Scents of Place with perfumer SONDRINE KEHOE

Scents of Place with perfumer SONDRINE KEHOE

   W.P.S.C: When I walk up to the high point of Shoreham beach that overlooks the surf breaks 'Little Noosa' and the main beach by the carpark 'The Pines,' the first thing I do is draw in a deep breath of fresh air.
The Pines, the sentinels of the point, look right out over Warn Marin/Western Port Bay, way past Summerlands over on Phillip Island, out, out to the wild Bass Strait. 

I am always arrested by the mix of salt air, cypress, eucalyptus, pine needles covering damp soil and of course the Pinus Radiata themselves. Sometimes there is a hint of fragrance, sweet pittosporum perhaps.

Our sense of smell according to Candace Wooten from the Anatomy of Olfactory Nerves, "detects odorous substances aerosolised in the environment" heightening our awareness to the moment.



At the pines I am immediately present. When I take in that breath and open my lungs, all of the benefits of salt air begin to manifest. I am calmed, relaxed even, my energy is improved, my serotonin levels become balanced.

Another breath and the oil from the pine infuses with the air, I feel concentrated and clear equally.  It's primeval, I know I am safe and truly alive.  

Oh! to bottle those moments.   


Sondrine Kehoe is a Perfumer and founder of Cygnet Perfumery. Her work  combines artistry, intuition and alchemy. 

We here at W.P.S.C listened recently to the podcast series  'Articles of Interest'. In 'Perfume' (Series 2 - Episode 9 ) host Avery Trufelman says, "so much about learning to smell is learning  how to describe smells"...  We wanted to talk to Sondrine about creating a scent of place and indeed bottling it! 


W.P.S.C: Welcome Sondrine. What do you think about Avery Trufelman's comment about learning to smell being aligned with learning how to describe smells?

S.K: I love it and absolutely agree. We often don’t credit ourselves for how wonderful our ability to smell is; it’s a neglected sense that we seem to think is in the domain of dogs and wild beasts.

However, studies show our sense of smell is far superior to what we give ourselves credit for, with new research proposing humans can distinguish more than 1 trillion scents! This is far greater than the number of colours or tones we can detect - yet the number of words to describe scent in the English language is so limited.

We often rely on describing words of other senses to describe smell eg. “Green” “Spicy” “Sweet”. Or, we just use the name of a source itself eg. “Rose”, “Citrus”, “Marine”.

Whilst our ability to describe smell does rely heavily on words not solely dedicated to scent, of which there are only three, learning how to describe smells makes you think about smells. And thinking about smells makes you realise how nuanced and varied they can be.

You begin to draw similarities between things that are completely unrelated, yet share one common aroma molecule. Vanilla is not just sweet and vanillic, the nuances it carries can vary from woody, spicey, musty, boozy, ambery, milky.

Infact, a molecule it contains called vanillin is what gives vanilla a scent reminiscent of antique books as the lignin in the pages of books breaks down overtime into vanillin - our extrait de parfum Antiquarian celebrates this with three lush extracts of vanilla.


W.P.S.C: Cygnet Perfumery's phrase 'Invisible made tangible' is perfect description of what you do, I would go so far as to say you present not just a scent but a poetic, dreamy, evocative lifestyle. when did you know becoming a perfumer was your calling?

S.K: Thank you, that's very kind. I first began making perfume and potions as a girl in my parents garden, like most children do. I simply never grew out of it.
The magic of creating a precious aromatic liquid from plants was never lost on me.
When I was 12 I made my best friend a book on how to recreate the classics from essential oils (untested recipes I must say). I made my first alcohol based perfume in the same year from vodka, propolis, honey, violets, and various essential oils - it still sits in my cupboard. I also began to make all my own skin care in highschool, spending my pocket money at the local aromatherapy store on essential oils and cold pressed oils and butters. After finishing highschool I began working on a concept for a perfume label, however I ended up falling head over heels in love with birth and studied midwifery. After the birth of my first child, it seemed the perfect time and so Cygnet Perfumery became.

W.P.S.C: Crafting fragrance inspired by your environment, which happens to be the Mornington Peninsula feels so personal and a beautiful way to share and open into an experience.

I bought a bottle of Conifer after reading about it's inspiration being the Pines, but it was your description for ' Plein Air' that made me swoon, you describe rural pastures, lavender farms, a summers drive and sourdough from the Flinders General Store, I was right in it. Does place always inspire a fragrance for you or does creating a scent take you to a place?

 S.K: I certainly am inspired by the landscapes surrounding me. It’s lovely to hear which you were drawn to and I can see you read our journal blog post travel guide.

I love that question - it can be both and more for me. Whilst the stunning landscapes surrounding our headquarters have inspired some of our fragrances, the artisan distillations I work with equally inspire me and upon smelling can take me to a place.


W.P.S.C: A favourite smell would be petrichor, and as I was researching I found out petrichor was a term ' coined by Australian Scientists in 1964 to describe the unique, earthy smell associated with rain.' What notes would you choose to describe something like petrichor ?

S.K: Petrichor… it's a fascinating aroma, isn't it? Earthy, mineral, ozone, soil… I feel it must be one of the universal favourites. There is one natural material that is known to really capture the fragrance of petrichor - mitti attar. It is an Indian aromatic essence made from hydro-distilling baked earth into Indian sandalwood essential oil. A synthetic material that comes to mind first would be geosmin - it is actually one of the molecules responsible for that aroma.

W.P.S.C: So interesting! Your studio on the Mornington Peninsula must be an intoxicating haven, can you describe it's notes ?

S.K: People do say it smells lovely when they come in, but I must say I have gotten so used to being in there that I don’t notice anything. Often it fills with the aroma of a tincture or perfume I am filtering / bottling, but otherwise I try to keep it as odourless as possible so that my senses aren’t interrupted when I am working on fragrance creation. However, step outside currently and you are greeted with new mown hay, woodsmoke, violets and the honeyed fragrance of flowering coastbeard-heath.


W.P.S.C: In my old life I used to run an organic food store from an old shop in a Melbourne sea side suburb, when customers walked through the door they would often pause and comment on how the store smelt. No one could completely describe it, a mix of ground spices, sourdough, timber floors, perhaps a bit of sea air, it was a deep smell of comfort that made being there extremely pleasurable, it enveloped a happy sense of community. It's a smell and time that no longer exists.

I have always been interested in Place Making, in what that is and means, often life changes, places change, to place make the way you do with fragrance is inspiring.

You release each of your Extrait de Perfum once a year honouring slow living and the change of season with small batch production. There is also something about that process that highlights the fleeting experience of fragrance in itself, its not really a question but can you speak to that ?

S.K: What a beautiful sounding store and scent memory. I love that sentiment - change is the only constant thing isn’t it?

I am glad you touched on slow living and can see that theme weaves through your own past endeavour too. The slow movement is big in the food world now thankfully, but it has hardly touched the cosmetics and fragrance industry.

Ask someone to name the farm or people who grew just one of the ingredients in their skincare products and I am sure they will be stumped. Perhaps they won’t even know what the ingredient itself is manufactured from. There is a long way to go, but I am passionate about furthering this movement in my own industry and so it is a big reason why we release our fragrances once a year too.

We make by hand, slowly and in small batches. We place the process and plants over profits, knowing that the ingredients we use need to be managed carefully and not over consumed for the generations ahead to enjoy them. Our customers choose to shop with us because they align with this philosophy, and they enjoy the subtle differences from terroir each vintage of perfume brings rather than grabbing the closest bottle of Baccarat Rouge. Fragrance is fleeting, but it is always there. One rose wilts and another bud opens.

The beauty of botanical perfume is that it is dynamic not linear - the fragrance evolves and changes on your skin throughout the day.


W.P.S.C: You can't really talk about perfume without speaking about intimacy. Perfume responds to our skin, to pheromones, to our memories.
My favourite smells contain a mix of coffee and shaving soap. 
Describing smell and what scent to procure really are two different things aren't they, the alchemy!! How do you choose what to draw out?


S.K: Yes certainly, fragrance is so intimate. There have been quite a few studies on scent and attraction, which are so fascinating to read. Ultimately, scent is an important force in the bonding process between couples, mother and babies, and I believe people and the environment.


W.P.S.C: I'd like to finish up by thanking you for sharing your time and by asking do you have a favourite olfactory memory you don't bottle but are willing to share?


S.K: Thank you for having me Eddy, it’s been an absolute pleasure. I do, the scent of my newborns - I don’t quite think a perfume would ever elicit the same response in me.

Follow your nose and find out more about Cygnet Perfumery here.