Who: Alex Verier, co founder of skincare company Pelegrims. Alex’s new brand makes skincare that includes grape extracts up-cycled from the bi-products of England’s thriving wine industry. The Westwell Vineyards in Kent, which takes a natural approach to wine making, is where Pelegrims connects with its grape extracts, conveniently just 20 minutes from the lab where the products are made.
It’s situated on the North Downs, near Pilgrim’s Way, the inspiration for the brand name and a route used for centuries by pilgrims travelling to Canterbury. There’s been evidence of a vineyard in Westwell since around 1310, when a group of Monks were said to look after one in the area.
Alex has form in the fragrance world, he was previously a director at Haeckels and wanted to create a skincare brand that took fragrance seriously, not as an afterthought. His low intervention, active skincare formulations work in harmony with the skin, supporting it to heal and rejuvenate itself as well as smelling wonderful.
We’ve been trialing the brand and can heartily recommend everything, particularly the Face Oil, which features pinot noir extracted polyphenols and the Facial Balm, which is scented with fresh air, wild rose and sea salt. We caught up with this budding entrepreneur to discover more.
Today I’m wearing two fragrances. I love to layer fragrances and blend them depending on my mood. I’m wearing Miller Harris La Fumée Alexandrie on my neck and Oxidised Rose from Foras (I’m the founder of Foras too) on my wrist.
La Fumée is an incredible scent – I think of it as like a light but smokey fragrance with a lot of depth to it. The woody smoke notes aren’t as heavy as darker fragrances, it reminds me of winter days at school with new pencils, old wood panelled rooms and bonfires outside. It’s one of my favourite winter perfumes.
For Oxidised Rose my aim was to create a classic rose that wasn’t overly floral or powdery. There are four rose notes in the formula, but overall, it’s a contemporary rose. I like to describe it as a ‘cold rose’ with metallic and marine notes blending with the rose and a leather base to warm it up slightly.
My fragrances today were all about comfort. The Miller Harris is for those memories of winter mornings and the Foras reminds me of my girlfriend who wears it every day.
Fragrance has shaped my life for the past 10 years, every day I’ll either be wearing a fragrance or working on the creation of one for a product so it really is incredibly important.
One of my favourite projects at the moment has been creating the scents for the Pelegrims products. For me, they were almost as important as the active ingredients that help to hydrate and cleanse the skin. With each product, I considered the fragrance for a long time. I wanted each one to have a lot of references to the UK because the geography is so significant to the skincare, due to the origins of the grape extract.
The real consideration for me was “how do we bottle the scent of the Kent countryside” without the end result being something generic or similar to other ‘British Isles fragrances’. The other point to look at was the end use of them. If I were doing a Pelegrims Perfume I would have made different choices with ingredients, but by being skincare only (for now…) we wanted an emphasis on softness and nature. The end results I’m very happy with, each products has a special and unique scent which sets it apart from other products out there, but brings together the idea of indigenous ingredients and the wine making process.
I co-founded Pelegrims with (former tech exec) Jerome Moisan, he’s a trained sommelier and it was really him who had the first key idea about using grapes from the English wine industry. From there it’s been a matter of researching and exploring that idea to discover everything we can about the effectiveness of the extracts and the goodness they contain.
I wear a lot of different perfumes but the addition of the Pelegrims products has recently shifted my tastes towards greener notes. When I was working on the scents for the products, I used a really interesting reference of the Nez du Vin toolkit, which is used by wine lovers for learning the different wine notes from wines around the world. It contains over 50 scent sample notes to smell and learn in terms of recognising wines but it was a fascinating crossover with my creation process.
We’re also planning on working with sensory artist and designer Kate McLean from the University of Kent on creating a Smellmap of the area around Westwell, exciting plans for the future!
We use an oil in our hand wash which is a fermented grape essential oil that’s made by distilling the residue at the bottom of wine barrels. I wouldn’t say it’s my all-time favourite smell but it’s a good example of an oil that’s super powerful. At first smell you wouldn’t think to ever use it but in small amounts and the right blend of ingredients it’s fantastic. Green, slightly boozy but also light and almost floral.
We use a raw natural ingredient and take it from that pure state all the way through to the final extract and then into the product. There’s no misleading anyone about what we do and how we do it, I love this about the direction we’re going in, hopefully we’re creating a brand that’s still special in the years to come.
I have tried to create scents for the brand that truly embody the British countryside. That’s not to say that every note in there is ‘clean’, as in nature nothing is truly clean and green so we’ve got a few darker and woody notes in there too. Overall, I think we’ve managed to get a good balance between a lovely natural scent that also has a lot of depth and layers through it.
In terms of sustainability, we’ve been really transparent to say that the packaging is as best we can do for now, at this size and in an industry which is slowly shifting to more eco options. We only use glass bottles, which are better for the environment than plastic and our tubes are 100% aluminium, which is infinitely recyclable.
I think it’s important to not pretend we’re perfect. There’s still plastic on the pump and some of the lids. Not being perfect is important because we’re excited about improving in the future. As we grow our customers will see that we’re committed to getting better.
People have found the depth of the scents pleasantly surprising. They aren’t created as one dimensional skincare scents but more towards a perfume level of complexity. The Hand Pomade in particular I would recommend trying as we put the fragrance percentage slightly higher than the other products, to make it slightly longer lasting and as a formula it’s a bit punchier, as it’s on the hands instead of the face. I love to put it on mid-morning if I’m struggling with getting through emails, and it’s definitely a good calming product.
I’m probably boring saying it but I love the smell of brand new books.
Images Sam Scales