Australian Perfumers: An interview with Liz Cook of One Seed

By Evie C.

Photo Stolen from One Seed


Here at australianperfumejunkies one of our aims is to explore what’s going on in Australian perfumery and to celebrate our own wonderfully talented perfumers.  One of our favourite discoveries has been Liz Cook of natural perfume house One Seed.

Liz has a long-standing interest in natural ingredients and brings a wealth of experience to her range.  She was kind enough to share some insights with us in to the origins and evolution of One Seed.  We hope you enjoy the following interview.

How did you become interested in becoming a perfumer?

 I’ve had an interest in natural health and cosmetics since I was a young teen and I experimented with DIY natural skincare and aromatherapy in my early 20s. Then in 2001 – when I was 25 – I opened an organic beauty and lifestyle store in Adelaide, Out of Eden, and the journey continued. During the next seven years I spent a lot of time researching and practicing, and created thousands of blends for clients and for the store with customised skincare, aromatherapy blends and the occasional perfume. My passion for natural scent developed during that time, and I had a lot of success with the blends I created in that business. When I sold the business in 2008, I kept only the perfume formulae, seeing a gap in the market for natural perfumery that I might fill at a later date. Three months later I began working on the first fragrances for One Seed.

What were you doing before you became a perfumer?

I have had many ‘careers’ in my short life, from starting off in retail (don’t we all?!), then studying a Bachelor of Nursing (which I quit half way through), and photography which saw me through several years of uni and has proved to be a great fall-back choice for me; I also studied Social Science, Community Development, and then Small Business Management prior to opening Out of Eden in 2001. But my passion has always been business. I’ve been entrepreneurial all my life – I can’t help myself!!  By the way, I also have two kids (9 and 5), so that has also kept me busy!

How did you get your education as a perfumer?

I am a passionate researcher and self-trained in aromatherapy and perfumery. I’ve been researching this field for well over a decade, read reams and reams of articles and books, and watch and analyse what some of my favourite indie perfumers are doing. And LOTS of trial and error!!

Why did you want to be a perfumer in Australia where the culture of ‘perfume’ is somewhat limited?

I never accept limitations. Perhaps naively, I’ve always preferred to make my own path, and I don’t feel restricted by what is or is not considered possible or plausible. Sometimes this has been my downfall, and it often means pushing those hard yards for a long time without success or recognition, but it’s just the way it is with me. I feel proud to be an indie perfumer in Australia where very few exist (in fact, there are only two other natural perfumers offering a product at a retail level in Australia). And I like the idea that I might be somewhat of a trailblazer!

Do you have any mentors/inspirations in the perfume world?

Mandy Aftel is just amazing! She is an inspiration for a lot of indie perfumers because she has incredible skills and has made an amazing success of her natural perfumery brand, as well as being one of the main reasons natural perfumery has begun to get mainstream attention. She is definitely a trail-blazer!

Do you have a favourite mass-market perfume?

 I don’t wear them at all myself, but my mum wears Escada Sentiment, and I love how it smells on her. It’s like rose and sherbet. I actually made her something similar using naturals (hoping she’d ditch the synthetics), but she still prefers her Escada! If I was into mass-market perfumes, I’d probably be a Chanel girl because I love originators – and I’m a total sucker for amazing marketing!

Do you have a favourite independent perfumer?

Apart from Mandy Aftel, I also like what Olivia Giacobetti. She’s worked with some big names, but I love what she has done with Honore des Pres (I really want a bottle of Les Carrotes). Annick Goutal also has my attention.

Do you have a signature scent? If so, what is it and how did you find it?

Personally, I don’t have a signature scent; I go with whatever I feel on the day, and I’m always wearing my latest experiment! But “Freedom” has become somewhat of One Seed’s signature scent. It’s an easy-to-wear combination of classics with a unique twist, and has a delicate yet mature femininity, which probably represents our brand pretty well.

Like many perfumers, I also have a set of signature essences which I always go back to by default. They include rose otto, ambrette, amber and magnolia and a few others. I have to make a conscious effort not to use them in everything!

Do you consider One Seed to be bucking the ‘clean scent’ trend?

Absolutely. I understand the trend toward clean scents, as people really want to go back to basics, and that seems to mean the simple pleasure of the smell of clean, fresh fabric. I think it’s about going back to simple pleasures, which is a good thing. But in order to get that type of fragrance you either have to use a bunch of synthetics to mimic to scent, or keep your nose in your linen closet! We don’t use synthetics, and we really don’t follow trends at all. Not that we intentionally buck trends, but each fragrance I create has its own unique story or theme. My focus is always getting the most out of a beautiful natural palette of aromas to create a unique fragrance experience.

Why is it important to you to use natural ingredients rather than synthetics?

(I could talk about this subject for hours!) There is a lot of information out there for anyone who’s interested in finding out exactly what is in their bottle of perfume, but one of the best articles I’ve found is called Not So Sexy. Basically, most perfumes (including the big names) are a combination of lab-produced synthetic fragrances, UV filter, artificial colours, and phthalates for increased silage or longevity, many of which are hormone-disruptors, potentially carcinogenic, and can commonly cause nausea, headache and allergic reactions. Reading the ingredients list is only moderately helpful as up to 50% of ingredients won’t even be listed on the package due to ‘trade secret’ loopholes.

Of course, there are also some natural which can cause allergic reactions, or should not be used by pregnant women for example, but I completely believe in the beauty of natural perfumery, and a skilful perfumer knows how to create a fragrance masterpiece using only a palette of naturals. I am a firm believer in avoiding exposure to unnecessary chemicals, and there are enough natural fragrance options out there these days that I think it’s entirely possible to avoid synthetic perfumes completely if you want to.

What do you see as the most important trend in perfume currently?

There is a definite leaning toward naturals. Most perfume houses have started to include some naturals in their formulae. I think more and more consumers are demanding it, so the market is slowly (very slowly!) turning. But I think the most important trend is toward niche or indie perfumers. That’s very exciting for perfumers like me as it means it is actually a commercial viability to be a small perfumer. Ten years ago, that was definitely not the case. Consumers are definitely becoming more discerning, wanting something unique, and willing to try something different.

Do you think it’s financially viable to be a perfumer in Australia?

It is difficult to make a good income as an independent perfumer anywhere, especially in Australia. But it is viable if you are a good perfumer and understand your market well. And the value of blogs and independent perfume reviewers (like Australian Perfume Junkies) cannot be underestimated.

Could you describe a typical One Seed customer? Are your customers entirely local or do you have customers internationally?

Our customers are about 60% local and 40% international (mainly US). A typical One Seed customer is a 30-40-something woman with a leaning toward organics or natural living, someone who has a broad world view, values family and community and loves finding unique and independent artisans of all types! She is a woman of style, but not overly influenced by trendiness or high fashion, or mass-market.

How significant is the online side of your business and do you think it could be viable to run a perfume business entirely online?

Our online store has become an integral part of our business over the past 12 months as we have had a lot of interest from blogs and online perfume reviewers. Prior to that, we didn’t sell a lot online, but now our online sales are really what help keep the business afloat in tough retailing times. As far as running on online-only perfume business, I think it can be difficult, especially for a small perfume house that isn’t in the mainstream. It is vital to get yourself out there, become known to magazine editors, bloggers and other reviewers whose opinion is valued by consumers. But, ultimately, I think perfume is an experience, not just a product, and it needs to be smelt and seen to be understood.

Can you tell us a little about the genesis of your newer fragrances ‘Frangipani’ and ‘Sweet Water’? (Also, when will they be available?)

 Both are available in our online store, and soon to be available in stores. Frangipani was actually created for my friend Kate as a birthday gift, and I had such good feedback every time people smelled the leftover vial, I just had to release it. We describe it as “A quintessential frangipani fragrance capturing the sweet nectar of frangipani blossoms, delicately supported by melodious fruit, floral & musk tones”, and it’s really pretty. In fact, it’s my husband’s favourite fragrance to wear so it’s not that pretty! On him, is smells a touch more earthly and completely divine!!

Sweet Water was developed as part of a Natural Perfumers Guild Project in 2011, with the theme of “Brave New World”. The idea was to develop a scent using natural only available since 2000. I created Sweet Water inspired by the smell of grass after rain in summer. It’s a sweet green chypre with a sweet heart of honey, mint and summer blossoms enveloped by a watery aromatic top note and dewy base of amber and sweet grasses. It’s one I’m most proud of, but it’s one you’ll either love or avoid.