Natural fragrances are not a new concept, but even as the rest of the beauty world began to embrace natural alternatives to skin and haircare, natural fragrance remained a bit of an enigma.
This is largely because fragrance companies do not have to disclose their ingredients lists; they’re considered intellectual property and exact formulations are closely guarded trade secrets. The upshot is no one knows exactly what’s in perfumes.
But as consumers become more aware of ingredients such as phthalates] – which has had links to hormone disruption, allergies and irritation – so rises the interest in natural perfumes. And this interest has made them more refined than ever.
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The new natural fragrances are luxurious and have more clout than your standard OTC spray. With considered design; minimalist packaging; and high-quality, intriguing scent combinations you’ll have people asking what you’re wearing. And Aussie brands are leading the movement with the right look, smell and quality botanical ingredients. Here are the ones you need to know about.
Heartwood launched in October 2019. Its founder, Alex Wilson, says her mission is to bring Indian sandalwood to everyday life. “My family owns sustainable Indian sandalwood farms in the far north of Australia – the significance of this is that Indian sandalwood is almost extinct in India where it grows natively, so we are one of the world's only sustainable sources of this precious wellbeing ingredient,” she says. This is no mean feat considering it takes up to 20 years for this tree to grow to its full potential, which is when its “heartwood” can be used for fine fragrance. This access to Indian sandalwood is precisely what makes Heartwood so unique, and the one to look for if warm, woody scents and high-quality sandalwood are your vibe.
Two-month-old label Orb Oils already has a steady following. Co-founders Stacey Pinchbeck and Emma Smith are two marketers who spotted a gap for an accessible, inclusive and gender-neutral fragrance brand and spent two years developing just that. “Traditional fragrances are positioned as male or female and are usually about being desired,” says Pinchbeck, “but we’re all about using Orb Oils as an extension of your life to feel amazing and powerful about self.” Their offering is completely gender-neutral in name, scent and packaging, and the long-lasting fragrance oils can be used in a multitude of ways (as a fragrance, a diffuser oil or even in the wash). Standouts are the spicy River; the fresh, woody vibe of Ash; and our personal favourite, Harper, with the unexpected yet delightful combination of saltiness with lemon and amber.
These are also Aussie made (in Melbourne) and all of their ingredients are also Australian – which is rare these days. “Consumers aren’t looking for a one-size-fits-all mass-market product. They’re looking for something more unique to them and fragrance is a fingerprint and an extension of their personality.”
Founded in 2015, Ayu has been one of the category’s trailblazers; it’s helped to assert that natural can be refined and luxurious. Born out of co-founder Alanna Quin’s interest in Ayurveda (a 3000-year-old natural system of medicine from India) and the ancient methods used in perfume distilleries in India, it set about keeping this dying art alive. “We were looking for a way to bring our studies to life in a modern way as we’ve both experienced the incredible benefits around this ancient healthcare system,” says Quin. “Smell is the most primitive of the senses, triggering a strong connection between memories, emotions and instincts. We’ve always looked at the effects behind each scent note from an Ayurvedic perspective when formulating our scents and how they can ground, comfort or uplift the mood of the wearer.” A standout is Sage, with its warm notes of pink pepper, patchouli and sandalwood.
A disillusionment with the fragrance market (and its lack of transparency) inspired Kate Macdonald and Anna Weatherlake – co-founders of the Melbourne-based premium natural fragrance brand Váhy – to create their own range of scent, which launched in March this year. “We saw a huge gap in the market for high-end pure natural scents. I tried every natural scent I could get my hands on but couldn’t find anything that I’d happily switch out my commercial fragrances for without sacrificing on quality, sophistication or style,” says Macdonald. And, as it turns out, it was not easy – it took four years to refine their offering to a concise edit of six, all free from a whopping 36 ingredients their research has flagged as questionable, or even harmful (to humans and animals) – such as formaldehyde.
Perfectly balancing a luxe aesthetic with a low-tox sensibility, Váhy uses 100 per cent natural ingredients and is transparent about what is in its products without sacrificing style or sophistication of scent. Isle of Blanc is summer in a bottle, with notes of citrus blended with patchouli.
This brand is by a trio who worked together on social enterprise business Thankyou. Narrative Lab is a premium, customisable and sustainable range of clean scents. It launched last year with fragrances and recently followed with plant-oil-based fragrance oils. Co-founder Nicole Short says, “We knew this category was ripe for disruption; for a brand that would use fragrance to empower and inspire people, rather than make people feel they need to be somebody else. And of course, myself and the other two co-founders love unique, creative, beautiful products – we are obsessed with creating cool products that we would use ourselves.”
Working with a third-generation perfumer to create its fragrances, the idea was to reflect aspects of nature (earth, forest, ocean, midnight) but to also be complex and multi-layered to take the wearer on an olfactory journey as the day (and the fragrance) wears on. And, because these are the people who brought you the Thankyou line (soap, nappies, water, hand sanitiser, skincare and more), all ingredients are consciously chosen, safe and approved by IFRA (International Fragrance Association).