I have this curious way of imagining people as perfumes (yup, never claimed to be sane). So, what comes to mind with Michelle Pfeiffer? A smoky, slightly resinous fragrance, swirling with a dash of darkness, enveloped in an icy white fog. A creation that stands at the crossroads where White Oleander meets Scarface. Where the romance of sunset meets the edge of twilight.
A perfume that I would want to wear for calling upon some inner reserves of strength. Perfume for a day when I need to be bold, a day when I want to stand out from the crowd. When I want to look life straight in the eyes and take control of a situation.
And then a discovery set from Henry Rose landed on my table.
Henry Rose: A moniker that combines the names of the now 61-year-old Hollywood legend’s two children.
Henry Rose: A range of five gender-neutral perfumes based on Pfeiffer’s favourite memories. And each one as unusual the woman herself. These are categorically not generic perfumes that would get lost in a crowd.
Henry Rose: The first fragrance line to be endorsed by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a watchdog agency that monitors toxicity in the beauty industry very, very carefully. It’s also certified by Cradle to Cradle, which vets ingredients and products for environmental sustainability.
What’s the big deal about a “safe” perfume?
Why is this last one so important?
Ever since I have started consciously reading a beauty products ingredients before giving it real estate on my skin, one particular aspect has always stood out: “Fragrance”.
Since the FDA doesn’t ask brands to disclose exactly what materials go into a “fragrance”, it’s a word that can hide almost 4,000 ingredients. So, this one simple term has become the most exploited in the beauty industry, having become a catch-all for everything in the formula a brand would rather keep hidden.
Perfume houses, in themselves, never disclose their ingredients, hiding behind the iron gates of “trade secrets”. As a result, most of our perfumes are a toxic soup of ingredients like petrochemicals and phthalates, which have been linked to hormone disruption, allergic reactions, and much more.
Which is what led Pfeiffer to stop wearing perfumes more than a decade back. This mindfulness was the joint result of becoming a mother who was worried about her children’s health, and having both her father and best friend simultaneously being diagnosed with cancer.
The awareness sparked off a decade-long journey, replete with disappointments, rejections and rude awakenings, as even her celebrity power failed against an industry that refused to change. To become more transparent.
Till she joined hands with International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) – a fragrance house that designs scents for many of the world’s largest brands. IFF agreed to work with both EWG and Cradle to Cradle, carefully weeding out all unsafe ingredients to help her create Henry Rose.
Which was definitely not easy. Normally, perfumers can draw upon a palette of more than 3,000 ingredients. Now, they were left with less than 300. Ingredients that are safe and sustainable.
Though, one has to note that Pfeiffer hates calling Henry Rose a “natural” perfume line. As she explains, it’s not about being “natural”, “clean” or “organic” – these having become the most clichéd terms that the beauty industry tosses out at the drop of a hat.
Instead, Henry Rose perfumes disclose 100% of their ingredients on both their website and along with the bottles, setting a new standard for the beauty industry. And in keeping with the EWG code, every single ingredient is free of substances that have been banned or restricted by the US or international government agencies or other authoritative public health bodies, such as the World Health Organization.
So, in short, Henry Rose is not about being natural or organic. It’s about being transparent, safe and sustainable.
Which is a first for the perfume industry.
But what about the perfumes themselves? Are they good?
Thankfully there’s utter gorgeousness here.
Because, ultimately, we want to smell good. It’s well and fine to be evangelical but I also don’t want to limit myself to essential oils or crunchy-granola-type scents.
I want to feel good. Feel luxurious. Pampered. Indulged.
Basically, beautiful inside and out.
Henry Rose ticks all these boxes. And more. The bottles themselves are clear, super-sleek and come packed in a chic gray box – the elegance belying their environmental-friendly creds (90% recycled glass with soy-based caps, all packed into bio-based, biodegradable boxes).
And then there’s the wearability and sillage (the trail of scent left by a perfume). Natural perfumes are not known for either. However, Henry Rose gives me an average wearability of 5-6 hours, which is pretty impressive in my book. As a comparison, Chanel’s No. 5 would give me a wear-time of 6-7 hours.
Fog – which Pfeiffer describes as “San Fransisco in summer” – has become my clear favorite. And just today, I have been stopped four times to ask what I am wearing. Once was in the middle of a busy Starbucks!
Pfeiffer’s own favorite is Torn, which is all about summer sunsets, and notes of vetiver and patchouli. And 39 other ingredients – each of which is clearly listed on the website.
Go, take a look for yourself and tell me what you think.