In my review of Field Notes From Paris, I mentioned that I met its perfumer, Ineke Ruhland at the Elements Showcase. During our conversation, her passion for her craft was evident. Her recollection of studying to become a perfumer, the fact that she grows her own flowers and the attention paid to the collection’s packaging gave me the feeling I’ve been missing; the joy of discovery. I was also blown away by her genuine desire to entertain my curiosity in her work. With that I knew I had to continue our conversation. I told the classically trained perfumer based in San Francisco I wanted to interview her and she obliged.
What’s your earliest recollection of fragrance? Do you think it influenced your decision to become a perfumer? If so, how? If not, what led to that decision?
Like many people, my earliest fragrance recollections are about a sense of place, in my case the Canadian countryside where I grew up. For me, Canada has fresh, crisp and natural scent evocations. It’s all about wide-open skies; green rolling hills, and the sharp, pure sensation of winter air. My parents were always good gardeners, and I think that is where I developed my particular affinity for flowers. To this day, I’m smitten with the flowers that grow well in cold climates like lilacs and peonies, much more so than tropical flowers, for example. In fact, I decided to use a dominant lilac note in my very first fragrance, After My Own Heart.
In my younger days, I wasn’t even aware that such a profession as “perfumer” existed. I doubt there were any at all in Canada in those days. I found my way into the industry through “following my nose” in a roundabout way. After moving to the Netherlands as an adult (I am also Dutch), I landed a job working in marketing for a fragrance supplier. From there it slowly dawned on me that our team of perfumers had by far the most exciting job possible, and I eventually was able to train as one myself.
In 140 characters, define Ineke Perfumes?
A tweet! It is an alphabetical collection of scents that draws inspiration from my garden of rare, scented plants, as well as my love of storytelling and the visual arts.
I’ve put a lot of energy into the packaging, using it to tell the story behind each fragrance. I think most people are more visual than they are olfactive, so I use mixed media visuals on the cartons and colors and designs on the bottles to give people an idea of what a scent will smell like. This works well to give a quick impression, but there are a lot of details, so that if you look again, you’ll be rewarded with new things you didn’t notice the first time.
In just over four years you’ve landed in over 200 stores. Does that mean you’re no longer niche? What does that exactly mean to you?
Good question. By fragrance industry standards, 200 stores is still very niche. We are in about 30 stores in the US, with most of the remainder in Europe. By comparison, mainstream fragrances by companies like P&G and Coty are often sold in over 10,000 stores. I personally still feel very niche. I do think it’s more of an approach or attitude, and means that you don’t necessarily have to appeal to a broad audience, allowing you to do things in a different way. From a purely practical point of view, I think 200 stores is probably the minimum to have a financially self-supporting company in the long-term.
What has been the one scent from your collection that men have bought the most?
Derring-Do has been my best seller for men, partly because it is labeled “for men,” but also because the scent is a fresh fougère with broad appeal. A close second is Field Notes from Paris, which is squarely unisex in my estimation, and provides a warmer and more bohemian option for men.
Field Notes From Paris is my favorite from your collection thus far. It has an effervescent opening. What were you going for with this scent?
Field Notes from Paris was inspired by my days studying perfumery in Paris in the mid-nineties. At ISIPCA, the perfumery school I attended in Versailles, we had the historical archives of the Osmothèque stored in the basement of the building. Our professors were always bringing up vintage fragrances for us to smell to illustrate the lessons. In Field Notes, I wanted to highlight some of the materials that were common in vintage French men’s fragrances, but then reinterpret them in a more modern way. What you are smelling in the opening is bergamot, orange flower and an overdose of coriander seed oil, which is what gives it that strange effervescence. Some of the other notes in the fragrance are tobacco flower and leaf, beeswax and tonka bean. Paris when I lived there was so much about tobacco smells!
Your scent Balmy Day & Sundays is all about perfect moments on a relaxing Sunday. A perfect moment on that day for you is spent doing…?
My husband and I love spending time in Golden Gate Park with our westie, Fritz. We walk around Stowe Lake in the middle of the park, where Fritz can be off-leash and occasionally chase squirrels (don’t worry, he never catches them). We love hanging out on a grassy knoll. Biking through the Golden Gate Park, the Presidio and along the ocean is another favorite weekend thing to do, and I encourage anyone visiting San Francisco to rent bikes. I tried to capture the verdant scents of nature in Balmy Days – grass, leaves, fresh flowers and earth – in an easy-going, crisp fragrance perfect for summer. A lot of people have told me that it’s pitch perfect in terms of smelling like their favorite outdoor places (usually places I’ve never been), so I think this is a universally appealing idea.
Name three places you’d recommend anyone visiting San Francisco go for dinner?
Our current favorite is Frances, a small neighborhood restaurant at 3870 17th Street that was recently short-listed for a James Beard prize and is almost impossible to get into. The chef/owner is a woman, and I love her attention to detail. If you can’t get reservations, the trick is to go just before opening at 5:00 pm and get one of the seats in their bar area, if you don’t mind eating early. A fantastic new restaurant in the Jackson Square area is Cotogna (490 Pacific Avenue). It’s an inventive mix of Italian and Californian, with a great vibe. The beet-stuffed ravioli is amazing. For my third choice, I would go with our Cole Valley neighborhood favorite, Zazie’s, at 941 Cole Street. If you happen to be in San Francisco with a dog, I can’t recommend their dog nights on Mondays enough. It’s a wonderful ambience with off-leash dogs on a charming backyard terrace, and desserts don’t get much better than their “Les Deux Crèmes.”
It’s hard to choose just one. I think flower scents touch me most. Every spring in March, our Brown Boronia comes into bloom, and it’s an excruciatingly beautiful smell, something like ((freesia + violet + musk) all-squared). It is an Australian native and a little tricky to keep healthy.
Less ephemeral is the Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmania) in front of our entrance. If you walk by during the day, you will think it doesn’t smell at all, but at night its narcotic smell can waft half a block or more. Amazingly it is usually in bloom all year round, so I highly recommend it as the number one scented plant (tree really) for gardens in zones 9 and higher.