Naturally ... Irish perfume

Kathleen Harris recently took a trip to the Burren Perfumery to try out their fragrances

 

BEAUTYBURREN_WEBPerfume and cologne are Christmas gift staples, and with many of us gifting or receiving a bottle over the holiday season, there’s no better time to become better acquainted with the art of scent. I recently took a trip to the Burren Perfumery to try out their fragrances inspired by the dramatic Burren landscape.

The business has been running since 1972. English woman and perfumer Sadie Chowen, who took it over in 2001, lives there with her husband and their two children.

The isolated setting is postcard perfect. Down a long and narrow road which winds through the Burren’s rocky landscape sits a huddle of ivy-covered stone buildings.

These include a shop, herb garden, tea room and manufacturing rooms where perfumes and certified organic soaps, balms and creams are made by hand in small batches. Everything is made on the premises, and visitors are encouraged to watch.

Working with a nose and perfumer based in Paris, Chowen formulates all her own fragrances, which are made up of about 80 per cent natural raw materials, imported from wherever they grow best.

The Burren’s wildflowers and woodland herbs that grow in the garden – meadowsweet, wild fragrant orchid, nettle, fennel and mint, to name a few – are her inspiration. She spends about two years creating a single perfume, to get it just right.

“I wouldn’t make a perfume I wouldn’t wear myself,” she says, standing in front of the immaculate counter where seven scents are on display. “It’s much like composing a piece of music. What you’re trying to do is create a harmony. Parts of it are science, other parts are instinct.”

Perfumes generally contain 50 to 70 ingredients, and consist of what are called top notes, middle notes and base notes.

The top, or head notes, are the most volatile and dissipate quickly. They tend to be citrusy or fruity, and give the finished product a “freshness and lightness”, says Chowen. “They’re what you smell first.”

The middle notes, or heart notes, are “more stable and make up the bulk of the perfume”. These tend to consist of aromatics and smell floral or spicy. According to Chowen, these notes linger for about four to six hours.

The base notes are “what anchor the creation and make it stay on the skin.” They’re persistent, lasting about eight hours. These are the woodsy, musky, vanilla, oriental and amber scents that make your perfume smell warmer, softer, the longer you wear it.

“A perfume that is well constructed is designed to evolve on the skin,” says Chowen, who encourages visitors to test a fragrance on each wrist and take a walk around the herb garden or have a cup of tea before purchasing.

This allows the top notes to settle and for the perfume to interact with your unique skin.I’ve since tested most of the fragrances at home, sniffing each over the course of several hours to see how they evolved. The difference is quite incredible. Ones I was convinced I didn’t care for after an initial whiff transformed into a new favourite – I can’t decide which one I like the most.

There’s certainly a scent here to suit everyone, and the simple and elegant bottles and packaging are just lovely.

So why are “natural” fragrances hard to find?

“The smell and performance we expect from a perfume is difficult to achieve with pure essential oils,” says Chowen, explaining that many of the scents we like simply do not exist in nature, and due to the complex make-up of essential oils, layering them creates a very dense, rich scent that would impress no one.

As a result, she strives to use extracted components of these oils rather than “taking the whole package”, to get lighter, airier scents.

You can order online at burrenperfumery.com, but a visit is well worth the drive.

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