Known for its skincare products and toiletries, Aesop has released two fragrances in recent years — Marrakech Intense and Tacit. As Aesop’s third fragrance, Hwyl was made in collaboration with French perfumer Barnabé Fillion, who worked with the brand to create Marrakech Intense. Describing their partnership as a “natural evolution to work together”, Fillion worked closely with Dr Kate Forbes, Aesop general manager of products and R&D.
“Scent is a really important part of the Aesop brand and something I have always been interested in,” says Forbes. “It has always been our intention to extend this range and create a new fragrance profile, and having this opportunity to work with Barnabé again allowed us to come up with this new profile, which is a woody, smoky fragrance. We felt it was the right time to introduce this to the Aesop brand.”
The name Hwyl, which is of Welsh origin, means a stirring of emotions. The fragrance is designed to awaken the senses. The intriguing scent evokes the stillness and verdance of nature. Fillion, who has a background in botany and phytology, was particularly drawn to the calming nature of Japanese forests. “My inspiration for Hwyl eau de parfum was walking among the remarkable 300-year-old Hiba trees in an ancient Japanese forest and experiencing the country’s lush temple moss gardens,” says Fillion.
Hwyl focuses on the aromas of moss and wood, opening with fresh thyme extract. The cypress then draws you into its warm and woody heart with vetiver extract, frankincense and moss effect, which give it an earthy sensuality. Fillion, who has dabbled in photography, has always been fascinated with nature.
“I began to question my relationship with nature when I started to do photography — I was doing botanical photography, which is abstract. I was trying to photograph the essence of the plant. I ended meeting up a perfumer and developed a fascination with this art and science, which has never stopped. I was really intrigued to learn a little bit more about the force behind these smells and shapes. I am fascinated by the design and how much architecture there is in nature.”
Like all Aesop products, the fragrance underwent the brand’s extensive research and development, combining plant-based ingredients with innovative scientific processes. Forbes, who has been at Aesop since 2000, has been actively involved in scientific inquiry, having worked alongside founder Dennis Paphitis in researching unorthodox ingredients and new technologies. When it came to developing the fragrance, they used techniques like the CO2 extraction process to produce a clean gas. The frankincense used to create the fragrance is distilled and macerated in wax and distilled another time.
Sourcing quality ingredients was also of the utmost importance. The vetiver used in Hwyl is vetiver bourbon sourced from Madagascar. “We spend a lot of time sourcing ingredients, finding out what is available,” says Fillion. “There are a lot of rules in perfumery that are not easy to follow and are constantly changing, which can be a challenge.”
Choosing the final version of the fragrance proved to be the biggest challenge. Fillion says, “The biggest challenge is producing the final version. We have all the elements, but even as we are getting closer to the one, you still have to select between two or three, even though you are sure of what you are doing. But this is the art of perfumery and it is very subjective.”
Hwyl was developed over the course of two years with the Aesop team visiting Fillion in Paris. The final version is a highly concentrated eau de parfum that is packaged in an amber glass bottle featuring the work of Australian artist Jonathan McCabe.
The launch of Hwyl took place in Sydney with an event that was designed to awaken the senses and take us back to nature. Members of the press were invited to walk barefoot on a moss path while a short film featuring Hiba trees played in the background, with quotes from Friedrich Nietzsche and Francis Bacon. With the worldwide launch of the fragrance, the imagery of the film will be displayed in stores to create a sensorial experience.
The intriguing scent is a unisex fragrance, just like Aesop’s previous two fragrances. Commenting on this decision, Forbes says, “The way somebody experiences a fragrance is independent of gender. As you use it, you will experience memories related to the scent and with the way your body chemistry is defined, it doesn’t have to be restrained to something that is a male or female scent.”
Having established a successful working relationship, Fillion and Forbes are positive about collaborating more in the future. “We would both be very excited to do that but we are just focusing on this one,” Forbes says with a laugh.