An early adopter of all things wellness-focused, the fashion-turned-beauty-health-and-fitness brand Free People, is now millions of Instagram followers deep with a clan that makes rooftop yoga and head-to-toe spandex look like another day in boho paradise. “But what does the name even mean?” I’ve sometimes wondered. The more I dig, that loyal cult of FP seems like a femme phenomenon.
“If you want to get technical, Free People was the name of Dick Hayne’s very first store in West Philadelphia in 1970—he and his wife Meg brought it back when Urban Outfitters launched its wholesale line in ’84,” explains seventeen-year-strong employee and editorial manager at Free People Carrie Yotter as we discuss the brand's new fragrance endeavor.
“1809 was the address of Free People’s first home office, where a literal handful of (mostly) women ascended eight flights of stairs each morning toward a future that, at the time, few could foresee,” Yotter remembers of the three-room space above a Barnes & Noble where about 20 employees and at least one dog once roamed. Today, situated in a palatial open-air space in Philly’s navy yard, around 400 (still mostly female) employees buzz past soft gauzy walls that serve as enormous mood boards, hallways lined in spools of colored yarn, and unlimited furry assistants.
Portable escapism by way of scent
What does all of this growth and transition have to do with a fragrance line, you ask? “Scent provides perspective, affording the rare opportunity to revisit a place where something in or around you changed,” Yotter shares, noting its olfactory trick of both forging and fostering memory. When you know your roots, you can branch into higher places. “We wanted to create an experience that takes you to a ‘place,’” says Jessica Richards, the brand’s head of beauty and wellness who gained a reputation as the cool kid of the natural world when she opened SHEN Beauty in Brooklyn.
The scents she designed—1809: S (Surf), 1809: Z (Zen), and 1809: C (Camp)—are meant to act as miniature escapes: Surf, a citrusy blend of jasmine and tonka bean; Camp, an earthy mix of cedarwood, vetiver, and watermelon; Zen, a smoky patchouli-meets-eucalyptus infusion. A California babe at heart, Richards is partial to 1809: S. “I love wearing Surf layered with Camp, as it adds a little woodsy scent which takes me back to my years of snowboarding in Aspen,” she shares, pointing out that even if the activity isn’t of interest, one can still sport the perfume without feeling like a poser. “I don't particularly like camping, but Camp has such a beautiful scent and happens to be my sons’ favorite.”
Christine Campbell, who worked with Richards on product development, seconds the notion of making the bottled escapes work for an IRL routine, suggesting they act more like “a ‘Camp’ break at the office, a ‘Zen’ moment at the airport, or ‘Surf’ when it starts snowing outside.” And when you smell the line, it’s unlike the mainstream versions we’ve come to know as “beachy” or “outdoorsy”—these are somehow richer, deeper, and unsurprisingly, cleaner. “We wanted to challenge convention—it was important for us to use all-natural notes to create a perfume in its truest form, without any artificial ingredients,” says Campbell.
The sturdy travel-sized packaging allows for the flat-backed amber bottles to live outside of a mirrored vanity table, along with price tags at less than $30. “Most natural fragrances are oil-based and incredibly expensive or still rely on unnatural alcohol—instead, ours features organic Brazilian sugar cane alcohol base,” shares Richards. “We realized we needed a beautiful fragrance that was natural in all forms at an easy price point that fit with our girls’ ethos.” And it’s an ethos that’s getting easier and easier to understand—think big, live clean, smell cool.
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