Scent and Sensibility: A New Generation of Perfume Pioneers Rewrites the Rules of Home Fragrance

If you can't get in touch with Hall Newbegin, he is most likely at work. Founder and Chief Wildcrafter of the fragrance company Juniper Ridge, Newbegin backpacks through the California wilderness, scouring hillsides for ingredients to harvest and distill in his all-natural fragrances. Juniper Ridge started not as an attempt to make perfume, Newbegin says, but rather to “capture place in a bottle.” From humble beginnings, when Newbegin sold wares at local farmers’ markets, his business has grown to sell at Whole Foods and stores around the country. “There are so many New World plants that grow West of the Rockies and have never been explored for their fragrance properties,” Newbegin says. “We have barely scratched the surface.”

Juniper Ridge's mobile Field Lab distillery; Photo by Jeff Masamori

The Berkeley-based Newbegin is just one of a new wave of indie perfumers who are rewriting the rules of the fragrance industry and creating innovative fragrances with natural ingredients. With advances in new technology, these ingredients have become easier to source and barriers to reaching customers, traditionally through department stores, have crumbled. Nowhere is this more evident than in the West—where California’s sense of freedom, abundant nature and DIY ethos has attracted pioneers, artists and innovators for centuries. “The West has always welcomed creative eccentrics,” says Mandy Aftel, a Berkeley-based independent natural perfumer who started making fragrances in the 1990s. With her company Aftelier, Aftel has helped pave the way for today’s independent artisans with groundbreaking studies and books, such as the seminal Essence and Alchemy. “Out here, there is beauty and tolerance. It’s suited to the quirky nature of doing business in a different way.”

An all-natural travel candle by Mandy Aftel of Aftelier

Following in Aftel’s footsteps, the Los Angeles-based fragrance artist Haley Alexander van Oosten founded the company L’Oeil du Vert to design custom botanical fragrances, which can be experienced a number of ways including on the skin, in objects or in the air. Dissatisfied with available scent delivery systems, Van Oosten took matters into her own hands. “My studio spent years designing and fabricating our ambient scenters,” she says. The resulting sculptural rare wood vessels are sold through Maxfield Gallery and Maxfield LA and done in collaboration with partners such as Commune Design. Other collaborations have included the artist David Wiseman and jewelry designer Lisa Eisner. Like Newbegin, Van Oosten also sources and distills local ingredients including wild mugwort, California sage brush, sage, bay leaves, sumac, seaweed, pinecone resins and citrus.

L'Oeil Du Vert founder Haley Alexander van Oosten; Photo courtesy L'Oeil Du Vert

While offering a variety of perspectives and scents, the new wave of fragrance pioneers often share one thing in common: they are primarily self-taught and have not come up through the traditionally insular flavors and fragrance industry. In response, new resources have sprung up to support would-be entrepreneurs including Los Angeles' Institute for Art and Olfaction, founded in 2012 by Saskia Wilson-Brown. The Institute offers classes, awards and workshops to “connect the dots for people,” she says. Wilson-Brown sees innovation in the fragrance industry happening around the world. “Independent and artisan perfumery is clearly on the rise,” she says. However, she also acknowledges that the West Coast fragrance makers have unique experimental opportunities. “The West Coast has less of an industry presence,” Wilson-Brown says. “There are fewer people to tell young perfumers that they are doing it wrong.”

The student perfumer's organ at the Institute for Art and Olfaction in Los Angeles; Photo courtesy IAO

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