Plentiness meets: Q&A with Frances Shoemack, founder of Abel Odor

Founded in Amsterdam by Neo Zelander Frances Shoemack, Abel Odor is a natural Artistic Perfumery brand. It was created with the goal to become the world’s best natural perfume brand.

Standing at the intersection of art, ethics and natural science, its collection features sophisticated, contemporary and unique fragrances that are as well made ethically and sustainably.

We’ve interviewed Abel’s founder and had a very interesting chat about natural fragrances, smell and sustainability. Read it below.

frances showmack abel odor

Plentiness / Hi Frances, thank you so much for answering these questions for us. We are thrilled to be working with you!

Frances Shoemack / My pleasure, and likewise, we love everything Plentiness stands for, so it’s a great pleasure to have Abel in your world.

P / A phrase that describes your brand is ‘the ultimate intersection of art, ethics and natural science’. Can you tell us in which ways this intersection happens?

F.S. /  I’m all about balance and everything we do at Abel is about balancing values and minimizing compromise. So, creating perfume is an art, wearing perfume is a luxury, applying perfume can be the most delightful moment in your morning routine. So whatever we do, we cannot lose the creativity and expression.

Now more than ever, the world needs ethics and at Abel, it’s something we are constantly balancing, creating space for the art, without compromising on our core values.

Lastly, we set out to create the world’s best perfume and to do that we work with the latest in natural science – precision, modern, natural perfume making. These are our three pillars!

abel odor 2

P / How does Abel deal with current environmental issues? Do you have any advice for customers to follow within using your brand?

F.S. / We try to do what we can, and we implore others (brands and consumers) to do the same. We take an ‘every drop in the ocean matters’ philosophy – every choice you make, every penny you spend.

As a brand we are constantly asking questions, being aware, informing ourselves, and from there, evolving. Specifically for us, this means we are constantly improving our packaging – by only using FSC paper, vegetable dyes and inks, biodegradable cellophane. Plus, working with our suppliers throughout the product chain to make more sustainable choices: carbon neutral shipping, prioritizing sea freight over air freight, smarter design to minimize impact.

On top of this, I think we need to be vocal, together we can reverse the effects of climate change, but we need to act now. 1% of our total revenue committed to environmental causes and we are part of a global community who cares, are active and putting their money where their mouth is.

P / We find fascinating that you’re working towards creating something that is both ethical and sustainable, while pairing up your fragrances with organisations such as SOIL Haiti and Pollinator – how did that process come about? Are there any other collaborations you’re wishing for?

F.S. / Working with SOIL Haiti is part of our commitment to ‘1% for the planet’ – for each fragrance we donate 1% of our total revenue (not profit) to a relevant environmental cause.

We wanted to find environmental partners that are linked to what we are doing, but also grassroots partners that are really making tangible changes. The vetiver we use in White Vetiver comes from Haiti, so it’s incredibly gratifying to be able to give back to the community in which the ingredients are grown.

The work they do is incredible – simultaneously providing sanitation and using waste for compost to increase production and soil health.

P / Speaking of collabs, what are your thoughts on layering? 

F.S. / We love to layer! And we know our customers see it as a great way for self expression. All our fragrances share the same DNA and are perfect for layering.

One of my favourite ways to layer is by using Green Cedar on my skin (two sprays), and Pink Iris on my clothes or hair (just one spray). You get the aromatic rich, almost dirty accents of the Green Cedar (it really comes alive on skin), with a beautiful powdery fresh floral layer.

spray

P / You were a winemaker before. Have you found your current job similar in anyway to winemaking? 

F.S. / In general there are a few similarities between modern perfumery and wine making, but in Abel, we see a lot more! I take inspiration from my winemaking background where “you can’t make a good wine with bad grapes”.

So with our fragrances we really start with these incredible ingredients (one hero ingredient in particular) and set about making it shine. I also find my winemaking background (aside from the obvious, in regards to training my palette) gave me the vocabulary for speaking about smell! Most people are scared of speaking about smell. *

P / Are there any group of smells or notes that an untrained nose won’t ever notice when wearing a fragrance, but you would right away?

F.S. / After a decade of not wearing a synthetic fragrance, I’m particularly sensitive to that! Isaac, our master perfumer, has a much more highly trained nose than I do. As part of his training, he needs to be able to identify over 2000 single smells!

isaac

P / Any tips on how we can train our noses from home?

F.S. / Smell!! Your nose is like any other muscle and organ in your body, it needs training and practice. Unfortunately for most of us it’s all but forgotten, but it has an outrageous ability to be trained.

First step is to be aware – smell something new each day, and when smelling, really smell – take a long deep breath, inhale and focus on the scent. I love to blind fold people and have them smell things – without your eyes to rely on, your sense of smell becomes so much more attuned.

P / Smell is heavily connected to our memories. Which paths would you advise us to take when buying one of your fragrances — For example, if we prefer bitter to sweet flavours, if we grew up in the city vs. the countryside  — have you noticed any patterns that connect memory to what people prefer wearing?

F.S. / There are definite cultural differences, affected by the environment in which you grew up, and the cultural associations with perfume.

In many parts of Asia, for example, perfume has historically been something only for the ‘ladies of the night’. So perfume is thought of almost as a dirty thing – like you are cheap or covering up a bad smell.

But aside from the cultural differences, every time I try to find patterns in how people choose their perfume I realize it’s impossible!! It’s so personal.

abel odor bottle

P / We know about the Proust Effect and our memories (from age 0 to 6) being based mostly on sensory stimuli — smell and taste. How would your childhood fragrance smell like? Does it influence the way you create your fragrances?

F.S. / It’s a really interesting question. I can’t help but believe that growing up on a farm surrounded by nature and natural scents forms the basis for my sense of smell, and my desire to use natural ingredients.

Isaac, our Nose, also talks a lot about his mother’s garden and growing up in the native bush with a smorgasbord of scent.

P / What are the benefits to using an all natural fragrance? What happens to our own natural smell compared to when we use synthetic ones?

F.S. / Something we hear all the time from customers is “you’ve ruined me for normal perfume!” once you start wearing naturals you really struggle to go back to synthetic ones. I liken it to drinking fresh orange juice, and then being served a glass of flavoured juice!

P / Thank you for this interview, Frances! 

Discover the world of Abel Odor here.

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