Born into a family of artists and given a name that means freedom, it is no wonder Pissara Umavijani embraces happy accidents, leading her to a path of self-discovery and a life of surprises with no restraints. Soft-spoken and a self-taught perfumer from Bangkok, now based in Paris, she is a star-in-the-making in the ephemeral world of Perfumery. Here, she shares why the death of her father was significant, what it means to truly love, and the importance to always remain curious.
Love plays a big role in your life, can you recall where this influence came from?
Love is my greatest inspiration. It is so powerful, it gives me the passion to be free and creative. This love came from my family, my mother [Chutatip Umavijani] is a philosophy professor and my late father [Montri Umavijani, 1941-2006 ] is a Thai poet and translator and is considered one of Thailand’s greatest contemporary poets, he spent his whole life traveling and achieved international acclaim for his work.
My father came from a very poor family in Bangkok and wrote his way out of poverty. In his earlier years he could not afford language lessons and would spend his days at the Royal Palace, he offered free tours in order to practice, he eventually became fluent in both English and French.
My family were not like conventional Siamese families, their love and passion for life taught me to listen to my heart, to have my own dreams and determination. These were not just words they shared with me, I saw it myself! My father truly dared to live out his passion, with his courage and determination, he overcame many obstacles, he created his own path, his own way.
What was your childhood like growing up in Bangkok?
When I was born my father named me Pissara which means Freedom in Thai. Sometimes I feel this has been a headache for those around me – I have been known to be quite stubborn! [laughs].
When I think about my childhood, it feels a bit like a dream. I grew up in Bangkok in the eighties and we lived in a traditional Siamese house filled with books and poetry, surrounded by lush tropical gardens and a lotus pond. I still remember the aromatic smells of the garden. I feel sad and nostalgic as Bangkok today is a metropolis – my father’s childhood home is now replaced with a huge freeway! I really miss the old ways, the tranquil way of living, the old Bangkok.
You are now based in Paris and have successfully launched your own perfume house. However, your journey to perfumery and Paris was not as straight forward, can you share how it all started?
[laughs!] It was in the early Noughties, a close family friend convinced me to take part in a beauty pageant. It was all meant to be a bit of fun and I consequently won the Miss Congeniality title [laughs]. On that same day a casting director approached me and proposed a movie project. Initially, I did not take her seriously because I had no acting experience and I was still at university.
After some discussions, I realised she was very serious. I eventually approached my professor at university and shared with him this acting opportunity and asked for his advice, what he did next I will remember forever, he said, “I am going to teach you everything you need to know about acting,” and I watched him slowly inhale, and as he exhaled, I saw tears well-up in his eyes. There was this agreed silence between us, he was teaching me how to breathe, how to just be-in-the-moment, and become-the-moment.
I eventually acted in four films in Thailand [laughs]. But it was during these years of acting I discovered my real passion. I discovered the world of vintage perfumery! Although, I didn’t come into it by chance or alone, this was introduced to me by a dear friend from the film industry.
What was so captivating about vintage perfumes?
When I first smelt Fracas , Joy , and Narcisse Noir  – they smelt alive! Immediately, I forgot myself, I felt transported to another world, to a world when people took the time to do things slowly. I can really feel they were totally aware of the beauty of each composition. This really inspired me!
I remember wondering how perfumers in the past created such masterpieces, so I started to collect them, and I studied them, over the years my vintage perfume collection grew, and I ultimately created a perfume organ. This was the beginning of my perfume journey.
You actually created Issara long before you arrived in Paris. Can you share this story?
Issara was the first perfume I created and one I hold very close to my heart. When my father passed away and shortly after his funeral, my mother was in such a deep state of sadness, so I decided to take my family to an island in the southern part of Thailand. It was there we were able to grieve and reconnect, and it was at that moment I made a promise to myself that his words, his work, will not die with him.
Issara means the joy of freedoms and tranquility and it is connected to the name my father gave me. Issara is a fresh scent, a fougere. I wanted to create the feeling of freedom and the freedom that comes from nature. I believe we as humans all need to stay connected to nature, these are our roots.
Can you share the scent-journey of Issara?
When you first smell Issara, the opening is a brisk fresh green pine, blended softly with herbal notes – this is a walk in nature! At the heart, we feel a lively courmarin accord, country-freshness, newly-mown hay, with rich balsamic notes of the forest of vetiver bourbon, and the mellowness of sylvester pine leaf. The base is a trio of spontaneous earthy aromas of magical musk, extremely rare and an incredibly rich natural ambergris with a touch of woody oak moss.
And how did you end up in Paris?
For a very long time I was still grieving the loss of my father. My mother suggested I should travel, to see the world – the way my father did when he was alive and writing his poetry. I decided to explore the cities my father visited and eventually arrived in Paris. I was in love with this city! There was inspiration everywhere, so many things to discover, so many things unknown to me.
When I returned to Bangkok, I started to make plans to return to Paris, but it was not so easy to just move to Paris. The only way to get the papers to live in Paris was by being a student. So I enrolled at the Sorbonne and became a student.
And your perfume moment?
When I finally moved to Paris, I continued to create perfumes in my spare time. The perfume community in Paris is very supportive and I feel grateful to be around such creative talent and would often seek out advice from those I admire and respect. It was pure luck when I shared my creations with Francois Hénin, he gave me the confidence and courage to realise Parfums Dusita as a Maison de Haute Parfumerie [perfume house].
Tell me more about Parfums Dusita?
Parfums Dusita was created out of two big loves in my life, the love for my father and the love for vintage perfumery. Finally, I felt I was able to fulfil the promise I made to myself – to share my father’s poetry. Each perfume I create is a tribute to my father, a memory, a fragrant poem evoking different states of happiness.
Dusita means happiness and paradise in Thai, it is expressed as the heavenly realm of pure delight, full of pleasure and contentment, this expression also happens to be a reflection of my father’s poetic quest, to find joy and peace-of-mind in life.
Do you have a favourite poem?
[laughs] I am inspired by love! When I was little, I played Edward Elgar’s Salut d’Amour on the violin, this is a very sentimental piece of music to me. One of my favourite poems by my father is, “My feeling for you is like a flower blooming in an empty room.” When I read this, I think of a perfume that evokes the sweet bliss of being in love. And that was how Mélodie de L’amour was created! Blended with 150 varieties of white flowers, but the hero is the pure scent of tuberose. This was my most personable creation. A love song! The smell of love!
Did you experience any difficulties or challenges?
Before Francois Hénin smelt my creations, I received mixed feedback, mainly criticism about my background and because I was not professionally trained or a graduate from one of the major perfume schools in France.
This rejection taught me one very important lesson – I cannot please everyone and to always be truthful to myself. I am a self-taught perfumer and I am grateful to those who believed and saw value in my perfumes.
Being a self-taught perfumer, what is your creative process?
It is challenging being self-taught. When I first started many years ago, I would read many books, study many vintage perfumes, and smell many raw materials before I started blending. I am not a naturally confident person and I always try my best to educate myself, little by little, this was achieved over the years.
Today, when I create, I close myself off from the world, it is very much about a feeling. A bit like cooking, in the sense that in cooking you taste and smell and decide what is missing, it is all based on intuition and experience, knowing what to do next. Perfume creation is very natural to me, I really use my nose! When I smell, I can feel what is missing, how to balance, how to improve, it is like, a never-ending piece of music, to improvise and play with raw materials.
I want to create a perfume I know is beautiful, that is special, this is the most important. I want to bring back the old ways of making perfume. Vintage perfumery at its finest with a contemporary vision, using the best and most luxurious raw materials.
What is the most important lesson you have learnt so far?
Learn to love yourself first. With love, comes passion, followed by courage, followed by freedom, followed by happiness.
What scent moves you the most?
There are a few! [laughs] The smell of old books always remind me of my father, and the aromas from the garden floating through the house; turmeric, lemongrass, and bergamot, but not just the fruit, the leaf of bergamot too!
What shall we expect from you next?
I will continue to share my passion and create more perfumes, I will release one or two new perfumes each year and ultimately, I wish to have my own Parfums Dusita boutique in Paris.
Credits and Copyrights: Profile, Family Portraits, Vintage Collection (Pissara Umavijani), Product (Parfums Dusita), Landscapes (Tout Près Art Studio).