Flipping through the Sunday New York Times, I came across a short profile of Marie-Lise Jonak and Baptiste Bouygues, the mother-and-son team behind the new perfume brand Ormaie. The full article is available online, as “Brand to Know: A Line of All-Natural Perfumes, Made by a Mother and Son.”
For me, the packaging is the most interesting aspect of Ormaie’s story—see the photo above! The bottles and labels are classic French elegance, while the beechwood tops are fun nods to the work of Ettore Sottsass and other postmodern designers.
However, the Times (especially in the print version) focused on topic of all-natural perfumery…
I had to laugh a little at Ormaie’s suggestion that they’re doing something novel by offering all-botanical fragrances.
Here’s a quote that feels somewhat disingenuous to me:
In the spring of 2016, [Bouybues] approached Jonak with the idea to make a wholly natural perfume — and she promptly told him it couldn’t be done. “I heard myself and thought, ‘Why did I say that to Baptiste?’” she reflects. “All of my life, I have been driven by challenges. When someone says, ‘It’s impossible,’ I think, ‘O.K., I’m going to do it.’ So, I went back and told him, ‘We’re going to try it.’”
And then there’s a bit about working with perfumers—whose names are never actually given—and asking them to do something so unexpected and unorthodox.
“We were asking them to make a cookie without the eggs, flour and milk,” Jonak explains, “but it had to taste like a real cookie.” It took “hundreds and hundreds of modifications to get to the notes we were looking for,” Bouygues adds.
I find it hard to believe that a “veteran fragrance consultant” (as Jonak is described) thought that making an all-natural fragrance was impossible or even a challenge.
As I like to remind students in my fragrance-culture classes, until the invention of synthetic fragrance molecules in the mid-1800s, all perfumery was natural perfumery, and it’s never really gone away. Natural personal fragrance always been available, albeit in limited ranges and often “crunchy” formats. (Hands up if you wore sandalwood or patchouli oil in college!)
Over the past twenty years, however, natural perfumery has undergone a revival. Skilled and creative perfumers, working with carefully selected botanicals, have reintroduced natural fragrance to us as something authentic, artistic…even luxurious.
When I first started attending fragrance meet-ups in 2005 and writing for Now Smell This in 2007, there were already some fantastic all-natural perfumes waiting to be encountered in upscale department stores: Aftelier at Henri Bendel, Strange Invisible Perfumes at Barneys, Ajne and Honoré des Prés at Bergdorf Goodman, Patyka (now discontinued) at Takashimaya.
Basically, the idea of a high-quality natural perfume is nothing new at this point. If you really want to check out Ormaie at Barneys (and you’re ready to pay $270 for one of those snazzy 100-ml bottles), don’t let me stop you!
All the same, I can’t help making a few other recommendations. Here, in no particular order, are five natural perfume lines that have been around a while and are worth a good sniff. (And all of them sell sample vials, so that you can try their scents before you commit to a full bottle!)
Based in its namesake town of Providence, Rhode Island, this independent brand offers all-natural scents hand-crafted by perfumer Charna Ethier, plus a few all-natural skincare products and fragranced teas.
My favorites: Mousseline Pêche, Violet Beauregarde
Over the past five years, Hiram Green’s sophisticated natural perfumes have gained something of a cult following among male and female scent-obsessives far beyond his native Netherlands.
My favorite: Arbolé Arbolé
Even if the kittens-and-Victoriana aesthetic doesn’t appeal to you, V&S’s botanical scents may strike your fancy. Perfumer Laurie Stern’s perfume studio is located in El Cerrito, California, where she also cultivates an organic garden.
My favorites: Honey, Black Cat
Ayala Sender’s work in natural perfumery dates back to 2001. Ayala also offers bespoke consultations and shares her knowledge through long-distance natural-perfumery classes.
My favorites: Cabaret, Indigo
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz has long been a pioneer of the independent artisanal fragrance movement. She’s a prolific perfumer, constantly issuing new releases from her Colorado studio, and her scent catalogue includes an “All Botanical/Natural” category.
My favorites: Eau Cerise, Summer Cologne
If you’d like to recommend any all-natural fragrances that you particularly love, please do so in the comments!