Q and A with Dr Leo Zängerle
Dr Leo Zängerle has been with Weleda for 15 years and heads up the Weleda Fragrance Development Centre in Switzerland. Leo is a chemist, whose doctorate focused on nerve cell communication.
Why has Weleda waited till now to create fragrance for the skin?
Weleda has always developed products that work holistically across all the senses, fragrance being a key component of all of our products. More than 10 years ago we started to work more intensively with natural fragrances. From this work our Fragrance Development Centre was formed. The first big project was the creation of the scent of our Pomegranate Regenerating Skincare Range. This scent was immediately very successful, so the idea was born to develop our range of natural fragrances that we call now ‘Jardin de Vie’.
We decided to bottle that much-loved smell that lingers on the skin, and capture the joy of it in an evocative spray or Eau Naturelle Parfumée – a new fragrance category created by Weleda. Each of the three fragrances is inspired by the much-loved scents of Weleda’s Pomegranate, Wild Rose and Sea Buckthorn skincare collections.
What are the challenges of creating an all-natural perfume?
One of the challenges is that we, as consumers, are not used to smelling pure natural perfumes these days. Luckily we knew that the scents of our three skincare collections (Wild Rose, Sea Buckthorn and Pomegranate) were already very popular.
Another major challenge is the availability and the consistency of the fragrance raw materials, when using pure essential oils instead of synthetic fragrance. It is difficult in nature to determine whether a particular harvest is going to be a vintage year. With the elements – sun, rain, wind - influencing the success of a crop, the quality of ingredients can vary season to season. So it is important for Weleda to have a team of skilled perfumers and chemists to check the consistency of each fragrance from batch to batch.
How is it different to constructing a ‘conventional’ fragrance, which may be a blend of naturals and synthetics, do you think?
We only use pure and natural essential oils, which are very different chemically to synthetic scents - essential oils can contain as many as 250 different substances. Essential oils are in general complex mixtures, which contain numerous individual compounds which represent top, heart and base notes. Working with them requires special attention to achieve the overall balance. We do not work with synthetics at Weleda.
As humans we have an inner affinity to natural scents because natural essential oils originate from living organisms growing in their natural context. Therefore they are not dead or inert materials. According to anthroposophic thinking, the fragrance of a plant is the expression of the spirituality of nature. These substances have a multi-layered complexity, and can have a more intense impact on our emotions and affect us in a much more holistic manner. Pure essential oils are capable of touching the soul of a person very deeply. They trigger a completely different response compared to artificial scents.
Ten years ago, our team scored a major success. We identified a supplier who was trying to pass off cheap, merely nature-identical rosemary oil as ‘100 per cent pure and natural’. We managed to prove to the supplier in detail that he had made a small quantity of genuine oil go further by adding synthetic compounds. The seller was blocked. Suppliers know now whom they are dealing with.
In order to guarantee this purity, a very precise physico-chemical analysis is carried out for all fragrance ingredients and then compared with the goods ultimately delivered, a very involved and time-consuming procedure that sets Weleda apart from most of our competitors. We are really proud of our department’s highly specialized and sophisticated analytical methods.
At Weleda, we have advanced physical and chemical analytical processes that enable us to thoroughly test the quality of every single incoming delivery. But when it comes to the production of fragrances, the most important thing is the perfumer’s nose: perfumers are the ones assessing all raw materials delivered; they decide which of them should be kept and further analysed. Even the most modern analysis instrument cannot replace the human nose!
Are you able to say whom you worked with externally to create the fragrances?
These products have been developed internally at Weleda’s Fragrance Development Centre in Arlesheim, Switzerland. The team of fragrance experts includes two Weleda perfumers. It is quite unusual for skincare brands to develop their own fragrances rather than buy them in, but our holistic approach to skincare and all-natural ingredients means it is particularly important for a brand such as Weleda to be involved in fragrance development from concept and rationale through to finished product. We wouldn’t think about creating fragrance any other way.
One of those challenges is generally ensuring that the fragrance lasts on the skin – how have you achieved that? The Eaux Naturelles Parfumées can be regarded as light perfume, similar to an Eau de Cologne. The fragrance intensity is immediate and fairly subtle; the scent is not specifically designed to last a long time. The length of time the fragrance will last really depends on an individual’s skin type and the amount used. Instead, the focus is on the lively character during the moment of application and the joy of the immediate experience.
What’s the strength – eau de toilette, eau de parfum? What percentage of fragrant oils are in the blends?
With the Weleda Eaux Naturelles Parfumées we have created a new fragrance category. Around 5% they are slightly lighter than Eau de Toilette and more akin to the strength of Eau de Cologne.
Eau de Cologne EdC
Eau de Toilette EdT
Eau de Parfum EdP
How long did each of the three take to create – and which was ‘hardest’?
As you would expect from a brand such as Weleda, the new range is NATRUE-certified authentically natural. Developed by Weleda’s in-house team of our fragrance experts or perfumers, the range has taken three years to develop, ensuring top quality, sustainable sources for the ingredients. A major challenge for holistic natural cosmetics is always the stability of the products, because Weleda uses no synthetic stabilizing agents or preservatives. Initial product development took about one year, but the subsequent stability tests took a long time.
Please talk a little about each of the three fragrances and what’s in them – and what the different key ingredients bring to the fragrance. Weleda’s new Eaux Naturelles Parfumées are inspired by the fragrances of our body care ranges - pomegranate, sea buckthorn and wild rose. Each of the three fragrances takes us on a journey through a different garden, recreating the moment of pure pleasure we experience when we apply Weleda’s body lotions, creams, oils and shower products to our skin.
Jardin de Vie Rose - romance
Inspired by the scent of the Wild Rose skincare range, the romantic bouquet is at once uplifting and calming. It takes us on a walk through a classic rose garden, brushing against scented blooms. At the heart of the floral composition is the delicate but intoxicating aroma of damask rose, the freshness of rose geranium, and the sweet potent note of ylang-ylang blossom. The fragrance instills harmony and brings us back into balance.
Jardin de Vie Agrume - joy
Bright orange sea buckthorn berries capture the sun's rays during a light-filled day. This fresh, vital composition echoes the scent of the Sea Buckthorn skincare range, as we walk through a garden of sundrenched citrus groves. The fragrance combines the sharp citrus top notes of grapefruit and mandarin balanced by the soft mellow complexity of sandalwood, and evokes memories of the carefree feeling of summer on our skin.
Jardin de Vie Grenade - sensuality
Inspired by the scent of the Pomegranate skincare range, this fragrance transports us to an exotic Persian garden. Orange provides an intense fruity top note, whilst oriental davana adds a layer of sophistication and mystery, both complimented by the soft, warm, balmy aroma of vanilla. The complex, heady fragrance sends the senses on an inspiring journey, and wraps us in a timeless feminine sensuality.
How is it different creating fragrance to creating other bodycare and skincare for Weleda?
The scent evaporates faster than the fragrances in our skincare collections, due to the high volatility of the alcohol in the perfume. For this reason, each fragrance had to be carefully rebalanced for the Jardin the Vie products.
We take a holistic approach in creating all our products, with fragrance playing a huge part. It is something we are particular proud of. Fragrances have a unique effect on us: not only do they evoke memories, they also affect our wellbeing. Many plants contain essential oils that can revitalise, harmonise or calm the body, mind and spirit. We take into account these aromatherapeutic aspects and therefore extend the perfuming approach of conventional cosmetics significantly. This is an important advantage for holistic natural cosmetics.
For Weleda, the launch of the new fragrances is a natural development of the holistic range, awakening all senses.
If you know the particular provenance of any of the ingredients, could you talk about where they come from and any ‘sourcing’ story? This is a nice element and please be as expansive as possible!
When it comes to essential oils, holistic fragrance development and pure natural quality are inseparable. This is why Weleda invests so much in sourcing fragrance raw materials of the highest quality. We closely work together with the people growing and distilling the aromatic plants. We support them on topics such as sustainable agriculture and extraction. Weleda evaluates and audits every single supplier before contracts are established. A key thing for quality is the proper maturation of essential oils and the transportation and storage of the raw materials.
All our ingredients are sustainably sourced and meet strict UEBT standards (the Union for Ethical BioTrade of which Weleda is a member).
To ensure a sustainable supply of precious sandalwood essential oil, Weleda has invested in an agriculture project for the future: part of a reforestation project in the central highlands of Sri Lanka, allowing harvesting of trees planted today in twenty years’ time.
Sandalwood extract is one of the most precious natural fragrances. The wood from controlled origins in state-owned forests is first of all crushed, processed into rough shavings and then distilled using steam. One hundred kilograms of wood produces around one litre of sandalwood essential oil, which we use as a base fragrance in our Sea Buckthorn, Pomegranate and Evening Primrose product ranges.
The idea of cultivating sandalwood plants alongside other crops such as tea, fruit trees and cinnamon is a new one. The organically-certified tea bushes ensure a basic income for the people involved. Weleda has been making a contribution here since 2009, by giving the farmers a higher, contractually-agreed kilo price for sandalwood oil. The daily wage for agricultural workers is also one-quarter higher than the usual wage. In addition, Weleda supports a training centre that offers farming cooperatives training on organic cultivation. For example to achieve a sustainable harvest, the 500 naturally grown sandalwood trees on Rajiv Kulatungam’s farm have to be harvested in phases. At the same time, 250 trees per hectare are replanted every year.
Damask Rose (Rose)
The rose petals we use come from organic Rosa damascena (Damask Rose) grown organically in the Turkish Taurus Mountains. Weleda uses almost one-fifth of the entire Rose Absolute on the world market. So, with the help of a Turkish consultant, Weleda has now trained around 300 farmers to switch to organic cultivation, learning how to fight pests with animals, replace synthetic fertilisers with manure, and rediscover love for the environment.
Harvesting the rose petals by hand is incredibly labour intensive. It takes three tonnes of fresh damascena rose petals, or three million flowers, to make just one litre of the essential oil.
On the plateau of the Turkish province of Isparta, Weleda started a pioneering organic rose project together with a local distiller, where 300 farmers have converted their farms to grow roses organically and more sustainably.
As the pickers work through the rose bushes each morning from May to June, only the fullest most open blooms are picked and put into baskets. Each day’s harvest is then brought to the distillery before midday. From here through to the finishing process, transparency and complete traceability of the manufactured product is guaranteed.
This cooperation between Weleda and the Turkish rose distillery is a great example of sustainable and ecological management, where Weleda guarantees to purchase rose oil and in return receives a reliable supply of a consistently high quality product. This stable partnership has flourished since 2001 and shows with every intoxicating breath taken of our rose products.
What is the ‘mood’ of each of the three fragrances – uplifting, refreshing, soothing, etc.?
Agrume: Light-hearted, carefree, cheerful, energetic, full of vitality, summer/late summer, happiness and joie de vivre
Rose: Sensual, pampering, embracing, romantic, self-confident, loving, joyous, dreamy, balanced
Grenade: inspired, a more sophisticated sensuality, femininity, timeless beauty, authenticity, vibrancy, soft, mellow, rounded
Do they fall into traditional fragrance ‘families’? Floral, fresh, fruity-floral etc.?
Agrume: citrus fruity
Grenade: oriental fruity
What’s the best way to ‘layer’ them with other Weleda products – can you make some suggestions/prescriptions?
The fragrance is more lasting when it is layered on top of the matching body lotion or body oil (from the Pomegranate, Wild Rose or Sea Buckthorn skincare collections). This intensifies the lasting fragrance of the Eau Naturelle - the valuable seed oils in these products provide an ideal basis for the fragrance to bed down.
Will we see further creations from Weleda in the fragrance world?
A fourth fragrance, Onagre, is to follow. This will complement the Evening Primrose range and will be formulated with more mature women in mind. The subtly sensual fragrance of the Evening Primrose skincare collection is sophisticated, its leafy freshness reminiscent of a relaxing woodland walk on a spring day. The challenge is to capture that moment in a spray. It is the most complex of Weleda’s fragrances to date, and reflects its target group’s rich diversity of experience.
Cheeky question, but do you have a favourite, Leo?
I really like all three, each has its own personality. But each fragrance is naturally only completed by the scent and personality of the woman who wears it.