Beauty editor Sarah Halliwell speaks to the founder of Fragrances of Ireland, an Irish brand with a heart of lavender making waves in the US, as their annual lavender sale at Kilmacanogue continues at weekends until the end of July …
This weekend, we’re heading to a lavender festival. Every year, Fragrances of Ireland open up their Wicklow lavender field and invite everyone down for a celebration of this fragrant plant. Visit the Kilmacanogue HQ any weekend in July and you’ll be able to buy a wide variety of specialist lavender plants along with fresh-cut bunches, distilled oil and soaps (a friend says they are the best and creamiest she’s ever tried).
Fragrances of Ireland planted their two-acre field of lavender a few years ago, managing director David Cox tells me. And the harvest is just one month in the year of this family-owned business, which has been creating Irish-inspired beauty products for more than 30 years. “It’s a labour of love,” says Cox. This year they’ve created new limited-edition brand, LAVÓ, to be sold exclusively at the harvest sale, with hand cream, cologne and lavender oil, along with a heat cushion filled with lavender and Wicklow wheat – a sleep aid that eases tired muscles.
You might have spotted Fragrances of Ireland products at Kilkenny Design (“they are great supporters of Irish brands”) or at the airport where they’re best-known for the sea-blue Inis cologne. But perhaps you thought it was just for tourists. It’s true that the brand is hugely popular in the US; 90 per cent of the business is export, with 80 per cent in the US and Canada, and it’s building in France and Germany too. From the start, says Cox, they’ve done things “the old-fashioned way”, growing the business organically with hard graft and great service. They are stocked in lots of little stores (more than 5,000 worldwide) rather than one big chain (with the exception of Amazon in the US), and have reps in all 50 states (people in the Rockies love it apparently). “It takes time, but builds real loyalty,” says Cox of their approach. After the initial impact of the pandemic, trade picked up again within a few months as people found comfort in their favourite scents: “A spray of a fragrance every day goes a long way to delivering happiness.”
Hero scent Inis was created in 1998 by British perfumer Arthur Burnham, inspired by a trip to Dog’s Bay in Connemara. “There are so many perfumes around now that to have longevity, you have to have a really good idea behind it,” believes Cox. “When developing Inis with Arthur we wanted to capture summer days by the sea.” So there are top notes of saltiness and sea spray, lemon, bergamot and neroli, a heart of lily of the valley and a base of nutmeg, oakmoss and cloves; a blend of over 20 ingredients. It’s a gender-free scent that works especially well in warm weather: think of an Irish CK One or Eau d’Issey – there’s a lightness and saltiness that makes it refreshingly easy to wear.
Inis is very popular in the US; perfumers have long found that American customers tend to prefer clean, fresh-smelling scents. And so the company are capitalising on this popularity, opening a seaside store in Huntingdon Beach, a resort town on the Pacific Coast between LA and San Diego. It is surf central – the Surfing Open is held here every year – and the store will have a beachhouse feel, created by “a brilliant retail designer” who’s just built a luxury fashion store on Rodeo Drive. “It’s a great way to arrive in California,” says Cox.
They are careful to give back, too. For 20 years, they have been the core sponsor of the Irish Whale & Dolphin Group, helping to fund humpback whales research trips to Iceland. They are also signed up to Repurpose Global, aiming to go plastic neutral by taking out as much plastic from nature as they put in (www.repurpose.global), as well as making their perfume bottles refillable.
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