The raw materials in the perfumes we wear are fascinating but they can often be confusing and inaccessible. In Material Focus I try to demystify these essential building blocks of perfumery, covering how they smell and how they’re used.

Let’s be real for a second, it can sometimes be utterly mystifying to read a notes list. Often you’ll stumble across materials that you’ve never heard of and some that frankly, don’t exist (“black gardenia” anyone?!). You see, many of these materials aren’t things we encounter in every day life, so it can be hard to place them, and when we can’t place them, or relate to them, they can feel meaningless. I’m all about making perfume accessible, so in this new series I’ll be looking at some of the nifty aroma chemicals that are used widely in perfumery, covering how they smell and how they’re used, so when you encounter them in the wild, you know exactly what they are.

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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.