Thursday, December 1, 2005
The smell of freshly cut grass takes me back to my childhood summers, in the yellow house I grew up in. My sister and I are sitting on our bunk beds, in the bedroom we share. We’re supposed to be napping, but the sunlight is shining through the French door, which opens out to the backyard, where my dad is mowing the lawn and trimming the bushes. I can feel the sun through the glass, and hear the lawn clippers. The scent makes me feel safe and loved.
Fragrance will do that—conjure old memories of people and places, elicit longing, sadness, joy or disgust. It’s primal and instinctual and amazing.
Scents go straight through the nose to the limbic system, “passing the rational parts of the brain, straight to your memory, straight to your emotion,” says Isabelle Aurel, a Pacific Grove-based natural perfumer. And intentionally or not, Aurel describes feelings and memories as often as actual scents when she’s talking about her perfumes.
Natasha, which has an aroma of bitter orange, jasmine and spice, is “a smoky, clubby feeling,” Aurel says. A French song about a woman named Natasha inspired the scent. “It’s such a romantic memory,” Aurel says. “She’s so sexy. Perfect for a moody evening.
“My favorite right now is probably Fleur,” a floral blend of Moroccan jasmine, Russian rose and amber, “Although I went through a Mood phase for a while. Mood has this spicy fir and rosy jasmine essence, which is more for a cold autumn day.”
It’s a record-breaking warm autumn day, more in tune with Fleur than Mood, and Aurel sits at a table with solid perfumes, liquid perfumes encased in dainty, vintage French flacon bottles, and dozens of essences spread out in front of her. Her perfumes do not contain any synthetic chemicals. This means her fragrances won’t harm skin or other organs. Aurel herself was unable to wear perfumes because she was allergic to the synthetic scents; that is one of the reasons she began creating natural perfumes. Hers are much more environmentally friendly than their chemical counterparts.
“The renaissance of natural perfume is now, since we have such a range of beautiful distillations of many plant materials—this along with a new appreciation of the natural complexity and drama of the essences and what they bring to our lives, as opposed to the drawbacks of the synthetics.”
Aurel’s ingredients—essences distilled from flowers, leaves, resins, herbs and woods—smell more vibrant and complex than aromas created in a lab.
“Each essence is very strong,” she says, as I sample Rose Café, a solid perfume that smells of coffee and rose gardens. “You only blend a few drops. Each one has its own way of talking to you. If I’m blending at night, I’ll go to sleep and have these amazing dreams. It’s intoxicating, but in a sense that doesn’t derail you, it makes you happy, lifted, but grounded into something you are smelling.”
The first whiff of a perfume is the top notes. “Often citrus essential oils, they go through their evolution more quickly,” Aurel says. “The top notes dissipate faster. Then you start smelling the heart notes.”
“Heart notes” are often floral essences, Aurel explains, and are followed by “soul notes”—richer, more full-bodied scents that serve as the foundation and hold the fragrances together.
Aurel collects essences from different distillers all over the world, and can sniff out the difference between, say, Indian jasmine and Moroccan jasmine, and can tell if it has been picked in its prime: between 9pm and midnight, “when she’s pouring more of her soul into the distillation.”
“Three hundred different molecules make up the character of this particular scent,” Aurel explains. Meanwhile, synthetically-produced jasmine aromas only lift the top few molecules, producing a less complex and less pure fragrance. “Jasmine is the most important essence in perfumery. She is the total magical ingredient, a little tiny flower, but the most powerful essence in perfumery.”
Aurel plans to open a perfume studio soon—showcasing her collection of vintage perfume bottles and books—but for now, she sells her perfumes online, at her Web site, http://parfums.desireinsunlight.net, and on www.NaturalPerfumery.com, where Aurel was recently named a featured perfumer. She also sells her créme perfumes, along with her new Chocolat Parfumé collection (delicious chocolate infused with jasmine, lime, lavender or juniper berry and Frankincense) at Carmel Valley’s Earthbound Farmstand.
“When it’s natural, you get less perfume, it costs more and it doesn’t last as long—and there are no apologies,” Aurel says. One-quarter ounce liquid perfume in a French flacon costs $97. But Aurel believes that people don’t want superficial scents, and her products provide a healthy, beautiful alternative. “It’s like ripe fruit. You can’t leave it on your counter all week. You’ve got to eat it now.”
MORE ON DESIRE IN SUNLIGHT PRODUCTS CAN BE FOUND AT HTTP://PARFUMS.DESIREINSUNLIGHT.NET, WWW.NATURAL PERFUMERY.COM OR BY CONTACTING ISABELLE AUREL AT (425) 471-3060 OR ISABELLE@DESIREINSUNLIGHT.NET.