It was 1993; Melanie Jane was living in Britain, and had recently lost her father and given birth to her son, when she realised she was in the throes of postnatal depression. Yet, it wasn't until 1997 that the British expatriate found her way into studying aromatherapy – via people she met during a leg-waxing course at a local college, which she took only because she was at a loose end and nothing else appealed – and had a classmate whip her up a life-changing combination. "He made me a beautiful blend, because he knew what I was going through, with ylang-ylang and neroli and frankincense," she says. "And the next day after a massage I had with this blend, I felt like the sun was shining and this big black cloud that had been hanging over me for three, four years was gone. And I still use a version of that blend today – and I call it Morning Glory because of that feeling I had."
After studying aromatherapy for a year and earning her qualification as a holistic therapist, in 1999 Jane moved to Dubai, where her passion for scents has only grown stronger. In addition to offering aromatherapy treatments alongside reflexology and massage, she sold blends for years under another name at the biweekly Times Square Arte, the Makers’ Market. Many more courses and a stint in 2016 at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery have all fuelled her dedication to the craft, and she recently launched her own line of eponymous natural oil blends and perfumes.
Jane now offers perfume-making workshops on weekends at local high-end hotels. For Dh500 per person, she teaches others how to blend and experiment with their personal signature. Over the course of four hours, attendees learn about the properties inherent in dozens of different oils, about bases, middle and top notes, and how to blend so the end result not only smells beautiful, but lifts spirits, too. No matter how they come in, attendees leave uplifted, bearing 30 millilitres of their own creation.
"It's all experimental, you decide what base you want and decide what oils complement each other," says Jane. "And if you're not happy, you go on to another test tube. I bring 500 test tubes with me, and pipettes, so you can experiment to your heart's content in the little test tubes and then when you are happy with your blend, you go on to make it in a big bottle. I want people to go away happy. And it's great because people are like: 'I never realised I could do that,'" she explains.
The two most popular fragrance types in her workshops are chypra (citrus) and oriental (wood and amber), although she wishes more people veered towards gourmand, with synthetic notes of chocolate or vanilla (think Prada Candy or Thierry Mugler Angel). "I always teach them that less is more, because you can never take it away, you can always add to a blend," Jane explains.
Although she doesn't offer therapeutic treatments with the natural oils anymore, she remains a passionate advocate for how they can benefit the body in a variety of ways, including in perfumes. "All essential oils have individual molecules... And in layman's terms essentially they are very clever, in that they know what your body needs. So if you need relaxing or you need energising, they synergistically know, they work in harmony with your body to restore balance," says Jane.
However, knowledge and guidance are required for proper use, she cautions. Some oils – even those sold at local markets – can have toxic properties. Ylang-ylang may be good for anxiety, but because it also lowers blood pressure, people with that medical issue should avoid it. Over the years, Jane has treated people with everything from indigestion to migraines, which can be eased with a blend of ylang-ylang, lavender and a bit of rosemary.
The oils are also multi-dimensional, explains Jane. "Frankincense is a wonderful oil for sadness and grief, but it's also one of the most important oils in skincare… it's great for toning the skin," she says. Reflexology is a great way to deliver aromatherapy, she says. "The soles of your feet are the most permeable parts of your body, along with your scalp. So it's breaking down into molecules and it's getting there faster, but it's also bypassing your liver. Because often when you apply essential oils or blends, your kidneys and liver work to rid your body of them," she tells me.
People are often surprised at how powerful and therapeutic essential oils are, Jane says, benefits which are increasingly being backed by science. According to her, rosemary has been found to boost memory and improve cognitive function in people with Alzheimer's, while she says frankincense has shown some promising results in cancer therapy.
Melanie Jane has two perfume-making workshops coming up in Dubai: at the Ritz-Carlton, JBR, on Saturday, from 10am to 2pm, and at the Burj Al Arab on May 12, from 10am to 3pm. For more information, visit www.bymelaniejane.com or www.masterclasseswithmelanie.com