Sometimes it takes an outsider to notice something that has been staring insiders in the face. After working as a commercial lawyer for over two decades in Australia, Craig Andrade decided to sniff out a career change. He enrolled at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery, moved to France, and began studying the art of perfume making.
The entrepreneur’s proverbial lightbulb moment came one day in class when his teacher explained where fragrance botanicals come from.
“Every time she mentioned a country, she’d talk about all the ingredients that came from there, like frankincense from [countries in] Africa,” Andrade recalls.
“But when she got to Australia, she only covered about three ingredients. I rattled off a list of Australian natives and said, ‘Well, what about these?’ and she said, ‘We’ve never heard of them.’”
“That was a penny-drop moment for me: that the best teachers in the world weren’t [aware of] Australian indigenous ingredients, and that we had a unique story we could share with the world.”
In 2017 Andrade founded The Raconteur, a fragrance business based in Sydney that specialises in natural botanical perfumes using Australian native plant extracts. “The goal was to celebrate the rich botanical diversity of our landscape and help to bring new fragrant oils to market,” he says.
“We work not only with well-known Australian natives such as sandalwood, buddhawood, blue cypress and lemon myrtle, but also shine a light on the lesser-known ones such as mint bush, nerolina, niaouli and kunzea,” he says.
With eight fragrances now in The Raconteur portfolio, Andrade’s next step is to launch The Embassy, a business he’s calling the world’s first perfume boutique devoted to Australian native botanicals. With more than 18,000 species to choose from, he certainly won’t have any problem stocking the shelves of this new outpost that opens today (September 1) in Sydney.
Andrade is not alone. Goldfield and Banks, Grandiflora, Heartwood, Ayu and Wyalba are among the Australian fragrance brands founded by a new wave of entrepreneurs focused on showcasing native ingredients to the world.
Leveraging Australia’s ‘Mesmerising’ Biodiversity
Riding the trend for clean beauty, a hunger for newness and the natural appeal of “Brand Australia,” as previously leveraged by the country’s wine and food industries, local brands are readying for the next phase of growth.
For some, such as The Raconteur and Wyalba, that means opening flagship stores in Australia, while for those with big export ambitions, securing partners abroad is a priority.
Goldfield and Banks has amassed over 300 global stockists since it was founded by Dimitri Weber six years ago and is now carried by department stores including Selfridges and Fenwick in the UK, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales in the US and Ounass in the Middle East. The expansion across the Gulf will continue this year with new stockists in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, along with debuts at German department store Kadewe, and Liquides, the niche perfumery in Paris — not to mention a new franchise in South Korea.
“We have passed the critical cap of five years of existence and it’s now time to expand,” says Weber, noting that sales have grown by 120 percent over the past twelve months, with online sales up 245 percent over the same period.
Perfumers in the big luxury houses are mesmerised by these exotic ingredients.
“We feel a bit like ambassadors of Australia when traveling to Europe and the US sharing all these perfumes and oils with our clients and retailers,” says Weber, who worked in the fragrance industry in Europe before moving to Australia seven years ago.
Named after the sandalwood that grows around the Western Australian gold fields and Joseph Banks, an 18th century botanist and naturalist who is credited with introducing Australian plants to Europe, Weber’s brand now comprises nine fragrances. Blue Cyprus showcases the ingredients harvested in Kakadu in the Northern Territory, while Southern Bloom celebrates the rare boronia flower native to Tasmania.
While brands like The Raconteur and Ayu focus on small batch, hand-blended fragrance, the emergence of larger companies in Australia has been hampered by the lack of a strong fragrance manufacturing base and dedicated noses in the country among other factors.
“The reason Australia has never had a luxury perfume brand is there was not the luxury expertise here but I was able to find it and begin doing things locally,” says Weber, who began working with a fifth generation French perfumer who had relocated to Melbourne and now manufactures in France.
“Perfumers in the big luxury houses are mesmerised by these exotic ingredients and every week we get young perfumers from France contacting us to see if they can work with us,” he says.
Exotic Fragrances Developed by International Noses
Saskia Havekes, a prominent Sydney florist who launched the Grandiflora fragrance brand named after her flower business in 2013, says that culture has also contributed to the slow development of the native fragrance industry.
“I’ve always worked with Australian native flowers but in my early days I had to really do the hard sell because people shied away from them because they were somehow mortified and embarrassed by them,” says Havekes. “Nowadays I can hardly buy enough natives because people are crazy for them, particularly visitors from overseas who are interested in learning about them in the same way they’re interested in our bush foods and in our wine industry.”
Havekes partnered with French nose Bertrand Duchaufour on her Boronia fragrance in 2017, then with perfumer Christophe Laudamiel from the same country for the launch of Saskia, celebrating the native kunzea plant, in 2020.
“Christophe describes kunzea as a native thyme, which he uses to bring sparkle to fragrance,” says Havekes. “He is a flower fanatic for unusual scents, and kunzea and boronia are so foreign to him because he works in New York, Berlin and Japan.”
Grandiflora fragrances are now stocked across Europe and the US, and in Australia by Libertine Parfumerie, which also carries Goldfield & Banks alongside global brands using Australian natives in its stores in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Auckland, New Zealand and the Australian department store Myer.
Australia’s Indigenous people have been using native botanicals as part of a holistic approach to healing and wellness for millennia. Leaves, roots, extracts and seeds were pounded, mixed and distilled to create bush medicine for all manner of ailments, as well as providing valuable sustenance as food and material for adornment, shelter, ceremonial objects and art works. But the country’s botanical diversity is relatively new to the western world.
“Everybody in fragrance today wants to create something that is new, niche and never before used, so formerly lesser-known Australian ingredients are increasingly popular,” says Libertine Parfumerie founder and director Nick Smart, who is also the founder of global fragrance distribution agency Agence de Parfum. “When I travel for work I’m seeing the rise of traditional Australian ingredients like kakadu plum, Australian sandalwood, eucalyptus and tea tree oil in fragrance, body care products and candles around the world.”
The international market is also strong for Belinda Everingham, whose fragrance Myalba is a sub-brand of Bondi Wash, the line of Australian botanical skin care, home and fragrance products she launched in 2013 that is now sold by over 300 stockists in China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Europe.
“There is no doubt being an Australian brand is a critical element to our success in every market,” says Everingham, who also has distributors in Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Scandinavia and the UK. “We often get asked where the products are made and people love that they are made in Australia because we are known for being clean and green.”
Everingham is opening a dedicated fragrance flagship store in Sydney in November. She will launch seven new roll-on perfumes in time for the opening, in addition to the three original eau de parfums celebrating native ingredients such as boronia leaf, Australian sandalwood and Tasmanian pepper.
New Approach to Global Expansion Plans
When it comes to concocting such scents, the appeal of Australian natives lies partly in their potency, and partly in their provenance.
“The Australian climate is incredibly harsh, which lends itself to developing extremely resilient plant species which are rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals,” says Heartwood perfumery and skin care boutique owner Alex Wilson. “The oils you can extract from our plants are very potent compared to those from other countries and there’s a lot of peace of mind around the quality and authenticity of Australian ingredients, whether you’re talking about fragrance, skin care, food or wine.”
According to Wilson, East Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern customers in particular can’t get enough of Heartwood’s custom blends of ingredients grown throughout Queensland, the Northern Territory and West Australia, where the company is based.
“We had a Chinese [customer] come into Heartwood and he purchased 50 of the make-your-own perfumes so I was literally working non-stop all day on creating all 50 blends for him,” says Wilson.
For smaller fragrance brands like Heartwood and Ayu, which uses organic distilled Australian sandalwood oil and other native botanicals, the recent expansion of the domestic retail market means they can now grow their businesses in Australia rather than having to look exclusively overseas.
When Sephora entered the Australian market in 2014 it allowed smaller locals to sit alongside powerhouse international brands, as did the opening of one of the largest beauty stores in the Southern Hemisphere by Australian upmarket beauty retailer Mecca in 2020, bringing to 105 the number of its stores across Australia.
“Previously there was this idea that Australian beauty brands needed to succeed overseas first before launching in Australia, as it’s historically been viewed as a smaller market,” says Vogue Australia senior beauty and health editor Remy Rippon. “But now, that idea has been flipped. Many beauty brands are enjoying huge success locally before being picked up by international retailers, and it’s their Aussie DNA that’s central to their appeal.”
The rise of e-commerce, social media and direct-to-consumer business models has also provided an opportunity for smaller brands to reach international consumers, with the Australian beauty and personal care market currently worth $6.8 billion and expected to grow by 4.4 percent from 2021 to 2022, according to Euromonitor International.
Stringent Australian regulations [provide] an added level confidence for consumers.
While the use of raw native ingredients in fragrance is relatively new, Australian skin care brands like Sodashi, Mukti and Ere Perez have been incorporating them into everything from cleansers and moisturises, to masks, mists and serums for more than a decade. From the vitamin C-packed kakadu plum and antioxidant rich quandong fruit to the purported anti-ageing benefits of lilly pilly and vitamin E-rich Tasmanian mountain pepper, many of the ingredients are marketed as natural or organic.
“Australian beauty is often perceived as health focused, natural and straightforward,” says Angelique Hogan, Sephora’s director of retail education for South East Asia.
“Homegrown brands are able to tap into native natural resources and this coupled with the stringent Australian regulations provides an added level confidence for consumers.”
The rise of Australian brands proudly promoting their natural components is also in step with global consumer desire for simpler formulations.
“Australian beauty brands have been utilising ingredients that are only grown locally for years but there seems to be more hype around them as beauty consumers globally look to streamline the ingredients they use and seek out more natural, simple and multi-use formulas,” says Rippon.
Contributing to the global popularity of Australian brands is a movement towards individuality with consumers seeking more niche brands, especially in markets such as China, where Mecca launched through Alibaba’s Tmall Global e-commerce platform in 2021 with brands including Goldfield & Banks, The Beauty Chef, Go-To and Frank Body.
Challenges in an Industry Still ‘in Its Infancy’
As the buzz around Australian native ingredients increases, demand can exceed supply.
“Supply can be an issue because botanicals are becoming more and more popular, and then you have factors like bushfires that can knockout an entire supply,” says Everingham.
Few growers are prepared to take on the commercial risks of planting key species, given the comparatively long timeframes needed before commercial yields can be extracted. The nascent nature of the fragrance industry in Australia is also an issue.
“There is a lack of perfumers in Australia who are sufficiently interested in this category of [indigenous] scent to encourage growers to invest,” says Andrade. “From grower to distiller to perfumer to consumer, everything is in its infancy.”
This is partly because wider consumer interest in Australia remains predominantly focused on European fragrances. “People have been fed a constant diet of publications and cultural stereotypes that suggest that if a fragrance comes from France or overseas it must be good,” says Andrade.
Weber says the retail environment within Australia must also change before more perfumers can succeed locally.
There is not enough business in Australia to sustain a large perfume manufacturing company.
“Perfumes that celebrate the botanical richness of Australia are still often perceived by Australian department store buyers as Australian products for tourism shops,” he says.
Weber concedes that in some instances the reservations of local retailers may be justified, citing fundamental manufacturing issues yet to be resolved. “Unfortunately the art of perfume making remains a very French business and there is not enough business in Australia to sustain a large perfume manufacturing company,” he says.
While Weber has circumvented the issues by manufacturing in France, “it’s very expensive if you want to run your business from here and ship to the world,” he says.
But despite the sector’s many challenges, Andrade is confident of a bright future.
“We have several laboratories in most states that I believe can scale up and manufacture for global volumes,” he says. “What continues to excite me about the frontier aspect of my work is exploring this vast untapped treasure trove of endemic natives.”
Growers such as East Coast Wildflowers and Essential Oils of Tasmania (EEOT) are now also finding success exporting raw indigenous ingredients all over the world, and companies such as Australian Botanical Products are acquiring the rights to wild harvest existing plants to offer short-term solutions as demand for natives continues to grow.
“Our products are increasingly sought after in a market that has been unfortunately inundated with synthetics and artificial products,” says EOOT business manager Lisa Lods, whose company exports to the US, Europe, Asia and South America and is enjoying double digit growth year-on-year.
Because the Australian extract industry is primarily focused on premium product offerings, sustainability and traceability are critical to attracting conscious international clients and partners who are invested in the products’ environmental and social impacts.
“As an industry we understand that we certainly cannot afford to be complacent, and a focus on continual investment in sustainability and best-practice resource management is critical,” Lods adds.
One business model being touted as a step in the right direction is that of Dutjahn Sandalwood Oils (DSO), a unique partnership between indigenous Martu elders in Western Australia and WA Sandalwood Plantations (WASP), an agroforestry company affirming its dedication to producing a fully certified and sustainable supply of sandalwood. In 2017 the traditional landowners, who wished for formal recognition of their rights to harvest wild sandalwood across their homelands, partnered with WASP to form a 50 percent Indigenous-owned company that now exports to 15 countries.
Headed by Guy Vincent, former head perfumer for Aveda, DSO now produces sandalwood products including essential oils and extracts for companies including Ayu, Guerlain, LVMH and Estée Lauder Companies and assists in the formulation of perfumes from its base in Western Australia.
“Remote Australia and its unique ecology has a pristine and symbolic appeal, and when you add ethical and sustainable attributes consumers and formulators become very interested in Australian native botanicals,” says Vincent.