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Style On the hunt for your next signature scent? These Canadian perfumers take the natural route

Courtney Rafuse's Universal Flowering Perfumes is one of several fragrance brands turning to natural ingredients.

With fragrance, like a relationship or good denim, the fit must be perfect; love at first whiff.

Yet, many find it hard to fall for conventional perfumes, most of which lean heavily on synthetic scents and, in general, sacrifice idiosyncrasy for mass appeal. In response, natural perfumes, fragrances created from natural aromatic ingredients (think anything forageable – bark, resin, flowers, roots and leaves), are gaining popularity as a small-scale alternative to mainstream perfume.

Mandy Aftel, an author and perfumer based in Berkeley, Calif., has been creating natural, artisanal fragrances for more than 20 years. Over time, she’s watched customers become more educated and passionate about the provenance of their scent; “I think there is a real hunger for aromatics that come from nature,” she says. In a process that mirrors recent crazes for natural wine and local food, natural perfume reflects a growing desire to reimagine luxury as something individualized, small-scale and intimate. “People that are passionate about cooking or gardening, it’s not very far to be passionate about natural perfume,” Aftel says.

You don’t have to go far to find talented perfumers who are enamoured with natural fragrance. This crop of Canadians are all producing spirited, highly individual options.

Bree Hyland of Barre Fragrance

Bree Hyland launched Barre Fragrances in 2014.

“There are so many parallels in the way I work through smell and through paint,” Bree Hyland of Barre Fragrance says.

Hyland is a visual artist and aesthetician living in Halifax who launched her line of fragrances in 2014. From childhood, Hyland was aware of the therapeutic potential of certain scents – her mother worked in aromatherapy and energy healing, meaning Hyland was “always making smells.”

With Barre Fragrance, Hyland aims for complexity and allows intuition to guide her. Perfume-making exists symbiotically with her work as an artist. A colour could become the starting point for a new scent; for instance, a particular acid green inspired the fragrance Outlaw, incorporating notes of tobacco, wood and honeysuckle and evoking, as Hyland puts it, “this desert tobacco, dusty boot feeling.”

Hyland finds the patience and bravery required to paint is also instrumental to the high-stakes experimentation of perfumery. “You have to be willing to destroy something in order to make it better,” she says.

Courtney Rafuse of Universal Flowering Perfumes

Universal Flowering Perfumes creates custom personalized scents for its clients.

In an exceptionally profound Instagram bio, Courtney Rafuse of Universal Flowering Perfumes asks, “Don’t you think it’s time to be fervently ahead of your own fantasy?”

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Fantasy, the dream of a perfect signature scent, draws people to Rafuse’s Toronto studio for custom fragrance blends and it’s what set Rafuse on the path to becoming a self-taught perfumer. “I always felt a little envious of people who had a very strong scent they connected to or had a quote ‘signature scent,’” she says.

Rafuse works predominantly – but not exclusively – with natural aromatics because “they have a lot more personality,” and she can create 100-per-cent natural blends for clients. Crafting a personalized scent from scratch is “a very intoxicating situation,” says Rafuse, who can whip up a custom perfume based on anything from a poem to a description of a perfect day, but more often from meeting clients in person and presenting them with an array of scents.

Although she’s dedicated to creating signature scents for others, Rafuse has stopped searching for her own, instead embracing the luxury of choice; “I like that I constantly have something new on the go…,” she says.

Ayala Moriel of Ayala Moriel Parfums

Ayala Moriel founded her line of scents not long after graduating from animation school in 2001.

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“Natural perfumes have an alive, authentic quality that you can only understand – or feel, rather – if you experience them first-hand,” Ayala Moriel says. Moriel began experimenting with fragrance in 2000, when an interest in homemade incense pulled her, as she puts it, “down the proverbial rabbit-hole of fragrant creativity.”

Freshly graduated from animation school in 2001, Moriel founded her namesake perfumery in Vancouver not long after and she’s remained a dedicated advocate of natural fragrances ever since. “Educating the public is still a huge part of my role as an independent natural perfumer,” she says, something she achieves by way of fragrance-appreciation tea parties, incense ceremonies, DIY workshops or perfumery training courses. “It’s a different mode of aesthetics,” she says. “Once you get accustomed to it, you start noticing nuances that weren’t there before.”

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