Muri Lelu: For those who aren’t yet familiar with you or haven’t read your books In Sensorium: Notes For My People or Bright Lines, how would you introduce yourself and your work?
Tanaïs: Let's start with my name, or renaming, I should say, Tanaïs, a portmanteau of my birth name, Tanwi Nandini Islam, which tells you a lot if you know what you're listening for. I wanted to evoke these specific spiritual, religious and cultural lineages of Bangladesh—Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim—in a single breath. I am a writer, but I've been a community organizer, a domestic violence advocate, a youth theater arts educator—I have always centered my work on brown-skinned queer and femme people. I have always wanted to show the power of our interconnected quests for liberation, our queerness, our beauty, our artistic and intellectual endeavors. The way we are disregarded by the dominant culture is simply not real—it is violently upheld—and I want us to be free.
I'm interested in exploring the raw messiness of sex and sexuality and spirituality, the way desire and annihilation are intertwined, unraveling toxic inheritances of colonialism—borders, white supremacy war, nation-states and nationalism, capitalism. My people died for their liberation, and also enacted violence in the name of it—working with the complex, the contradictory turns me on as a writer. I want to write toward freedom and solidarity, a world where class, caste, race, religion, gender, ability, sexuality and color is not weaponized against us. Perfuming is a wordless, boundless, borderless, liquid and sensuous version of all that I am interested in writing.
ML: In Sensorium is a powerful exploration of your identity as a queer, Bangladeshi Muslim femme. Does your brand continue that work by forging safe spaces for celebration and affirmation?
Tanaïs: There is such a profound beauty I see in my people, the way our ancestors have mixed across ethnic groups over eons leaves an imprint on us today—I want to share that with the world. I often work with models who are Bangladeshi queer and femme people, but I think it's so important to dialogue and create community beyond this "representation matters" rhetoric, which actually centers the most privileged folks in the South Asian diaspora. I want to highlight folks who own their own center, even as they are relegated to the margins. I love to throw parties where we dance and celebrate with each other, where we feed and nourish each other.
Image Credit: Chanel Matsunami Govreau
ML: Our brands share a similar fascination with the mesmerizing aroma of cannabis... in fact your HEART CHAKRA collection is dedicated to it. We love it because of its potential for multidimensional healing — as a storyteller, what does this beautiful flowering plant reveal for you?
Tanaïs: Heart Chakra and Muri Lelu are definitely kindred body elixirs, which I love! I smoked, nibbled and tinctured so much weed while writing my book during the pandemic. I needed the medicine, I needed to be held by nature and go into dream states where I felt my imagination go a bit wild. Weed for me is about undoing structures that bind us, it reinvigorated my appetite which I lost when I had COVID. It's funny, right now, I'm actually on a little hiatus from smoking to heal my lungs and be present in my raw feelings, raw-dogging reality, as they say. The beauty of marijuana for me starts with choosing the right strain, the way it smells in the air-tight bag. I love cannabis funk, the terpenes of pinene, limonene, linalool, and recreating a batch of weed as a perfume was such a fun experiment. My Beauty Director Talysha Monée gifted me some homegrown herb she named Quarantine Dream, and I replicated this as a perfume with grapefruit, balsam pine, lavender, rose and jasmine notes. Each batch of Heart Chakra has its own smell, akin to the way each strain has its own distinct aroma.
ML: What does your daily skincare routine look like?
Tanaïs: At 39, my skincare ritual is a source of joy for me now, which is not something I felt a few years back when I was struggling with hormonal acne, this transitional skin between your 20s and 30s that can be very jarring!
I wash my face with MS Skincare MANTRA, a cleanser with tulsi, turmeric, neem and it's gentle but strong enough to wash away makeup. I always double cleanse my face with MANTRA. Afterward, I use RANAVAT Royal Refresh Jasmine Mist, which smells like a night blooming jasmine garden and prepares my face for MS Skincare ENLIGHTEN, a gentle re-texturizing glycolic treatment that resurfaces skin, fades pigmented spots and sloughs off dead skin cells, something that gets harder as you get older. When those dead skin cells clog your pores, you get acne, so it's super important to exfoliate. I find gentle acids work best for me, rather than scrubs.
To moisturize, I mix my MURI LELU Mauvaise Herbe Indica oil with a pearl-size amount of MS Skincare Rosewater Cream and massage this on my face and neck, making sure to stroke up my cheeks, neck and forehead to stimulate blood flow. No matter how tired I am, I make sure I do this every single night and I do it all again in the morning!
My favorite SPF is EVEREDEN Sheer Botanical Facial Sunscreen - it's mineral based, not chemical based, but once you rub it in, it does not leave a harsh white cast (especially if you mix it into your foundation) which is a miracle for those of us with brown skin!
Image Credit: Chanel Matsunami Govreau
ML: Beauty (and fragrance in particular) is notoriously gate-kept... many of the people working at the upper echelons of the industry are white men. How has creating your own brand empowered you to subvert and challenge that establishment?
Tanaïs: When these gatekeepers, Masters and classically-trained experts don't even know you exist, don't even know the power of what you create—you're free to imagine your own version. I honestly smelled my way through natural essential oils, resins and absolutes first, as if I didn't have the right to work with fine perfumery aromachemicals—that's how awful imposter syndrome can be, it can keep you from even trying. But when I wanted to expand my perfumer's palette, I knew I wanted to incorporate aroma chemicals, which took my work to another level, where I learned to deepen notes, extend the way a perfume lives on the body. My perfumes evoke very distinct places—a flower garland shop in New Delhi, the waxy narcotic notes of tropical flowers on Kauai, fresh citrus and pine cannabis terpene notes —and they are not restricted by dominant white French perfume culture ideas, they're drawn from scent cultures that pre-date that European mode.
ML: Favorite Flower?
Tanaïs: I love hibiscus. They don't smell fragrant like so many flowers but they' re gorgeous, showy and tropical, all my favorite ways to be!