Who: Amanda Saurin is the founder of AS Apothecary, an organic skincare range which uses oils from plants and flowers she both grows and distills herself. Hugely knowledgeable (she was a lawyer in a previous life), Amanda’s beautiful and high quality distillations ensure her range of oils and balms have an extraordinary fragrance. She has the license to harvest rose petals from the Glyndebourne Estate and indigenous plants on the island of Harris, where she produces a range in collaboration with the Harris Distillery and is part based in Cyprus, where she distills many of her most potent oils. She hold strong views on the use of natural oils in perfume and we caught up with our favourite ‘wild perfumer’ at her idyllic base near Lewes.
“In common with 90% of little girls, my first scent memory was pulling rose petals off bushes, putting them in a jam jar with water, mushing them up and smelling that incredible rosy gorgeousness, taking it inside, letting it accidentally ferment for several days, re smelling it and wondering what on earth happened in the meantime. Now I do that, but I’m much better at it.
My father travelled to Brazil and Iran, and brought back exciting and unusual things, like freshly roasted coffee beans, which in the 70s just weren’t available. The smell of that coffee was a sensory delight.
I’m really interested in the scent of plants. I make a definite distinction between mainstream and artisanal perfume and production, which is what I do, where plants form the base of the whole building process. Every time I distill a new plant, I have to get to know it, often for the first few distillations I can’t ‘hear’ it properly. Then I work out the sound of the plant material moving within the still and once I know that, I can make it work. Sound is very reliable, more so than thermometers.
The seven years I lived in Cyprus were really interesting because there is an extraordinary connection there to the way perfumes were made. The oldest perfumery that’s been found was in Cyprus. It’s very hot and very dry so you get plants that are rich in volatile oils. In the mountains, the cedars exude a sap, which you can scrape off – I always travel with my knife – and you have this amazing product. Plants grow in very inclement conditions, so cistus grows high up with no soil, it’s rocky and hot, 45 degrees, they are tough plants. Conditions are so hard that the oils are really pungent, but there’s an abundance of plants, creating a wealth of perfume materials, it’s absolutely thrilling.
If you know the plants and what grows together, you can start compiling some extraordinary scent profiles, not by going to a shop and thinking ‘I like this essential oil and that essential oil’. There’s something much more valuable in going to the source, look what’s flowering at the same time, and then start your journey from there. It makes perfect sense to me.
All oils are not equal. Most essential oils are commercially produced, using the largest amount of plant material so you don’t have to do too many distillations. Commercially, you need to get the oil out quickly, so you put a lot of pressure on the plant material to split open the oil glands and release the oil. It’s a very violent extraction process and doing this creates a two dimensional oil. All the subtlety you get when you run a still slowly and quietly is lost.
I wear my perfume in my hair. AbdesSalaam Al Attar is an amazing perfumer from Italy, who visits Cyprus regularly and I got to know him well. He always uses naturals in his amazing scents and taught me the traditional method of perfuming my hair. Every time you swish your head you get a waft of perfume but you’re not overwhelmed, it’s a lovely gentle way to wear fragrance.
In my garden workshop the honey suckle is coming out, along with some of the roses, so today I’ve used a few drops of rose and honeysuckle oil, with a tiny bit of pine tip oil that I picked in Harris, and worked it into my hair. It makes sense to me to wear seasonal scent. Our body oil works as hair perfume and some people use the body butter as a hair conditioner.
I think there needs to be a revolution in perfume. It used to be the ingredients in a fragrance were a secret because the perfume houses didn’t want you to know the recipe. At that time, perfumes were made mostly of naturals, so they would have plant, animal, tree, all kinds of exciting things in, and keeping the mix secret seemed commercially, perfectly understandable.
Now it’s completely different, most perfumes are massively synthetic, with the odd natural in to give it a bit of street cred. The reason now that we don’t want people to know what’s in it is because you can put anything in the bottle. With skin care based products, every single thing has to be itemized so the consumer can see what’s in it, and say, I don’t want to buy this because it has a paraben (preservative) in it, or a phthalate (scent extender). But if you pick up a bottle of perfume, you’ve got no idea what’s in it. When you spray perfume on your skin, you inhale and it goes racing up your nose and it sits on your skin. You can’t use the secrecy of ingredient to hide things that are unpalatable to the consumer. It needs to stop.
One of the absolute joys of perfume is applying something and not quite knowing what your skin is going to do with it. So, if you put naturals on your skin, they will change as you heat up, cool down, reacting to how the acid or alkaline state of your skin changes. That’s really exciting. How dull to spray something in the morning and it still smells the same at five in the afternoon.
Natural scents don’t last the same way because they don’t have scent extenders in them, although some oils will last longer than others. You do need to keep reapplying, but there’s something really thrilling about that.
When you look at what we put on our bodies, we create a cacophony of scent noise. We use shower gel, soap, shampoo, conditioner, body oil, face cream, toner, anti-perspirant, perfume… By nine in the morning there can be ten different scents on our body!
Surely it would be a lovelier thing to have a scent that goes right through your products? I concentrate on perfuming the skin as a whole; I made #3, #5 and #6 as my bases and they each have a scent, so the face creams, body oils and butters carry one single scent that runs through them. So for #5, which smells of English blossoms, labdanum and Middle Eastern earthiness, you could pick out a perfume that has rose in it to work with the products at the heart, then you’ll smell fantastic, not of ten different things. If I use a perfume, I make it pick out one of the notes from the body creams I’m using.
I do bespoke mixes, dozens of women have written to ask for help on skin sensitivity and smell. That’s the beauty of working with an artisan perfumer, you can pick up the phone or email me. You can’t do that with Estée Lauder!