PURISTS

A French parfumerie revives the romance of all-natural fragrances

Eau naturale.
Eau naturale.
Image: Ormaie
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Most perfumes today—despite what flowery marketing campaigns might suggest—are made with at least some synthetic chemicals. Compared to lab-made molecules, using natural ingredients such as flower petals, herbs, and animal excretions is expensive, laborious—and utterly romantic.

Creating a perfume without a trace of synthetics is akin to “making cookies without without the eggs, flour, and milk,” explains Marie-Lise Jonak, co-founder of the all-natural fragrance brand Ormaie. (Jonak clarifies that they don’t use natural animal extracts.) This seemingly impossible feat was exactly what intrigued Jonak and her son and collaborator Baptiste Bouygues.

“We’re not doing it because it’s trendy,” says Bouygues during a meeting with Quartz in Paris. “The link to the earth, to people, to time is so much more chic.” This reverence for things that take time to nurture is even coded in the parfumerie’s name: Ormaie is the French word for a grove of elm (orme) trees.

Mother and son co-founders Marie-Lise Jonak and Baptiste Bouygues.
Mother and son co-founders Marie-Lise Jonak and Baptiste Bouygues.
Image: Ormaie

Bouygues explains it was hard to find perfumers who were willing and capable of working with all-natural ingredients. Most noses today tend to be skilled in working with petrochemicals, synthetic fixatives and dyes, but not so much in natural ingredients, because it’s what big brands require. “In perfumery today, what’s interesting is that the director of marketing basically leads everything,” says Bouygues who once worked at LVMH’s Shanghai communications bureau. “It’s not at all how it should be. It should be creation that comes first.”

After two years in production, Jonak and Bouygues unveiled a line of seven fragrances in New York City earlier this month. From the citrusy Le Brume to the woodsy Toi Toi Toi, Ormaie’s debut collection features well-balanced scents each paired with an alluring backstory, as only the French can concoct.

Papier Carbone, for instance, evokes the scent-memory of old fashioned carbon paper sheets, libraries, and licorice. The heady L’Ivrée Bleu conjures the delirium of being in a tropical jungle, like those portrayed by painters Henri Rousseau and Paul Gauguin. Ormaie’s green-hued men’s fragrance Le Passant, has top notes of lavender and contains the prized ingredient ambrette. It’s a nod to indelible whiff of perfume from a mysterious and beautiful passerby and a tribute to the memory of Bouygues’s father, who similarly wore an elegant lavender-based perfume.

Scent memory.
Scent memory.

Bottle art

Customers willing to pay $270 for a 100 ml bottle of Ormaie support a manifesto about conscientiously made luxury goods, and the vessel should be an object worthy of display, says Bouygues. Working with the sustainable glassmakers Saverglass, they developed a clear, 12-sided bottle that recalls the shape of the coveted Hibiki Japanese whiskey. The design of the whimsical wood cap was inspired by the work of French graphic designer Jean-Paul Goude. Bouygues proposes displaying the bottle out in the open, perhaps on a bookshelf or a mantle in the living room, like a small sculpture.

Two weeks after Ormaie’s launch, Bouygues says the response has been encouraging. In the first week, the perfume sold at a rate of five bottles a day at Barneys New York’s flagship, which is considerable for an unknown, niche brand with a production quantity of only 3,000 bottles per scent.

Form and content.
Form and content.
Image: Ormaie

Bouygues says Ormaie’s small size and comparatively low overhead expenses allow them to be nimble and experimental. “Unlike other companies with 50-person teams, we can make a decision quickly…Maybe a glass of wine, we can discuss what direction to follow.”

“Financially, our model may sound absurd, but we’re a small maison, and we have low [operational] costs,” Bouygues says. “We wanted to be happy with what we’ve done, and we hope people like it.”