Circe Perfume: Notes of the natural world

Circe Perfume draws on the natural world, especially New Zealand’s native flora and fauna, to create stunning fragrances. We spoke with creator Amber Lenihan about how Circe began and the inspirations behind the perfume.

From a young age, fragrance intrigued Amber Lenihan. Her parents had an organic market garden, bees and eventually an organic winery, and through their work they inspired and encouraged Lenihan to smell and understand the benefits of what they were growing. It was the same with the winery — they encouraged her to smell the wine and understand the notes.

Lenihan went on to train as a winemaker, which enhanced her scent memory while also igniting a desire to delve into the perfume world and learn more about it.

“I decided to travel to France to study the art of perfumery. However, when I arrived in Grasse I was disappointed to learn the truth of the perfume industry and that the scents were synthesised in a lab, using harmful petrochemicals. To be honest, prior to this I had always thought that fragrance was created from the likes of plants and flowers,” Lenihan explains.

When she came back to New Zealand, Lenihan acted on the simmering urge to create her own perfume brand. She wanted it to be natural, so she started blending her own formulations, and studied natural perfumery online.

“It was through the encouragement of friends and family that gave me the confidence to begin sharing my blends — originally through creating wedding favours. This evolved into a business idea and after studying small business management, enrolling in incubator courses and working with mentors I have finally got to where I am today — but it still feels like the beginning of a longer journey,” she says.

The perfume range

All of Circe’s perfumes are cruelty free and are created from certified natural essential oils, absolutes, tinctures and botanicals in a natural plant alcohol base. Lenihan says they’re careful to use these components in safe quantities. Circe’s products also have:

  • No synthetics
  • No known or suspected endocrine disruptors
  • No phthalates
  • No known or suspected carcinogens
  • No parabéns  
  • No formaldehydes

“We believe in transparency so we list all ingredients on our website. The fragrance industry currently only have to label their ingredients under ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ under the guise of trade secret. We believe that by listing our ingredients it gives our customers the confidence in what they are buying,” Lenihan says.

One of the unique things about Circe is the fact that their perfumes draw on the native flora and fauna of Aotearoa. When Circe began, native plants hadn’t been used in perfumery before. In the process of creating their unique scents, Circe would work with local suppliers who had already established processes for extracting some of the unique ingredients. They also experiment with tinctures and short path distillation to find the unexpected and unexplored scents.

“Being natural means our palate is not as broad as synthetic fragrances that can recreate notes that don’t exist in nature and it does mean most of our ingredients are significantly more expensive. But this was a challenge we were willing to take on for the health and wellbeing of our customers.”

Circe has truly thought of the sustainability of all elements of the perfume right from the ingredients through to the packaging. Although struggling to find a local supplier of beautiful vessels, they found a French supplier after several years of searching.

“We also went for eco-friendly wooden caps and choose a stock from B&F Papers that had great eco credentials for our packaging … Sustainability is important to us and we have a part to play in keeping our planet habitable not only for people, but for the plants that give up their scents for our range of perfumes.”

Learn more about Circe at circe.co.nz, or through Instagram and Facebook.

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