very special and the relationship you have with each person is very intimate. I enjoy that the most."