The lat­est per­fume trend is “eau” na­turel.

The clean-beauty move­ment has em­braced per­fume, but what ex­actly is a nat­u­ral fra­grance?

Fashion (Canada) - - Contents - By Wendy Sch­mid

Once when Los An­ge­les-based nat­u­ral per­fumer Dou­glas Lit­tle met with his sup­plier, he was handed a brown pa­per bag con­tain­ing a wildly fra­grant stash. An­other time, the man showed up in a cof­fee shop tot­ing a sil­ver Zero Hal­libur­ton at­taché. Af­ter they sat down, he opened the case to re­veal tiny bot­tles held in place by a cus­tom Sty­ro­foam mould. The heady fra­grances in the vials quickly drew a crowd of in­ter­ested pa­trons. “He’s my L.A. con­nec­tion to a dis­tiller—a true artist—in In­dia who makes this in­cred­i­ble blue lily ab­so­lute,” ex­plains Lit­tle, who is also the nose be­hind Goop’s in­no­va­tive fra­grance line.

The boom­ing mar­ket for nat­u­ral-fra­grance mol­e­cules is be­ing driven by con­sumers who are in­ter­ested in avoid­ing cer­tain in­gre­di­ents. “En­docrine-dis­rupt­ing chem­i­cals like ph­tha­lates are of­ten found in syn­thetic fra­grances,” says Dr. Ebru Karpu­zoglu, an Atlanta-based im­mu­nol­o­gist. “DBP and DEP, in par­tic­u­lar, are fre­quently used to en­hance the strength of the scent. But the FDA doesn’t re­quire com­pa­nies to list fra­grance in­gre­di­ents, as they can be con­sid­ered pro­pri­etary, so it can be hard to know if ph­tha­lates are in there.”

That same reg­u­la­tion ex­ists with Health Canada, but some com­pa­nies, like Ph­lur, vol­un­tar­ily list their in­gre­di­ents, adding that they use “safe syn­thet­ics” and no ph­tha­lates. Nat­u­ral fra­grances, on the other hand, tend to forgo any syn­thet­ics and in­stead fo­cus on nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als like flow­ers, leaves, resins and barks.

“I think the real en­thu­si­asm for nat­u­ral per­fume be­gan in the last year and a half,” says Lit­tle, who first pre­dicted the shift in the mar­ket when he was giv­ing a beauty-trends lec­ture in 2010. “I felt peo­ple would rebel against want­ing to smell like J.Lo—that there would be a resur­gence of in­di­vid­u­al­ity. We’ve seen this evo­lu­tion in the food and al­co­hol mar­kets with small-batch and ar­ti­sanal blend­ing and con­sumers want­ing more nat­u­ral prod­ucts that of­fer trans­parency with in­gre­di­ents. I saw it as be­ing the fu­ture of per­fumery.” When an at­tendee from a large fra­grance house called his words “heresy,” Lit­tle trade­marked Heretic and be­gan mas­ter­ing the art of nat­u­ral per­fume.

His so­phis­ti­cated creations for Heretic and Gwyneth Pal­trow’s Goop are help­ing nat­u­ral per­fume shed its gra­nola im­age. With notes of berg­amot, co­rian­der, jas­mine, blond to­bacco, tonka bean and choya ral, Heretic’s Jas­mine Smoke of­fers an ol­fac­tory snap­shot of an out­door din­ner party where ten­drils of smoke are curl­ing about the blooms of pink jas­mine. Goop’s Edi­tion 03 - In­cense per­fume cap­tures the idea of sa­cred prayer, cleans­ing and re­newal with a unique com­bi­na­tion of woods (agar­wood, san­dal­wood, Bud­dha wood), resins, cedar and rare green frank­in­cense.

“I give Gwyneth a lot of credit for go­ing in a di­rec­tion that’s sexy and provoca­tive and for re­ally push­ing the en­ve­lope with the fra­grances,” says Lit­tle. (The brand even uses su­gar cane al­co­hol as a de­na­tur­ing agent rather than the stan­dard SD 40 al­co­hol.)

Af­ter find­ing nat­u­ral per­fume too aro­mather­a­peu­tic, Toronto-based nat­u­ral

per­fumer Court­ney Ra­fuse started cre­at­ing in­ven­tive blends such as car­damom, neroli, pink pep­per­corn, san­dal­wood and clove for her com­pany, Uni­ver­sal Flow­er­ing. “To me, if you smell nat­u­ral jas­mine and then you smell syn­thetic jas­mine, there’s just no com­par­i­son,” she says.

“There is leg­end and mythol­ogy around raw, nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als, and I think noth­ing is as good,” says Benoît Verdier, co-founder of Parisian fra­grance house Ex Ni­hilo. “Our fra­grances are in the Mid­dle East, Eu­rope, Rus­sia and North Amer­ica, and we are see­ing that cus­tomers want some­thing more nat­u­ral. I think it’s not to say no to chem­i­cals but to use them with in­tel­li­gence.” The brand, which pro­motes per­son­al­iza­tion, cre­ated Sub­lime Essences, a trio of es­sen­tial oils with an al­mond oil base and an ac­cord of oud, musk or am­ber plus a small amount of syn­thetic as a preser­va­tive. Pure, nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als are harder to con­trol and can ex­pe­ri­ence colour changes over time with ex­po­sure to oxy­gen. “A nat­u­ral fra­grance can also be­come deeper and richer,” says Ra­fuse. “For a small per­fumer, that’s a sell­ing point, but larger fra­grance houses want con­sis­tency.”

Lit­tle agrees and says that nat­u­rals of­ten re­quire some ed­u­ca­tion. “The way I de­scribe syn­thetic fra­grance to my stu­dents is that it is like oil paint,” he says. “It’s opaque, in­tense, ro­bust and de­signed to last. Nat­u­ral fra­grance is like paint­ing with wa­ter­colours. They’re trans­par­ent and sheer, and they’re not go­ing to last as long. But the end cre­ation is alive. It pro­vides a holis­tic qual­ity.”

That was the thought be­hind Milèo, a new col­lec­tion of chem­i­cal-free fra­grance oils that also treat the skin. “Oud is the hero in­gre­di­ent and a pow­er­ful an­ti­in­flam­ma­tory,” ex­plains fra­grance ex­pert Matthew Milèo. “Am­brette seed, which is the only plant-based musk found in na­ture, con­tains al­pha-hy­droxy acid; or­ris root sweeps up ox­ida­tive stress; and East In­dian san­dal­wood helps re­gen­er­ate skin tis­sue.” Milèo in­cludes other fra­grant, heal­ing botan­i­cals like blue cy­press, pink lo­tus and golden cham­paca in the four-piece col­lec­tion and tests all ex­tracts to en­sure pu­rity. Since sus­tain­abil­ity is an im­por­tant part of per­fum­ing, he also lim­its his use of en­dan­gered san­dal­wood to govern­ment-sanc­tioned trees. (Lit­tle meets with as many man­u­fac­tur­ers as he can to ap­prove best prac­tices, and Ex Ni­hilo works with famed fra­grance house Gi­vau­dan and its sus­tain­abil­ity pro­gram for in­gre­di­ents like ve­tiver and Mada­gas­car vanilla.)

The fra­grance in­dus­try’s growth is spurring per­fume sup­pli­ers to make new tech­nol­ogy and in­gre­di­ents avail­able so that nat­u­ral per­fumers can cre­ate smoother notes that weren’t pos­si­ble in the past—“things like pheny­lacetic acid for vel­vety, suede-y notes and gamma De­calac­tone, a nat­u­ral iso­late of stone fruit that we’re us­ing in Goop’s Edi­tion 04 Or­chard,” says Lit­tle. “And man­u­fac­tur­ers in Colom­bia are us­ing coconut oil to do en­fleurage of tiare, a species of gar­de­nia, so now we have a 100 per cent nat­u­ral gar­de­nia avail­able to us,” he adds. “I’m an artist, so I won’t say that I’ll never work with syn­thetic mol­e­cules again, but I love that I’m able to be a part of this nat­u­ral-fra­grance move­ment.”

FROM LEFT: HERETIC JAS­MINE SMOKE ($208); UNI­VER­SAL FLOW­ER­ING MAD­MAN’S HONEY ($80); MILèO ELIXIR OUD AM­BER FORT ($160 ); EX NI­HILO SUB­LIME ESSENCE MUSC ($615 ); GOOP EDI­TION 03 - IN­CENSE ($220)

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