We’ve recently seen a landslide of nature-inspired launches in both home and personal fragrance. To name a few: This summer, Ursa Major and Parks Project joined forces to release a set of soaps scented like America’s legendary National Parks. The Air Company, a climate-focused brand dedicated to transforming carbon dioxide emissions into consumer products like vodka and room spray (“We make things from air”), made its personal fragrance debut with a genderless cologne inspired by Earth’s most vital elements of air, water, and sunlight (available for pre-order now). And in August, Heretic Parfum launched “Dirty Hinoki,” a woodsy, plant-based fragrance described as “a Japanese forest bath in a bottle.”
Next year, we’ll see this trend evolve, as fragrance brands seek to bottle not just the earthy scents of the outdoors, but the naturally soothing experience of spending time in nature.
“At a macro-level for 2022…this idea of escapism and nature, or connecting with nature, are definitely two very strong themes,” says Greta Pagel, fragrance director at home fragrance brand Illume and personal fragrance brand Good Chemistry. “[Fragrance houses] are doing some really interesting things with technology and formulations that literally have an impact, that are uplifting or elevating.” According to Pagel, earthy fragrances will have functional, or therapeutic, elements that enhance moods and relieve stress—benefits you can get from being outside.
Tl;dr—the smells of the natural world are good for us, and perfumers have begun to harness their benefits so fragrances have more power than just smelling good.
How do “functional fragrances” work? You’ve likely heard of aromatherapy, aka the practice of taking natural plant extracts and using their aromatic properties to heal the body and mind. While scientific research on the efficacy of aromatherapy is limited, there are some studies that point to its benefits. Moreover, this practice has been around for a long time, with roots dating back to 3,500 B.C. when plant-based tinctures were used in ancient Indian, Chinese, and Egyptian healing ceremonies. Today, essential oils from plants can be diffused, dabbed, and droplet-ed to enhance physical and mental well-being. For instance, a waft of lavender has been found to promote relaxation, while a dose of cedarwood can feel grounding. Other scents, like citrus and lemon, can be energizing and “wake up” the brain. Tl;dr—the smells of the natural world are good for us, and perfumers have begun to harness their benefits so fragrances have more power than just smelling good.
Some brands have already started to prioritize Earth-inspired scent therapy. Pagel names Forest Lungs, an anti-stress perfume from The Nue Co designed to bottle the science-backed healing powers of nature, as an early example. “That’s just landing square in the idea of fragrance having that additional function,” she says. Research shows that activities like shinrin-yoku, the Japanese practice of forest bathing, are therapeutic thanks to an olfactory compound produced by trees called phytoncides. Whenever we’re outside, we smell these phytoncides, which stimulate our parasympathetic systems and relax us. Forest Lungs uses an accord that contains these phytoncides (a synthetic variation) so wearers can get those relaxed, de-stressed feelings whether they’re in the woods or not.
Similarly, this past October, candle brand Nette collaborated with skin-care brand Tata Harper to launch Into the Forest, a shinrin-yoku-inspired candle: “It’s supposed to be a really transportive fragrance that puts you in the middle of a forest and allows you to get the benefits of forest bathing, without having access to a forest,” says Nette’s founder, Carol Han Pyle. The candle is formulated using 100-percent natural ingredients for those soothing sensations, like fir balsam, rosemary, and patchouli. “One benefit to having a heavy load of natural ingredients in your formulations is that you do get those aromatherapy benefits of real plants. With personal fragrance, people are looking for those added benefits of relaxation, centering, or [a sense of] calm,” Han Pyle says.
Next year, Nette will launch a collection of five eau de perfums and a spring collection of ceramic candles. While specifics are still under wraps, Han Pyle says to expect more plant-based scents that invoke feel-good feelings, including a “warm solar scent” reminiscent of days near salt water and a clean, woodsy scent she says is light enough to be worn every day.
“One benefit to having a heavy load of natural ingredients in your formulations is that you do get those aromatherapy benefits of real plants. With personal fragrance, people are looking for those added benefits of relaxation, centering, or [a sense of] calm.” Carol Han Pyle, founder of Nette
Other brands are adopting natural, functional formulations in their products as well. Just last month, body brand Bathing Culture released two earthy hydrosols made from distilled botanicals for “an introspective aromatherapy experience.” Luxury perfumery The Harmonist just reformulated its Yang Collection in November—natural scents for each of the Earth’s five elements (fire, earth, air, water, and metal) “designed to bring the wearer’s attention inward, so they can better perceive themselves and their surroundings.” Siblings also just launched a Scent No. 12 candle wax in November that uses the natural powers of aromatic cannabis, mint, and cleansing sage to banish stress. And finally, fragrance company Ellis Brooklyn has an apres ski-inspired perfume in the works that’s loaded with sandalwood, an evergreen tree native to India beloved for its mood-enhancing properties. “There was a study whose participants rated their own self-arousal highly after wearing sandalwood,” founder Bee Shapiro says. “Scent is not just about attracting others. It's about feeling amazing about yourself, which, I think, would in turn make you more attractive to others.”
Whether it’s self-arousal or a sense of soothing, fragrance houses are answering the call for natural, aromatherapeutic ingredients inspired by Mother Earth.
“I definitely think it’s a trend—these scents are designed to bring us into nature, whether we can get there or not,” says Dana Schmitt, a perfumer at fragrance house Givaudan. From heirloom tomato and fresh cut mint to spring grass and even dirt, Schmitt says the brand is “definitely seeing an uptick in interesting outdoor elements.”
Schmitt explains that the need for nature led Givaudan to explore technologies that can bring the outdoors in. It sounds like the stuff of science-fiction but it’s real (and it’s something a lot of fragrance brands are excited about): Similar to Forest Lungs, Givaudan has found a way of bottling synthetic phytoncides to infuse scented products with the feel-good benefits you get from being in nature. “We have this technology called Phytogaia that you can add into your fragrance that will give you a forest bathing effect,” Schmitt says. “We’ve seen this trend with consumers and we felt like there was this need we could bring our clients, of having this technology in our fragrances.”
Using this synthetic technology, clients can bottle the natural benefits of the forests and the ocean (a similar technology, Thalassogaia, mimics air molecules in marine environments).
Earth-inspired fragrances—particularly those derived from the Earth, and that serve a purpose aside from smelling good—have arrived, but if our forecasters are right looking towards 2022, we’re not out of the woods just yet.
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