Three Women Perfumers Who Are Doing Scent Their Way
The connector, the healer and the risk taker: meet the women who are putting a twist on fragrance.
by : Sarah Daniel- Jan 22nd, 2020
India’s aromatic landscape – with its indigenous flowers, woods and spices – has long been a source of inspiration for perfumers. “India has been romanticized by many [fragrance] brands from the West,” says Neela Vermeire, founder of her namesake perfume line. But Vermeire, who was born in Kolkata, says these brands always fall short, simply scratching the surface to provide an outsider’s version of India. “My fragrances tell India’s scent story from the inside,” she says. Armed with a background in law and a love of perfume, she enlisted Bertrand Duchaufour, the nose behind several bestselling L’Artisan Parfumeur fragrances, to help turn her ideas into scents like Mohur, a blend of rose and oud, Bombay Bling, which has notes of mango and jasmine, and the award-winning Ashoka, which is infused with lotus and sandalwood. They all pay tribute to Vermeire’s olfactory heritage and “reflect Indian history, historical figures and places while being classically French in their execution,” she says. Other elements of the brand also capture the marriage of France and India, such as the bottle, designed by Pierre Dinand, who has sketched vessels for hundreds of perfumes, including YSL Opium and Calvin Klein Eternity. At first glance, Vermeire’s bottle looks a little like a modern-day version of the Madame Rochas flacon Dinand conceived in 1960. But, as Vermeire points out, there’s a defining difference: The 24 ridges in the glass symbolize the 24 spokes of the Ashoka chakra that decorates the country’s flag.
Neela Vermeire Ashoka Eau de Parfum Spray ($301 for 60 mL, neelavermeire.com)
Tatiana Godoy Betancur
“I don’t consider myself a perfumer,” says Tatiana Godoy Betancur. In addition to feeling that “the world of perfume can be elitist,” the Colombian-born nose says that her oil-based roll-on scents housed in small frosted-glass vials can be worn as perfume but “are meant to be experienced as more,” making them seem more adjacent to breath work and sound baths than the shouty sillages of many conventional fragrances. Godoy Betancur didn’t study traditional perfumery; instead, she attended the New York Institute for Aromatic Studies to fuel her interest in the relationship between essential oils and emotional well-being after using aromatherapy to help her through her father’s death. In 2014, she launched Olear, her Brooklyn, N.Y., olfactive studio, named for the Spanish word for “making waves.” She blends bespoke scents for individual clients, and the subtle fragrances in her ready-to-wear collection – inspired by the seven energy houses of the body and designed to stimulate and support the chakras – are infused with botanicals like juniper, bergamot and carrot seed and formulated without synthetic ingredients or preservatives. For wellness seekers looking for alternatives to burning white sage or palo santo (which is not a bad idea in light of recent debates around overharvesting and cultural appropriation), Godoy Betancur’s latest project may be of particular interest: She’s been grinding woods, resins and leaves gathered during her travels to make her own incense.
Olear Chakras Kit ($357 for a 7-pack of 10 mL roll-ons, olear-scents.com)
After studying criminology, copywriting for a greeting-card company and making and selling artisanal soaps, Isabelle Michaud had a mid-life career crisis that culminated in her selling her Toronto condo to move to Versailles and go to perfume school. She returned home to launch her own fragrance collection, Monsillage, becoming one of the country’s handful of perfumers. Despite her year of formal training, Michaud explains, her style isn’t actually in step with traditional French perfumery. Take one of her more unexpected scents, Celery Water, which won her an Art and Olfaction Award, the Independent Spirit Awards of perfumery. “The essential oil you find on the market smells like cooked celery, but I wanted it to smell fresh: crisp, green and very fibrous,” she says. The result is a blend of coriander, galbanum, vetiver and a little bit of grapefruit. While French perfumery generally favours florals with romantic narratives to match, Michaud believes that “the Canadian perfumer is more real, more anchored in nature and not as much in the dream of romance.” Our country’s wealth of natural resources has also influenced her ingredient choices. “We’re really into forest notes and woodsy notes,” she says. In fact, she created her own driftwood accord when she couldn’t find anything suitable. That commitment to her roots earned her another point of patriotic pride: a seal of approval from Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, who sent Michaud a thank-you note after receiving a Monsillage scent from a friend.
Monsillage Celery Water Eau de Toilette Spray ($105 for 50 mL, monsillage.com)
This article originally appeared in the Feburary 2020 issue of ELLE Canada. Subscribe here.
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