AbelIris, Rose, Sichuan pepper
The world is changing and the perfume industry follows. Coming out of the pandemic, people are willing to consume more consciously and expecting from brands the transparency and sustainable actions. And some niche brands are ready to answer these needs. Meet Abel – natural, vegan and cruelty-free fragrances that won’t compromise quality and sophistication.
Sniph talked to Abel’s founder, Frances Shoemack, and the Nose of the brand, Isaac Sinclair, about the present and future of natural perfumery.
What makes Abel different from most of the niche brands present at the market?
Frances: When we launched our first fragrance seven years ago, natural or clean weren’t terms you heard in relationship to perfume. These days it’s common for customers to ask about the ingredients in their fragrance, and care about everything in the product life cycle – from sourcing to packaging and distribution. While there are more socially aware brands today than back then, it’s still what sets us apart from 99% of perfume on the market, niche or otherwise.
Natural perfumery vs. Organic. Is there any difference?
Frances: For natural ingredients to be labeled as organic, they must have a certificate to prove that they have been produced in an organic way (at its simplest, this means without the use of chemical). Our aim is to create the best natural perfume possible, so we use the best natural ingredients we can source – both from a quality and supply chain point of view. Sometimes ingredients without certification are a more sustainable option. For example, cedarwood is a by-product of the paper industry, and many of our ingredients are wild harvested. We also use ‘natural isolates’ in our fragrances. For example, a plant-derived musk that is used for longevity in place of animal or synthetic musks. These natural isolates use the latest in natural science and are not available with organic certification. All of our fragrances are at least 80% organically certified by volume. You can read more about the difference between natural and organic if you wish on our website here.
When was your interest in perfumery born? Do you remember the first perfume you ever owned?
Frances: I’ve always been interested in the olfactory world, I have memories creating “perfume” from flowers in my mother’s garden, and when I was at high school did an art project on designing a perfume. When I was a child I found an old fashioned perfume atomiser in an antique shop with remnants of a scent inside. I have no idea what the scent was, but I know I’d recognise it if I smelt it!
You stepped into the perfume world with a background of winemaking. What made you change the profession?
Frances: Nearly 10 years ago I was falling in love with the world of niche perfume and wondered why none of these emerging brands were working with naturals? At the time I was already a very conscious consumer and could buy beautiful natural skincare and make up, but not perfume. It really started out as a quest to find a natural fragrance that was modern and chic, and when that search failed, it became a question of ‘is this something I can bring into the world’. An unexpected positive is that I now get to enjoy wine in the way you can’t when it’s what you do all day (it was always an afterwork beer in the winery!).
In your portfolio, you (Issac) have works for such global brands like Zara or Avon. How does the process of creating scents for a niche natural perfume house is different from working for these mass-market giants?
Isaac: When I’m creating these blockbuster scents, it’s like I’m a songwriter for top of the pops. And in the same way as hearing your songs on the big radio networks, I love walking down the streets of Sao Paulo and smelling my scents. But Abel is my indie punk rock band on the side. I get to be creative, push the boundaries, and use these super expensive natural ingredients that no one else is willing to invest in.
If you could pick the signature scent for Abel from all brand’s offerings, which scent would it be?
Frances: Cobalt Amber is our best seller and I think for good reason, it’s sensual and moreish, while also being interesting and unexpected. Extremely unisex (I love it on my husband) and very modern.
Isaac: I’m biased because Grey Labdanum is my favourite, but even so…. it’s edgy, dark, cool and not what you expect when you think of naturals. Anyone smelling it is like “POW” knocks your socks off, you know?
What does the close future of the perfume market look like? Would natural perfumery become a new mainstream?
Frances: I think the current situation is throwing light on business in a very confronting, but ultimately positive way. Coming out of this pandemic, I think people will be asking more questions, expecting more of brands, and I think the fragrance industry will be forced to open up in a way it hasn’t before. Transparency in ingredients, labelling, production. Socially responsible sourcing, safe, natural ingredients, cruelty free, the full lifecycle… I think (and hope) this will all become increasingly important.
If Abel was a song, this would be…
Frances: Higher Love – the acoustic version by James Vincent McMorrow. Don’t know if it’s Abel, but it stirs our emotions in the same way our scents do and searching for a higher purpose resonates with what we are trying to do.
If Abel was a movie…
Frances: Honestly this is too hard! But I’m going to say “Hunt for the Wilderpeople ” because it’s also from New Zealand, I like the gutsy, creative characters and am a big fan of Taika Waititi the director. Plus I’m told Kiwis all share the same slightly offbeat humor, so maybe there’s something there!
What is the most important thing you want everyone to know about Abel?
Frances: We’re trying our best and lead with our heart! You put your heart and soul into a small business, some days are wonderful, some days are bloody tough. Some decisions are clear, some you just have to trust your gut on. I (and my little team) want to look back in 20 years time and be proud of the way we created this brand, that we made decisions for the right reasons.
The best scent in the world is….
Frances: …Feijoa, a little know fruit that grows in New Zealand and has the most insanely distinctive smell (and taste), somewhere between guava and passionfruit. They are ripe for a few weeks a year, mostly in backyards around the country and very rarely exported.
Isaac: when it comes to scent I’m a polygamist.