Meet Abel Odor founder and the company’s master perfumer in: BEAUTYCALYPSE Brand to Watch. Plus – complete review of the range perfectly suitable for men and women.
Contents of this article
Part I – BC Brand to Watch: Abel Odor
Part II – Vita Odor Collection Range Review
Part III – Q&As with Founder Frances Shoemack and master perfumer Isaac Sinclair
BC Brand to Watch:
Named after Abel Tasman (the first European to discover New Zealand in 1642), Abel was founded in Amsterdam by New Zealander Frances Shoemack, a former winemaker and lover of all things elegant. Previously known as Abel Organics, the company originally offered two 100% organic perfumes: Vintage ’13 and Tonic that were both reviewed on BEAUTYCALYPSE for their outstanding ingredient quality and the complex, interesting scents. All Abel fragrances are created by New Zealand’s first and only master perfumer Isaac Sinclair, who is currently based in Brazil.
Rebranded as Abel Odor, the young company has launched their vita odor collection comprising five absolutely stunning, 100% natural and vegan-friendly fragrances – all Eau de Parfum concentration – based on (mostly) certified organic raw materials and crafted with even more olfactory precision, otherwise known from “conventional” scents.
Vita Odor Collection
The range consists of five Eaux de Parfum: White Vetiver (replaces Tonic!), Golden Neroli, Red Santal, Cobalt Amber and Grey Labdanum.
“A fragrant highball” is what I called the White Vetiver predecessor Tonic. White Vetiver is breezy with citrusy notes and mint yet intense and pleasantly sharp with gingered Vetiver. Too powerful and radiant to try and pretend to be innocent, it has a radiant heart and a deliciously sweetened woody base.
lime oil – Brazil, spearmint oil – U.S.A., bergamot oil – Italy, bergamot oil – Italy *organic, ginger extract – U.S.A. *organic, ginger extract – France, palmarosa oil – India, vanilla extract – Madagascar *fair trade, vetiver oil – Haiti, vetiver oil – Sri Lanka *organic, vetiverol – *naturally derived vetiver note, ambroxan – *naturally derived ambergis note, ambrettolide – *naturally derived musk note, grain alcohol – Italy *organic\
Golden Neroli is the smell of dolce vita and upbeat luxury, bespoke Italian shirts and golden Swiss watches. The Riviera morning air is filled with the smell of lush white flowers and sweet and creamy matcha tea, powdery with Jasmin sambac. Petitgrain lends Golden Neroli a cologne-like cripsness that will pull stronger or subtler depending on your skin’s chemistry. The sillage is seductive and precious with Ylang Ylang and Santal.
A note: it’s the only Abel scent with no Vetiver notes.
neroli oil – Tunesia, mandarine oil – Italy, bitter orange oil – France, hexenol cis-3 – *naturally derived matcha tea note, hexenyl acetate cis-3 – *naturally derived sweet green note, decalacton gamma – *naturally derived waxy peach note, bergamot oil – Italy, petitgrain oil – Paraguay, ylang ylang oil – Comoros Islands, jasmin sambac absolute – India, broom absolute – France, ethyl acetoacetate – *naturally derived citrus note, sandalwood oil – India, vanilla extract – Madagascar *fair trade, linalool – *naturally derived soft wood note, ambrettolide – *naturally derived musk note, grain alcohol – Italy *organic
Red Santal is another Vetiver. Spicy and woody from the get-go (Clove, Pink Pepper, Calabrian bergamot), it melts into a velvety, subtly sweetened warmth of Vetiver and Santal, wrapping your skin with a musky, earthy veil.
clove bud oil – *organic, pink pepper extract – Reunion Island, bergamot oil – Italy, bergamot oil – Italy *organic, ginger extract – U.S.A. *organic, ginger extract – France, vanilla extract – Madagascar *fair trade, vetiver oil bourbon – France (Reunion Island), vetiver oil – Sri Lanka *organic, amyris oil – West Indies, sandalwood oil – Australia, sandalwood oil – India, ambrettolide – *naturally derived musk note, grain alcohol – Italy *organic
Cobalt Amber is an oriental dream. Sparks of Pink Pepper, Bergamot and Juniper Berry dance around the heart of Amber, Tonka Bean, caramel and balsamic notes – so dense and delicious it almost feels as gooey as loukoum. The sillage: sophisticated and creamy Amber laced with musky Sandal and Patchouli.
pink pepper extract – Reunion Island, juniper berry oil – Balkans, bergamot oil – Italy, vetiverol – *naturally derived vetiver note, maltol – *naturally derived caramel note, tonka bean absolute – Venezuela, peru balsam oil – El Salvador, cistus labdanum absolute – Spain, sandalwood oil – India, cedarwood oil – U.S.A., patchouli oil – Indonesia, ambroxan – *naturally derived ambergris note, ambrettolide – *naturally derived musk note, vanillin – *naturally derived vanilla note, grain alcohol – Italy *organic
Grey Labdanum is dark and cool, a vampire prince. What he lacks in body warmth, he has in mystery, elegance and allure. The sense of danger is evoked by the clash of sleek and cool notes with thin gold ores of warmth: a warm, predatory, musky wind in the cooling evening air. The zest of lively citrusy notes disappears into the cold of Labdanum on the oriental rug of Patchouli and Indian Santal.
bitter orange oil – France, mandarine oil – Italy, pink pepper extract – Reunion Island, ginger extract – U.S.A. *organic, ginger extract – France, bergamot oil – Italy, bergamot oil – Italy *organic, petitgrain oil – Paraguay *organic, vetiver oil – Sri Lanka *organic, vetiverol – *naturally derived vetiver note, olibanum oil – Somalia, sandalwood oil – India, tonka bean absolute – Venezuela, patchouli oil – Indonesia, ambroxan – *naturally derived ambergris note, ambrettolide – *naturally derived musk note, grain alcohol – Italy *organic
Q&As with Abel Odor Founder Frances Shoemack and Master Perfumer Isaac Sinclair
BC: Let’s start with the toxic stuff. When the IFRA banned a few chemicals, there was an outrage among fine fragrance connoisseurs crying that the fragrance heritage was now destroyed and all their favourites irreversibly broken. Perspective?
The thing is, the real heritage is natural. Until some hundred years ago there were no synthetics. And then it just snowballed. So we’re talking about a heritage of maybe some 30 years. If you take any good old fragrance like Joy by Jean Patou – it’s 100% natural.
The frustration I had is that the new legislation only asks for you to declare allergens, but it does not ask for you to declare parabens, phthalates. I’m not against declaring allergens, I think customers should be informed, but I would like for the customers to be informed in a language they understand rather than a chemical compound name which they don’t understand.
And one that sounds scary.
Exactly. For a natural producer it’s annoying. All of our perfumes have allergens, and we declare our ingredients. The bigger problem with the fragrance industry is that people should know what is in their perfume, and if you’re unwilling to declare it, I don’t think it’s about your formula anyway. Isaac will tell you, you can put any fragrance into a mass spectrometer and reproduce it.
Basically the whole idea behind the synthetics is getting the price cheaper. I’m spoilt to work for Abel as I basically can spend as much as I like. Normally when you’re on commercial briefs for commercial brands you have to put in the synthetics to keep the price lower. With Abel I can spend 50 times that much.
But notice that Abel doesn’t cost 50 times that much – so you realise where the money goes.
Yes, it’s in the raw materials. When you analyse commercial fragrances, the raw materials make barely 5% of the price of the perfume.
BC: In niche perfume, the raw materials can cost up to 5€ per bottle, and the mass market or the masstige market, the stuff you get in perfume shops for 60€ is so much lower than that. Also when I speak to perfumers, they say basically every marketing briefing they get is for the same old “urban modern woman, confident but feminine” and that they resort to five ready-made recipes in their drawer…
Always the same! “She’s intelligent but she’s sensual”.
Frances (to Isaac):
Do you remember when you created a scent, and you were smelling it, and you said “I love it, but they are not going to like it, it’s too edgy”?
The cool thing what we’re able to do it without sending out such briefs.
Yes, there’s a direction and for me as a perfumer it’s a dream. I work with the most luxurious raw matereials and get all the creative liberty, which is really amazing. And also the ability to take time. Making a fragrance can take one month, or six months, or it can be a year. For commercial it’s two weeks. And with such a time limit, you of course start recycling ideas, it gets less and less original, which is a vicious circle, a downward spiral.
BC: Now, the Abel scents stand out with the very “perfum-ey” quality. They don’t smell like you expect a natural fragrance to smell – which is still all too often an insense-stick kind of a smell, not what you expect from an Eau. Is it due to the prowess of a master perfumer involved?
When I was starting, and it was just the idea in my head, I was looking for organic and natural perfume but wouldn’t find them. As you said, there were scents out there, but they were something I wouldn’t wear, not chic, not modern, not cool. But then all the amazing beauty products were out there. That’s why I wanted to start. As in “hang on, why is no one doing it?”
Nobody was crazy enough! 😉
I made the decision back then that I could make this myself. Get some essential oils, and mix it up. But then I recognised that perfume is an art, a craft in the real sense. Isaac has studied in Milan and Paris, he’s had mentorships, the perfumers who have been doing this for decades. You don’t just study and become perfumer.
A lot of natural brands have this hippie connotation, blending the oils themselves. The difference is as if between a professional musician and someone who’s just grabbed a guitar. And again, the budget comes into play as well. Why there are so many natural perfumes that smell like Geranium? Because nobody will pay five thousand for Jasmin if they can have the 15€-Geranium. Natural brands have a few constraints as well.
BC: Frances, how did you get Isaac on board in the first place?
True story: I saw a video of him online, talking about perfuema and wine, standing in the native New Zealand forest, and I though, who is this guy? I realised wow, he’s New Zealand’s only master perfumer. So I found a mutual contact, and basically tracked him down. He told me last year he gets hundreds of those emails a week. And something about my email to him must have got the attention.
You got my proper email address 🙂 It wasn’t a Facebook message.
I knew, if I wanted to do this, I needed to find someone from the industry. My background is in winemaking. Since I didn’t have industry contacts or a lot of money, I wanted a master perfumer who is as crazy as I was, willing to get involved in the project.
Nice that you said that, but from the perfumer’s side it’s cool. We spend 99% of our time working on those big corporate briefs, while this is a really cool project.
But you took a bit of a gamble bothering with us. It might have never happened.
So you see, working with Isaac is what makes our pefumes different. And the difference between Vintage and Tonic and the new collection was for us letting go of the idea of keeping it 100% organic.
Don’t get me wrong – I really believe in organic, I do. I wish everything in the world was made organically. But it’s not the reality today, and the truth is, with the certified organic raw materials available today – it was limiting us.
With raw materials coming from India, China, Morocco, for the small scale farmers to get an organic certificate is not a priority. They will not spend a small fortune on that. It can be a seed oil growing wild in the mountains, with no pesticides, steam distillation (so no solvents), so if the farmers wanted to, they could possibly get certified in Brussels for some fifty thousand euros. That’s frustrating.
Cedarwood is a nice example – it’s a super sustainable raw ingredient, a by-product of the paper industry, but it’s not available in organic certified quality. There’s a lot of oils we could not source with organic certificates. A lot of the floral notes in Goldeen Neroli would not be available. And those are the most expensive floral notes, made with the purest possible steam distillation.
But another thing we changed, the thing that makes the new fragrances more “perfume-like” is that we started using naturally isolated single aroma compounds. It’s a little geeky, and while not organically certified, it’s 100% natural. This is how we obtained the musky notes.
You know where musk came from? Now, they stopped using real musk a long time ago. They had a new chemical that was the closest thing to musks, still not exactly the same, but it worked for a fragrance. For a natural musky notes, a compound can be separated from the seeds of hibiscus flowres.
As you see, this expanded what we were able to use, and while we can’t get this in organic now, maybe in five years someone will offer this.
Thank you, Frances and Isaac!