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The scents of Sweden


Sweden’s perfume labels make the most of the country’s rich natural produce and minimalist aesthetic to produce enticingly fresh fragrances. By Katy Young

Katy Young portrait
Katy Young,

It may not be the first country to come to mind when thinking of fine fragrance, but Sweden has produced a clutch of luxury labels which are attracting international attention and acclaim. Specialising in fresh fragrances, often made with natural ingredients, these companies often provide alternatives to the denser formulations created elsewhere in Europe.

Clean-living lifestyle
Oriflame was set up 47 years ago in a small, two-room office in Stockholm. Brothers Robert and Jonas af Jochnick launched the label hoping to bring Sweden’s clean-living lifestyle and fresh natural scents to the rest of the world. Named after the medieval royal banner of France, the label now offers 216 fragrances for men and women, has an annual turnover of €1.5 billion and is sold in 60 countries. In addition to its concept store in Stockholm, the company employs a team of 3 million door-to-door sales staff. The reason for this approach, according to Magnus Brännström, CEO and president of Oriflame, was because consumers in the 1960s often felt more at ease trying and selecting a product at home, rather than approaching often very beautiful women who worked in beauty stores.

Another factor behind the company’s success is the high calibre of the people on board. Two of the world’s greatest modern perfumers are behind the company’s scents – Jean Jacques and Francis Kurkdjian – who also create fragrances for other international names including Elie Saab, Burberry and Givenchy. Today, Oriflame’s perfumes include seductive blends using notes such as black rose, amber, jasmine and patchouli as well as fresh scents featuring green basil, vanilla orchid and orange blossom.

Remove the clutter
Byredo is another leading Swedish perfumer: established in 2006, its product range is manufactured entirely in Sweden. The label’s founder Ben Gorham spent the majority of his formative years in Canada but now lives in Stockholm, and his fragrances are thoroughly Swedish. ‘The spirit and the look of Byredo reflect the Scandinavian design aesthetic – a love for pared-down minimalism,’ he explains. ‘Our fragrances are not cluttered and you can smell the ingredients clearly, which is important for me. One’s surroundings are important in the creative process – a perfume maker is always influenced by the environment.’

‘The Swedish enjoy great structure and form and I do agree that my particular aesthetic prefers considered simplicity,’ says Gorham. ‘I like the notes to have space and for the fragrance concepts to be communicated clearly. Less is definitely more when it comes to great ingredients.’ Gorham has recently started using more Swedish ingredients in Byredo’s fragrances, such as wild Angelica and lingonberry. The 1996 scent, inspired by a photograph of a young girl taken by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, features notes of icy juniper berries, along with leather and black amber in a typically minimalist mix.

It's all in the detail
Niklas and Christine Lydeen, the couple behind Agonist, believe that their range of seven luxury fragrances owes a great deal to Swedish culture and heritage. ‘Our hard work and focus on detail is very Swedish,’ says Niklas Lydeen. ‘The human aspect and our sustainable approach is also something that comes from our Swedish heritage. The feeling and tone of the brand comes from the poetic beauty of Sweden’s nature and culture: the shifting seasons, the cold, dark winters and the beautiful light in the summer, the poems of Karin Boye, the images of Ingmar Bergman and so on.’ The result is a range filled with evocative sounding scents such as Arctic Jade, Isis and Vanilla Marble.

From Byredo’s light florals to Oriflame’s exotic spice and Agonist’s handmade blends, Swedish brands are helping the country to make its mark on the international scent scene. ‘The world of fine fragrances has opened up in the last few years,’ explains Gorham. ‘Countries that have not had the same historical and cultural relationship with fragrance that France and Italy have had are getting involved and bringing a new spirit to the industry.’

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