Mystical, mossy fragrance
Oakmoss is a dark green lichen with a beautiful forest-like, mossy aroma. It is used in perfumery to add deep, earthy tones to a fragrance or product.
Oakmoss is a species of lichen, that usually grows on oak trees but also on fences, walls, rocks and soil and can be found throughout central and southern Europe. Lichens are mysterious and fascinating, they are different types of organism living in symbiosis, and we still have a lot to learn about them.
Oakmoss absolute and oil form the basis for the chypre fragrance family and are also popular in oriental perfumes. It blends extremely well with earthy and floral essential oils such as patchouli and jasmine, as well as citrus fruits and vetivert oil.
The way to obtain the absolute is a bit different from the traditional method as the lichen needs to be wet and heated first, using steam. Then, it goes through the usual process: the damp moss is transferred to the extractor for several hours where it's washed with a solvent called hexane. After some time oakmoss concrete is produced which is then turned into the absolute, during the final stages of the manufacturing process.
Raw emotions, raw ingredients
In a market flooded with cheap synthetics, Simon’s experience of ingredient buying within Lush has propelled the perfume range forward as an antidote to insipid, mass-manufactured fragrances. “A pricing race to the bottom means that the fancy bottle you buy in an airport duty-free store is often the most expensive part of your purchase,” he explains. “The pale liquid inside that bottle is a mix of cheap synthetic chemicals that are nature’s photocopies, bearing little resemblance to the original. These chemicals are useful in moderation, but the modern perfumer’s dependence on them to cut costs means that most mass-market perfumes are thin in odour and in creative expression.”
In contrast, Mark and Simon’s use of the finest essential oils evoke our primal responses to plants and flowers used medicinally and in aromatherapy for centuries. And without an over-reliance on synthetics, Lush perfumes may smell different to high street versions touting the same ingredients. “Both Dad and I enjoy using ‘dirty’ materials”, explains Simon, “from erotic jasmines to smoky vetivert and sandalwoods. Much of what attracts us to perfumery is the hidden access to the subconscious through using complex natural essential oils and absolutes.”
Take Orange Blossom, for example - a distinctive perfume Simon made after they both visited the Mediterranean for a holiday. “This orange blossom is made up of neroli which is the bitter orange tree and sweet orange too,” Mark explains, “but with the sweet orange you get this still note which is a bit rough. And that’s what’s in this perfume, a little roughness, which I like. Rough around the edges. It would be very easy to make an orange blossom that’s very vanillary but this isn’t. It’s because we use so much orange absolute which is unusual because it’s got a very characteristic note. Usually, people soften it down.”
Cocktail - an ylang ylang, jasmine and rose ode to French perfumery - is one of his personal favourites to illustrate the power of essential oils. “You have no barriers against perfume,” he says. “If it smells really special you’re stuck. If you get a really good perfume like Cocktail, it’s so powerful, it’s almost got you by the whatnots and you’ve nowhere to go.
“The thing I love about natural perfumes is that I use them to illustrate why people must always wear a perfume on their skin to experience it properly. I can put Cocktail on ten people and guarantee that it will smell different with it on. I put it on one girl and it was the best smell I’ve ever, ever smelled in my life. That’s stayed with me and I’m still having therapy for that.”
Personality meets practicality
Yet when it comes to selling perfumery, a love of the materials and process is not enough, as Lush perfumer Emma Dick explains. “If a perfume’s going into a product,” she says, “I need to consider how it sits. It might have all these beautiful citrus top notes but they’re going to disappear in a product so I need to build out a base.”
With a background in essential oils buying, Lush perfumer Emma Dick regularly relies on her knowledge of these ingredients - and her taste buds - to create her perfumes. She explains: “When I made Plum Rain, I ate a whole punnet of plums. I like to think I’m quite good at replicating the taste of something in scent.”
It’s also about working with abstract concepts and feedback. “How do I know when a perfume is finished?” she asks. “It’s going to sound strange but when Mark sniffs something he sees it in shapes. When I sniff something I see if in colours. So Mark will smell something and say “it’s too tight” or ‘it’s lacking a base” but I’ll know what he’s talking about.”
She agrees that emotion is key to making perfumery: “As long as you feel something, whether you’re angry or happy, something good will normally come out of the process. Smell is one of the most powerful senses. You can catch a whiff of something in the air or the scent of a product and immediately have an emotional response to it.”
Simon agrees. “Perfume has the unnerving ability to skip past our emotional defences and to access memories and feelings long thought buried. If you strike the right chord (or accord, in perfumery jargon), you can bring back a dearly departed loved one or a childhood moment lost in the recesses of your subconscious. It is an extremely powerful medium, more so than any other art form, I believe. Maybe it is this that prevents us from creatively exploring scent further. Is it too real?”
The Liverpool store features The Perfume Library, with 29 additional fragrances nestled amongst the current range. With classic re-releases from the past and newly constructed masterpieces, you can explore the rannge here.