Prior to the launch of Chanel No.5 in 1921, most perfumes were based on natural essential oils or flower waters, many made using traditional methods such as effleurage. But the use of a new type of synthetic – aldehydes – in Chanel’s best-selling fragrance changed all that. No.5 ushered in the era of lab-created ingredients: cheaper and easier to make than natural oils, and longer lasting thanks to the use of phthalates. While not every synthetic is unnatural; linalool, for example, is naturally occurring; others such as persol, a peach scented chemical used in everything from cheap perfume to toilet cleaner, aren’t. But naturals have their problems too, from concerns about animal welfare (civet and musk) to solvent-based essential oil extraction.
Now real musk and civet have been banned; the solution to the green perfume quandary, says Nanette Pallrand, founder of LA based perfume brand, Rich Hippie, is to go organic. ‘People have turned to natural and organic perfume for many reasons,’ she explains. ‘It’s safer for your health, it’s safer for the environment and I think the organic movement has made people more aware of the fact that natural is quality; synthetic is not.’ The Organic Pharmacy’s Margo Marrone agrees, adding: ‘These [naturals] also impart a wonderful complexity to the fragrance that is not possible with synthetic versions.’ The use of naturals also allows perfumers to keep track of the provenance of their ingredients, whether it’s jasmine from Grasse or rose from Morocco. ‘It’s impossible to compare the complex beauty of a natural perfume,’ says Nicholas Jennings of Sharini. ‘I have in my hand a tiny sample of a effleurage essence here and I'm working with a farmer in Colombia who produces organic gardenia, lily and tuberose oils that smell exquisite. Compare that to the lingering and choking effects of some nitro musk based perfumes - they just don't compare.’
The Tropical One: Pacifica Waikiki Pikake
Why it’s great: With surfer Bo Stanley on board as environmental ambassador, it’s not entirely surprising that Hawaiian fragrance brand, Pacifica, focuses on light, fresh blends that don’t overwhelm. Making the most of local flora, the jasmine-based Waikiki Pikake – Pikake is the Hawaiian name for jasmine - is the perfect sunny day scent, with the sweetness of the jasmine, offset by a hefty dose of sandalwood. The result is a tropical floral that evokes warm nights spent watching the stars on the beach. Pacifica also has an excellent environmental record and uses post-consumer recyclables for its packaging, while the contents are propylene glycol and cruelty-free.
Also try: The heliotrope, lilac and magnolia blend, French Lilac, £22, has a loyal following while the Tahitian Gardenia, also £22, is fresh, pretty and delicate.
Wakiki Pikake, £22, is available from Himalaya UK www.pacificaperfume.com
The Day One: Aveda Love Pure-Fume Absolute
Why it’s great: Based on sandalwood, rose and ylang ylang, Aveda’s Love Pure-Fume Absolute comes in a mini bottle with a roll-on applicator. While it doesn’t last particularly well, the diminutive size of the bottle makes it perfect for handbags so reapplying on the go isn’t a problem. The sandalwood used is santalum spicatum, the Australian variety, which unlike its Indian counterpart, is widely available and sustainably harvested. The Mardu aboriginal communities based around Kuktabubba, produce Aveda’s and the partnership is run along Fairtrade lines. With its warm wood base and uplifting ylang ylang top notes, Aveda’s Love Pure-Fume Absolute is a wearable day scent with great sustainable credentials.
Also try: Aveda’s Yatra Pure-Fume Spirit, £46, is also based on sandalwood but benefits from the addition of mellow vanilla and rose geranium.
Love Pure-Fume Absolute, £20.50, is available nationwide
The Fresh One: Parfums Honoré des Prés Nu Green
Why it’s great: Putting the chic into organic, Parfums Honoré des Prés has taken the concept of organic fragrance and given it cool-over, thanks to a witty approach to packaging and the input of veteran perfumer, Olivia Giacobetti. The nose behind edgy classics such as Diptyque’s Philosykos and L’Artisan Parfumer’s Fou d'Absinthe, the success of Parfums Honoré des Prés’ offbeat fragrances is proof that Giacobetti hasn’t lost her golden touch. Nu Green, like the rest of the range, is 100 percent organic, and contains an unusual combination of cedar, mint and tarragon. The result is a fresh, green scent that smells slightly odd at first spray but soon deepens into a rich, faintly masculine musk that evokes summer days on Swiss mountainsides. Floral fans will loathe it, but for hipsters, it’s perfume nirvana.
Also try: Vamp à NY, €76, is another Giacobetti creation that strikes you as strange at first sniff but soon develops into something magical. Featuring notes of rum and tuberose, it manages to be simultaneously sexy and striking.
Nu Green, €96, is available from Ecocentric Paris www.honoredespres.com
The Floral One: Organic Glam Jasmine
Why it’s great: At £112.50, The Organic Pharmacy’s Organic Glam Jasmine isn’t exactly cheap but then, it contains an awful lot of jasmine oil. It takes 2200lbs of jasmine flowers (all of which have to be picked at night) to make just 2.2lbs of essential oil; hence the hefty price tag. Considering the awfulness of the synthetic alternatives, it’s a price worth paying for jasmine’s fresh, if slightly dirty sweetness. Rich jasmine sambac (Arabian jasmine) grown in Egypt is the basis of Organic Glam Jasmine along with the equally heady ylang ylang. Earthy sandalwood and a surprising Sicilian bergamot anchor the blend and impart a pleasing freshness to what would otherwise be an old fashioned floriental.
Also try: For something truly exotic, try Organic Glam Oud, £112.50, which is based on Indian agarwood [oud] and Moroccan cedar.
Organic Glam Jasmine, £112.50, is available from The Organic Pharmacy
The One for Everyone: Stella McCartney Stella Sheer
Why it’s great: The newest version of Stella Sheer ditches the heavy white rhododendron and replaces it with icier notes of green apple and lemon. Apples don't usually partner all that well with warm Persian rose, but in this case, the blend seems to work, thanks, perhaps, to the woody amber base. An ultra-modern floral, it’s slightly overpowering at first but dries down into something warmly wearable. In keeping with McCartney’s long-term commitment to the environment, the roses – the main ingredient – are organically grown.
Also try: Stella Rose Absolute Intense, £53, features the same rose and peony notes that made the original Stella so popular but at brightened and heightened intensity. It's not great for daytime but makes perfect sense at night.
Stella Sheer, £38, is available nationwide
The Pared Down One: Illuminum Rajamusk
Why it’s great: Illuminium, the new range from Michael Boadi – the man behind Michelle Obama’s favourite fragrance brand, Boadicea the Victorious - is a real departure from mainstream perfumery thanks to its commitment to using no more than eight ingredients per blend. Better still, all eight are completely natural, and like Boadicea the Victorious, the fragrances are produced in the UK. Rajamusk is the top pick, thanks to its intriguing blend of redcurrant, pear blossom, lily of the valley and white patchouli. As the name suggests, it also contains musk, but it’s the vegan-friendly vegetable version that’s used.
Also try: Adventuress, £90, is the standout fragrance from Boadi’s first range, Boadicea the Victorious, and is a youthful composition featuring fresh peach, ginger, bergamot and sandalwood.
Illuminium Rajamusk, from £70, is available from roullierwhite.com www.illuminiumperfume.com
The Affordable One: Lush The Smell of Weather Turning
Why it’s great: Thanks to its minimalist approach to packaging and maximalist approach to buying ingredients, Lush produces high quality perfumes that, courtesy of economies of scale, offer a green option to those on a budget. With prices starting at £3.50, The Smell of Weather Turning is an eco-perfume that’s pocket-friendly as well as gorgeous smelling. Inspired by climate change and the effect it’s having on our weather, The Smell of Weather Turning takes sunny days as its motif, featuring an unusual mint top note before drying down into something a little sultrier. A summer day in a bottle.
Also try: Intended to convey an aroma-portrait of contemporary social issues, The Smell of Freedom is a deliciously masculine fragrance based on lemongrass, ginger and sandalwood.
The Smell of Weather Turning, from £3.50, is available nationwide www.lush.co.uk
The Quirky One: L'Artisan Parfumeur Eau Naturelle de Jatamansi
Why it’s great: Jatamansi might sound like a word dreamed up by L'Artisan Parfumeur’s marketing department but in fact, it’s the Sanskrit word for Himalayan spikenard; the basis for this, L'Artisan Parfumeur’s first ECOCERT certified fragrance. Not that using naturals is anything new for the French brand; its top selling Mûre et Musc [blackberry and musk] created in 1978 is also based on nature’s finest; but it does represent a big step for the perfume industry when one of the leading houses chooses to go green in however small a way. Luscious bergamot and cardamom top notes dry down into a pleasant warm woodiness courtesy of a combination of Australian sandalwood, guaiac wood and Indian papyrus. Despite the strength of the ingredients, Eau Naturelle de Jatamansi doesn’t shout. It’s a subtle, whispered fragrance that delivers a dose of Parisian chic the natural way.
Also try: Despite the alcoholic name, Olivia Giacobetti’s Fou d’Absinthe, £78, is pure Alpine woodland walk featuring plenty of pine and a splash of balsam, spiced up with angelica, and of course, absinthe.
Eau Naturelle de Jatamansi, £80, is available from L'Artisan Parfumeur www.artisanparfumeur.com
The Boho One: Rich Hippie Utopia
Why it’s great: Living up to its name, Utopia features a truly utopian blend of organic, wild crafted Japanese Yuzu [a small yellow grapefruit] and pink grapefruit. With so much citrus in the mix, it’s almost overwhelmingly zingy at first before settling down into a lovely tropical garden fruitiness. All the fragrances in the Rich Hippie range are 100 percent organic and come in LA style funky neon yellow and pink tattoo style packaging. Truly Californian in character, if you bottled one of LA's bohemian types, this is how they would smell.
Also try: The closest thing organic perfume has to Jean Patou’s seminal fragrance, Joy; Wild Thing, £54, includes heady rose and jasmine notes with a subtle orris root base.
Utopia, £54, is available from Whole Foods
The Exotic One: Sharini Ambree Essentiel
Why it’s great: When is amber not amber? When it’s labdanum (a resin extracted from the rock rose) instead. Unlike true amber, it’s not rare and as it comes from a modern, still-living bush, it can also be produced organically. The scent is much more like the real thing however, with similarly dry, sweet and woody notes. And it’s labdanum that forms the base of Sharini’s Ambree Essentiel along with a heavy dose of rose and a splash of Australian sandalwood. Charmingly, each bottle tells you exactly what’s in it – ‘300 carefully picked roses, organic corn alcohol’ and so on – which makes it perfect for anyone who wants to keep track of precisely what they’re putting on their skin.
Also try: Iris Véritable, £49, is a gorgeously fresh blend of lime, geranium and vanilla, underpinned by an earthy dose of orris root – that’s iris to you and me.
Ambree Essential, £52, is available from The Natural Store
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