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Top 5 sustainable perfumeries in South Africa

by | Jul 20, 2022

From rituals and ceremonies across cultures, to self-expression, perfume has been a powerful sensory companion for thousands of years. In the 19th century, synthetically-derived scents began to take over from naturally-derived scents. The switch to commercial, mass-produced synthetic fragrances – usually cheaper and more predictable than working with natural ingredients – has proven to be harmful to people and the environment because they often contain chemically manufactured ingredients like parabens, phthalates, and petrochemicals. With this in mind, conscious perfumeries are moving back to using naturally-derived, botanical compounds.

What defines natural perfumes?

Natural perfumes are made from natural raw materials. These are materials like essential oils, concretes, absolutes, and CO2 extracts, tinctures and alcohols. “According to EU criteria, a perfume that constitutes at least 95% naturally-derived ingredients is considered to be ‘natural’. Considering the alcohol used in the perfume is natural and would most likely constitute a minimum of 80% of the total, that leaves a handy quarter of the perfume concentrate that can be synthetic, more if the concentrate is further diluted,” says botanical perfumer Marie Aoun of Saint d’Ici.

Marking fragrances as “natural” is regulated by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) which holds that fragrance ingredients must correspond with the terms and definitions outlined in ISO 9235 (the International Organization for Standardization) – a worldwide federation of national standards bodies.

“To chemists, any molecule that exists in nature is considered natural. Many natural perfumers work with so-called ‘natural isolates’, which are largely identical to their synthetic counterparts when looked at under a microscope. Other natural perfumers may endeavour to use only natural ingredients but may not discern that these ingredients are in fact ‘cut’ with synthetics (unscrupulous suppliers are a sad feature of the industry). All of this to illustrate that natural perfumery is a nebulous concept,” says Aoun.

People in a lab making natural perfumes

Perfumes in the contemporary sense are predominantly composed of single molecules. The effect is a strong, almost overwhelming, and, often, thrilling experience. To illustrate, Aoun likens these effects to those of monosodium glutamate (MSG). Aoun cautions that, in addition to questioning the synthetically-produced ingredients in our fragrances, we also need to watch out for these single molecules used in perfumery, including those that are ‘naturally-derived’. Aoun calls these ‘free-floating molecules’ because they are untethered to the family of molecules that they would ordinarily form part of. Essential oils are generally composed of hundreds of molecules. Aoun explains that some of these exist in minuscule amounts in relation to the main molecules that make up the essential oils but that they all play a role in the essential oil’s unique odour profile.

Despite what we may believe, we all use our noses constantly in what is ultimately still a primordial way of making sense of our world. Overwhelming our noses with single molecules in doses that far exceed their occurrence in nature and without their usual companions is simply not natural and, I strongly believe, not good for us – Aoun

Megan Bisschoff of Cape Town-based natural perfumery, Fettle & Frisson further emphasises Aoun’s point. While Bisschoff explains that Fettle & Frisson are pro-natural, she points out that, unless the ingredients of natural fragrances are sustainably-farmed and ethically sourced, naturals can also do harm through the exploitation of non-renewable resources. “Synthetics in this regard do not deplete natural resources. They are, however, crafted with petroleum-based propylene glycol – a chemical hack used to make scent clench to the skin, but which presents known toxicological risks to our skin’s natural biome,” says Bisschoff.

Here are five South African perfumeries you need to know:

Fettle & Frisson

Fettle & Frisson

Fettle & Frisson is a Cape Town-based perfumery owned and run by perfumers Coen Meintjes and Megan Bisschoff. The pair have been in the business of crafting bespoke, plant-based fragrances for over seven years.

Fettle & Frisson offers five different fragrances in Huile de Parfum and Eau de Parfum compositions respectively that are made with a blend of naturally-derived, aromatic ingredients that are micro-batched, hand-blended, and crafted exclusively with a palette of therapeutic-grade essential oils, absolutes (the most concentrated form of fragrance) and carriers distilled from plant-based materials.  Eau de Parfum is traditionally made with pure alcohol which can have a drying effect on sensitive skins. Because of this, Fettle & Frisson offers a Huile de Parfum made with organic coconut oil as a gentler alternative.

“We ensure that our fragrances are free from faux [synthetic] fragrances, animal-derived aromatics, and contaminants, ensuring that they are worthy of your precious skin so you can smell exquisite and stay 100% skin-safe,” says Bisschoff. Each fragrance is crafted with well-composed layers of top, heart, and base notes and then given a quiet space to mature for 30 days after which it is individually poured and bottled to order in 30ml quantities.

When choosing between an Eau de Parfum and a Huile de Parfum, Bisschoff points out that the sillage (the degree to which a perfume’s fragrance lingers) differs between the two compositions: “An Eau de Parfum offers an intense olfactory experience for the expressive wearer while a Huile de Parfum offers a more intimate and considered olfactory experience for the conscious wearer,” she says.

Bisschoff says that they have chosen to curate their fragrances around the citrus, green, floral, woody, and earthy fragrance families as they are classic, timeless, and “offer an ultra-versatile collection where there is something special for everyone”.

Fettle & Frisson operate exclusively online and offer nationwide shipping. For those wanting to sample their collection of fragrances, the perfumery offers a Discovery Set and redeem the cost on a 30ml bottle of your favourite new fragrance. The perfumery also offers a Concierge Service to help you find your signature scent.

  • Follow Fettle & Frisson here
  • Visit the Fettle & Frisson website here

Saint d’Ici

Natural bottles by Saint d'Ici

Six years ago, Marie Aoun swapped fashion for fragrance and started a perfumery in Johannesburg to create a range of botanically-blended perfumes produced in small, limited-edition batches without the use of synthetic materials. Aoun sources her botanical ingredients directly from farmers, mostly in South Africa and Africa, and works with them as they would exist in the wild to preserve their integrity.

For Saint d’Ici, natural perfumery means only working with ‘whole’ ingredients like essential oils, absolutes, CO2 extracts, tinctures, and alcohol without denaturants. “Saint d’Ici refers to itself as a ‘botanical perfumery’ in an attempt to step away from the quagmire that is ‘natural’,” comments Aoun.

On the surface, Aoun describes Saint d’Ici’s signature scent profiles as quite classic and a touch nostalgic with an omnipresent edge. “I think this comes from blending influences from the West and ingredients from the African continent. For example, Magnolia is a dry, powdery, almost soapy interpretation of the flower that owes its expansiveness and powderiness to Omumbiri, otherwise known as Namibian Myrrh, which is harvested by the ovaHimba from the fallen resin of the Commiphora wildii in the Kunene region of Namibia,” Aoun says.

On the creation of Saint d’Ici’s scents and being a natural perfumery, Aoun says, “Natural perfumery is a new old-world profession. I say ‘new’ because we cannot possibly go back to the recipes of centuries ago with their high proportions of exorbitant ingredients like narcissus and tuberose or their questionable [animal-derived] ingredients like musk and civet. We are a different culture with different ideas about what perfumes should smell like. Although we still want to smell sexy, we’re also wanting to smell clean and freshly laundered. We also have a host of new ingredients thanks to globalisation and new extraction techniques such as supercritical CO2 extraction, thus widening our palette. Each natural perfumer has their own signature. Some love to create heavy oriental scents, others focus more on well-rounded blends where you can’t discern one ingredient from another. I love a substantial ‘effect’. A big opening that will excite your nose and take you on a journey.”

Saint d’Ici encourages first-timers to botanical perfume to purchase their Discovery Set which includes seven samples and a 30ml perfume of your choice. Order online or visit the following stockists to explore Saint d’Ici’s botanical perfumes.

  • Follow Saint d’Ici here
  • Visit the Saint d’Ici website here

*Apartment.

*Apartment. perfume

Founded in Johannesburg by Leigh-Anne Drakes, *Apartment. is described as a niche, ‘conceptual’ perfumery. Drakes’ current offering consists of five different Eau de Parfums and one Eau de Toilette all in 50ml quantities.

From her brand language to the scents, *Apartment. create contemporary, conceptually curious fragrances to challenge and disturb but also to welcome and comfort.

According to the website, all *Apartment.’s scents are unisex, alcohol and IFRA compliant, and free of additional stabilisers, additional preservatives, fillers, EDTA (a chelating agent or ingredient stabiliser), parabens, and animal by-products.

Order online or visit the following stockists to try *Apartment.’s selection of fragrances.

  • Follow *Apartment. here
  • Visit the *Apartment. website here

Wild Olive Artisans

Natural perfumes by Wild Olive

Wild Olive Artisans is a 25-year-old manufacturer of over 360 different types of products from clothing to cosmetics, homeware to natural perfumes that promote a sustainable way of living.

The current offering is eight different synthetic-free fragrances made in-house in Cape Town from a selection of natural materials sourced from biodynamic farms and producers whose raw materials are reputable and respect the manufacturing process. “It is not a fast process; fragrances might take years until they are finalised,” says Wild Olive’s creative director, Marioara De La Tzara.

Commenting on the signature scent profiles, De La Tzara says, “Wild Olive Artisans make African perfumes. We present people with authentic African stories and moments that they can have in a small capsule wherever they go”.

Try the Discovery Set which comprises five 100% natural perfumes including Plantifolia Lignosa, Rosaria, Flora Capensis, Florae, and Vetiveria Citrata, each presented as natural spray in a 3ml glass vial. Order online or visit the following stockists to try Wild Olive Artisans’ natural perfumes.

  • Follow Wild Olive Artisans here
  • Visit the Wild Olive Artisans website here

House of Gozdawa

House of Gozdawa perfume

Cape Town-based niche natural perfumery, House of Gozdawa’s tagline “perfume for you, not everyone else” captures its essence most effectively.  Through the natural perfumes, House of Gozdawa reminds us that fragrances are deeply personal, precious, and powerful accessories of expression.

Founded by Agata Karolina in 2015, the perfumery offers a visually and aromatically contemporary yet nostalgic range of six unisex, naturally-derived Eau de Parfums using ingredients foraged by Karolina from the seas and earth around Africa that communicate the luxury of slow, simple, considered process.

Each perfume comes in a 50ml glass bottle. House of Gozdawa also offers two Discovery Set options with four specially curated 5ml samples. One from the fresh, floral fragrance family which includes perfumes Marta, Hel, Aga, and Ghost (an Eau de Toilette ‘travel scent’ that comes in a 30ml glass bottle); and one from the warm, woody fragrance family which includes Marta, Simo, Albert, and Ghost.

Explore House of Gozdawa’s perfume range online or visit their stockists in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Robertson, or overseas in Paris.

  • Follow House of Gozdawa here
  • Visit the House of Gozdawa website here

Seasonal and gendered fragrances: Yay or nay?

While, traditionally, perfumes have been marketed to us according to season (lighter scents for summer and heavier, richer scents for winter), and gender (sweet and floral ‘for her’, and woody, moss fragrances ‘for him’), many natural perfumers fall into a different camp of thought and advocate being guided by our skin’s unique chemical composition, our moods, and ultimately, what we like!

“We do not believe that fragrances are seasonal, we believe that one can find a perfume that they like and use it depending on their mood, regardless of the season. The few discerning people who enjoy the beauty of life and nature look for something different: the origin of the product, supporting people and ideas you believe in,” says Wild Olive Artisan’s De La Tzara.

Aoun of Saint d’Ici holds a similar view to De La Tzara’s and urges customers to stock up on a range of botanical perfumes, not to match a season, but rather to match a mood. “Let your nose determine which one you’ll reach for today, as you most likely need to smell those particular ingredients to balance yourself out. In this way, perfume completes us.”

Perfume bottle by Saint d'Ici

Saint d’Ici also do not subscribe to the construct of gendered perfumes “as the complex beauty of botanical ingredients couldn’t possibly be confined to the social norms of commercial perfumes,” Aoun says. It is all about how each perfume blends with the wearer’s personal scent to create a truly unique fragrance.

There are a lot of benefits – both for our bodies and for the environment –  to choosing a more sustainable scent. According to Aoun of Saint d’Ici, once you make the switch from the conventions of commercialised, mass-produced perfumes to natural perfumes made with responsibly-sourced natural ingredients in a more considered process, you’ll never go back. “Botanical perfumery is complex and unfolds itself slowly and subtly. It speaks to our noses in an archaic way and moves us profoundly”.

Bisschoff of Fettle & Frisson echoes Aoun’s sentiments adding, “Simply put, the benefits of investing in a more sustainable scent is a balanced blend of pleasure and purpose!”

  • Images: Supplied by each perfumery or sourced from their websites.
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