With hundreds of fragrances hitting the beauty counter each year, it’s telling that Aesop has only launched two fragrances over the last 30 years. But the Melbourne skincare and beauty native, which has garnered a cult-like following around the globe, has never been the type to launch something because it’s merely what is trending. When other beauty houses have been frantically launching lotions and potions with the latest buzz-worthy ingredient, Aesop has stuck to its guns. “We only launch a product if we think we really need it in the range,” says Dr Kate Forbes, general manager of marketing and innovation, research and development.
A bespoke approach
When Forbes is asked whether the approach to fragrance mirrors Aesop’s skincare launch philosophy, she’s concise. “Absolutely,” she says. “There’s the attention to detail, the way that we formulate a fragrance is very similar to the way we formulate a skincare product. For our fragrance and our skincare products the emphasis is always on the product inside,” Forbes explains. But Forbes and her team are well aware just how much competition there is out there in the fragrance world. “We are very mindful that that’s not the way we want to develop and release a fragrance. We want our fragrance to be memorable and unique.”
And as scent should be; any fragrance connoisseur knows how fragrance can become tied up with emotion and memory. Which is quite possibly why Aesop turned to French perfumer Barnabé Fillion for Hwyl. Aesop and Fillion first worked together on Marrakech Intense in 2014. “Intense began as a reinterpretation of an existing product, so we already had a bit of an idea of where we wanted to end up, because we wanted to reimagine a fragrance that already existed,” Forbes says. Hwyl on the other hand was like starting from scratch. “This was much more of a creative inspiration, we could evolve and change or refine the direction.”
Fillion – who has created scents for Le Labo and Paul Smith – says while the project started around conversations around ingredients that him and Aesop liked, it was a trip to Japan that served as the muse for Hwyl’s narrative. “I got mesmerised by Japan’s relation to the ancient world,” Fillion recalls. In fact, it’s the feelings conjured by Fillion’s time spent in an ancient Japanese forest that Hwyl recaptures. “We wanted to catch some of the ingredients in that story, and awake the senses. We focus on the experience of being transported in that story,” Fillion says.
While the scent is undeniably green, there’s something comforting about Hwyl, perhaps it’s the fragrance’s transportive powers that take you to a tranquil moment in time. An aromatic top note of thyme extract, sit atop a warm and woody heart, while notes of vetiver, frankincense and moss sit at the base. “The smell is linked to the emotion, so Hwyl is almost like a flashback to this very strong greenness of the forest,” Fillion says. The name, which is of Welsh origin, is tied up in the stirring of emotion too. “It’s hard to define in an English translation,” says Forbes. “But stirring of emotion is a strong part of the inspiration of the fragrance, particularly the way a fragrance can actually link to your emotions and your memories, or the ways they can trigger that.”
The science behind the scent
Despite the emotions involved with creating a redolent scent such as Hwyl, there’s still a lot of science that goes into the process; something that’s often forgotten by the time a scent hits the shelves. “There’s a lot of experimenting with concentration,” says Forbes. “Where a fragrance is different to skincare formulation is that you can’t appreciate a fragrance immediately after it’s prepared, you need to take time. You need to let it sit for weeks before you look at experiencing it again,” she explains. “If you’re making decisions on fresh samples you often end up somewhere quite different.”
As for who will wear Hwyl, in Aesop style, gendered notions of ‘for him’ and ‘for her’ never entered Forbes or Fillion’s thoughts throughout the process. “We imagine fragrance being something that will stimulate and celebrate the senses,” says Fillion. “The botanical scents, they don’t have gender, there are some floral scents that are quite feminine but inside some florals there are some very masculine notes too. The botanicals translate no gender,” believes Fillion. “Hwyl has a very strong emotion of feeling a lot of emotion that you don’t want to forget; it’s about this beautiful relationship with nature,” says Forbes.
Aesop Hwyl is available now (100ml EDP, $160)