“I’ve loved perfumes since kindergarten, but I came to learn the beautiful bottles of magic liquid that can trigger memory and mood could also trigger allergies,” says Walker. So she quit her job, spent a year visiting organic farms and distilleries, and in February launched A Perfume Organics.
Ditching the world of synthetic fragrance struck the perfect note for the Manhattan runner and raw foodie. “I wanted to make scents that are healthy,” says Walker, who studied with master perfumers who inspired her to make scents the old-world way with plant and flower extracts, essential oils, and CO2s, a deep rich distillation. Walker’s way of making perfume is a 180 from those sold in Sephora. The art of traditional perfuming is based on clever chemical compositions that mirror and mimic nature. And a few extra ingredients that have nothing to do with nature at all, like acetone (AKA nail polish remover) and cancer-linked phthalates that fix and preserve scent in the bottle and on skin, explains Walker.
She’s not alone—a passionate group of New York City Natural Perfumers meets regularly to discuss taking the concept of terroir from food and wine into perfume. It’s an idea that being well received on the retail side, too: Walker’s hand-blended Green (a woodsy ylang-ylang, with black truffle, and chamomile) and Urban Organic (with notes of tangy ginger and smoky vetiver) were just scooped up by the persnickety ABC Home Apothecary. “Their contract is six pages. It’s like signing an organic oath,” says Walker, who’s happy to comply. “Other than Red Flower, no other perfume than mine is USDA certified,” she says proudly.
Even so, in the perfume industry, natural ingredients are fairly maligned as lacking sophistication, precision, and staying power on the skin. (You’ll know this if you read Chander Burr’s A Perfect Scent and Scent Notes column in the Times.) Call Walker and her ilk perfume luddites, but they mark a return to perfuming before the chemical or industrial revolution.
“Traditional perfumes stop in the nose. Naturals you can breathe in, like eucalyptus in a sauna,” says Walker, who represents the slow food of perfuming. “I’d rather make and sell rare, safe, and luxurious raw lavender extracts that cost hundreds—and reapply them—than cheap lavender at $14 a barrel that lingers for hours in an elevator. What’s so luxurious and special about that?”
A Perfume Organics, $65 for a 12ml roll-on bottle in a recycled seed-embedded box, www.spiritbeautylounge.com