Feature for WWD Japan
Read the full story here: https://www.wwdjapan.com/articles/1082770
The Berlin Scentscene
Germany’s capital shakes up the international fragrance industry with a new wave of independent perfumers – These four labels represent the multifaceted vibe perfectly.
From graffiti-covered cobblestone streets to polished alleys with historical houses, brutalist concrete buildings to cute, flower-filled backyards: The contrast and possibility to create a life matching your own rhythm is what makes Berlin a magnet to artists and creatives. Adding the compared to other international cities low rents, it offers the ideal ground to grow entrepreneurial experiments into established businesses. Its exciting music culture, as diverse as the scenery, ranging from free jazz, classic to techno, is a great example – the city is known for that internationally, houses both big players and niche composers.
But there has been another track listed to the city’s creative playlist now: Perfumery.
Over the last years, a scene of independent perfumers and scent brands have found their place in Berlin, picking tones not based on sound, but smell.
It is not only because life is less costly here than in Paris, the classic place for a perfume brand to be found in Europe – it is also because of its international flair, you don’t need to speak German for example to have a successful career and structures allows for try and error – unlike in place where history and hierarchy slowing the pace of a passionate start-up.
It is remarkable how diverse the style of the Berlin-based perfumery houses is just as the city’s multifaceted the soundscape. What unites them is their individual note.
These four labels are among the most inventive – and constrasting.
Marie Urban Le Fevre is the heart and soul of the Berlin perfumery scene: After 20 years as a creator for major scent houses, the French born found her own company in 2014 in Berlin with her husband, who used to work in the same business.
Eight elegant yet extraordinary perfumes are in their collection today along with home fragrance. Her history in classic perfumery is smellable and feelable in all of them – but the Berlin-touch, the moment when the melody cracks a little, is also infused into her creations. “At Urban Scents I am bridging my classical French perfumery know-how and the unique spirit of the vibrant, inspiring, multicultural, creative German capital into my creations and perfumes,” explains Le Fevre.
Beside their own fragrance range, Urban Scents also mixes olfactory identifies for B2B purposes and institutions like the Pergamon Museum in Berlin or The Louvre in Abu Dhabi, as well as a hotel group in China – The radius of their exquisitely composed notes goes far beyond their base.
“In Berlin we are able to create in line with our values, inside and outside,” so Le Fevre, “our Scents are composed in Berlin and the perfume oils are blended in Grasse, France”. The lab is located in their airy atelier-like store in Westberlin, between glamourous historic houses and boulevard-esque streets – Here, Le Fevre pours precious oils and teaches her trainee, who just finished the same french perfumery school, ISIPCA, she left 20 years ago. Some selected perfumeries across the continent carry Urban Scents as well.
“We are working with the credo where the perfumer is considered as an artist and owner of the intellectual property of his proper formula,” Le Fevre explains her approach. “We are using only the highest-grade raw materials and best components. Also, all of our products and components are made in Europe.”
For Urban Scents, perfumery is not only luxury – the brand is contributing and researching beyond nice smelling ingredients and packaging,
“As people are suddenly discovering, one can lose the sense of smell – one of the side effects of the Corona infection. We are collaborating with Professor Thomas Hummel, the internationally recognized expert of ‘smelling and tasting’ disorders from the Carl Gustav Carus University Clinic in Dresden on a project which will be launching soon. And for many years we are working with the renowned Charité in Berlin, exploring and studying the influence of fragrance and scents to help people.”
No wonder many turn to Marie Le Fevre when it comes to all things smellable – she is also a supporter to aspiring scentrepreneurs, like Jessica Jasmin Hannan who just found Apotheke Parfum.
Welsh-born, former beauty and fashion editor Jessica Jasmin Hannan began diving into essential oils four years ago, being a perfume lover since years, forming her own label felt logical. Earlier this year, she launched her first four perfumes, all based on high grade natural oils, composed in Berlin Neukölln, the city’s nightlife mekka. Yet, the production is located in Grasse – Although Apotheke, with it’s hip visuals, feels like a Berlin-cool magazine or fashion brand, quality and content are as important as the appearance.
What makes it stand out is also Hannan’s spiritual concept, perfectly incorporating the current Zeitgeist of “meaningful” beauty that also has an effect on the mind and soul.
“All my perfumes have a ‘purpose’, like aromatherapy, they make you feel a certain way. I use tarot cards, and crystals in my branding, because I feel that connecting to our sense of smell is to connect to our deepest selves”, she explains. “I developed a quiz when I realised people fall into four distinct categories when it comes to their taste in perfume. Like horoscopes. The Dreamer/The Lover/The Traveller/The Thinker”, the test is available on the brands website and done in a few minutes.
“The Traveller is meditative, The Thinker wakes you up and inspires you, The Dreamer makes you feel like you are falling in love. And The Lover is an aphrodisiac – Some people blush when they smell it!”, so Hannan. “My vision is to become the Glossier for witches! I want to sell my perfumes as candles. or home oils. I would love to have a store somewhere one day too, I love retail.” At the moment, Apotheke is sold at a handful of concept stores in Berlin and online. But Hannan’s dream of a brick and mortar space might become reality quick after the pandemic – considering Berlin’s still low rents. “It’s cheaper to live than other capital cities so you can afford to work less for money, and spend time developing projects like this,” Hannan highlights the benefits of being based in Berlin.
It’s like a deep breath in a green forest, or the moment you lay down in fresh sheets after a hot bath: Basium perfume oil feels therapeutic – either in an uplifting, upbeat way with their Flora scent or unwinding with their downbeat version Beau. The sudden destress effect is no coincidence: “I started studying aromatherapy and natural perfumery around four years ago when I was based in New York City, at the time I was living in a fast-paced world and I needed to focus on something that grounded me and brought me joy,” explains Contanze Saemann, who is also working as model and used to live in the US before coming back to Germany.
Her vision for Basium is very clear: “Every Basium scent is hand made in small batches using the highest quality of organic, vegan and cruelty-free ingredients. We do not add any synthetics because we believe what goes on the body should be as pure as the body itself. We have also found unique ingredients from trusted sources to make sure our products are good for the environment, grower and consumer.” explains the German who is running Basium with her partner, photographer Ryan and her friend Arianna.
“My vision is to develop relationships with a community of like minded people and holding workshops while continuing to learn and create. We are also working on building meaningful relationships with those who source our ingredients and knowing exactly who the people are we are receiving our oils from.” It is obvious that although its beauty, Basium holds a deeper meaning and also represents a conscious mindset. “In the coming weeks, we are also delighted to begin our giving back program where a percentage of our revenue will be donated directly to causes close to our hearts. Our products are also on their way to being completely recycled and plastic-free,” Constanze states. Basium is currently sold online and soon in selected concept stores, a planned pop up in Paris had to be canceled due to the Pandemic, but the word around her brand has spread around the industry already, with many make-up-artists and photographers hooked by the scent presented by Constanze on photo sets.
The delicate wooden packaging, the poetic yet purifying ways of application plus the label’s overall vision alone show Aoiro strong connection to Japan already. Creating only scents for spaces fits this direction perfectly.
“We founded AOIRO, a studio for olfactory design 2009 in Tokyo, where we met and used to live. We named it after the color of blue as it reflects the canvas for our work, the air,” so Manuel Kuschnig, who is running the olfactoric company together with his wife Shizuko Yoshikuni. “Beside being both personally strongly influenced by Japanese aesthetics in our daily life, we found more time to develop our personal scent concepts while traveling there.” Their ambient fragrances are either made for private homes available through their bespoke collection that launched five years ago, or for hotels, exhibitions and stores. “We also consider the other senses in spaces, like associated textures, colors, and moods,” explains Kuschnig their work intention. “We also decided to challenge with a more ritualistic way of using the scent, rather than following the usual concept of a pleasing ambient scent,” so Kuschnig – scenting a room with Aoiro becomes a gesture, be it a fine mist sprayed into the air or dripping oil into a ceramic and coal set-up. Kuschnig adds: “We work purely with natural aromatic materials derived from plant origin. Our unique approach is to use such essences with a knowledge of their therapeutic functions to be composed in a more abstract way of perfume creation.” The serenity their brand spreads is a contrast to Berlin, and especially the district of Kreuzberg, where the duo creates in their home studio, surrounded by alternative cafes and turkish Kebab stores.
“Berlin is a place which has many facets, which offers you a generous amount of freedom and set of choices to create your own living environment. Very different, but this feeling is somewhat similar to that of Tokyo, where we lived before. Similar to Tokyo there is the energetic metropolis out there which literally never sleeps, but you might happen not to encounter that for several weeks, if you are not in the mood for it.“ Obviously, many are in the mood for Aoiro – their scents are sold in concept stores worldwide, with a focus on Germany and Japan.