My addiction to perfume runs long and deep, but I gave up conventional brands years ago. My body often reacted to the toxins in department store brands, and I just couldn’t take it anymore. (As I say in Eco-Sex, there is literally poison in your Poison™.) I was sick of getting sick from something that was supposed to provide a pure experience of joy. But that’s when my relationship with natural perfumes began, and it’s been a heady (yet healthy) long-term love affair.
The famous perfumes we know and love contain volatile organic compounds (the toxic stuff found in house paint), parabens, phthalates and a suite of unidentified chemicals that we may never know much about. That’s because the label “fragrance” is used by the industry to hide so-called “trade secrets,”—those secrets are potentially very bad for your health. What constitutes “natural” is, of course, still very complicated, as the FDA barely regulates the ingredients in personal care products. But the scents curated for this piece are indeed safe, non-toxic, and (let’s not underestimate the importance of this) hella sexy.
Welcome to the world of natural perfumes – it’s not just for hippies anymore. You will not smell like you’ve just returned from a Grateful Dead concert when you dab or spritz these high-end scents on your wrists. The biggest complaint about natural perfume is that it doesn’t last, yet I don’t think that matters. When you fall in love with a scent, is it that problematic to reapply it throughout the day or evening? Scent tells a story – but you want it to tell YOUR story, not some contrived, synthetic, corporate story that a million other women are telling everyday. (Sometimes by leaving noxious trails in elevators and giving you a headache from the next cubicle.)
To really wrap your mind around perfume, you need an encyclopedic body of knowledge. But there’s no need for all of us to go that deep – we just need a scent (or several) that work for the contexts we create in our daily (and nightly) lives. I wear perfume to seduce myself. For the journey of this piece, I wanted to source the most seductive, erotic, natural perfumes; the ones that made me feel equal parts boldly sexy and wildly mysterious. But that’s just my story – you must find your own.
The conventional perfume industry is steeped in marketing that makes it impossible peel back the hype from the celebrity-stamped scent. How are you going to create your own story, your own memories, when J. Lo or even Elizabeth Taylor have already marked it with theirs? Finding the perfect natural scent allows you to become your own icon.
These six artisanal natural perfumes have much to offer. They are sustainable, conscious, luxurious, and safe. Some are organic, some are vegan, and some have a very low concentration of safe synthetics, which I’ve learned aren’t always an anathema for the noses at natural perfumeries. They are all free of petrochemicals, parabens and phthalates. But the main reason I chose these brands is that they made me feel like a Greek goddess on a stroll through a garden of otherworldly vapor, each in their own exquisite way.
Inspired by a line from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Strange Invisible Perfumes will make you feel like a queen indulging in an ancient, ethereal ritual. The art of botanical perfumery is Alexandra Balahoutis’ passion. She founded Strange Invisible Perfumes in 2000, and has never used a single synthetic in her pure perfumes and eaux de parfums. Only plant, flower, seed, wood and resin essences create the narratives of SIP’s scents. Says Balahoutis: “Through the gorgeous vapors of botanical perfumery, Strange Invisible Perfumes serves the reality, not the dream, of luxury craftsmanship.”
Having fallen head over heels for Vacances, one of SIP’s limited edition pure perfumes, I can tell you that she is a wise and talented woman. This blend of temple mandarin, hemp, jasmine, black copal, cedar, black currant and honey evokes a sense that I’ve spent the day on a tropical beach, napped on a hammock with my lover, gotten dressed for dinner, and am walking a torch-lit path to a table by the sea. Next time I’m in LA, I plan to stop by their adorable boutique in Venice again, this time, to get a bespoke blend by Balahoutis.
The French know their perfume, and lucky for us they know it just as well when it’s natural and organic. Honores Des Pres may seem like a whimsical line if you take a gander at their website and bottle design, but they are extremely serious when it comes to making exquisite perfume. This is another completely synthetic-free brand that says no to animal testing and is certified by Ecocert. Their expert nose, Olivia Giacobetti, says, “Magic is just like a shower of truth.” I don’t quite know what that means, but it doesn’t much matter, because it evokes the same kind of mystery that Sexy Angelic does. This scent blends a touch of hemlock flowers, angelica seeds, and Calissons (a sugar, almond, and melon candy from Aix-In-Provence). If you need to seduce someone other than yourself, apply this with wanton abandon. It wears close to the skin so you don’t have to worry about offending anyone in an elevator. Honores Des Pres calls this perfume their “secret love elixir” and I concur.
Persephenie Lea wants to take you on an olfactory adventure, and this is a trip you don’t want to miss. Persephenie is the master aromatherapist, artist and perfumer behind her namesake line of botanical perfumes and blends. I first learned of her work with essential oils while researching scent seduction recipes for my last book. She creates personal botanical custom scents for clients in LA, where her studio is based. Persephenie’s botanicals contain fine, rare ingredients strictly sourced from the natural world. Her new, passionately curated line of perfumes has only four scents, each one profoundly sexy.
Bedouin, the botanical of the bunch, blends top notes of cardamom and orange, heart notes of rose bouquet, and base notes of sandalwood, Madagascar vanilla, and ambrette. Wear this when you’re looking for adventure. According to Persephenie, it’s a “tale of Persian nomadic woman, distinctly feminine, illuminated by color, movement, and the scent of rose.” But feel free to take liberties with your own story – and go wherever it takes you. (Note that the other three perfumes contain less than one percent of synthetic ingredients, but are totally free of parabens and pertrochemicals.)
Crow’s water-based perfume revolution will have you hooked. If you wish to feel extremely girly, go to Crow. This unique line of water-based perfumes is airy, light and delicious – perfect for a summer day. Alcohol, paraben and phthalate-free, Crow Perfume is inspired by poetry, love letters and romance novels, according to its founder. Each of the six scents is blended by hand in Los Angeles. My favorite is Enchanted, a blend of neroli, jasmine, lily and ozone. It makes me feel like skipping through a meadow in a vintage halter dress and evokes images of Brigitte Bardot on her farm in the seventies.
Deep, mysterious, and truly natural, Red Flower is equally dedicated to preserving the Earth and making you extremely sexy. This artisanal brand takes sustainability as seriously as it takes scent, and that’s really saying something. The company was launched in Barneys in 1999 with six flower candles and two flower teas. Based in New York City’s Nolita, the Red Flower boutique feels part harem, part stylish urban oasis – it’s not easy to leave once you’ve entered. Their organic perfumes are pure flower and herb distillations hand and wild-crafted in USDA-certified organic oil. Ambrette is the seed of the hibiscus flower, and Red Flower’s Ambrette perfume combines scarlett hibiscus with rose, bitter orange, orange blossom, frankincense, black pepper and geranium. It’s musky and deeply sensual, and unlike other natural perfumes, it lasts for many hours. What I love most about this perfume is how right it feels on both city streets and in bucolic landscapes, and how it reveals new layers of exotic scent long after you’ve applied it.
Le Labo’s formulations contain a small amount of synthetics, but that’s mainly because the founders of this line love the sexy, animalistic notes of musk – but prefer not to kill any animals to make you smell good. Visit their flagship shop in on Elizabeth Street in New York City (or their shops in London, San Francisco, LA or Tokyo) and experience each of their eleven scents. I say “experience” because you won’t simply smell them; you’ll create a story with each one. A proper story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and Le Labo’s vegan fragrances are very proper, very beautiful stories.
Of all the lines I sampled, I couldn’t choose just one of Le Labo’s perfumes. They all seem to have a specific function in my life depending on the day, the event, or the company I’m keeping. What makes Le Labo truly unique, however, is that they will mix up a batch of your favorite perfume when you stop in – nothing sits on the shelf, losing power and going stale. (Yes, perfume can go stale.) Visit one of Le Labo’s fragrance labs for unforgettable made-to-order scents that will utterly transform you.
Main Image Photo Credit: Brandon Christopher Warren