Shirahime: Marina, what is the essence of ‘Natural Perfumery’?The Perfume Garden: The Natural Perfumers Guild defines Natural Perfumery as the ‘art of blending fragrance ingredients of natural origin to create aesthetically pleasing natural fragrance compounds used to fragrance a full range of industry products from fine perfume to personal and household products’. What a boring mouthful this is!! (laughs)
For me it is simply the art of creating beautiful scents that can be worn as perfumes or used in cosmetic preparations or the home, and that, of course, consist only of natural ingredients.
Ingredients of natural origin include, amongst others, essential oils, absolutes and other plant extracts such as CO2 extracts, flower waters and tinctures. In my case, the only product of animal origin that I occasionally use is beeswax and beeswax absolute – in other words, most of my products are actually vegan! I refuse to use other ingredients of animal origin such as musk, civet and ambergris, no matter how they might improve my perfume or extend the length of time they stay on your skin.
I refuse to use animal ingredients in my perfumes because I do not believe in harming animals for the sake of vanity. I am an active animal rights campaigner and I do not support animal testing or harming of any kind. However, whilst completely disagreeing, I am willing to listen and try to understand the reasons behind animal testing in medical research for example, where the research might be of vital important to the treatment of human disease … but I most certainly condemn harming animals so that humans can smell nice!
Shirahime: A critical aspect of perfumery, whether synthetic or natural, is the sourcing of materials to make sure they are of prime quality but also sustainably produced. How do you manage to do that?
The Perfume Garden: The idea behind The Perfume Garden was to create a small business that is personal, sustainable, and that helps to spread the use of natural ingredients while supporting communities and fair trade.
This is difficult because as a small business it is virtually impossible to visit all the different places around the world where the ingredients are produced. In the case of The Perfume Garden, ingredients are produced in countries like Vietnam, Mauritius, India, China, Egypt, Madagascar, France, Bulgaria, USA, Brazil and many other places.
Almost everything I use comes from three suppliers, one in the US and two in the UK. I have built a very good relationship in particular with one of the UK suppliers and I know I can ask anything and I will get a truthful honest answer. Of course, whenever possible we use ingredients produced in the UK and Europe, but the reality is that only a limited number of oils are produced here as we do not have the climate to grow exotic plants.
A lot of the time it is difficult to find out details about the exact conditions of growing and harvesting, and because I cannot visit these places myself I have to rely on my suppliers and trust them in their honesty. In the process of sourcing ingredients for over 16 years now, I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that not all suppliers are as honest and open as I want them to be. A very common problem is for instance that adulterated and synthetic ingredients are advertised as natural. It can be very difficult to differentiate these products from the genuine ones, but with experience and a lot of networking with other perfumers it is possible to find quality suppliers who are able and willing to provide a chemical analysis and proof of the ingredients they sell, and who are transparent and willing to share information.
Shirahime: Do you use any organic ingredients at all?
The Perfume Garden: Yes, although not as many as I would like to, this is not possible for various reasons. For starters, the process of organic certification can be quite costly, and small communities in developing countries cannot afford it. Luckily, aromatic ingredients are often grown without the use of unnecessary pesticides as this affects the aromatic profile of the oil/extract.
And then: due to their very high costs – which evidently impact the buy-in of the raw ingredient and, more importantly, the price of the perfume for the customer – there are practical limitations unfortunately. As a consequence, I introduce them whenever there is an opportunity that is financially and commercially viable. In fact, I’m currently in the process of replacing another group ingredients through their organic equivalent, as these have become more easily and reliably available.
I do use as many organic ingredients as possible, and where possible always give priority to ingredients which are produced in sustainable communities who have a strong ethical background such as good working conditions, fair wages and also respect for their environment. In this way we try to ensure that there is no over-harvesting happening – which could result in plant species becoming endangered. This was for instance the case with Rosewood and East Indian Sandalwood, and I therefore do not use these oils because of their endangered status.
There is a growing concern with regards to sustainability and the ethics of many plantations around the world. More and more ‘ethical’ plantations are set up to ensure proper management of people as well as the environment. And luckily an increasing number of suppliers are buying from such projects, which makes them also financially sustainable.
The Perfume Garden: My personal favourite is a creation of my own, called ‘Jewel’. It is my favourite because I created it for myself! I wanted something sweet, floral and luxurious … to me Jewel is simply exquisite and I cannot get enough of it!
Without giving away its secret I can tell you that it has a warm and sweet base of organic vanilla, organic patchouli and sandalwood, and a beautiful floral heart of precious Egyptian orange flower, Moroccan and Bulgarian rose and Vietnamese jasmine. Other ingredients include organic orange and bergamot, myrrh, clary sage and galbanum.
Shirahime: The Perfume Garden offers a Bespoke Fragrance as well as a Wedding Service. Can you tell us more about what that means?
The Perfume Garden: The idea is to offer a unique experience to someone special – yourself, or a friend – by creating an exclusive perfume that nobody else will have.
Customers who use these services first complete a questionnaire that gives us an idea of the things they like and dislike in terms of food, plants, flowers, perfumes and scents in general, whether they are carnations, gasoline, grass or tobacco.
We then arrange a personal consultation during which they have the opportunity to sample scents and accords that can be used to create their perfume; we explore their reactions to different smells, the memories they trigger, the images they evoke, and we try a few combinations that will shape their signature perfume. After the consultation I create three blends for the customer to use for a few days until they decide which one is their favourite and if necessary, some further tweaking of the blend can be done before the final blend is created.
Then I blend a batch of perfume for them.
The formula is exclusive. It has the customer’s name on it and will not be used for any other customer or for a commercial blend, and further quantities can be blended as required.
The Perfume Garden also offers wedding packages. The process is similar to the one I just described. A wedding perfume can be created for the day, for the bride and the groom, as a gift for the bridesmaids or as wedding favours, and small fun perfume parties can be arranged for hen nights.
The Perfume Garden: In fact I do. I run one day workshops at different times throughout the year.
They are quite intensive – after all the goal is for participants to acquire enough knowledge to create their own basic perfumes with their new insights. This said, the environment is relaxed and friendly, and there is no pressure of any kind. During the workshop everyone creates and blends their own perfume to take home at the end of the day, and the participants usually have a lot of fun experimenting with the ingredients.
Currently I have two workshops in Glastonbury, on Saturdays 2nd June and 11th August – details are available on on our blog.
I also offer similar workshops in other parts of the country including London and Oxford.
Marina Barcenilla is the founder and creative perfumer of The Perfume Garden, a natural and ethical perfumery specialist workshop based in Glastonbury. Website: http://theperfumegarden.org; Facebook page, and Twitter: @ParfumNatural.