Aqualis founder ‘ties memories to fragrance’ with new perfume
Steyn Grobler, the founder of niche fragrance brand Aqualis, returns home from London for its local launch
The founder of niche fragrance brand Aqualis, Steyn Grobler, has returned to SA from London for its local launch. In this interview, he speaks about the new fragrance.
What is the creative process in crafting a new Aqualis fragrance?
It generally starts with an inspiration or an idea of what I want to encapsulate, whether that’s a concept or a place or, sometimes, a person. I get my head around what ingredients I want to use and then the brief goes out to the perfumers.
There is never a budget, so they love working on my briefs because they get to dust off all of those ingredients that they can never use because of budgetary constraints. We give them the marketing brief and a lot of direction, and from there they make the samples. That’s kind of the starting point of the perfume.
Because of the concentrations at which we manufacture, we focus on balancing the perfume so that the ingredients work well together. If you don’t and something is out of step, it’s very apparent. Sometimes we finish an idea of the perfume and then we take another three or four months just to work on the balance.
In terms of the time it takes, the full collection took four years to make. Within those years, some of them took the full four years, some of them six months. Sometimes it’s like, “Bam, we’ve got it,” and sometimes we have to go back to the drawing board.
Aqualis fragrances are designed to incorporate a person’s experiences and personality. How do your unique experiences in both SA and London inform how you develop a fragrance?
It is kind of a hybrid in that sense, I guess. When you create, you go back to the memories and things that matter to you. I drew a lot on my childhood, so that’s why some of the fragrances are called what they are [Namaqualand, Brenton and Kalahari, for example].
But then you get the conceptual side that doesn’t really relate to anything from SA. It is almost this hybrid SA-European brand, because I guess that’s who I am.
Though I’m fully South African I might be a little more English than I like to admit at times. When we create, we just want to bring a unique narrative to the market.
I don’t want to touch on tired, old ideas and certainly SA is a huge inspiration for that, particularly in the European market, because there’s nothing like it.
How has the pandemic, isolation and escapism affected the way you now think about fragrances?
When people couldn’t travel, it was quite good for us to have these names and to create a narrative to get people to transcend [lockdowns] with a fragrance. In terms of future development, I hope Covid-19 is a thing of the past now.
Aqualis stands for “aqua” and “qualis” put together. “Qualis” is Latin for how we experience something. The brand is all about how you experience perfume.
That’s at the centre of everything we do, because we’re trying to tie memories to fragrance. Let’s say a tourist visits the Kruger [National Park], and then comes to Skins and buys the Kruger scent — that perfume’s connotations are going to be their memories of the Kruger.
So, it has always been about tying memories to fragrance and reinforcing that to make it mean something to that person.
Which is your favourite Aqualis fragrance to wear? Utopia — it’s a quest to bottle paradise. I love porn-star martinis and their smell.
So the scent is very moreish, gourmand and edible. It’s got a lot of blood orange in there, a very interesting ingredient with apricot leaves, lots of osmanthus supported by floral hearts with dry amber. I haven’t stopped wearing it and it has been three years now.
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