Tuesday, December 31, 2013

How Two West Coast Hikers Turned Brooklyn's Trees into a New Perfume

"Wild" fragrance firm Juniper Ridge has been running a pop-up shop this fall in Brooklyn, where it's been hosting sidewalk distillations of local plantlife—literally making cologne from the trees and bushes of Williamsburg—and running the occasional smell hunt, a short guide to the trees of the neighborhood based on what the public can sniff.

Gizmodo was on hand last week for a stroll around the block with Juniper Ridge founder Hall Newbegin and chief distiller Obi Kaufmann. As Newbegin explains on the company's website, the overall Juniper Ridge process is pretty damn fascinating, and I was eager to learn more in person:

We distill colognes and perfumes from real plants, bark, moss, mushrooms, and tree trimmings found hiking the backcountry.

A hundred years ago, all perfumes were made this way. Today we're the only ones who handle every step of the process ourselves, from beginning to end.

That process can look pretty ridiculous at times. We go camping. We crawl around in mountain meadows. We smell the wet earth beneath fir trees, and spend whiskey-fueled hours geeking out over the scent of wind off a glacier.

We make our fragrances throughout the West Coast—on dirt roads and trails, around campfires, and in our Oakland, California workshop. All to capture the quiet beauty of the Mojave Desert at sunrise, or a late-season Sierra trailhead with winter right around the corner.

The fact that last week's "wild aromatic distillation" event would be hosted on the streets of Brooklyn, using vegetation from New York City's best borough, only added to the strange appeal of seeing (and smelling) how all this really occurs.

After all, what happens when you do the same thing in an urban environment—when it's not the smell of breezes off glaciers but winds gusting off the roofs of abandoned warehouses or a slow morning fog rolling down the Gowanus? How do you distill perfumes and colognes fromthat?

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