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Natural Pefumery – the resurgence of a lost art

Imagine a world with only a few artists that work for big corporations that mass produce their work and sell them at Walmart. If you want something for your wall, it must be a cheap print. No art shows, no local galleries – just the same prints on everyone’s wall. This is what has happened to the perfume industry. There are only a handful of perfume houses and all of the synthetic fragrances out there are manufactured by five different chemical companies. We have been denied an art form that is as much a part of our history as the oil on canvas.

This insanity began in the late 1800’s with the discovery of aldehyde, a synthetic substance that creates the fake scents that we are so accustomed to. They were initially added to natural fragrances to help boost the scent but as perfumers realized that these chemicals had better staying power and were immensely cheaper, they started taking over the industry. The first completely synthetic perfume was Chanel No 5 introduced in 1919 and coined as a ‘modern perfume’. That was basically the end of natural perfume in the 20th century.

The art of blending scents is an ancient craft that certain people are born to do – as much as some people are born to create amazing food. Unfortunately, the tools and knowledge and empowerment to take on perfumery have been unavailable for many years. Fortunately, it is now seeing a resurgence thanks to a few factors, namely the growing popularity of aromatherapy, the indie craft movement and the awareness of environmental toxins. I met a true perfumer at a craft show this past Christmas who had beautiful scents – I fell in love with one that contained frangipani (plumeria). She told me that it came naturally to her and it was an intense passion of hers. She sounded like a true artist and I felt so happy that she not only found her creative outlet but was in a time and place where she could actually access the tools to create what she was clearly born to do. Check out this amazing article* about another perfumer, Jill McKeever of For Strange Women that was the inspiration behind this post (thanks Meredith for linking!) and <DROOL>.

So before you purchase that cheap chemical crap that gives many of us headaches and fills a room (obnoxious), consider the artists out there who are expressing their true passions and using expensive, exotic natural ingredients that come from farms rather than labs.

*update: unfortunately this article is no longer available online.