Who: Ruth Mastenbroek, classically-trained perfumer. Ruth has her own brand of niche perfumes, candles, and diffusers, stocked in Fortnum & Mason, Fenwick Bond Street and a select number of independent boutiques, as well as online at Ruth Mastenbroek. Her business is a true family affair, with her daughter Claire and son Nic now working for the company. As well as her own range, Ruth’s team create fragrances for other brands. She told us, on our recent trip to her lab in the heart of bucolic Buckinghamshire, that she loves this side of her work for the opportunity to work with exciting new start-ups as well as established business, where a bespoke fragrance can set a brand apart.
We think Ruth is one of the UK’s most talented perfumers, perhaps better known within the industry and her work for other brands than for her own collection of beautiful fragrances, but that’s set to change with her growing team, we’re looking forward to inhaling what she does next.
Today I’m wearing my Signature Eau de Parfum, which I’m loving at the moment. This was the first fragrance I created to launch under my own brand in 2010. Signature was born from the fact that I had the freedom to create my absolute favourite, best ever fragrance, and that’s the feeling that I get from wearing it too… a sense of freedom. It has a lot of my favourite ingredients in it: bergamot, pink pepper, rose, and patchouli oils. It’s perfect for dressing both up and down – just like a little black dress. During lockdown it made me feel special, even if I was just curling up on the sofa watching TV.
Signature opens with fresh citrus notes of bergamot and mandarin, brightened by blackcurrant, pink peppercorn, and pineapple, then blossoms into lovely floral notes of rose with lily and jasmine, on a bed of exotic woods including patchouli and sandalwood, plus oakmoss and musk. Creating Signature, I was inspired by the feeling of adventure I experienced as a child, exploring the woods and creeks behind our house in America, where I was brought up, although I was born in London.
I am often told that my fragrances are joyful and invoke feelings of happiness. I feel very much ‘in my skin’ wearing Signature, as well as feeling upbeat and elegant. The top notes are sophisticated, and as the fragrance dries down it becomes very sensual. It is very long-lasting so I can enjoy the good mood for hours.
I spray perfume on my wrists, neck and shoulder area up towards my hair. I like to wear scarves, so they will get a good dose of any fragrance too, and it lasts a long time on the fabric, which is a bonus. With my own fragrances I only have to spray them once at the start of the day and they last well into the evening – sometimes even the next morning.
I don’t wear perfume at work anyway as it would interfere with the projects I am working on. As I continued to go to my lab during lockdown, which was a little safe haven for me as it meant I could keep my creative juices flowing, it meant my fragrance rituals didn’t change. Luckily I was still surrounded by scent every day.
I love to scent anything and everything. I love to use our fragrance diffusers for background ambience, and I burn our candles to create a burst of atmosphere and to alternate scents depending on the occasion or mood. We have five candles and four diffusers and what is really important to me is that they span different fragrance types.
Our Ancient Frankincense candle is spicy and warm with a hint of Christmas, Rebel County has a citrus blast on ambers and woods, Rolling Shires has grassy-green notes rolling through woods and herbs; The Intrepid Herbalist celebrates all things herbal with a dash of fresh air, and Blooming Wild opens the window onto a floral landscape.
Fragrance has been the backdrop to everything in my life and is very much part of me. After studying Chemistry at Oxford University, I started working in the perfumery department of Selfridges and that was the start of my journey. From that moment I knew I wanted to become a perfumer: perfumery combined my passions for art and science, creative flair with a curiosity about life.
I trained at an international perfume house, which later became Givaudan and worked in Holland and Japan, as well as in Grasse, France, and of course, England. I still feel like I’m learning every day and have lots of ideas that I want to express in fragrance.
More than ever during lockdown, I have realised how important scent can be for mental health and this is an area we are actively exploring. I also think there is a need in perfumery for more transparency – customers want to know how their products are crafted and the sustainability of the whole production process as well as the end product. We are working on something exciting for early 2022, which will tie all of these passions together.
Being able to unleash my creativity any way I want is amazing! The business side of things comes a lot harder to me, so thank goodness I now have brilliant help from Claire, who spearheads our relationships with customers and oversees new product development. I am training Nic to become a perfumer, and he is showing fantastic aptitude and talent, so the future of the brand is in good hands.
The reality of running a perfume brand is that it isn’t easy. There is a huge amount of competition, and as a niche brand the challenge is generating awareness and getting people to try our products. That’s why things like podcasts, blogs and social media are so important because they shine a light on niche brands like ours and the niche fragrance industry.
We are about to launch a Winter Candle Discovery Set, with 3 mini candles that each in their own way evoke scents of the season and will make a home smell very warm and welcoming: with notes like frankincense, amber, lemongrass, and spices. It’s the perfect gift for a loved one– or for self gifting.
For me, as a perfumer, fragrance is at the heart of everything we do. In addition to our own developments we are working on some amazing collaborations with some forward-thinking businesses – lots to do! There is a touch of magic in perfume – that’s something I want to keep on discovering, celebrating and sharing.
I am fond of the smell of petrol, I know I’m not alone here. I’m still working on finding a way of bringing that into a fragrance.