Ffern caught our eye one Saturday morning in the beautiful Straw shop on Columbia Road. Packaged in contemporary glass vials we couldn’t resist spritzing and that’s how we discovered their lovely, natural fragrances. The idea is that you swap your ‘signature scent’ for a seasonal scent: four vials are sent out per year exclusively to Ffern members. Their spring scent was released in collaboration with Skye Gyngell whilst Giles Deacon has been part of the summer fragrance that will be released on the summer solstice on 21st June. You’ll need to join the waiting list if you want to get your hands on it. Creative Director, Emily Cameron tells us more.
What’s the idea behind Ffern?
Ffern makes organic, vegan fragrances from natural ingredients that are inspired by the seasonal changes we see in the year. We blend, barrel age and bottle one fragrance for each of our ledger members for each new season. These are released on the solstices and equinoxes.
Could you tell us a bit about your backgrounds before you came to found the business?
My brother Owen’s background is in Philosophy, while I studied English Literature followed by a master’s in History of Art at the Courtauld. Before Ffern came into being, we were both working in the arts. I started out as a researcher for Sotheby’s and then went on to head up all content and copy for TOAST.
It is fragrance that has always linked us however – we grew up deep in the Somerset countryside, near a herb farm. These scents punctuated our childhood and we always hoped that one day we would work together in the world of fragrances. When Owen had a fortuitous meeting with Francois Robert, our head nose, it all fell into place.
Why the name Ffern?
The reason for the Ffern name is twofold. Firstly, it is a nod to the Welsh language, in which an “f” sound is represented by “ff” – this reflects our interest in Celtic herbology and gestures to the wonderful abundance of green ferns and mosses on the Welsh coast where we spent many childhood summers, a key source of inspiration for us as fragrance makers.
Secondly, it recalls a key moment in nineteenth-century perfumery where fern fragrances became the most sought after in all of Europe. These fragrances, known as “fougère fragrances”, were created to reflect the Victorian obsession with ferns. Like fougère fragrances, Ffern perfumes do not contain ferns (which have little scent), but many of our scents echo the essence of the plant with woody, earthy and fresh notes, and pick up the thread of fine fragrance making.
We loved the spring scent, what is coming next for summer?
Summer 22 reimagines the floral in a perfume, situating a traditional accord of rose otto and geranium amid wilder, more contemporary notes. Kumquat brings fresh citrus, nutmeg and olibanum recall the dry earth of a summer’s evening, while ho wood (a sustainable alternative to rosewood) gives a glimpse of a great tree wreathed in climbing roses.
This season, we worked with the British fashion designer Giles Deacon to create a modern take on a heraldic emblem for Ffern, alongside several drawings in walnut ink responding to the fragrance. Giles was inspired by the organic shapes of the fragrance ingredients – particularly kumquat and geranium leaves.
How long is the wait for those that join the waiting list?
Our waiting list is randomised, weighted in favour of those who have been on the list for longer – it can take just a few weeks for a space to become available, but more commonly it may take several months. Our waiting list allows us to grow at a sustainable rate while keeping our focus on our current ledger members – and on the perfumes!
What is your production process like? What scale are you working on?
To make the fragrance, we use traditional production processes and blend the fragrance oils in small batches – these are then matured for 40 to 50 days in Somerset, a process known as maturation. Following this, we add organic, Italian-grain alcohol and pure water (and sometimes a by-product of oil production, such as rosewater). This is the mixture that will produce the final fragrance. We then leave it in barrels to macerate for several more weeks. Barrel-ageing is considered by some in perfumery to be a bit of a ‘dark art’ but it is essential when working with naturals as it brings depth and character.
What do you think is the key to a good scent?
This is a question we ask ourselves with each new fragrance – and of course the answer will never be simple. Nor would we want it to be! But overall we stand by the principle that a good scent should have an intriguing opening – something that captures your attention or imagination, and a beautiful, slow and evolving dry down. Over the course of a day we hope that you’ll be surprised and delighted by a Ffern scent as different natural ingredients come to the fore.
What is your earliest memory of smell?
Owen and I grew up in Somerset, in a small village near to the lower levels of Exmoor. At the end of our lane was a medieval manor, home to a thriving organic herb farm. It was this herb farm that became our first introduction to the potential of scent. I can still remember late summer evenings from our childhood when the scent of cinnamon, cumin and cardamom would drift into the garden, mixing with the warm, honey-ish notes of the roses. From the middle of the English countryside, we were transported – just for a moment – to the other side of the world.
Where do you live and what do you like about your area?
We live between North London and Somerset – both of which are wonderful places to be! I love the thrum of the city and the colliding of different lives and cultures. But I’m equally drawn to the peace of the countryside, to the wide open skies and morning birdsong.
What 3 things will you be packing in your suitcase this summer?
I think we are going to be staying put this summer – we like to travel during the off seasons! But if we were to head out for a few days I’d make sure that I had my quick-drying linen towel (for a spontaneous sea dip), my new straw sunhat (bought on a whim when dreaming of warmer days!) and my silk scarf (which I spray with Ffern and have with me wherever I go!).
Sign-up to Ffern’s waitlist to join the ledger to receive four seasonal fragrances per year. Summer 22 will be released on the summer solstice, 21st June 2022.