Tell me the backstory of why you created Air in the first place?
Oh, God. I’ve spent my life working in fashion. I moved here from London, and I was working for some pretty big fashion houses there and working in their perfume division. So I launched a lot of the really famous Gucci perfumes and YSL perfumes, but on the creative direction side, rather than on the perfume making side.
Perfume has always been a really big passion of mine, and I moved to Berlin, like, for love (hahah) and I got here and I realized fashion in Berlin is wonderful and amazing, but it's not at the level that it is in London - there aren't giant fashion conglomerates here (which is good), but it meant there weren't the kind of jobs that I was used to, and I thought, okay, well, maybe this is the perfect opportunity to actually start something for myself. So I was looking for the perfect opportunity and the perfect job and the perfect kind of position, and that just didn't exist - so I thought, okay, let's make that then.
I've always had this passion for perfume, and I was personally looking for a perfume and had a really specific idea in my head - I wanted a natural perfume, but I wanted it to be special and modern, and I wanted it to be without compromise in any way and that didn't exist. So I got together with a friend of mine, and we made my ideal perfume, which is number one, Nagarmotha. From this I thought, okay, well, maybe we’re onto something, so we made more, and then we started a brand and that's how we got here…I think Berlin is the perfect place to do exactly that. When we started the brand we had no idea what we were doing, and we kind of fumbled our way into making perfume without really understanding what the hell we were doing. But in Berlin, you can do that. I feel like if I had started this brand in London we either would have failed in the first month because it's so expensive, or we would have kind of been forced into the spotlight with a half ready brand that was not ready to go. Here in Berlin, we had the time. It's like a less expensive city with a little bit less pressure, ‘not so the center of the world’ which is honestly really great. So we had time to develop the brand before we launched onto the world stage, and Berlin is really nurturing that way - I'm really thankful we were here in Berlin.
What's it like building a brand in Berlin? How does it actually impact your aesthetic?
I mean, Berlin is incredibly creative - what I like about Berlin is that when you're in London, London feels like the center of the world, but it also knows it's the center of the world, and it tells you constantly that it's the center of the world. Berlin is maybe a little bit more aloof than that, and it doesn't pretend to be the center of the world, it does its own thing in a way. I really love that because I think that all the brands that are from here are these great little brands that are only influenced by themselves and they're not copying other stuff. They're trying to do their own thing and trying to find a new way of looking at things - or a new way of approaching whatever field they're from. And that, I really love, that, I think, is something that you don't see coming out of the really main fashion cities, people completely trying different paths.
I love that about Berlin. I think when I worked in fashion in London, everyone I knew worked in fashion in London, and everyone I knew only knew people that worked in fashion in London. And I think in Berlin it's much broader, you get a much broader, more varied set of inspirations or groups of people. I recently made a perfume for somebody that was inspired by Berghain - that sounds obvious in Berlin, but that would never have happened in New York - if we were a New York brand, we would never have made a perfume inspired by a New York club.
So this claim 100% botanicals - where did this come from, why is it important to you and how do you achieve that?
So I feel in so many ways that we have really painted ourselves into a corner because of this. I'm totally proud of it, but at the same time it means that we have chosen the most difficult path forward in any direction that we go. So in saying that, 100% botanical for us means we only use ingredients that are actually plant extracts and we only use 100% plant extracts and getting really technical about it, we only use physical processes of extraction - so nothing chemical.
We only use physical temperature extraction or pressure extractions - even the ethanol that we use is the same ethanol that's used by a famous Berlin vodka brand. So it's drinkable - don't drink our perfume - but everything we use is completely just from a plant. That's what botanical means for us, and that's not the industry definition, so we go beyond natural perfume. Ours is a botanical perfume because it only contains plant things, and it's really hard for us because we really put the emphasis on sustainability and on working with small farmers that produce really amazing product, but also that grow in really sustainable ways and that treat their employees ethically and that harvest in ways that ensure that their land will be producing whatever it is for generations and generations and not just for one or two years. So this means that our ingredients are really rare and really special and really expensive, of course, and that also means we run into all these issues…e.g. we have a juniper berry that we get from a supplier in France, and the juniper berry this year is completely different from last year because, frankly, because of climate change, so we can't use it. So now we have to make up a juniper berry that will smell kind of like the old one to use on our new perfume, it's annoying sometimes, but that's how it is.
We almost launched a perfume that had bay leaf in it and then we got a call from our producer saying, actually we can't supply any of that because there was a hurricane and it wiped out our crops, so we don't have any this year. So it's really real, like this whole idea of climate change, it really affects us really, really deeply here.
Do you communicate that to people?
We do, and I talk about it a lot, but I also think that at the end of the day I don't want people buying our perfume because they feel sorry for farmers, and I don't want the main concept of our perfume to be that the world is changing and this is going to run out - so grab it. I think that it's a part of everything that we do, and of course it has to be a part of us as a business, but it has to be a part of us as consumers. Literally everything that we do is touched by this. So it's not that I don't want this to be our only message because I feel like everyone should be talking about this. There isn't a single business that isn't affected by climate change, and that is the reality of it, all of us are going to be coming to face that more and more and more and more and that sucks.
Okay, this is my latest thing - our packaging is 100% recyclable, but there's plastic in it. We bought these amazing expensive caps that are kind of like the best in the world or whatever. They're made of zamak, which is a metal alloy, and the inside is plastic and I find that really annoying. So for that, we're changing into these bioresin caps, which are made with corn, and they're going to be completely biodegradable, which I feel much better about. But still, the industry has not given us an option or alternative for that, so we still have plastic and there's no push for that because we don't sell anywhere as much as Dior or Chanel or any of these brands, and these brands aren't calling for change.
From a consumer perspective or a design perspective do you see a shift in trends at the moment? Do you see a shift in people giving more of a shit?
Yeah, completely. Well, firstly, there's trends in perfumes, even just the way perfume smells, of course, but hopefully one of the big trends is that people are now asking for perfume to be more responsible and to be more transparent.
Like us. We started with this idea of being transparent, which forces us to be honest - to really put it all out there. Because I want to have this idea of responsibility within myself, to kind of force myself even when I don't want, even when I don't want to have integrity, I want to be accountable to my brand and to everyone because they at least understand it.
Perfume is one of the two products which don't have to list their full ingredients - perfume and alcohol. The fact that no one has to list their ingredients on the bottle means that a whole slew of sins can be hidden in your perfume. So no one knows what's in it, therefore, no one knows where the ingredients come from or how they're made, and because perfume being this special luxury good thing, blah, blah, blah, no one thinks to question it. So everyone expects luxury goods to have, like, crazy packaging - everyone wants these boxes within a box, within a box within a gold leaf box with little star studded on it or whatever - do we need that? Do we need ingredients that are almost completely coming from oil? Is that really something we need in the world? Do we need more? So I think that people are asking these questions for the first time about perfume. These questions have been asked about fashion for a generation now and people are starting to look at perfume, they looked at beauty, and now they're looking at perfume. There's a lot to ask because it's really been hesitant as an industry, it's really old school to even talk about how a perfume is made…so, yeah, there's a lot of change that has to happen there.
You're coming from this place of wanting to create this really authentic and value driven product, so now that the world is catching up, the world is questioning and being more interested in this - How are you keeping up with that? Or where are you keeping on getting your inspiration from?
I think our brand is pretty unique in a lot of ways, and I think that one of the things that makes our brand unique is our focus on our ingredients.
My passion for perfuming comes from the romance of these ingredients and where they come from, how they're grown, how they're extracted, the history of these things — this is white pepper that I just randomly grabbed, but this is literally the same pepper that we use when we put pepper on steak or whatever. But it's extracted into this incredibly, almost foul smelling oil that's the heart of this perfume and that's fascinating! Or that it has Immortelle in it, Immortelle is a tiny little flower that grows on Corsica, and it grows wild in Corsica and ours is handpicked. I just think that there's such a beauty in that, that it's something special.
I think that our approach is always about these ingredients, always about really trying to focus on highlighting these ingredients and really spotlighting them and showing how amazing they are and talking about where they come from and how they were harvested and who harvested them, and the farmers and producers that make these wonderful ingredients. That keeps us kind of passionate about what we're doing - we don't have to fill our brand full of stories and I think that's really nice. So I think our approach is totally different. It makes it fun for us.
If you're going to make a brand, it has to be special. Why introduce something into the world that already exists five times over? Find a way to make your product unique somehow - start a brand, start a company, do your thing. Right. But Literally DO YOUR THING.