the romance of all-natural perfumes

One of my favourite things to do is simply take a walk through the local national park and take in all the different natural aromas Mother Nature has paired up with everything she's created. Our sense of smell is the strongest of our senses, yet it often takes the backseat to sight and taste. It was for this reason I was quite intrigued to meet Sally, the founder of Aromantik, who, for the past ten years, has used the kitchen in her Manly beachside apartment as an all-natural perfumery. After our chat, I took the opportunity to smell some of Sally's perfumes. Let's just say I think Mother Nature would give a big tick of approval. 

Is it true you worked on creating and perfecting some of your perfumes for seven years before you began selling them?

Haha, kind of. It wasn't like I was working on them full-time. It started out and still really is a creative outlet for me. It wasn't until 2010 that I made it into a business. For about seven years before that I had been researching, studying and experimenting with natural perfumery. The formulation of the perfumes obviously takes a lot of time, finding all the ingredients from all around the world and then testing how they work/smell together. Then came all the business side of things like branding, packaging etc

Then you started selling them at the local markets?

Correct, which served as a great testing ground because I could instantly see what people liked and didn't like. From there I picked up a handful of retail stores and perfumeries that now stock my range. You can now also buy them directly from our website, which at first was difficult obviously because people want to smell a perfume before they buy it. So the way I got around this was to sell small sample packs, that way people could decide what their favourite was for only a small amount of money.

Great idea! So what else were you doing while all this was going on?

I worked in the magazine industry for a long time as an art director. Then I went out on my own doing freelance work as a graphic designer and editor. The skills I've learnt from those years have really helped me out. All the packaging, branding and web design I've done myself.

Wow, I was going to comment on how beautiful the labels look.

Thanks. I'm lucky that most of the things I've had to do (packaging design, branding etc) I really enjoy, so it hasn't felt like work.

What made you get into natural perfumery?

I've always been quite conscious of the type of skincare products I've used and was shocked when I looked into what was in the perfumes I was wearing. It was like I was dumping poison on myself and undoing all the hard work of these wonderful skincare products. It didn't make any sense. Our skin is our largest organ and whatever we put on it is absorbed into our bloodstream within a few seconds. A lot people are concerned with what food they eat, however don't realise that what you put on your skin has just as much of an effect as what you put in your mouth.

So I started looking into all-natural perfumes and there was almost none available in Australia. There were a lot that claimed to be all-natural but really weren't. I think commercially in Australia there are still only around five of us. It's quite a weird thing to do, they say there's more astronauts in the world than there are natural perfumers.

I started to do a lot of research and became fascinated with the history and tradition of these all-natural perfumeries. I love thinking about all the people involved in the process of what I do. The people that grow the flowers. The people who pick them and then those who extract the oils from them. There's a lot of romance in going back to how everything is done. 

More astronauts than natural perfumers, that's a pretty cool statistic.

In some ways it can be a good thing, like we have a very loyal niche market. However the fragrance industry is quite heavily governed by an international authority and they certainly aren't making it any easier for us.

What do you mean?

The fragrance industry is big business and when there are people or companies who disrupt it and begin to gain some interest, even though that interest might be so minute. They don't like it haha.

Also because we've become so accustomed to these synthetic perfumes and are obessed with cleanliness our sense of smell has evolved, or de-evolved I should say. There is an international authority that is attempting to ban or limit the use of natural materials and it is essentially threatening the use of natural materials in favour of synthetic ones.

That's unbelievable! It's like we're training ourselves to become more artificial.

It's funny you say that, because I had to redevelop my natural sense of smell. It's really amazing when you start to train your nose. It really develops a different part of your brain. Particularly around memory.

There's some really interesting scent artists around the world that are exploring how to re-engage our sense of smell through art. There's an artist in Switzerland that actually collects armpit sweat and then somehow combines it with a type of paint and creates these pieces of art which she then exhibits. People from all around the world come to see — and smell — her art.

 

Haha, kind of reminds me of those 'scratch and sniff' things.

Exactly! I do love the idea of creating art that engages your sense of smell and visual curiosity though. It's something I've thought a lot about lately, although I certainly don't think I'll be collecting people's armpit sweat. Maybe something to do with flowers, haha.

I was starting to get worried then... Coming back to how scent is closely related to memory, I'll often smell something and it will take me straight back to a particular moment in my life. 

Smell is such a powerful sense. Unlike sight where it can take time to process what we see logically, that doesn't happen with smell. It kind of skips your consciousness and goes straight to your emotional being. 

My mother passed away when I was 17 and one of the things I inherited from her was this old chest with all her perfumes in it. One day I opened it and was smelling all the different perfumes and I felt such a close connection to her, almost like she was right there. It was a really emotional experience.

Is that how you come up with different products, by recalling a particular memory?

Very much so. I'll often remember a particular moment in my life and start to run around frantically in my kitchen trying to recreate it. Other times I'll just start experimenting with different ingredients and a particular formulation will trigger something and it'll take me away to some place. It's a very intuitive experience.

How do you know what ingredients work well together?

Again it comes back to training your nose and a lot of experimenting. The tricky part is creating a consistency in the product. It's kind of similar to making wine in the way that you may get a slightly different product depending on what Mother Nature decides to do. For example, Bulgaria might experience more rainfall than usual or it might be a really hot year in India. All these factors change the molecule make-up of everything I use to create my products and when some of my fragrances have over thirty different ingredients, you have to be able to slightly adjust each batch to make sure there's a consistency in your product. 

Surely there's someone else who can test and measure this part of the formulation to make it easier for you?

You're right, there is and a couple of years ago I did try and see if I could get one of my fragrances formulated somewhere else, but for some reason it just didn't smell the same. Even though I gave them the exact same formula.

There's something special about creating something with your very own hands. I feel there's a bit of myself in every bottle. It's kind of like Mum's home cooked roast dinner on a Sunday afternoon, you can just taste the difference and nothing will come close.

For me this has always been a creative outlet. Even though I could probably push it to become more business orientated, I don't think that would make me happy and at the end of the day I suppose that's what it's all about. Doing something that makes you happy.