"Fleurs du Mal ('Flowers of Evil') makes natural botanical perfumes and apothecary products, taking inspiration from such things as weeds and flowers, sunshine and shadows, laughter and poetry to create strangely beautiful scents. All-natural and hand-made in very small batches in Waiake, Auckland, Aotearoa/NZ"-FDM
Beautiful Mysterious Evocative
"We believe in NZ-made. We believe that the mass-market model is a dinosaur. We believe that hand-made is true luxury. We believe that luxury is not necessarily expensive. We believe in brave indie makers, artisans, and craftspeople, including ourselves. We believe in brave critics and curators. We believe in beauty. We believe in quality. We believe in dreams. We believe that perfume is art. We believe that art can change the world."- FDM
Vanessa York of Fluer du Mal
- What is your back ground and history?
I did a postgraduate degree in English literature, but never finished my doctorate – it took me far too long to realize that I simply wasn’t cut from scholarly cloth. After university, I worked in a library for a couple of years, then I sort of fell into publishing, as a children’s education book editor. I spent quite a few years doing that; it was a nice job. But it never felt like it was my real path. I had an epiphany when I discovered natural perfumery about five years ago. I knew that I wanted to create scents using natural materials. There’s something so mysteriously alive about the essences.
If there’s a common thread between editing and perfumery, it’s the fact that they’re both an art and a craft – they’re both intensely practical occupations, requiring skills that can be learned. But every individual brings their own personality to the work, too, and there’s the art, and the magic. Knowing what to add, and what to leave out, gauging the effects… these are also strangely – I could almost say synaesthetically, though I’m not sure that that’s a word - similar across both fields.
- Have you always had an interest in scent and fragrance?
Yes. My mother, of course, was my first influence – she wore Lubin, Guerlain, and Hermes, and from an early age she impressed upon me the glamour and importance of perfume. My father, though, was also a big influence – he was a builder by trade, but he was always immaculately groomed, including cologne- Paco Rabanne, Eau Sauvage – we used to tease him about it! He changed careers when I was about 11; it turned out that he was very good at selling perfume... and he often brought home tiny sample bottles to us girls - Je Reviens, Ma Griffe, L’Air du Temps... That was in the early eighties.
- How did you first start becoming involved in the perfume world?
I became a student of natural perfumery. I did a lot of study on my own, then I took Anya McCoy’s course with the Natural Perfumery Institute, which gave some much-needed structure to my practice. I still read everything I can. And of course I am experimenting all the time. I think it’s important to retain an inquizitive mind, especially when one has strong opinions.
I’ve found artisan perfumers worldwide to be a generous and supportive community. I feel very privileged to be part of it, and I also feel a responsibility to contribute to that culture in any way I can.
- Tell us about your brand’s theme and character.
I get asked quite often about the name, Fleurs du Mal ('Flowers of Evil'). I wanted to call my botanical perfume house something that made a strong statement, and that didn’t allude at all to the fact that it’s natural. And, I love Baudelaire’s brilliant collection of poems of that name. The fact that it’s a French name is also nicely ironic, because we’re still fighting a perception in some people’s minds that any perfume that is ‘real’ or ‘good’ must be made in France.
In my perfumes, I love to evoke dissonances as well as harmonies. I get inspired by the weeds as well as the flowers, the shadows even more than the sunshine. The plant names of our perfumes capture this twist. Fleurs du Mal perfumes are not for everyone. But some people like them very much.
- Has your home country affected your art?
Yes, very much so. Aotearoa/New Zealand (Aotearoa means ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’ in the indigenous Maori language) is a small country of only 4 million people, and we are a long way from most places. We are surrounded by sea - you can buy ambergris here. (Or go look for it yourself on 90-Mile Beach.) Until the last few decades, we imported most of our culture from Europe and America. Times have changed, and we are proud of our unique sensibility – you can see it in our writers, our musicians, our designers, our fashion – and our perfumers.
I have a dream that we’ll eventually have a flourishing perfume industry here in NZ, with more growers as well as perfumers able to make a good living, creating scents that convey the character of here.
Of course, I use locally grown plants and flowers in my perfumes whenever possible.
- What are your views on where the perfume world is now?
It’s an exciting time for artisan perfumers in general. I really do think that mass-market perfumery is a dinosaur, lurching along, propped up by enormous amounts of hype and money; I don’t think it is a sustainable model in this day and age. I believe that a lot of people are seeking more substance, and choosing where they spend their money accordingly. The New Luxury movement seems to me to be very timely.
- Did you have any fears if any when starting?
Yes of course, many! And I still have days when I can’t believe my own audacity. But mostly, I can’t believe my luck – it’s a joy and a privilege to be able to do what you love, the struggle is worth it.
- Finally, do you have anything else that you would like to share?
Can I share Fleurs du Mal’s manifesto again? It really sums up why I jump out of bed every morning.
We believe in NZ-made. We believe that the mass-market model is a dinosaur. We believe that hand-made is true luxury. We believe that luxury is not necessarily expensive. We believe in brave makers, artisans, and craftspeople, including ourselves. We believe in brave critics and curators. We believe in beauty. We believe in quality. We believe in dreams. We believe that perfume is art. We believe that art can change the world.
Thank you so much for this interview!