I am not a perfume girl. That is, I am not a conventional perfume girl. After my mid-90’s foray into shopping mall scents that would linger for days after application, I eschewed scented products as remnants of a very misguided adolescence. It wasn’t until I had the very fortunate circumstances of working at Follain alongside Susannah Compton of Florescent that I really started to appreciate fragrance for its artistry and ability to transform.
Susannah taught me that natural perfumes in particular had a delicate chemistry. Instead of a laboratory, natural perfume ingredients are distilled or extracted from flowers, woods, fruits, grasses, roots, resins and other botanicals. They are, as Susannah says, the “beating heart” of her perfumes. These botanical ingredients are just as complex as their synthetic counterparts, and yet are more ephemeral. What could last for hours in a conventional fragrance might fade in an afternoon with a natural perfume. And yet only natural perfumes seem to capture the nature of their source in fleeting moments of joyful expression. After a few months of learning from Susannah, I was hooked.
Cut to years later when I was furiously underway with plans for my wedding. I wanted to carve out a few special areas that would be truly and uniquely mine, little details that wouldn’t get lost in the fray. I reached out to Susannah to see if she would consider making a bespoke fragrance for my wedding day, and luckily she said yes!
We started with a phone call, that was half laughing and catching up and half getting down to business. We talked through my favorite perfumes and what I wanted to feel from something that would capture such a special moment. I envisioned a variation of Susannah’s classic Sundays perfume, a heady blend of jasmine that first captured my imagination years before. Knowing my love of rose fragrances, we decided on a mixture of a romantic rose floral with a slightly sexy, grounding base. From there, Susannah went to work.
A few days later, a box arrived with my first homework assignment. Susannah explained that there were three layers, or notes, to a perfume, consisting of the top, middle, and base. In addition to identifying the individual scents that I wanted, she would also need to come up with the right ratio to create a balanced fragrance. The first step was picking the ingredients.
This part of the process was like opening up a jumbo crayon box and realizing you’ve been coloring with a pencil. “Rose” became a husky version from Bulgaria, a sweet version from Turkey, and an absolutely magical version from Morocco. Base notes of Palo Santo and Frankincense travelled far and wide, and Italian Bergamot was like nothing I had ever encountered. I spent an evening closing my eyes and taking notes on each one, marveling at how different a single flower or wood could be. Dutifully scoring each one, I reported back with my favorites in each category. A few weeks later, a new box appeared and we repeated the process.
The End Result
Before I knew it, the big day had arrived and so had my magical fragrance. After playing with a few variations of the final blend, Susannah created a mixture of two types of vetiver (giving it that spicy sexiness), two types of rose absolute (the romantic and traditional element), clary sage, clary sage absolute, styrax and benzoin. The high concentration of rose gave the perfume a beautiful deep gold color, and holding it up to the light made it look like molten sunshine. In the end, Susannah made a small rollerball to carry with me (shown above), a solid balm to warm up with the skin throughout the day, and a full size bottle to spray generously and often.
Now, every morning starts with a spritz (or four) of this beautiful perfume. With one whiff, I’m reminded of the generosity of a dear friend who turned me into a fragrance girl after all!
Want to learn more? I love this article from the New York Times highlighting the godmother of natural perfumery Mandy After. Part historian, part ingredient detective, Mandy is the epitome of what makes natural perfumery such a special art.
*Photo credit at the top goes to my amazing wedding photographer Joriann of Chris Joriann Photography.