Love at First Scent: A Conversation with Perfume Playground
As the popularity of niche brands and natural ingredients continues to rise, this perfume expert marries the two in Australasia's first natural perfume making club.
Learn what makes your heart beat.
Meet Samantha Copland, natural perfume expert and founder of Perfume Playground. We were a little blown away by the level of detail Sam provided in her answers during this interview; but it shouldn’t have been a surprise, really, given the beautiful complexity she is able to create in her perfumes. Perfume Playground is the first natural fragrance house in Australasia, and they host events and experiences, where the focus is creating biodynamic natural fragrances, both locally and abroad.
Over the next month, Perfume Playground is holding its autumn-themed Natural Fragrance workshops - the first of their Four Season series - March 29th in Melbourne and April 10th in Sydney. Read on and get excited about what’s to come, learn a little bit more about your instructor for the day, and find out why it pays to have your own unique fragrance.
How did you become someone who wants to create perfumes?
The idea to build Australasia’s first natural fragrance house stemmed from a trip to India, where I found glass perfume bottles and sent them home via India post. I committed to following my dream if they turned up safely (which at the time I thought was unlikely). As fate would have it, they did arrive!
As I look over my life so far, I see four key points that led me to become a perfumista: (1) discovering my first scent, my mother, (2) a love of travel and experiencing new cultures, languages, and ideas, (3) a ferocious curiosity with how the mind and body connect (I studied Psychology and Pharmacology at uni), and (4) discovering the beauty of fine fragrance. This was during my first job with a prestige fragrance division while reading Essence & Alchemy by Mandy Aftel at the same time.
How did you learn to make perfume?
I designed my very first perfume at a weekend workshop in Galimard in Grasse, France, back in 2005. When I took the leap of faith to retrain, Mandy Aftel, a world renowned alchemist, was the standout choice. I’d read all of her “Mother of Natural Perfumes” books and it wasn’t long before I flew to Berkeley, California, to study with her.
Before being accepted into her class, I did six months of self-study in the garage of my flat. This was followed by a year of immersing myself in the natural world. I studied Bach flower essences in Sydney, attended aromatherapy, plant shamanism, medical herbalism, and Rongoa Maori medicine workshops in New Zealand.
Then I went on my first sabbatical: hiring a room in a foreign city, studying night and day for six weeks, and dreaming up unique ways on how I could serve society using what we call Scent Soul Science. I wanted to bring people together to play, and so the Perfume Playground Club was born! We taught over 1000 people in five global locations on our first year; it was incredibly fun and I’m so grateful for each and every member!
How do you mean by making perfumes that are good for the “well-being”?
I think of natural perfumery as biodynamic beauty. It has links to nature, alchemy, and ritual: it’s beauty and wellness in one. Natural fragrances work with your body’s biochemistry, they interact and change over time with you. The Specialty Scent Lab has a number of botanicals that have specific actions on the mind and body; and so, if you understand aromatic science, subtle aromatherapy, and the beauty of fragrance, you can design a luxurious scent that actually works. I freely share my knowledge of Scent Soul Science, and you leave with a fast and effective way for you to feel more present, alive, and beautiful.
Why is it that you choose to work only with natural fragrances? What led you to make this choice?
Whilst I don’t say natural perfumes prevent, cure, or alleviate certain conditions, incorporating natural ingredients into your lifestyle has a myriad of benefits. Just think about how you feel after you eat a salad full of nutrients and vitamins versus fastfood. It’s the same with topical applications; when you use whole ingredients, just like eating wholefoods, you get the benefits nature intended.
Personally, I decided to go natural as part of an overall wake-up call to “stop and smell the roses”. My rushing lifestyle had taken its toll. I honestly couldn’t work any harder to improve my career, relationships, and sport; and so, I had to decide how to work for better performance and dynamism, which ultimately led me to be more aligned with my life’s purpose. Whilst I could have purely studied aromatherapy and learnt only about the therapeutic benefits of oils, luxury design, travel, psychology, fashion, beauty, wonder, and wisdom inspire me too. It all had to go hand in hand.
Finally, naturals might not last quite as long on the skin, but the more you experience them, the more you feel their transformative power. They’re both deep and complex. We’ve a number of “natural isolates” available for use in the Specialty Scent Lab, which help the longevity of fragrances combined with whole essential oils.
Can you tell us more about the Four Seasons Natural Fragrance Series? What are the March 29th and April 10th classes going to be about?
Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each. — Henry David Thoreau.
Perfume Playground hosts four intimate workshops where everyone creates a signature scent for the seasons. Each of the four divisions of the year - autumn, winter, spring, and summer - are marked by particular weather patterns and daylight hours, resulting from the earth’s changing position with regard to the sun.
As we move into autumn on March 29th, we’ll create an amber accord. A specialty scent bar full of top, middle and base notes is open for exploration. All ingredients are ethically sourced and of the highest quality in the world. I’ll discuss the use of a hero ingredient, frankincense, and share isolated aroma-molecules, so that you can learn how to smell an essence inside an essence. You’ll choose an alchemic direction to suit (say floral, citrus, or spicy). Citrus top notes within the perfumed oil provide a refreshing, uplift to your day. Highly-esteemed, wild-harvested frankincense oil is great for overall wellness, stimulating, and relaxing. It’s a wonderful scent to accompany you into the darker months.
Later on in the year during winter, we’ll learn about the technical composition of cinnamon, creating a warm, spicy blend. In spring, it will be green and minty for renewal; and in summer, we’ll design with rose for a soft, exotic beauty.
We cover Scent Soul Science, the art of natural perfumery and match each fragrant season with spiritual nutrition, including a chocolate and tea tasting so you can enjoy a full sensory experience.
What are your favourite fragrance ingredients to work with?
I love rose, cinnamon, peppermint and frankincense; hence they’re the focus of the Four Season Fragrance Series! Each botanical essence has a reason for being and I love learning and sharing about their different facets and how best to combine them.
What’s the most frustrating part about the craft of perfume making?
It’s a difficult question to answer as I love the artisan aspect of Natural Fragrance design. I suppose the most frustrating part is that I can’t do more of it, one must sleep!
And the most satisfying?
When someone designs their signature scent at the Perfume Playground Club and absolutely loves it - it’s pure joy! Scent is meant to be shared - it’s like fine food, music and wine; it brings everyone together. Equally, watching demeanours change when people wear one of my custom-branded designs is indescribable. I remember dropping some scent strips off to the Auckland Art Gallery, and I saw a man pick up the tester and spray all of his circle of friends. There were gasps of oohs and aahs - it was a very motivating moment!
Do you have a favourite fragrance that you didn’t create yourself?
Palimpsest by Mandy Aftel was my first luxurious natural perfume. It was the feeling of experiencing the past as alive in the present. Mandy describes the experience as the feeling of being in the Garden of Eden at midnight: lush, wild florals, forbidden fruit, and majestic creatures in hiding. The scent is other-worldly, shimmering, and full of light. I feel free and happy when I wear it. A palimpsest is an old document on which the original writing has been erased and replaced with new writing. Sometimes the older writing can still be read under the new, resulting in a complex and beautiful layering.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Each year, Perfume Playground aims to refine how we work to help you reclaim your senses with Scent Soul Science. I’m so excited to bring the Club to Australia alongside WeTeachMe and can’t wait to see you at the Four Seasons!
Book a seat at an early bird rate!
Essence of Autumn - Natural Fragrance Series (VIC)