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After reconnecting with nature and being reminded of its power during the pandemic, and with protecting it becoming increasingly important, we take a look at its rising role in the fragrance world
Cast your mind back through the fogs of memory to the first few weeks of the pandemic. The sun seemed to shine more brightly than usual, encouraging us to remain cheery. The birds and bees were busy as they always are during springtime, not caring one iota for that virus called corona which was affecting all of our lives so much. And aeroplanes and cars, once a ubiquitous part of the background buzz, were silent.
It was widely commented on that the silence served to amplify nature – which is handy, because for many of us it was long walks outdoors which sustained us physically and mentally. In fact, the charms of being surrounded by nature had such an effect on city-dwellers, that of the 14% who wanted to leave London as a result of the pandemic, 46% decided the thrumming rhythm of a town wasn’t an adequate reason to stay, and decided to relocate to the countryside.
For many of us who’ve now returned more or less to the life we lived pre-covid-19 and are back to rushing back and forth in the city, that tie to the nature with which we connected during that time still holds allure. And given that a huge 75% of British adults are actively worried about the environment, it is unsurprising that a sense of reverence and degree of extra attention surrounds the natural world.
But how does this impact fragrance? There are two key things here. The first is that perfumers are increasingly tapping into the evocative power of something as simple as, in Amandine Pallez, Creative Marketing Senior Director at Bulgari puts it, ‘freshly cut grass and stream cascading on rocks.’ The result? A flood of scents tapping into and triggering ‘an olfactory memory and sense of positive feeling, like a subliminal message.’ Chriselle Lim, Phlur Owner & Creative director, agrees: ‘emotions stem from instinctive reactions and not reasoning. In fact, emotions are controlled by the brain’s limbic system, which also controls the sense of smell.’
Kirstie Garrett, qualified aromatherapist and founder of Ebo Skincare and Wellbeing, explains that smell directing mood or behaviours is deeply entrenched: ‘animals are masters of self selection, and we once were, too. Sometimes we still are; when pregnant, for example, women are drawn to what they need and repulsed by what they should avoid. Equally, we use smell to dictate instantly, without it even entering our conscious thoughts, what is safe to ingest, and do this all the time with fish, meat, and milk.’
While we all know that being in nature has multiple psychological and physiological benefits, are there benefits to be had from simply smelling something which calls a damp morning rose or juicy overripe orange to mind? In Kirstie’s view, this is where returning to the power of plants is vital: ‘whilst synthetic fragrances can undoubtably cause an emotional reaction, recalling a past experience locked in the mind, aromas harnessed from nature, i.e. extracted from plants, have a very proven physiological action attached, which is universal.’ So smelling a well-blended perfume which reminds you of your favourite flower will make you happy as it tugs at certain threads in your mind, but if that scent contains the real deal, your body will respond to the rose itself, which has the capacity to lower the heart rate, reduce stress, and calm.
Brands are now tapping into the innate power some ingredients hold. Costa Brazil’s journey hinges around one such natural ingredient: breu resin, which is a sap derived from the Almacega tree in the amazon rainforest. Burned for centuries to enhance peace of mind and to aid concentration, the resin is now laced through their entire collection, and forms the core of their signature scent.
The second way in which nature is playing a role in influencing fragrance has rather more to do with an increasing awareness of how precious natural resources are, and the desire to create minimal waste during the process. Enter upcycling, an expression you’re probably familiar with in the context of turning a candle jar into a make-up brush holder, but in perfumery, it means making use of every part of an ingredient, and even the waste product generated during some extraction processes.
Geza Schoen, Founder and Perfumer behind the cult brand Escentric Molecules, cites an ecological awareness as directing the industry towards upcycling: ‘perfume houses like the IFF have come up with a range of fascinating new products, i.e. a coca-based raw material that uses the shells of the fruit that have been thrown away.’ Similarly Isabelle Lewenhaupt, founder of Bjork and Berries, says that ‘all of our eau de perfumes contain organic fermented alcohol, which is made from organic food waste such as sugarbeets.’
Upcycling has played a big role in the development of Miller Harris’ latest perfume, Myrica Muse. The perfumer behind it, Emile Bouge, was keen to use both upcycled rose and patchouli, making something of the parts which would’ve been thrown away. To her, this practise enhances rather than inhibits the creative process behind making perfume: ‘it allows us to highlight a different part of the essential oil.’ Her belief is also that it’ll become common practise in the future, ‘giving a second life to products which weren’t dedicated to perfumeries, like oak, for example, which was used to store wine in but could be used in scents.’
Whether you’re drawn to mouthwatering, juicy plump florals, or greens inspired by chilly herbs, the perfume world is offering up plenty of nature inspired options at the moment – and you can expect plenty more to follow. Geza may be onto something by saying ‘people will always prefer nature to the artificial.’
Here’s our edit of the best to wear on your body, or which will bring the outdoors inside in candle form:
Miller Harris Myrica Muse, £95 | Miller Harris
A juicy mix of strawberries and tangerines meet sumptuous rose for a moreish scent that’ll instantly make you think of a garden in full bloom.
Bjork and Berries Botanist Eau de Parfum, £85 | Bjork and Berries
The clue’s in the name on this one: it’s plant-rich, with roots and soil and the sense of green lushness running through it, all underpinned with a little hint of spiciness.
Initio Oud for Happiness, £295 | Initio Parfums
A rich, deep oud nestles within freshly-cut grass to make this heady blend.
Phlur Somebody Wood, £26 | Phlur
Think of that moment after rain has rinsed the hot earth, and petrichor emerges. Add warmth in the form of vanilla, and you get this.
Aesop Eidesis Eau de Parfum, £140 | Aesop
You have to know the outdoors to recognise this, but if you spent your childhood looking under tree trunks and enjoying the mulch of leaves and heady crisp cold air as winter descends, this will strike a chord.
Escentric Molecules Molecule 01 + Mandarin Eau de Toilette, £95 | Escentric Molecules
This evokes forests where evergreens and herbs grow along with a little whoosh of the cleanest air mingled with a little sea salt. It would be madness not to upcycle this candle jar, by the way.
This Works Neroli and Sweet Orange Candle, £26 | This Works
This is very much a does what it says not he tin candle: a blend of grounding neroli flower oil and orange peel oil to soothe.
Nest New York Charcoal Woods Candle, £45 | NEST New York
The perfect storybook, log-cabin-in-the-thick-of-the-woods-cloaked-in-mystery scent. It’s smoky. It’s peaty. It’ll transport you to another world in your mind.
Diptyque Roses Candle, £54 | Diptyque
This candle is doing one thing and on thing only: evoking a crowded rose garden, showcasing the many facets of the flower.