This Luxe Fragrance House Empowers Female Entrepreneurs In Morocco
The founder proves luxury & social justice can coexist.
Female family members are often featured prominently in the origin stories of beauty pros and brand founders. A mother might have had a makeup routine or skin care ritual that inspired a future makeup artist or esthetician, while a sister’s hairdo or grandmother’s garden could influence a hairstylist or perfumer, respectively. So, in that sense, socially conscious luxury fragrance house Sana Jardin doesn’t have a unique inception story. It was inspired, in part, by founder Amy Christiansen’s grandmother and the influence she had on her. What is unique, however, is her grandmother.
Mary Pomeroy of Minnesota was widowed early and chose to travel all over the world. In 1968, she co-founded a non-profit, Delegation For Friendship Among Women, to empower women in developing countries. Through her work, Pomeroy — a glamorous and charming woman —developed a close relationship with Jehan Sadat, the First Lady of Egypt, and her husband, President Anwar Sadat. Christiansen learned much later that in the 70s, Pomeroy was asked by the State Department to smuggle audio tapes between President Sadat and the leader of Israel so they could negotiate the terms of the Camp David peace accords in secrecy. “She was always traveling and nobody would suspect that this Midwestern housewife would have information,” says Christiansen of her grandmother.
As a child, Christiansen accompanied her on some trips, and was exposed to places far removed from her American upbringing — Egypt, Morocco, and several cities in North Africa and the Gulf. It was through those experiences that Christiansen became enchanted with perfumes and the scents of those regions. “Oud was obviously a transporting and powerful scent; as a girl from the Midwest I hadn't really smelled that before,” she tells TZR. “And [smelling] orange blossom, jasmine, and amber in North Africa put me on this scent journey.”
Over the years, Christiansen’s own friendships and travels have been taking her all over the world: she’s been to Morocco over 100 times and she lived in Dubai and Bahrain in the early 2000s. She had also been entranced by the work of another scent-obsessed traveler — Celia Lyttelton, whose book, The Scent Trail, has been a major driving force in Christiansen’s own fragrance journey.
Christiansen had all these influences simmering in her olfactory consciousness, but the final impetus for starting Sana Jardin was a fragrance that had eluded her for years. She’d been obsessed with mazahar, orange blossom water, which — in some regions of the Middle East — is mixed with hot water and sugar to make a tea. “I’ll never forget the first time I was offered it.,” she says. “My ex-husband’s Saudi Arabian grandmother served it on a glittering silver tray in transparent, petite teacups with ornate silver handles; the smell permeated the air before the tray left the kitchen.” Christiansen tried for years to find a bottled scent that could perfectly mimic its shimmering freshness and addictive quality. “I could never find it. Every orange blossom scent I bought was too spicy, too sweet, or it smelled artificial. I went from the souks of Oman to Barney's in L.A. and I could never find it.”
She set out to create it, and after trial and error with other perfumers, found her way to Carlos Benaim, a master nose at International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF), a major international fragrance manufacturer. Benaim, who grew up in Morocco, knew the exact grammar of the scent she wanted to bottle. “Something in my heart is telling me to do this,” Benaim told her, and the two began a collaboration. Christiansen says she discovered much later that Sana Jardin’s was the smallest order IFF had ever accepted. “Carlos snuck it through, bless his heart.”
Their first few meetings were “like a dance,” says Christiansen. “We didn’t have to talk — it was all understood. He remembered the smells from his childhood — the orange blossom, the jasmine, the sandalwood.” From those first few scent-laden meetings came four of the brand’s fragrances: Berber Blonde is the orange blossom she always yearned for; Savage Jasmine lives up to its name of capturing jasmine’s base carnality as well as its floral headiness; Tiger By Her Side is a warm, nurturing amber; and Sandalwood Temple, a creamy santal. There are now nine fragrances, the scents of which are also mirrored in a line of paraffin-free candles.
Like other niche perfume brands, Sana Jardin is driven not by the focus groups or marketing departments, but by the founder’s life and experiences. In Christiansen’s case, her personal life and beliefs are inextricably entwined with that of her brand, as the names of her fragrances suggest. Berber Blonde is named for her two flaxen-haired sons, whose father is half Berber. For Tiger By Her Side, Christiansen heard a myth about Egyptian priestesses who used essential oils to calm themselves to such a state that wild animals would be rendered tame before them. She was having mother-in-law problems at the time, and channeled that visual every time she felt nervous around that relative, the warm amber notes giving off an added layer of power and protection. It worked, and as she continued to spread the story, other women used the juice and the visual to similar effect. Revolution de la Fleur is a floral with a heavy ylang ylang vibe; the flower is thought to strengthen the heart chakra, and so she named it in honor of the women who marched after Trump was elected.
From the beginning, Christiansen’s commitment to social justice was equally important as the fragrances themselves, and has always been the driving force behind the brand. She had a decades-long career in social work, right from her first high school job caring for developmentally disabled children. During graduate school, as a social worker on the west side of Chicago, “I was going into the homes of people who were suffering and struggling so much, and my job was to kind of tell them what to do. I saw they don't need some white girl telling them what to do — they need access to economic opportunity,” she recalls. That’s been her battle cry her whole professional life, and it was further driven home by her position as governing trustee for the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women that supports female entrepreneurship. “I started to really see the power of commerce and that we can create greater social change by harnessing the power of business and trade.”
Before she even had the brand, Christiansen knew that the purpose of her business was to be a vehicle for social change. In collaboration with Sana Jardin’s Moroccan supplier, Les Arômes du Maroc, and the nonprofit NEST, she set up the Beyond Sustainability model for low-income female flower harvesters in Morocco. This circular economy business model helps them upcycle the byproducts from perfume production and convert it into candles, orange blossom water, and other goods they can sell to support themselves all year long. The brand provides the women with training in all aspects of entrepreneurship so they can successfully run their own brand and businesses.
Before Sana Jardin’s launch four years ago, Christiansen told her grandmother about her program with the Moroccan flower harvesters. That’s when Pomeroy revealed that she and Jehan Sadat had planned to start a program all those years ago to help Egypt’s flower harvesters, but had to cancel it after President Sadat was assassinated in 1981. “I got the chills when she told me that,” says the founder. “I feel like I'm really carrying [her] baton and passing a flame that [she] had already lit for me. She planted all of these seeds that took a couple of generations for the fruits to bloom.” That’s the unmistakable sound — or in this case, scent — of a family legacy coming full circle.