Sally Woodward-Hawes is the amazing founder of Aromantik Natural Perfumes, an essential oil based range of ethical, sustainable and exceptionally beautiful perfume. She has even mastered a plant-based, vegan musk. Beautiful Because caught up with her to discover more about the art of natural perfumery.
After my mother passed away when I was 17, I inherited an old vanity case full of bottles of her old perfumes. Some even belonged to my Grandmother. The ones I remember clearly are Joy, Opium, and Chanel no. 5 – which she'd adored. Opening this case had a profound impact on me as I immediately experienced the primordial power of scent to connect us instantaneously to our deepest memories. It was literally as though she were standing beside me again. (Scientists refer to this kind of an event triggered by scent as the ‘Madeleine Effect’ based on a passage written by Marcel Proust in ‘Remembrance of Things Past’). In hindsight, this was a pivotal moment for me as I was inspired to capture that ability to create memories that can transcend time, place and even life itself. Fast forward a few years later and I happened upon a book about making your own natural beauty products. I was hooked. And this was how my love affair with natural essential oils and essences began.
Natural perfumes are made using a palette of only natural oils, absolutes and extracts. Some natural perfumers today also include natural isolates in their blends but I am yet to cross over into this territory. Most commercial perfumes today are made using a high proportion of synthetic fragrance materials, and some of these are questionable in terms of their safety and also their impact on the environment. Very little research has been done on many of these materials. A good example of this is synthetic musk, which is used so prolifically in perfumes and laundry detergents that it is now detected in breast milk, body fat and the cord blood of newborn babies. These materials are also bio-accumulative and persistent in the ecosystem.
Whatever you put on your skin is absorbed into the bloodstream. Think of nicotine patches and the way they work. For me a benefit of natural perfumes is not only that they are better for your body and the environment, but they can also harness some of the aromatherapy benefits of essential oils.
My perfumes are all hand-blended in very small batches and they are an artisan product. I use traditional perfumery techniques and source only the very best natural materials from all over the world.
My particular creative process usually begins with a feeling or memory or place I want to capture. From here I will then begin to work with my palette of natural materials to build what I refer to as a ‘sketch’ of base notes, middle notes and top notes. This can take anywhere from a few hours to a few years – literally. This is the part I enjoy the most – the creative hunt. And sometimes the hardest formulas to crack are the most rewarding in the end. There have also been times when a formula has come to me almost as a ‘feeling’. I can’t describe this, but it feels very alchemical and once I sit down to blend, it seems to just happen organically without conscious effort.
I have built up relationships with some fantastic suppliers over the years from all over the world who source directly from growers and distillers. This is how I get most of my raw materials.
These often change depending on what I am working on but my current favourite notes are labdanum absolute for it’s warm and intriguing amber-like aroma, orris root butter, aged dark patchouli, ambrette seed (for it’s musk like aroma), jasmine absolute and organic vetiver oil from Haiti. I am also loving lavender absolute which smells very different to your standard lavender oil.
Natural perfumes that are in an alcohol base are preserved by the alcohol itself. No additional preservative is needed. My perfumes are mainly oil-based and I use a fractionated coconut oil as the base which has a very long shelf life and it extremely stable. As it is anhydrous (contains no water) it does not need a preservative.
I am inspired by lots of different things but primarily by emotions and experiences. I love the idea that an Aromantik perfume will remind someone of the person they love, or the one they left behind, or the day they marred the love of their life. Recently I got a beautiful email from a customer who ordered ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ and wrote to me to tell me that it reminded her of the way her husband smells and that he was away at the moment and it had brought her great comfort. It reminded me of the personal effect that scent can have. I really want to bring that romance and mystery back into peoples lives.
I created ‘Merchants of Menace’ because I really longed for a natural musk perfume and I couldn’t find any on the market. Every musk perfume I found was synthetic. It took me over 2 years to create and I knew I was onto something when people would literally stop me on the street and ask me what I was wearing. Sometimes I’d walk into a room and people would say ‘Is it you wearing that musk perfume? (laughs)’. It’s quite a complex blend of materials that you would never normally associate with ‘musk’. It is also very wearable by both men and women. I don’t think there are any other straight natural musk perfumes out there…
I have been thinking about this a lot lately as over the years I have paid very close attention to who wears what! I think our perfume choices are definitely a reflection of our personalities. I know a few of my perfumes are ‘harder to wear’ than others due to their unusual notes and I think you have to be quite comfortable with yourself to wear these. It’s a very interesting area (for me at least).
I always say that the first note in a perfume is always your own skin. People who are choosing a scent because it’s popular or because a celebrity has put their name to it will most probably end up with something that doesn’t really suit them. A lot of commercial perfumes tend to ‘wear you’, instead of you wearing them. What I mean by this is that they are completely overpowering and smell the same on everyone and people smells the ‘perfume’ and not ‘you’. A great perfume makes you smell like a sexier version of yourself. Natural perfumes tend to blend with your own skin chemistry to create a unique fragrance.
I advise people to buy samples if they are available as the only way to really know if you’ll love a perfume is to wear it on your own skin.
My signature scent is ‘Merchants of Menace’. I still love it as much as the day I first made it, and I still get people telling me how good I smell. If I am not wearing ‘Merchants of Menace’ I am wearing ‘The Blossom Thief’ which I reserve for special occasions like going out on a date with my husband or going to a wedding.
Making perfume is like making liquid memories.
Discover the range of beautiful Aromantik Natural Perfumes, available at Beautiful Because.
By Nina Weston