New Mexico Makers: Cebastien + Robin of Dryland Wilds
"If we couldn’t harvest ethically
we wouldn’t be doing any of this"
Cebastien + Robin of Dryland Wilds
We have all heard of "farm to table" but what about "field to fragrance"? Enter Dryland Wilds, the high desert perfumery bringing the smells of New Mexico directly to your body in a variety of hand-crafted products. No artificial ingredients here, all of Dryland Wilds products are foraged ethically and sustainably from plants across the state by none other than the company's founders themselves: Cebastien and Robin, a duo as inspiring as their eco-friendly business model. We recently had the pleasure of accompanying them into the fields of the Taos Land Trust in search of musk thistle for their rosehip and thistle perfume, bearing witness to their use of a centuries old perfume-making process known as enfleurage. A snippet of our trip is highlighted in the short video above and our interview with them below. For more from our time with Robin and Cebastien, check out the recent Dressed podcast.
Where are you both from? If not from New Mexico, what brought you here?
Robin is from the Pacific Northwest, Cebastien is from Colorado. We moved to New Mexico for babies. When Cebastien’s sister (who lives in northern NM) had kids, we wanted to live near them. We had also been doing urban farming at the time and the prospect of having more land to grow on was very exciting. We moved, started farming and fell in love in with New Mexico. It is the most wonderful place we’ve ever lived.
Please tell us about yourself and how you came to your craft. What first inspired you to create? It was actually an epic flood – or a series of epic floods. We were managing a permaculture farm in northern NM and saw all of our crops destroyed by some massive climate events. We also saw what survived the events – invasive and super common perennials. We are plant dorks who had been making bio-regional perfumes from wild plants for ourselves and friends as a hobby over the years, but after the flood decided to turn the hobby into a business. We wanted to build something beautiful out of the plants that are seen as “worthless” – and to actually benefit the wild ecosystems we were harvesting from. We also wanted to think about what plants might survive climate change and how we can live with them (as opposed to trying to poison them.)
Tell us about what you do.
Basically we travel all over New Mexico harvesting invasive and super common plants that we turn into desert perfumes that smell like the wild places they were harvested from. We use old school perfumery techniques like enfleurage, distillation and infusion to pull the fragrance out of flowers, leaves and resins and blend these into wearable scents and skin care. We often will go out onto the land, set up perfume camp and harvest “invasive” flowers for weeks – charging our enfleurage chassis until they are saturated with the perfume and then returning to our workshop. Some of the techniques we use can take years to extract just a few ounces of fragrance – but the smell is worth it.
We work with ranchers and other land stewards to help remove “invasive” plants from the land without the use of Roundup – we’re really working to keep Roundup out of New Mexico’s watershed! We also get our plant material by pruning ladder fuels - the skinny low branches on a pine. When forest fires come through, this type of pruning helps prevent severe canopy fires that destroy whole forests. We also gather other common aromatics from sites that have been razed by bulldozers and road graders. An actually sustainable harvesting ethic is really important to us. If we couldn’t harvest ethically we wouldn’t be doing any of this. We also offer workshops on bioregional perfumery as well as teaching foraging classes focusing on the uses of hated invasive plants.
What inspires you? The smell of rain that rolls in with summer thunderheads large as mountains, full of pink lightning. How the greasewood opens its stomatas – billions of tiny mouths exhaling a hot breath of desert rock and sharp green perfume, waiting to drink in the water. Or the smell of wind moving through the piñons, 8000’ up. Sweet mountain pine but warm, resinous – something caramel and citrus too. The incredible beauty and resiliency of the land. Finding wild spaces wherever we are – whether that’s out in the “wilderness” seven hours from the nearest house or in an abandoned lot full of blooming sweetclover and musk thistles in the middle of Albuquerque.
What role does history and tradition play in your work? All of the methods that we use to extract fragrance would be considered historical. Humans have been making perfume for thousands of years – we’ve just been relearning the old methods that have been largely discarded in favor of cheaper, easier synthetic fragrances. Distillation and oil infusion (two methods we use on sturdier aromatics) date back to 3000 BCE from the Indus Valley (what’s Pakistan today). Enfleurage, the method we use to extract the perfume from delicate flowers, dates back to the 18th century in France. It’s been a lot of experimentation and trial and error, trying to relearn some very obscure arts. Mainly it’s an issue of matching a plant with the correct method of extraction.
Do you consider yourselves craftspeople or artists? Is there a difference? We see craftspeople as artists. There’s just a difference in how they are seen. Craftspeople bring art into daily life – craftsmanship is the art in daily living.
Why is hand craftsmanship important in today's day and age? It supports actual people instead of giant corporations and highlights traditions that might otherwise disappear. It celebrates skill and beauty and connection to the land instead of just mass production and rote consumption. Hand craftsmanship is not just about things – it’s about an ethic, a process, a story and a life.
What does community mean to being a maker? We couldn’t exist as makers without community. Our livelihood and craft is intimately connected to the people who love what we make and support us.
What does New Mexico mean to you? An incredible tradition of care for the land and connection to the land. No one is separate from the land they live on or the history of it, no matter what they think. Most of our ancestors are not originally from this continent, and none are from New Mexico. We see ourselves as visitors here and try to walk lightly on the land we’re calling home. We’re grateful everyday to live here.
How can people find your work? We sell online and at a few retail locations throughout New Mexico and the southwest. Our website is drylandwilds.com.
For more insight into Dryland Wilds amazing products, local workshops and their delicious recipes, follow along on Instagram here.