Interview: AER

Ted Young-Ing and Stefan Kehl. Courtesy of AER

Ted Young-Ing and Stefan Kehl. Courtesy of AER

Established in December 2017 in Berlin, the independent perfume house AER, handcrafts unique fragrances from botanical ingredients. Driven by a desire to open people’s senses and a constant search for ‘the perfect smell’, they use 100% natural and plant-based produce. Putting a strong emphasises on their ingredients origin, they solely use independent and sustainable sources, where the workers are paid responsibly. For example their Styrax derive from the Honduran rainforest and the harvest is performed by the indigenous Pech tribe, who’s methods simply extract the resin without contributing to the deforestation, helping to sustain the fragile eco system and supporting the tribe.

Their scents includes smells such as No. 02: Cade, which could most easily be described as ‘smokey’. However, rather than being defined by the typical heaviness of such scents, the fragrance holds a unique freshness. No. 4: Cedar is named after the cedar tree, and derives from the sensation of summer. Holding almost sweet notes, the cedar grounds the scent while simultaneously creating an allusion to days behind the school bench. No. 5: White Pepper was created to transmit the feeling of a a dry summers day on a meadow, when the grass crunches under the feet. It is a traditional fougère with a twist, using Corsican Immortelle, tangerine and camomile combined with white pepper oil. 

Their creations are bold fragrances with complex characters that simultaneously seduce, confuse and educate the audience, forcing us to rethink our perception of smell and consider the origin of our perfumes.

BirdsNeverBored met the founders Ted Young-Ing (Creative Director) and Stefan Kehl (Head of Perfume) to discuss the importance of smell and the future of perfuming.

Courtesy of AER

Courtesy of AER

How did AER come about?

Ted Young-In: I worked with make up but also a lot with fragrances. I asked Stefan, we have been friends for years and years, to make me a perfume and we were talking about what we wanted in a perfume and what was out there wasn’t really satisfying. Either these strange perfumes that are based on synthetics or these natural ones that smell like bio stores [organic stores]. And I wanted something that was both ethical and weird, and it just wasn’t there and there wasn’t anything on the market. So Stefan ended up making this and then we wanted to continue and we started the company about it.

Stefan Kehl: December 1st 2017 we started to sell. We started in the Christmas market at Markthalle Neun, Berlin, as we thought this would be the perfect target group to see if this would work. And we ended up selling a lot so we thought ‘maybe this is a sign, maybe we should continue with this.’

What does smell mean to you and how important is this for you?

TY: A lot of people today don’t have a very developed sense of smell; nowadays it’s not really an important thing people rely on anymore. It used to be one of the most important senses: smell if there was danger around; if there was food; who is friendly etc. But now our sense of smell is totally diminished. And it’s really sad, because smell is this whole universe; It’s this layer on top of your reality that most people just ignore.

SK: And it’s also in culture very often, very judged and loaded with meanings, and love and hate. For example you go down in the underground and you are hit with this strong smell, that can almost be painful to enter. But in the end it is only bad because my mom told me it was bad, if you wanna see it that simple. Like ‘oh this is not nice smelling’ and that is why I react as in ‘eew’ when I need to go through there […] We are very educated in how to think about smell and it can be very hard to get out of that.

TY: There’s this ingredient called hyraceum which is  from fossilised pee and poop from a little animal called rock hyrax. They used the same area for toilet for generations and this mound builds, and from this you extract this very faecal urinal smelling thing and you think at first it’s really awful, and it is kind of awful, but it also has this depth and richness, and adds this incredible  ‘otherworldliness’ to a perfume. We don’t use it however, as it is not vegan. 

SK: Flowers for example, rose and jasmine, is often, in the traditional perfumery, underlined with civet or other animal products, cause first of all they, they sort of ’fix it’, and two, the faecal aspects enhances the smell of the flowers, making them bigger and richer.

TY: Jasmine, has a very faecal aspect to it. 

Would you like to make a perfume that is appealing to a broader audience? 

TY: We specifically make our perfumes to be ‘weird’ and ‘strange’. One of our goal with our brand is to show people that natural perfumes can be strange and complex. The quirky aspect is a strong trend right now but it is almost always with synthetics. Ours are completely natural and we develop these odd and strange smells, quirky, full of personality scents but with just naturals. And of course I wouldn’t say no to have a completely bestseller and sell tons of it, but I wanna rather focus on creating something with fraction and a viewpoint.

SK: I think our no. 1 and no 4 are our bestseller for now after a year. With these scent we really got ‘into the nose’: People really remember and like it. And I think with our two new scents it’s the same.

TY: We’re a small brand, we’re not really chasing commercial success. Our customer ‘found us’ and appreciate the strangeness.  

Traditionally you think of France when you think of perfume production. How did you end up being based in Berlin and how is it to be a perfume brand working out of Berlin?

TY: Well we lived in Berlin so I guess that’s where it came from. (Laughs)

SK: We could also live in New York, but oh god no, it’s too stressful. 

TY: There is a Berlin perfume scene and community. 

SK: And it’s bigger than you might think!

TY: Two of the world’s most famous perfumers live here. And there is a lot of brands that come out of here.

SK: Yes there are 5 or 6 brands that specifically create their perfumes in Berlin. So yea, why not? You know what I like about Berlin is, after the wall came down and East and West came together again, and a lot of people reconnected to the history of the city. I mean, think after WWI, there was this unique scene happening with parties, drink, food, fashion; everything was here in the same way as in Paris. And right now we have gone through a phase where a lot of companies for example, have recreated alcoholic drinks. And now we’re realising that in the scent and cosmetics industry, Berlin is also being recreated and that was also big back then. There are lots of old advertisements you can find, for lipsticks and scents in Berlin.

Courtesy of AER

Courtesy of AER

Courtesy of AER

Courtesy of AER

So what would you say Berlin smell like? And would you say that this is reflected in your perfumes?

TY: Well I think our brand is a very Berlin brand; our perfumes are decidedly born in Berlin. You know, our surrounding, our lifestyle and the thing that influences us from Berlin, definitely have found its way into all of our perfumes. So yea, this is the scent of Berlin [for us].

But not the scent of the pee in underground? (Laughs)

SK: Oh no thank you, (laughs). But you know these cars that drives around and clean, that’s actually a fake jasmine smell.

Oh I don’t think I ever thought that was jasmine.

TY: Well that’s also the thing […] most people have never really encountered [the ingredients]. People say ‘oh I really like smell of … whatever, but they never really smelt it and then we show them what it actually smells like, and they go ‘oh that’s Neroli!’ or whatever the smell we’re discussing. You are only familiar with notes in perfumes from the box […] but just because it has the note in it doesn’t mean it has that ingredient in it.

SK: Exactly. And very often it’s not even existing [in the perfume].

TY:People don’t have access, I mean we have this lab full of hundreds of bottles of fantastic smelling things, and it has taken me 1,5 year to have this really broad, rainbow, encyclopaedic view of knowing ‘oh, that’s that and that’s that and that’s that’, but I know these smells. But it is because I’m here everyday smelling things and people don’t have the access. 

Yes our relationship to smell is very different. Like jasmine, very few people are aware of what these things actually smell like. Like jasmine, often your only relationship to the smell it is from you ‘jasmine’ body lotion or cleaning product

TY: Yea, I mean, unless you live in Grasse and walk by these bushes every day, you have no clue what jasmine actually smells like.

Do you have something find to be the most important thing when you create a perfume, or do you just find inspiration from everywhere.

SK: I think the most important part of creating a good perfume is, and we talked about this morning, is that you find this tension; you find this kind of strange moment where the push and the pull come together, where the plus and minus pool of the magnets are even. You know, where the ugliness and the beauty is connecting - and that moment causes tension and this tension, I think, is the soul in art. Like art without tension is boring to me. And when you find a rhythm in how things are related together, that becomes to me something very interesting and that is what I’m trying to create in a scent. I want to know that when it is ready, that this kind of intent is existing, if that makes sense?

Obviously there a trends in smells, just like in fashion and beauty, is this something you are conscious about when you create or do you just aim to ‘do your thing’?

TY: I mean for us, ‘the trend’ is naturals, but hopefully this is a broader perspective. I mean, we can’t go on abusing our environment and our world, mistreating our resources and we feel like this aspect of making sure that this is created ethically and everybody in the process is happy to be involved. You know, making sure we are not stripping land and that we supporting small businesses and we are open about what is in our fragrances and how they are produced. That to us is what is really important.

SK: And these factors are what I find really inspiring. I don’t really like to be inspired by what is already on the market. And gladly, the trends in the perfume industry are not as hyper rushed as in cosmetics. Like the latest trend is this Oud-trend and it has been going for 6-7 years now. The Oud is really there now and it needs sometime before it reaches the mass-market. And then a lot of companies jump on that and create Oud-smells. And this makes actually the Oud tree very endangered. And this kind of trend I don’t feel very comfortable with. So unless we find a very reliable source, where they plant the tree and don’t just wildly chop a whole forest down for one tree. And this is exactly what the industry is doing and the industry is not taking care of the people in the countries.

Yea it is not a sustainable way, I mean most commercial businesses have very little regards for longterm sustainable production. And I think people often forget that this is also the case with perfumes. Cause you think about it with clothes, makeup and furniture, but I think for many perfumes is just ‘liquid’.

TY: And that’s what many doesn’t get to see about perfumes. And that is why we write out all our ingredients on the pack, because we are proud of our sourcing, we are proud of products and what’s in them. And they are not a hundred letter long text of weird chemicals. […] And I believe that there has to be a better way, there has to be a nicer way of producing products.

Out of curiosity, do you think you have become more sensitive to smells since you began working with smells? Like there are people who are hypersensitive to scents who can’t go places simply because of the smells. Is this something you have found in yourself?

SK: To be honest I was always like this (laughs). I always this thing that my nose ‘works too good’ and I have this since forever I can remember, and I have often had a hard time with this. But since I work here with creating scents, the aspect of being disgusted by smells is lower. Because I trained my self to ‘go over’ the disgustingness in order to fully understand the structure of the scent. I mean, if you can’t be disgusted by your material, you just have to kind of deal with it. And this level of ‘tolerance’ is lower, so I guess it’s kind of the opposite effect.

TY: We were talking with one of our team and she was saying that before she worked on AER she had these couple of perfumes with synthetics and she was really happy with them. And then she spent some time smelling our perfumes and now, she can’t smell these perfumes anymore. For her, like all synthetic perfumes smells the exactly the same and are boring and don’t have any kind of depth. And we try to not say that synthetic perfuming are worse than natural perfuming, it’s just different, but that is a real thing and you have to understand the difference between synthetics and naturals. And there is a massive difference in what you can produce and the kind of depth, feeling and personality and the way it affects you as a human being. And I think that is something we have been able to appreciate working with this company, the levels of differentiation between the molecular way of scenting things and how things actually should smell if they are natural. 

To read more about AER visit:

Courtesy of AER

Courtesy of AER

Story by: Johanne Björklund Larsen

EditorialKate FroniusBeauty