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Natural perfume brand Circe captures the art of storytelling through scent


Natural perfume brand Circe captures the art of storytelling through scent

Amber Lenihan creates perfume from a studio within a 100-year-old school house that sits amongst native trees and Japanese maples on her property at the base of Mt Pirongia in the Waikato. 

It’s a location surrounded with inspiration for Lenihan, given her commitment to capturing olfactory elements of the natural world in the bottles of her brand Circe.

“Nature is the Master Perfumer” she explains of her ethos, eschewing synthetic ingredients  in favour of being guided by the precious extracts of flowers, spices, woods, resins and mosses she hand blends in her creations. 

Circe founder Amber Lenihan.

It doesn’t mean the end result is simple nor overtly botanical by any stretch, as Lenihan fuses notes to conjure times and places. One release, Midnight Espresso, is an ode to the vibe of the iconic Wellington cafe of the same name, capturing its enduring spirit in its notes of coffee beans, buttery treats and tobacco. Another, Shiso Verte, elevates the freshness of Japanese herb Shiso with zesty yuzu, mint and cucumber. Balinese inspired Cinta, meanwhile, has a base note of basmati rice. 

Lenihan  initially trained as a winemaker after growing up on a rural Wairarapa property with an organic market garden that later became a vineyard and winery.

“I was fascinated with building scent association and wine evaluation,” she says of her initial career path. However, fragrance quickly became a more pressing obsession. A period of international travel only escalated her passion and led Lenihan to study natural perfumery. 

“I love the art of storytelling through scent and evoking memories,” she says. “It is a powerful, and alluring sense. A waft or aroma can transport you back to a different time or place. It’s an experience that I attempt to capture when composing a new fragrance. For example, Little Doll is a scent that is very reminiscent of my childhood a crisp spring morning with wild Jasmine, Mimosa and Harakeke heavily scenting the cool air, a warm cup of tea in mittened hands.”

Circe’s line up includes deep and intense blends as well as light and sparkling ones.

 She says she considers perfumery an art. “As part of my art, I am passionate about using raw materials that don’t always smell perfect, in a commercial sense. I feel like these scents do not need to be created synthetically to take out the parts that are seen as undesirable. Nature creates these fragrances exactly the way they are meant to be and when layered and combined, the final product is powerful beyond measure.”

With the science of extraction becoming more advanced, wider access to natural raw material and isolates is now possible, according to Lenihan. This has helped her in capturing the beauty of native ingredients, among them totara, kowhai, kawakawa and harakeke.

“My aim has always been to produce a high-end natural perfume using the unique scents of Aotearoa, these scents connect us with our beautiful island home.”




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