It’s not often that you will see “Made in South Africa” on the bottle of a luxury fragrance. But then Cape Town-based Agata Karolina can lay claim to being one of South Africa’s few perfumers. Her niche fragrance company, House of Gozdawa, produces very limited quantities of extraits de parfums. All of these are made with high-quality natural ingredients.
For Agata, working with the cycles of nature is of utmost importance. This philosophy is carried through from the selection of her ingredients to the distillation process.
Although I have not met Agata (yet), her deep and highly personal connection to her art of perfume is unmistakable. When she sent me samples of House of Gozdawa’s Confessions Collection, these came with a hand-written letter. “As with all things in nature, these scents take their time to reveal their full story. I hope you enjoy experiencing that which they have to tell,” she wrote to me.
There are six fragrances in the House of Gozdawa Confessions Collection: Marta, Andrea, Albert, Simo, Hel and Aga. What I like most about these scents is their unpretentious character. To my mind and nose, these fragrances could only come from Africa.
TRUE CONFESSIONS WITH AGATA KAROLINA OF HOUSE OF GOZDAWA
I asked Karolina Agata about her preference for natural materials, her artisanal approach and her Confessions Collection.
How did you get into perfumery?
Perfumery found me far in advance of me finding it. As a child I was always hypersensitive to spaces, smells and sounds and how they worked together. I enjoyed it as a personal pleasure. But for a very long time never considered it as a career. I was brought into the world of distilling, tinctures and natural oils through my mother and grandmother. These two women taught me everything I know and inspired a life deeply connected to nature.
“As a child I was always hypersensitive to spaces, smells and sounds and how they worked together.”
After working as a curator and project initiator in Europe, Asia and Africa, I finally decided to return to South Africa and pursue my passion for scent. I launched House of Gozdawa in 2015.
Are all your perfumes 100% natural? Why are natural perfumes so appealing to you?
All House of Gozdawa scents use only 100% natural ingredients. No matter how many synthetics I have smelt, they have never been able to present me the depth a natural material carries. Essentially these ingredients are alive. They age and shift as they would in nature, continuously morphing into another phase of their existence. In connection with the skin these materials take on an even deeper depth.
How do you ensure that your perfume-making process is also eco responsible?
The farms and suppliers I work with in Southern Africa and across the African continent all follow eco responsible and sustainable practices. All materials are ordered directly and for the batches we create, I personally blend and bottle all of them to ensure no wastage occurs. Respect for your materials is as essential to creating a globally responsible product as much as any certification.
As a South Africa-based perfumer, where do you source most of your materials from?
Most of my materials are sourced from the African continent. I do work with many materials from abroad, mostly those that are not yet available locally, or simply do not grow in our environments. Many of the ingredients we use are from wild harvest, which I do myself. These will be even more present in our new collections after the full extraction and ageing process is complete. One has to have a lot of patience when waiting a year or two for one ingredient to be ready.
For those who are more used to the conventions of mass market fragrances and who at first might not “get” your fragrances, what would you say to them?
I often compare niche or luxury scents to taste kitchens pushing the boundaries of taste or of highest quality wine-makers perfecting the art of flavour from a single grape varietal. If you are an individual of passion in these areas, then why not afford yourself the quality of such an experience in the olfactive?
“These ingredients are alive. They age and shift as they would in nature, continuously morphing into another phase of their existence.”
Chefs, winemakers and perfumers are some of our last genuine artisans. We take raw materials and manipulate them into deep and unexpected orchestrations for people to experience intimately.
If this is not conviction enough, I encourage anyone to do a little experiment for themselves. Take a fresh juicy lemon and sprig of lavender. Scratch the surface of the lemon’s skin until the oil starts running out and spread it across the back of your hand. Crush the lavender between your fingers until the sticky oil finds its way onto your skin. Breathe these scents in deeply, smelling the oil on the surface of the lemon’s skin and then on your hand, paying attention to how the heat of your skin makes the scent react. Now take a deep smell of any conventional hand cream, bathroom spray or dish-washing liquid with the same ingredients. Which has more depth and quality?
My favourite from your Confessions Collection is Aga. Tell us more about that extrait de parfum.
I wanted to create a collection which I felt expressed something real and honest, rather than creating stories that had no context to the wearer. I decided to tell my own confession as the perfumer behind the brand. I chose six people in my life that over the years had influenced the person I had become, together creating the whole.
Aga, The Romantic, is the persona of the collection that was created to reference a part of myself at the time. Aga is my nickname. I often exist in the arena of the heart and at the time I was questioning a lot about what I valued, wanted in my life and my connections with others. This scent reflects my choice and definition of that part of myself. It was an unnerving process to open myself so deeply and honestly to strangers. But the reward, as you have experienced yourself, was worth letting go of the fear to be fully open.
“It was an unnerving process to open myself so deeply and honestly to strangers.”
The scent reflects spaces and moments which have moved this part of me the most in life. The ingredients – fynbos, jasmine, passionfruit, ravintsara – all capture the aspects and characteristics which I felt closest to. The fynbos is wild harvested and the tinctures are developed and distilled in house.
For more information and to order any House of Gozdawa fragrances, https://houseofgozdawa.com.