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Austria's fresh fragrances

Vienna’s historic association with fragrance is undergoing a renaissance, with designer labels and bespoke perfumers attracting international attention, as Verity Hogan discovers

Verity Hogan

Feature

by Verity Hogan

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‘There are ingredients in the fragrance that cost more than gold,’ notes Hermann Fankhauser of fashion label Wendy & Jim. The perfume in question, Drop No 01, is one of several new fragrances creating a buzz around Vienna’s scent scene. The city has enjoyed a long association with perfumery and the Habsburg era in particular was known for the production of fine fragrances. Today, the city’s scent options range from historic formulations based on original recipes to modern interpretations of past perfumes and totally original new blends.

Wendy & Jim is a prime example of Vienna’s modern perfumers. The label’s clothing collections for both men and women have caused waves in the Austrian fashion industry and its debut unisex fragrance is similarly distinctive. ‘It has a floral tone that carries you to the deeper notes of the fragrance, where a more earthy, dark and sexy base surrounds you,’ Fankhauser explains. ‘It’s a description that could also apply to our fashion.’

Drop No 01 also stands out from the crowd by being one of the only fragrances on the market to be made from mainly natural and organic ingredients, as well as offering one of the most unusual bottles on the market. The designers partnered historic Austrian porcelain manufacturer Augarten to create an individual bottle modelled on a fox’s skull. ‘When we thought about a bottle we knew it should be a luxurious bottle for a very expensive perfume,’ says Fankhauser. ‘A fox is a beautiful and smart animal and Augarten was the perfect partner for this project – it’s been very successful, we offer four different versions already.’

Blurred lines
In contrast, WienerBlut is one of the fragrance houses blurring the lines between historic and contemporary scents. The label has found great success in adapting imperial-era fragrances to suit a modern audience, although it’s not afraid to break with tradition when necessary. ‘We basically ignore trends and create what we like, usually with a bold innovative twist,’ explains company founder Alexander Lauber. ‘Sometimes historic with a new twist can be much more modern than modern.’

The company’s fragrance series is based on the original Taschentuch-Parfums, some of the most popular perfume recipes of 19th-century Vienna. Each scent is manufactured from the most luxurious raw materials available and is the result of extensive research. Lauber was surprised to find that many historic fragrances were extremely innovative. ‘What I find really interesting is that even with the limited possibilities [of the time], a lot of perfume making was already about telling stories and tapping into dreams and fantasies,’ he says.

Capturing the imagination
In the same way that certain scents capture the popular imagination today, imperial perfumers were also heavily influenced by contemporary trends. ‘During the Belle Époque, when sea bathing became hugely popular, there were dozens of ocean-themed fragrances, even though actual marine accords didn’t exist yet,’ notes Lauber. ‘One of our new fragrances – Sale Marino – is actually dedicated to that era and is inspired by the imperial Austrian Riviera, which today is part of Italy and Croatia. This region is known as the coast of laurels, which is why we feature laurel as a top note.’

WienerBlut’s packaging is subjected to the same attention to detail as its fragrances. The company uses elegant bottles, crafted from high-quality, hand-finished glass and topped with Bakelite caps; labels are applied by hand. ‘The elegance and craftsmanship of our bottles reflects how much thought, time and effort we put into creating each fragrance,’ explains Lauber. ‘Of course, there are slight irregularities when it’s not all done by machines and robots, but that makes the object even more charming – each one is unique.’

Natural chemistry
If you are looking for a truly unique perfume, Yogesh Kumar is one of Vienna’s most talented perfumers and has been creating bespoke scent compositions for the past 23 years. Kumar uses clients’ natural chemistry as a base for his blends and offers four different samples to test over time before the final fragrance is chosen. The result is a scent that perfectly suits the wearer – and one that that they won’t find being worn by anyone else.

Yogesh Kumar, WienerBlut and Wendy & Jim are just a few of the perfumers injecting fresh life into Vienna’s historic fragrance industry. Others include fashion designers such as Lena Hoschek, making their first forays into the field, while historic companies such as JB Filz – which still carries perfumes that date back to 1892 – continue to maintain a strong presence. The city’s scent scene is as strong as ever and looks set to continue that way.

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