Fifteen years ago, before we learned we were leaving carbon footprints and the only recycle bin was the one on our desktop, there was a seed planted by perfumer Mandy Aftel which has gradually grown into a revolution in contemporary perfumery: a rediscovery and rebirth of the ancient art of creating fragrance without synthetics. Perfumus is the Latin word for ‘through smoke’ and for millenniums throughout the world on every continent, doctors, scientists, priests and shamans have used natural blends as medicine or offerings to the gods. Historically, the upper classes had their own private perfumers; icons like Cleopatra, Queen Makeda (aka the Queen of Sheba), Catherine de Medici, and King Henry VIII all used the alchemy of natural fragrance to seduce, bewitch and entice (and to cover the smell of unwashed bodies).
It wasn’t until relatively recently, in the early 1900s, that the use of synthetic materials in perfume ‘replaced’ a time-honored art and it might have disappeared entirely in recent years, save the work of a few visionary natural perfumers. Seven, in particular, have educated me, influenced me, introduced me to, and helped me learn about natural, organic and botanical perfumery.
Each was asked the same two questions: “Why is it you choose to work only with natural, botanical or organic fragrances”? and “What is the difference between organic, botanical and natural perfumes?” As, perhaps, the most comprehensive and authoritative article on this controversial and divisive subject to date - meet eight women who are changing our perfumed world:
Aftelier Perfumes, Perfumer, Author and Founder of the Natural perfumers Guild.
Mandy has been a natural perfumer for 15 years. Her most “touted” perfume: Tango. Her most recent perfume: Trevert. Celebrities who love her perfumes: Leonard Cohen, Lucinda Williams, Alice Waters, David Lynch, Mia Kirschner, Donovan Leitch, Kirsty Hume, Rosanna Arquette
“I work with only natural botanical essences but I don’t limit myself to only organic oils. Organic perfumes are made from only organic essential oils and that is a very limited palette with which to work. Organic essential oils tend to be the most common ones and I love to search and create with exotic, strange and rare essences. What draws me to natural essences is the gorgeous layered complexity of the individual essences. I especially love working with absolutes --- their aromas have a roundness and texture that create a beautiful shape for the perfume. When I am creating a perfume a beautiful, but not necessarily balanced, shape is very important to me. Natural perfumes are created from pure and natural essences but they do not have to be organic. My inspiration, as a perfumer, always comes from being able to work with such varied, both foul and fragrance, essences.”
WIN! The most interesting Aftelier-related tweet to @Fashiontribes will win a ¼ oz. bottle of Mandy's award-winning, iconic "Tango" (valued at $150). Aftelier.com
Strange Invisible Perfumes a (Fashiontribes Award Winner for the Best Fragrance Reissue of 2009). Alexandra has been an organic perfumer for 10+ years. Most touted fragrances: L’invisible & Magazine Street. Most recent fragrance: Launching in March 2010 Pelopnessium for Men. Celebrity fans: Maria Shriver, Angelica Huston, Cate Blanchett, Brooke Shields
“I only work with botanical essences because perfumery is the art of essence. I think that for an essence to be worthwhile it has to come from something worthwhile. Mimicry doesn't qualify. Funny that no one ever asks me why I have real roses in a vase rather than artificial ones. I suppose I just want a rose to be a rose.”
Is there confusion in the market about natural and organic perfumes, and what is the difference? “Organic perfumes are natural perfumes, but natural perfumes are not always organic. Wild-crafted, biodynamic, and pesticide-free essential oils also meet my standards as long as they are skillfully extracted. There is no one measure an essence can meet in order to be excellent. There are many components of producing a truly quality essence. To know what you are getting, you have to know who made it and how - rather than who is selling it. In our case we buy directly from distillers. Paperwork isn't enough." To celebrate ten years as a company, Strange Invisible Perfumes is offering a 10% discount on all online purchase from February 23-March 4 2010 - USE CODE SIP2010.
WIN! The most (non-strange or invisible) Strange Invisible-themed tweet to @Fashiontribes will win a 1.7 oz bottle of Alexandra's ‘Skin Scent’ L’invisible EDP (valued at $135). SIperfumes.com & Beautyhabit.com
Also Anya’s Garden Perfumes. Perfumer Anya has been a botanical perfumer for 15 years +. Her most touted fragrance: Moon Dance. For the last four years, she has also been the President of the Natural Perfumers Guild which was founded by Mandy Aftel, and is dedicated to the fostering of the art of natural perfumery through education, legislative efforts and networking among members. "The public demands a new paradigm in perfumery, one that gives them the option of obtaining quality perfumes made only with pure and natural aromatics." NaturalPerfumers.com.
"I use organic raw materials and wildcrafted botanicals whenever possible, and have created many organic extracts myself. That is the beauty of “Anya's Garden” being a real place with exotic flowers, trees and herbs: I can harvest and create the foundations of my art, within the bounds of size limitations. Perhaps next a larger growing plot is in order. When I first released perfumes under the line Anya’s Tropical Essences in the early 1990’s, I could only source traditional, “farmed” essences. I was always on the search for organic, since I knew that due to the polarity of pesticides, they would “carry over” in the distillation process. I wrote for Organic Gardening magazine in the mid 1990’s, so the recent proliferation of organic raw materials now available, due to the demands of both the perfumer and the customer, is wonderful to see. It’s not possible for me at this time to be 100% organic, but I am striving for it. It would be the culmination of my ethics and my art to be truly 100% organic. As an artisan natural perfumer I am blessed with the ability to go outside the mainstream of the supply houses and provide many of my own materials."
WIN! The first tweet to @Fashiontribes that is interesting and Anya-related wins a 15ml EDP spray of MoonDance, a luscious tuberose ($125 value). AnyasGarden.com
Ajne Parfumerie and Apothecary, Co-Founder, Perfumer, CEOT (Certified Essential Oil Therapist). Jane, an herbalist, has been an organic perfumer for seven years. Her most touted fragrance is Printemps.
EDITOR'S CHOICE: Her newest fragrance is Vanille. Celeb fans: Paris Hilton, Kate Walsh, Felicity Huffman, Kerry Washington, Terence Howard, Debra Messing, Denise Richards, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Alanis Morissette, Marlee Matlin, Kate Beckinsale, Joely Fisher, Jessica Biel, Gretchen Mol, Catherine Bell and Diane Sawyer, Molly Sims
"I am very sensitive to synthetic scents which are often overpowering to me and give me headaches; my husband Rex breaks out in rashes when synthetic aroma-chemicals make contact with his skin. I am vegetarian and believe in living simply, close to the earth and nature and leaving a light carbon footprint on this planet. I am conscious about what I put in and on my body and I seek to be chemical free. I believe in the healing and transformative powers of plant-extracted oils. I feel that we have a scent memory that is coded in our DNA and we have a cellular memory for natural plant scents that affects us in profound ways. To think that your great, great Grandmother may have smelled these same plant extracts is very cool.
Is there confusion in the market about natural and organic perfumes, and what is the difference? "Yes, there is so much confusion about organic vs. natural vs. synthetic. So many companies market their products as natural and maybe they contain 1% or less of a natural plant extracted ingredient. Natural is a loose term while organic speaks to the following definition of derived from living organisms, organic matter."
WIN! Tweet @Fashiontribes with something fragrantly fun about Jane or Ajne, and win a .0125 oz flacon of ‘My Favorite’…. “Vanille”, created from organic Madagascar vanilla & precious resins). It is suspended on a 36 inch silver chain and valued at just under $100. Ajne.com
Perfumer, Ayala Moriel Parfums. Ayala has been creating natural perfumes for nine years. Most touted fragrances: Ayalitta and Espionage. (Ayala won a Fashiontribes Best of Fragrance 2009 Award for The Purple Dress). Newest fragrance: Frangipani Gloves (a limited edition natural perfume, in honour of Bloedel Floral Conservatory). Celebrity fans: Courtney Love, Vancouver newscasters and talk show hosts. Our EDITOR’S PICK for the Best Natural Fragrance Blog: SmellyBlog.com.
"My choice to use only natural raw materials is an aesthetic choice, a life-style choice and ultimately a business decision. Natural raw materials have depth, complexity and a lively quality to them like no synthetic has. They really represent the soil they grew on, the sun they soaked while developing their aromatic profile. This quality of a fleeting beauty makes natural perfume even more precious and special. They teach us to savor the moment and enjoy each drop of perfume to its fullest. In the beginning of my perfumery studies, I discovered that the synthetic raw materials make feel uncomfortable and give me a headache. I didn't want to work with these kinds of materials on a regular basis and felt more comfortable working with the milder natural essences. Working with them always makes me feel better on all levels. They never cause me a headache; on the contrary: if I have one and start working with the natural essences, it disappears."
"And the last portion of my decision was that I wanted to create was something different and there weren't much offered in the market in terms of natural perfumes, I didn't feel the urge to create more synthetic perfumes - many have done that before me and do a better job at it. I found my own voice and distinct style by using the palette of natural raw aromatics. So here I am 9 years later doing what I know best."
Is there confusion in the market about natural and organic perfumes, what is the difference? "There certainly is a lot of confusion about terminology in the fragrance industry. First of all, the definition of what's natural is open to interpretations. Instead of a black and white distinction, I think what's more accurate to say is that there is a continuum or a scale of how close to the source a raw material is. People often assume that all natural perfumes are "organic". Organic perfumes should be made only of materials that are certified organic, including the carrier (i.e.: the base oil). The palette is than even more limited than for natural perfumers, because solvent-extracted materials, even if they were organically grown, lose their organic certification the moment they come in touch with the synthetic solvent, because it is considered a "chemical (a definition that is a bit problematic: alcohol, no matter if it was made from organic grains or grapes, or from GMO corn bombarded with pesticides, is in fact nothing more than a chemical: ethyl alcohol). Lastly, the mainstream perfume industry is using some natural raw aromatics but what they really specialize in is called "organic chemistry" - a branch in chemistry that is responsible for creating myriads of synthetic aroma chemicals, some of which never existed in nature. Organic chemistry and organic perfumery sound alarmingly similar, so I'll be very hesitant in using the term."
WIN! The two coolest tweets (from two different peeps) will each win 4ml Parfum Extrait minis of Ayalitta $45 value), a classic Green-Chypre in honor of our Green Goddess theme. AyalaMoriel.com
Fragrance Therapist & Natural Couture Perfumer Joanne has been creating 100% natural perfume creations and bespoke perfumes for almost two decades. Most touted fragrance: Madame Pompadour eau de parfum. Celebrity fan: Goldie Hawn.
"I developed sensitivity and had an allergic reaction every time I would put on a synthetic fragrance. This would consist of runny nose, watery eyes, coughing, and an almost instant headache. Discovering pure essential oils allowed me to wear fragrance again. I choose to use organic 100% naturals so I can create for others who want to wear fragrances and can no longer wear designer fragrances. Synthetic department store fragrances are mostly made from chemicals made in a laboratory. 100% natural fragrances are steam distilled, and extracted from real flowers, plants, and woods."
WIN! Tweet something fun & fab to @Fashiontribes about JoAnne's fragrances and win a ¼ oz Contessa EDP, a luxe Rose de Mai, from the French Collection ($145). JoAnneBassett.com
Botanical Perfume Artist with 10+ years experience. Most touted perfume: Q (for Quercus agrifolia - which was created with the intention of saving six native California oaks). Most recent launch: a series of chocolate-solid perfumes handmade from the highest quality oils, butters, plant essences and infusions. IlluminatedPerfumes.com
"Synthetic perfumes left my life due to asthma and allergies. Auspiciously, within the same time frame, essential oils stepped into my life through a bottle of Juniper Berry essential oil. These pure plant essences became a godsend due to their profound affect on emotional well being and the immune system, and many could even be worn as single note perfumes. At the time I was working as a visual artist with the focus of my work on the importance of the connection between humans and nature. Thus I shifted my artistic expression to working with a palette from the natural world, creating botanical perfumes."
"There is enormous confusion in the market about natural and organic perfumes. The main reason for this is that there are no rigid standards, so fragrance marketers take advantage of the trend and "green wash" products with terms like natural or organic. It's a big problem for those of us creating a pure product. The same thing occurs with the term Aromatherapy.
Natural perfumers today continue in this tradition using both animal and plant-based "natural essences" and isolates, however, the word natural is loosely defined. Thus, the use of animal ingredients such as those mentioned above (ambergris, musk pods, civet and castoreum) are often employed.
I define myself as a "Botanical" perfumer because I practice integral perfume, utilizing whole plant essences, an no isolates or animal ingredients.
The term Organic can be just as confusing as Natural; generally, what I have seen is a perfume will be labeled this way if it contains 95% Organic material, primarily due to the base alcohol or oil, with the other 5% of the material being non-Organic and even synthetic aroma chemicals. I have also seen petro-chemicals labeled as Vegan and Organic because they come from Petroleum!"
Founder and CEO of RedFlower, which was established as an organic/natural brand in 1999 and expanded into perfume in 2008. (Redflower won a Fashiontribes Best of 2009 award for their organic orange blossom diffuser.) Most touted fragrance: Guaiac. This was the first organic perfume to receive recognition as a “fragrance” by NYT Perfume Critic Chandler Burr, who noted that it “smells like the sweet sunlight-filled citric burst you get from gashing the peel of an exquisitely fresh orange with your thumbnail mixed with the scent of warm hay (very fresh, with no trace of dust) and a clear mint-like freshness that manages not to have the slightest trace of literal “mint.” Its sweet comes without sugar. It is so straightforward that it smells mysterious, and it is so simple, so nakedly, lucidly pure that it smells naïve" absolutely captures this experience.” Celebrity fan: NY socialite Genevieve Jones
"I chose to work with organic fragrances because I am particularly interested in the intangible qualities of perfume - the way it makes you perceive yourself and the way it makes you feel. To me, using distillations from flowers - the true emotional force, power and perfection of nature - best expresses the transformational luxury unique to perfume. Simply put, perfume is an indulgence. It must be rare and illusive to achieve its ultimate effect. The flip side of this is that more and more of our lives have become “perfumed’” and the real dangers to the environment and our health resides in many of the synthetic formulations. For a non-essential such as perfume, why choose something that has such possible negative impacts?"
"Another important reason for me in using natural ingredients is the vibrational quality of living matter. Each essential oil has its own distinct vibration that comes from the complexity of molecules that make up its structure and this complexity has yet to be recreated in the lab. It is much like music that speaks to a different part of the brain. Since we smell through the limbic system, the impact is immediate and direct so that the rich quality and depths of distilled flowers, resins, earth, bark, is much more intense and far more pleasurable and can actually change the way you feel. To me, Red Flower Organic Perfumes are the perfect examples of what organic perfumes can do that synthetics cannot…. unfold on the skin in a wonderfully mysterious, fresh and distinct way, different on every person – so unlike a synthetic which is made to smell the same on every paper blotter and every person, for days on end."
Is there confusion in the market about natural and organic perfumes, what is the difference? "The major difference is the growing practices for the raw plant material – organic plant material is grown under certified organically practices while natural does not necessarily meet the same standards."
WIN! Tweet something Yael-worthy about RedFlower to @Fashiontribes and snag a Guaiac Organic Perfume Oil Roll-On ($48 value). RedFlower.com
- Michelyn Camen, Editor at Large
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