One can accuse the perfume industry of many things, but one cannot call it unproductive. There are now over 2,000 launches per year and it feels almost as if a new brand comes into being every single day. Now, I’m not sure how I feel about all this olfactory noise – part of me thinks the more the merrier, after all, it’s exciting to smell new things all of the time. But the other half – the grumpy cynical half (sometimes he’s not a half and verges on a whole, I’ll be honest) – thinks that all this noise makes it difficult to discern what is good or not. How can one find the magic needle in all that hay? Sometimes it’s hard.
Perfume brands come from all sorts of places; from perfumers who want to go it alone and perfume fanatics who stumble into the industry wide-eyed and ambitious. My cynical side tells me to include the fact that brands can also come from entrepreneurs who have no passion for the subject but an eye for making money too, so let’s indulge him for a moment. In my experience though, the brands that work most successfully are those that come from people who are passionate about perfume (whoever they may be, perfumers, industry insiders or outsiders) but also understand the realities of the industry and retail. Ostens is one such brand – it comes from two industry veterans, two people that not only love perfume, but understand it too – two people who understand the challenges consumers have relating to perfume and have crafted a brand that makes it both accessible and experimental.
Ostens is the brainchild of Christopher Yu and Laurent Delafon, founders of fragrance distributor, licensor, and consultancy, United Perfumes. Working with IFF (International Flavours and Fragrances), Ostens have created a unique fragrance experience that presents materials, the components of fragrance that are usually so elusive to the customer, in an entirely new and uniquely accessible manner. The idea is to showcase a material in isolation – to show its beauty in totality, but also highlight how a material can be used in a composition – showing how it can morph dependent on the materials it is paired with.
To do this, Ostens offers two types of fragrance: Préparation and Impression. The Préparations are the materials in isolation, prepared in oil at the highest amount that IFRA will allow, whereas the Impressions are those same materials spun into a full Eau de Parfum composition created by a perfumer who has been given complete creative control to do what they like, using as much as little of the signature material as they fancy. So, for example, the stunning, neon-like Rose Oil Isparta from IFF-LMR (LMR being Laboratoire Monique-Remy, IFF’s flagship producer of naturals) is presented in its nosegasmically beautiful entirety in the Préparation. Its Impression counterpart by perfumer Dominique Ropion (yes he of Portrait of a Lady fame) however, is a stunning ode to “Rothko red” where rose is woven between notes of pink pepper, patchouli, and labdanum. It’s as sumptuous as it sounds.
In their debut collection, Ostens has created Préparations and Impressions for five materials; Rose Oil Isparta (IFF-LMR), Jasmine Absolute (IFF-LMR), Cedarwood Heart (IFF-LMR), Patchouli Heart (IFF-LMR), and Cashmeran Velvet (IFF). Perfumers such as Dominique Ropion, Sophie Labbé, Bruno Jovanovic, Alexis Dadier, and more. Most are entirely transformative – the aforementioned Rose Oil Isparta is vivid and blood-red in its pure form, but melts in to a richly textured oriental filled with pink pepper, patchouli, labdanum, and cashmeran, in its Impression form. Smelling both next to each other is a wonderful experience that spans from eye-opening to educational.
Out of the Préparations, my favourite is the Jasmine Absolute (IFF-LMR), which in its pure oil form, sings with a melodious headiness of indolic white blooms, hot and sticky from the stifling night air, with just a hint of the banana-skin freshness of ylang-ylang for contrast. Its Impression form is also beautiful and feels remarkably clean, crisp and diaphanous in comparison. Perfumer Bruno Jovanovic (Dries van Noten and Monsieur. for Frederic Malle) has put together a masterfully luminous jasmine that manages to smell addictive and gorgeous, without any of the white floral terror that is likely to make the horses bolt.
Most of the Impressions were enjoyable for me, but none more so than the Cedarwood Heart (IFF-LMR), which really caught my attention. Firstly, I’ll admit that the Préparation was difficult for me to smell, as is often the case with some materials in isolation, but there was no problem sensing anything when it came to the Impression. Perfumer Alexis Dadier speaks fondly of the material, saying that it “smells of the very heat of a tree trunk which would have just been cut in half. It smells of sap, with a slight humidity, it is also mouth-wateringly creamy, milky, almost vanilla-like.”. For his impression Dadier has played up the custard-like sweetness and softness of the material, using orris to amplify the buttery texture. It really is divine and I cannot get enough of it.
To most people, perfumery is a complex and mysterious thing and the average consumer doesn’t really think about how their perfume is made or what’s in it. Ostens are doing good work to make fragrance more accessible by presenting it in a way that provides insight into the building blocks and how they are translated creatively into unique and interest compositions. They’ve even created colour ways that offer a visual representation of their fragrances, translating their collection in a synaesthetic way. What’s more, Ostens are allowing the consumer freedom – the freedom to choose how and what they wear. The Préparation oils can be worn alone, under their Impression counterpart, or in combination with any of the other products in the collection. The choice is yours and I think that’s kinda fun!
A big part of experiencing Ostens is the concept store they have opened on Blandford Street in London. Unlike any other perfume store I’ve ever visited, Ostens feels more like an olfactory installation than a boutique. Perfumes from the collection are placed in residence in the front of the store with the rest of the collection available to experience in the adjoining room. It’s cool and casual – just the way perfume shopping should be. Right now, Rose Isparta is the focus, represented as a neon explosion that fills the boutique with fluorescent pink light, with the fragrance at the very centre. It’s most definitely worth a visit!
Ostens have an exciting collection of fragrances that have been created with passion, expertise, and freedom – three elements that make for exceedingly good results. I’ve never been a fan of perfume oils (I’m a sillage queen, let’s be real) but these are so euphorically complex they’ve changed my stubborn little mind. The Impressions are all excellently crafted perfumes and I certainly wouldn’t want to be without that Cedar Wood Heart, oh and I have my eyes on that Jasmine Absolute Impression too… So yes, colour me impressed and I’ll certainly be watching to see what this exciting new brand does next.
Don’t just take my word for it though, pop in to Ostens at 62 Blandford Street, or head over to their website and sniff for yourself!
Rose Isparta Préparation Fragrance Oil (£65/9ml)
Rose Ispirata Impression Eau de Parfum (£145/50ml)
Jasmine Absolute Préparation Fragrance Oil (£50/9ml)
Jasmine Absolute Impression Eau de Parfum (£110/50ml)
Cedar Wood Heart Préparation Fragrance Oil (£35/9ml)
Cedar Wood Heart Impression Eau de Parfum (£85/50ml)
Patchouli Heart Préparation Fragrance Oil (£35/9ml)
Patchouli Heart Impression Nº1 Eau de Parfum (£85/50ml)
Patchouli Heart Impression Nº2 Eau de Parfum (£85/50ml)
Cashmeran Velvet Préparation Fragrance Oil (£35/9ml)
Cashmeran Velvet Impression Eau de Parfum (£85/50ml)
Samples, notes, and quotes via Ostens. Images are my own.