Creating natural perfume: AS Apothecary
Amanda Saurin, founder of A. S Apothecary, tells Helen Martin about the process of learning the language of scent and the art of creating natural perfume.
“I was having a facial recently using our products and as each product was applied as I lay silently on the bed, I was taken on a journey through all my favourite places.” For Amanda Saurin of A. S Apothecary everything starts and flows from the natural scent exuding from either f lower, leaf or root. “Scent is utterly evocative,” she enthuses. “It is received by the body in its most primal form, bypassing normal cognitive function as if to be felt as much as understood. This is the reason that, for example, a rose scent can transport us to a familiar garden, a person, a memory. Association with good memories is powerfully healing. Additionally, essential oils carry the essence of the plant, they hold many of the healing properties and so blended judiciously they have health benefits in and of themselves.”
Amanda, who has her home, workshop and flagship store in Sussex, has loved plants for as long as she can remember. However it was when she started having children that it became clear to her how powerful essential oils and waters could be. Her impassioned explanations of their properties come full of gentle energy: “Clary sage in labour is a magical oil, concentrating the mind and helping to birth the baby. Lavender oil for restless babies, sleepless nights and as they grow it is perfect for calming the mind when scary monsters wake them up or prevent them from sleeping. Chamomile to quell upset tummies and create peace.” Through her work, she deeply considers each scent combination. Those to lift spirits, ground the body and heal the skin. “I like to think of my products as scentoceuticals – using the best oils for amazing scent and spirit.”
In order to collect the components, Amanda often travels to their origin. Whether that’s Scotland, Cyprus, out in the Sussex fields near her home, or her own garden. This, she says, informs her entire approach. “We live in a world where connection to the natural world is increasingly fractured. In terms of my travels, I am a great believer in going to the plants rather than expecting them to come to me. To see a plant in its natural environment is utterly thrilling. To clamber over rocks, wade through streams, drive along mountain ridge roads is to live life,
to feel that connection, to marvel at the beauty and resilience of it all is a reason to be. To know every plant along a road, to wait with expectation for it to reappear after a long winter is to understand our place in the world. It never fails to disappoint.”
As a maker, Amanda stresses that each and every pot matters. “Our work is to take the natural and transform it into a therapeutic, to take the time to understand how to extract the very best from every plant that sits on my bench.” When creating a perfume, she emphasises the importance of the story behind each scent and finding a balance of notes that sit together well. The process begins with getting to know each ingredient to work out how to best extract the scent and therapeutics. Amanda will often soak it in alcohol, oil, sugar or salt. She also distils it, for both essential oil and for the aromatic water. “These distillations will be long to extract the lighter molecules graduating to the heavier, richer, deeper notes. This gives me a palette with which to start,” she says.
The perfume then begins with one ingredient, then finding a draw to others to introduce to the mix. “It is very much an instinctive process,” says Amanda. “Weaving a perfume may include known and less well known oils that capture a particular scent, place or sensation. It is a process of building layer upon layer – a vital synergy that reveals the whole.” When applied, each individual’s skin will respond differently. If it is dry, it will drink it in, whereas oily skin tends to hold the scent for longer. “That is the beauty of a natural scent, your body makes its own. Natural perfumes are volatile, something I love about them.”
Amanda’s personal favourite scents include rose. “Rose has a plethora of scent profiles, colours, shapes, textures and symbolism. For me as a menopausal woman, I use rose every day to keep me on an even keel emotionally, cool and refresh my skin and remind me of joyful places I’ve visited over the years. It has been the scentscape of my life from my own garden to English stately homes, to Cypriot gardens, to roadsides outside Beijing.” She says the scent of Daphne odora aureomarginata has been a constant in her life. “It is in f lower in February and as I left for hospital to deliver my last child almost 18 years ago, I picked a sprig. A single twig of it filled the whole room with the most magnificent scent. I smell it and think of Flora.”
Creating memories with scent, capturing the scent of a landscape in a beautiful bottle, Amanda believes that only perfumes made in small batches by hand can do this. Each ingredient nurtured, gathered and respected. To truly understand the language of scent, she passionately encourages everyone to get out there, in nature. “Go out – in sun, just after it has rained, when it is warm, when it is cold. Explore your local landscape, crush leaves, sniff flowers. Awaken your sense of smell. Remind yourself of the scent of a ripe orange, newly mown grass, freshly ground coffee. Take the time to be still.”