Just a short walk from our shop on Drury St, Benoit Nicol runs The Nature of Things from the creative hub, the Chocolate Factory. Producing a range of beautiful essential oils and absolutes, we asked him a few questions about the process behind The Nature of Things.
Tell us a bit about what you make.
The Nature of Things launched 16 months ago with a collection of 15 pure essential oils. The collection has now grown to 27 botanicals and a beautifully designed diffuser. Our goal was to source the best essential oils we could find and bring them directly to consumers, encouraging everyone to (re)discover not only the beautiful scents but also the benefits of essential oils and how they can be used at home in very simple ways. Later, we will launch blends and perfumes and other natural and organic products, but we felt important to first introduce the oils in their purest form.
Could you describe your studio to us? What is your favourite thing about the
My studio or workshop has three sections: the production area, the creative area and the admin/office area. The production area looks like a kitchen counter with the machines we use to bottle, cap, and label our products as well as store our bulk supplies. The creative area is a large white table with an electronic scale, a notebook, pipettes and blotters and boxes of empty or full glass bottles. Right in front on the wall are small shelves filled with my collection of natural oils and extracts (over 200 of them). This is where I sit to smell, compare qualities and create some blends or perfumes. The office area is full of books on oils and botanicals but also standard office supplies, computer, printers. In addition to the usual admin tasks, this is also where the shipments to retailers and customers are prepared. My favourite thing about the space is that it is located in a great building called The Chocolate Factory in the centre of Dublin. This is a community of like-minded artists and craft makers which also has the lovely Blá's Cafe on the ground floor. It has provided an ideal ground for me to run a small business, make new friends and connections. We also collaborate on creative projects; working with Kopper Kreation who have made copper props for me for my trade shows and fairs, Tricia Harris Design who has created beautiful wood boxes to showcase our oils, and Brendan Ryan Studio who has done the photo shoots for my products.
How do you get into the mindset of making?
When creating a blend or perfume, whether it’s for me or someone else, I like to work from an idea, a concept, some directions. If I was to create a blend for the Irish Design Shop for instance, we would discuss together the purpose of the scent (is it for someone to wear, to scent the shop), its olfactive direction (the type of scents), the ingredients that might be used or some other inspirations such as the atmosphere of the shop, the colour patterns, the texture of the products (wool or wood), etc. So creating for me would often be based on a collaboration, a discussion, a story.
What is your inspiration?
Inspirations are the essence of the creative process and they can come from the more unexpected places. They can have a direct connection to perfume making, such as something I smelled in the park, some food I had or other products I smelled in a shop. But they can also have more subtle or unconscious connections: an art piece, a discussion, a book, a trip somewhere, an experience, etc. The key is to be in tune with your environment, be social, be curious.
What is your favourite tool and why?
The essential tools to create a blend are a notebook, an electronic scale, an empty glass bottle, pipettes, samples of oils, alcohol and ‘mouillettes’ (ie blotter or smelling strip). And I would say the latter is my favourite tool. This is what you use at the end of the creative process to smell a blend or a pure oil so there is always a sort of excitement when you dip it in the bottle and bring it up to your nose to see what the result is. They are also important because they are usually let to dry a bit so we can go back and smell again 10 minutes or an hour later to evaluate how the smell evolves over time.
Can you describe your working process to us?
In my world the making or production itself is not all that ‘sexy’. It is very much about preparation and execution: making a last quality check on the oils we are bottling (smelling and comparing with previous samples), getting the raw material or blends ready, entering all the production and quality data on our spreadsheets, preparing the machines, supplies of labels and boxes, organising the work space and tools and making sure everything is clean and ready. It’s usually a small team of 2 or 3 people doing everything.
What led you to choose this craft as a profession? What do you love most
I like to think I had a predisposition for it with my interest in food and flavours growing up, as well as a very artistic and creative mind. I was lucky also to grow up in a beautiful countryside in Brittany and developed an appreciation and respect for Nature early on. But I fell into this world of perfumes and essential oils by chance really. And the more I learned the more I was hooked I guess. I really love the sourcing aspects of the oils; the communities behind them, the traditions, how they were discovered and used, and also of course the fascinating natural world and biodiversity that surrounds these plants and that we ought to nurture and protect.
The world of scents of course is a fascinating one, a sense we sometimes take for granted and neglect, but it is so central in our life.
How do your surroundings affect your work?
Creating requires a calm environment for a few hours so the first thing I need is to know that my most pressing jobs are taken care of, that my head won’t be distracted and I won’t be interrupted. I found that I am not able to get in the right space to create if the environment around me is chaotic. So I like to prep and have everything in order, with a clear desk. Ideally having a beautiful environment, space, and light is ideal. One of the companies I worked for in my past was located in the south of France and overlooked the beautiful hills of Grasse (the so called capital of perfumery) and I have to say that the sight alone gave a sense of joy and tranquillity.
What is your favourite oil to produce?
I think bergamot would probably be my favourite oil, with its mixture of sweet citrus, spicy, peppery and subtle floral notes. It also blends well with many other oils, such as aromatic herbal notes like rosemary or lavender, woods like vetiver or sandalwood, or flowers like jasmine and neroli. But bergamot also makes me feel happy and energised so this is the one I’d take with me on a desert island.
You can browse a selection of The Nature of Things in our store on Drury Street.