About Natural Perfumes
Those accustomed to 'big brand' perfumes might initially feel underwhelmed when trying natural products for the first time. Synthetic fragrances are linear, strong, and produce an instantaneous effect. Natural perfumes, comparatively, simply do not have the same strength and duration that one might have come to expect. However, in my judgment, natural perfumes offer an entirely different, and immensely valuable, experience.
What I adore about working with botanicals, and especially the ones I grow myself, is that there is always an element of surprise and wonder to them. There is, for instance, no single, static "rose" smell: "Provence Rose," or Rosa Centifolia, smells distinct from "Damask Rose," or Rosa Damascena. And even then, a Rosa Centifolia harvested in one year might smell discernibly differently from the same flower harvested in another, thanks to climate conditions, and so on. The infused oils, and essential oils, that are so integral to my perfumes all came from living things - things that are dynamic, complex, and with a history. Synthetic fragrances, in contrast, lack any of this 'life force': they are constant and uniform - they are copies of copies of copies. To me, they lack interest because there is no story behind them, and therefore no vibrancy. As renowned perfumer Mandy Aftel (2001) puts it: "Synthetics can approximate the dominant qualities of the natural essences, but because of this irreducible complexity, they cannot capture the subtlety or softness of their odors. With all the chemical analysis available, natural substances cannot be pinned down to a formula and replicated in a laboratory. Only nature can create the smell of jasmine at nightfall" (Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume, pg. 52).
A natural scent's story doesn't end when the mixture is finally poured away into a bottle, either. When natural fragrances are applied to the skin, they interact with the wearer's body chemistry, producing a new effect yet again - and from there, they develop and evolve over time into an experience that is unique to you. So, my recommendation is not to judge a natural perfume based on first impressions only. Allow yourself to observe how the interplay between top, middle and base notes develops over time, and the enjoyment will be endless.
Some other things to keep in mind:
- Natural perfumes are subtle - they are designed to scent you and not the world around you.
- Natural perfumes do not contain any preservatives, and so are intended to be applied a few times during the day. They are safe to use for up to 12 months, after which, they spoil.
- Natural perfumes are very simple, and clear about what they contain. Conversely, due to IP protections over their formulae, many big brands producing synthetic perfumes are not required to divulge their full ingredients. When they say 'parfum' or 'fragrance' in their list of ingredients, they might actually mean a mixture of several or even hundreds of chemicals, sometimes including petrochemicals and phthalates. For this reason, natural perfumes are widely considered to be much safer to use.
I hope this has explained a bit about my process! Thank you for reading.
** "Natural perfumes cannot ultimately be reduced to a formula, because the very essences of which they are composed contain traces of other elements that cannot themselves be captured by formulas. Like the rich histories of their symbolism and use, this essential mysteriousness makes them magical to work with." - Mandy Aftel, 2001, Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume (pg. 48). **
- Tyler Bartlett