A Voyage of Discovery: Bee Shapiro On Launching Her Clean Fragrance Line

New York Times beauty columnist Bee Shapiro’s pregnancy was the motivation for cleaning up her beauty routine and eventually led to the birth of her own fragrance line. Research led her to the conclusion that natural doesn’t always mean clean when it comes to perfumes and launching the Ellis Brooklyn line has been a voyage of discovery.

As far as dream roles in the beauty industry go – if forced to choose, most beauty enthusiasts would have trouble picking between beauty editor or fragrance house founder. But having to forgo one career path for the other has never been an issue for Bee Shapiro. In fact, it was Shapiro’s position as a beauty columnist at The New York Times that helped awaken her passion for perfume.

Pregnancy is often a catalyst for change when it comes to what we put on and into our bodies. Shapiro was no different, except her impending pregnancy also gave birth to an idea that would grow into her now-coveted fragrance line, Ellis Brooklyn. Shapiro says that prior to falling pregnant with her first child, she didn’t bother considering whether ingredients were clean at all – she would instead pick her skincare solely on results.

“I started with my body care first,” Shapiro says. “I thought since the lotion we slather all over our bodies is actually covering such a greater surface area than our face alone that it was the right place to start.” While cleaning up her routine, Shapiro was faced with a fragrance fanatics nightmare: having to give up your long-adored scents because of their questionable ingredients.

Beauty editors tend to have a vast array of the latest fragrances at their disposal, yet Shapiro struggled to find anything that fit her new clean routine. Rather than give up fragrance entirely, Shapiro was inspired to create Ellis Brooklyn – her own clean fragrance house that aligned with her personal needs and desires.

Even armed with a little black book filled with insiders in the beauty world, Shapiro admits that getting the brand off the ground was initially tricky. “Here I was, the New York Times beauty columnist, and not having a single perfume house write me back.” Shapiro says it was a humbling, character-building experience for her.

Today, things are different she says.“It’s much, much easier to have a perfume house really dig deep on sustainability measures and safety profiles,” Shapiro explains. “It’s changed so tremendously and for the better, but when we first started, it was all very opaque.”

Founding and developing Ellis Brooklyn also opened up Shapiro’s eyes to the natural versus synthetic debate that rages on in the beauty world. “I actually originally wanted to start a 100 per cent natural line,”says Shapiro. But while attending initial fragrance development meetings and talking with perfume makers while pregnant, Shapiro quickly learnt that natural materials arent always the safest choices when formulating products.

“Essentials oilsand other natural scent ingredients are highly volatile and very irritating so I pivoted.” She says that while it was an aneye-opening moment for her, it also made a lot of sense. “Instead of focusing on 100 per cent natural I focused on safety because after all that’s why we’re all looking for clean products.”


Back in 2014, ‘clean’ beauty was only just emerging; today it’s arguably one of the beauty world’s biggest buzzwords. But deciphering what clean really means isn’t always easy. Shapiro agrees that today clean has become a very broad term.

She says for Ellis Brooklyn clean is about safety and looking at real science.“Our baseline is that we’re a globally compliant brand,” she says. “That means right when we’re developing, we’re looking at the existing laws and research that many countries or regions have already done and are actively monitoring.”

From there, Shapiro says they have a ‘no-no’ list of questionable ingredients that are not banned, but if you look at the science maybe they’re not the most ideal option. She says that allergen-free perfume options are also a passion of hers. “We recently released a molecule scent, Iso Gamma Super, that is allergen free and made with green chemistry and is completely renewable.”

As for ‘natural’ ingredients and preconceived ideas that natural is always best, Shapiro believes it’s just human nature that we make such assumptions.“Aside from being from ‘nature’, the word also conjures up the idea of ease. Whereas ‘synthetic’ sounds very foreign and often we are afraid of the foreign even if we have been using some safe synthetics for years,” she adds.

However, as Shapiro explains the irony is that today the line between synthetics and natural ingredients has become more blurry than ever before. There’s another pertinent reason we need to challenge the myth that natural products are always best. Certain natural raw materials aren’t always the environmentally friendly choice in the fragrance world.

For Shapiro and her Ellis Brooklyn team they ensure that every material is sourced sustainably and abides by the Convention on international Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. “On top of that, when we’re in the process of scent development I always actively ask our perfume houses what new ingredients they are working on that have a better environmental impact,” she says. “There is so much going on in the world of biotech that is truly pushing sustainability forward in completely new ways that are exciting.”


There’s also the fact that for someone to wear a fragrance, it has to smell good too. Shapiro works closely with a perfumer rather than a team. “I prefer it this way because if I brought in marketing or an evaluator [someone who helps a perfumer create things that are, to put it straightforwardly, likeable], I feel like I’m being swayed by someones opinion that probably has less to do with an amazing scent than it is rehashing what is already out there,” she says.

“I’ve been reviewing products for The NewYork Times for the last 12 years or so. I’ve seen a lot of lines come across my desk and I think to have a truly genuine, heartfelt process to scent development, it takes time.”

Trends, she says, are not of interest to her. “I’m into the idea that we’re releasing a scent because it’s so terrific and compelling that I feel I need to share this with the world.” Shapiro says there are only two scents in the line that she wouldn’t wear because they’re not really her. “When I smell the fragrances, I do like them and I remember when releasing them that this is for so-and-so in my life, so I had a very clear direction who I was envisioning,”she explains.

“But interestingly enough those are a couple of our worst-selling scents. Since then, I won’t release something that I can’t see myself wearing. The nice part is that I have a varied scent appetite so it works out.”

As for balancing motherhood with running a flourishing fragrance brand and writing her Skin Deep column for the New York Times, she says it’s an idea she gave up on a while ago. “I think of my life more in the sense of priorities and I try to get as much done as I can,”she says.

“Lately, I’m trying to let go a little bit of my Type A-ness and just try to feel good about what I have done in a day,” she adds. “Running a business, the work never ends so this was my way of making peace with all the pressures. Ellis Brooklyn will always be a passion for me, but I also want to make sure thatI’m not missing out on the best moment in life!”

Aesop Launches First-Ever Candle Collection Inspired By Ancient Stargazers

Refined skincare boutique Aesop has stepped into the world of aromatic candles with its debut candle range. 

Partnering with master perfumer Barnabé Fillion, the luxury boutique has crafted a trio of aromatic candles inspired by ancient stargazers and mythology.

The ‘Ptolemy’ candle is characterised by smoky, deep green notes of Cypress, Cedar and Vetiver, while ‘Aganice’ blends notes of bright, floral Mimosa with warm aromas of Cardamom and Tobacco.

Finally, the ‘Callipus’ is an earthy candle with notes of Frankincense and Vetiver.

True to Aesop’s pared-down approach, the candles come in minimal and elegant ceramic vessels with a raw alabaster exterior and laser-etched Aesop logo.

Thoughtful design features in every part, with a glazed interior and printed quotation lining the inside and paired with dreamy illustrations by Paris-based artist Mattis Dovier

The collection is available in Aesop stores and online from 12 October, 2020.