This is the burnet rose, rosa spinosissima. It is small, beautiful and delicate, and while it grows throughout the Burren, you will usually find it growing low to the hard, harsh ground, in the stoniest places.
It’s so small that to smell it you have to go down on your hands and knees and bring your nose to almost touch the beautiful heart-shaped petals. I love the subtlety of this scent, and the fact that each flower remains pristine for only a short time. It is the very definition of ephemeral, and yet it is also stubbornly persistent, clambering out of tiny cracks in the rock, growing its thorny branches and delicate blooms on what can only be a teaspoonful of soil.
The burnet rose was my inspiration for my latest perfume: Wild Rose. Three long years in the making, we finally finished it this summer. I think it is the best perfume we have ever made.
When I started work on this fragrance I wanted to create something as rare, precious and delicate as the burnet rose. Something that I would _love_ for years. And I wanted to luxuriate in the creation process; to use the very best natural ingredients, to make no compromises, to ‘spare no expense’. That is one of the nice things about having your own company, however small. You can do things you believe in, without having to pay heed to fashion or commercial pressures.
So we’ve always been able to follow our own path, but with creating Wild Rose I wanted to double-down, to really immerse myself in the traditional world of perfume making, using only the most beautiful natural ingredients. And three years ago, when on a perfume training course in Grasse, I met the perfect person to collaborate with.
This is Marianne Nawrocki, master perfumer and lecturer at Grasse Institut de Parfumerie, which is where I got to know her on a training course. While there, I learned that Marianne shared my love of natural ingredients and classical perfume making, where a fragrance is created like a piece of art, for its own sake, and not to fill the shelves of duty free shops. So naturally when I started working on Wild Rose, I asked her to collaborate with me.
Marianne is lovely. As well as a deep expertise and her many years of experience as perfumer, she has a real love for the art and craft of perfume making, and travels all over the world to witness the harvesting and growing of the natural ingredients herself.
A perfume is created by blending the scents and properties of different ingredients. Each contributes its own fragrance, but each one also interacts with the others: here a scent is enhanced, there it is softened, until the whole perfume expresses both its own distinct melody and, hopefully, harmony. Bringing the elements of a perfume together is part science, part art, part wandering exploration.
We begin by creating a set of trials, almost as an artist might make a series of preparatory sketches. We choose the central voices, building the core of the fragrance out of rose, bergamot, sandalwood and angelica, varying the proportions of each. Each version has to be smelled (naturally!) but I do this over a number of days or weeks, making notes each time on my impressions. The perfume will express itself differently at different times of the day, temperatures, on different skin, and so on. You really have to live with it each day.
This round of experimentation, testing, sampling and adjusting was repeated multiple times over two years. Creating a 100% natural perfume of subtlety and delicacy is technically difficult and requires not only expertise but determination and patience.
Our Wild Rose perfume contains 30 different natural raw materials, all adding a particular facet of the experience of the whole perfume. At its heart are Rose Centifolia, Rose Damascena, Bergamot, Benzoin Siam, Sandalwood from New Caledonia, Gaic Wood, Angelica and Ambrette Seed.
I am often asked, why natural? Personal preference for one; I prefer the gentler, more harmonious, complex notes of natural scents and the way they leave no jarring after-notes on the skin. There are also ethical and environmental reasons: I like to know that the ingredients of anything that I am wearing on my skin are natural and environmentally sustainable.
A natural rose distillate contains 283 different compounds. (That’s just in the rose oil alone, before we even begin to consider the other 29 ingredients!) This deep complexity from natural ingredients is what gives it the sophistication and subtlety that you smell in Wild Rose. Synthetic recreations of the scent of rose simply reproduce the dominant molecules, omitting the wonderful balance and breadth of this beautiful flower. Once you have enjoyed the scent of true rose essence you will never be happy with synthetic substitutes.
Use of natural ingredients has become rare in the mainstream perfume world, mainly due to cost: 1 kg of rose centifolia requires 3,000 kg of rose petals. Natural ingredients must be grown, harvested (usually by hand), and then carefully distilled to extract their essences - time-consuming and labour-intensive processes, whereas most synthetic substitutes can be made in a laboratory with far less cost.
Wild Rose Eau de Parfum is certified with COSMOS, which is the European certification standard for natural and organic cosmetics. We are proud to be able to use the logo which guarantees that this perfume is made from only 100% natural ingredients and 77% organic of total.
Wild Rose in part owes its origins to a series of journeys I made to France some years ago. I had decided that I wanted to extend my knowledge of natural ingredients and oils, such as where they come from and exactly how they are harvested. It is one of the areas of perfumery that really fascinates me: the story behind each ingredient.
I went to Grasse, traditional centre of the French perfume industry, where I visited some of the growers and participated in the harvesting of roses and the beautiful neroli (bitter orange) flower. Training in Grasse really widened my palette of scents and ingredients, and meeting the producers gave me a deeper understanding of the real value of these oils. I started seeing them not just as ingredients that arrive in bottles and flasks, but as part of both a landscape and a history, as well as something central to the livelihood of the community.
I love the sense of connection between the flower or plant, generally native to an area, the local people that grow and harvest it, the distillation or processing of the plant material and all the heritage and expertise that is involved in that.
One May, I was introduced to Rose Centifiolia or ‘Rose de mai’. This rose is special to Grasse and is the most delicately scented of the non-wild roses: very sparkly, fresh, alive and unspeakably expensive. Once I had discovered it and spent time smelling and harvesting it, I was determined to use this precious ingredient in my Wild Rose perfume. Marianne helped me find a local source for our needs.
The older I get, the more I value the connections and relationships we make and live in our daily lives. At the Perfumery, we are in direct contact with our customers in a way that large perfume and cosmetic houses aren’t. We handle the ingredients that go into our products daily, and we know their provenance; we label and pack and ship by hand. I feel these thing really contribute to a wholesome work/life feeling.
A beautiful fragrance needs to be held beautifully. A perfume is often a gift, whether from a loved one or as a luxury for oneself, and I feel that it should be a gorgeous artefact to hold and to open.
Choosing the packaging starts with the bottle, as everything else must fit around that shape. For Wild Rose, I wanted that shape to be feminine and delicate, to feel nice in one’s hands. I must’ve looked at literally hundreds of bottle shapes over a year, before making my choice.
Having chosen the bottle, we then began filling out the design: new caps embossed with our logo, made in Spain; matching pumps and atomisers from France. Moodley, our brilliant design company in Vienna, began work on typography, and candidate box designs. We sourced beautiful FSC-certified Fedrigoni paper from Italy to make the cartons with, and sent samples of the bottles to a French printer specialising in perfume packaging to have them make exact templates for the inner and outer boxes. We chose to make the box as small as was practical, in order to minimise the amount of material consumed. Recycled paper is used in both the inner and outer box, and the inks are all vegetable-based.
Coordinating all this is time-consuming and nerve-wracking. Dimensions must be triple-checked so that everything _actually_ fits together. There can be… setbacks. For example, having completed almost all the design work, as we placed the order for the bottles, the glassmaker told us they were going to discontinue it! Which would’ve necessitating changing everything and starting again from scratch. (We managed to talk them out of it.)
Finally there is the excitement as the orders begin to arrive from different parts of Europe. And then the day we had all the pieces and could finally assemble the first finished perfume and nestle it into its beautiful box.
I am happy. I feel like I’ve been holding my breath for 3 years. It’s exactly what I wanted: a classic rose perfume from 100% natural ingredients. Time to celebrate!