Sondrine Kehoe's love affair with scent and botanicals came into being at a very young age. Kindled by childhood curiosity; Mixing flowers, honey, and alcohol to make her first perfume. What started as a creative outlet has now grown into a successful regenerative business. Cygnet Perfumery creates the most divine collection of handcrafted botanical extrait de parfum's and regenerative skincare, made in limited and small batches using sustainable sources and methods. Whether it be a parfum or skincare, Sondrine only uses the most carefully considered natural ingredients (no synthetic fragrances or endangered plants), the process of creation is slow and intentional, with every extrait de parfum released exclusively in limited batches. Listening to Sondrine talk about the alchemical creation process of her potent products; It becomes clear that Cygnet Perfumery is a business centred around integrity and conscious practices. Sondrine's devotion and attention to every aspect of creating these divine bottles of joy for our most primal sense are admirable and something worth celebrating. This conversation is heart and soul-worthy and will open your eyes to the art of botanical perfumery. Tune in to hear Tahnee and Sondrine discuss botanical formulation, conscious business, the power of scent, essential oils, motherhood, birth, midwifery, and so much more.
"We want to treat it with respect. That's part of the reason we release a small batch and only once a year. We don't want to produce in mass production, to make as much profit as possible out of these amazing plants that we have the privilege of working with".
- Sondrine Kehoe
Tahnee and Sondrine discuss:
- Slow scent.
- Botanical perfumery.
- The skin microbiome.
- Regenerative skincare.
- The experience of scent.
- Sourcing natural ingredients.
- The golden age of perfumery.
- Native Australian botanicals.
- Home birthing and midwifery.
- Aromatherapy and oil guidelines.
- Why the scent of parfum changes over time.
Sondrine Kehoe is the founder and nose behind Cygnet - a mindful small business that offers slow-made botanical extrait de parfum and regenerative skincare. Sondrine is a self-taught perfumer who has been alchemising plants into fragrance since she was a child. After studying midwifery and becoming a mother herself, she launched Cygnet in 2020 - a celebration of nature, creativity, and the fifth sense.
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN ON APPLE PODCAST
Resources:IFRA Perfume Body
Cygnet Perfumery Instagram
Q: How Can I Support The SuperFeast Podcast?
A: Tell all your friends and family and share online! We’d also love it if you could subscribe and review this podcast on iTunes. Or check us out on Stitcher, CastBox, iHeart RADIO:)! Plus we're on Spotify!
Check Out The Transcript Here:
Hi everybody and welcome to the SuperFeast Podcast. I'm here today with Sondrine Kehoe. She's the founder of Cygnet Perfumery, and she's just a bit of a legend. I'm really excited to have her here with us today.
I've been diving into her world, I think since the start of the year. I signed up for a subscription for her work, and I've been getting these beautiful little packages on that incredible cotton paper that you use, which I'm obsessed with.
And Sondrine's work around using botanicals that are really carefully sourced, and some of them are handmade, and just this really kind of old school process, using... Is it the spiritus vini? All of this stuff. I'm really excited to be here with you. Because I have a big thing for perfume but I don't like all that commercial stuff, so it's super exciting to meet you. Thanks so much for joining us.
Sondrine Kehoe: (00:53)
Thanks. It's so nice to be chatting to you.
Yeah. And I'm just so fascinated with your story. I tried to do a bit of research on you, and saw that used to be a midwife, and I thought, babies, scent... Really primal careers you've had. So would you mind telling us a little bit about how you got into perfumery, but also your life before perfumery?
Sondrine Kehoe: (01:20)
Of course, yeah. Where to begin? I feel like actually, perfumery started right from the beginning. So before midwifery and all those other tangents that I went on, I started, just like most children, making potions in the garden from plants, and I think we can all relate to that.
Sondrine Kehoe: (01:46)
And I just never grew out of it. It's just a passion that was seeded from an early age. And so I'd always make my own perfumes and skincare from the garden, and was very encouraged by all my aunts and family, who would give me books and old perfume bottles.
Sondrine Kehoe: (02:10)
And I remember in primary school, I discovered that botanical perfumery was an actual vocation, and that there were people out there making it. And so I made my first alcohol based perfume with vodka and honey, and different flowers from the garden. I've still got it today, actually. But it's something that I've just done my whole life and loved. I guess it's a bit of a creative outlet for me.
Sondrine Kehoe: (02:42)
And then I got out of high school, and actually was going to start something when I finished school, a completely different project, but with botanical perfume. But life took me in another direction and I ended up studying midwifery, and completely fell in love with that whole world. Babies, birth. It was a really special time.
Sondrine Kehoe: (03:11)
So I studied that for four years. And then me and my partner decided to have a sea change, to move out of the city with my sister and her husband. And sorry if I sound breathless. It's the 32 week [crosstalk 00:03:28] read my daughter a story and I'm... Run a marathon.
Sondrine Kehoe: (03:36)
So we had a sea change out of Melbourne and ended up both getting pregnant, within about two weeks apart of each other. And so we both had our babies in the same house, and life just suddenly slowed down a lot. And I took a step back from Midwifery, and just fell back into perfumery.
Sondrine Kehoe: (04:03)
While my daughter would nap I would be tinkering away on different formulas. And Cygnet really grew from there, from becoming a mother and re- igniting that creativity and slowing down a bit. So yeah, it's definitely related. Pushed me in that direction.
I don't know a lot about the art and craft of it beyond that it's this incredible mix of alchemy and chemistry, and then nuance, your own olfactory perceptions and how you weave things together. But is it a slow process for you, pulling together a scent, or is that something that comes really quickly, or how does it work for you?
Sondrine Kehoe: (04:54)
I'd probably say a little bit of both. Definitely mainly slow. There's a couple of perfumes that have taken a couple of months to create, but a lot of them take years really, of just slightly altering 1.1 Mil less of something. I think it's definitely a slow process. And the ageing process in itself is slow with them, and they do change after you allow them to age for six months or so.
Yeah, I found that super interesting, just researching perfumes, that like wine, they age and they get better, different. What's your thoughts on that? Is there an appropriate use phase?
Sondrine Kehoe: (05:47)
Definitely. I think you can definitely draw that analogy between wine making and perfumery, particularly with botanical perfumery, and you have these really dynamic, alive essential oils you're working with, and absolutes that are in themselves like perfumes, really.
Sondrine Kehoe: (06:08)
So each oil is made up of hundreds and hundreds of different volatile chemical compounds, and so when you mix them all together and put them in a base of... So we use spiritus vini, which is grape alcohol... There's these chemical reactions that occur between all the essential oils, and that's what creates that... On the nose, you'll notice it becomes smoother, rounder, less sharp notes sticking out. They kind of do become fuller bodied. And sometimes-
Yeah, like wine.
Sondrine Kehoe: (06:48)
Yeah, it is. It's really similar to wine.
So with the spiritus vini... I guess I'm not super familiar with how a more commercial perfume is made. Years ago I stopped using them because they made me sick. If I sprayed... I can't remember... I bought one when I was in my early 20s and every time I sprayed it I'd sneeze for about half an hour, and then I'd feel really nauseous. So I stopped using them.
And I kind of just started moving more toward essential oils and things anyway. And we spoke a little bit off camera about that, but I was really researching essential oils, realising how potent they are, and you know maybe not to be liberally applying, as I was at the time. So what's the role of the spiritus vini? Is it like a preservative or a carrier, or how does it hold the perfume?
Sondrine Kehoe: (07:45)
I guess its role is a little bit of everything. So essential oils, and absolutes, and all of their aromatic materials we use can't be applied directly to skin. So you have to follow and know their safe skin concentration limit to, as best as you can, make sure that no one's going to have a reaction to the product.
Sondrine Kehoe: (08:14)
And so partly it's a dilutant, but alcohol does also preserve the fragrance. But the main thing I love about it is that it actually projects the fragrance. So as you put it on, the alcohol rises, evaporates off your skin, and it really gives that lift, especially to the top notes of the fragrance. So that's why we chose to work with it rather than do oil based perfumes. I just love how it makes the fragrance smell, and how you experience it.
Yeah, and my guess is that quality of when you apply it, your body's warm and there's that mixing of you and the perfume [crosstalk 00:09:01]
Sondrine Kehoe: (09:01)
Yeah, that's a whole other thing, isn't it? It's amazing. You smell it on[crosstalk 00:09:09]
Yeah, and I'm like, "It doesn't smell the same on you."
Sondrine Kehoe: (09:13)
Yeah, it mixes with your own body chemistry. And even the climate as well... So you'll notice, in warm weather, it might be slightly different to, say, winter. It's so alive, isn't it? Living organism of perfume.
Yeah, and I guess like if you're... Because I know you're really interested in the microbiome, and I wonder if you could speak a little bit to that, in terms of those more synthetic fragrances, and then how something like Cygnet would work. Is it more microbiome friendly to work with more natural products? Is there a correlation there between keeping our skin happy and...
Sondrine Kehoe: (09:57)
Yeah. So I guess my interest in the microbiome happened when I studied midwifery. That was when I first learned about it. Because our microbiome is seeded at birth, obviously. And that sent me into a whole research spiral, and I just fell in love with it, and had always planned on launching skincare.
Sondrine Kehoe: (10:22)
So we launched, at the start of this year, the regenerative skincare line which is all microbiome friendly. And with perfume, products that can influence the microbiome in a negative way can be natural or synthetic. So it can be either, because there are definitely essential oils that are really highly anti microbial, like tea tree oil. That's an example.
Sondrine Kehoe: (10:54)
Yeah, oregano. Exactly. And so in concentrations that are really high, they can also affect the good bacteria that we want to keep on our skin. But then there are also oils that are selectively anti microbial. And so they'll target the pathogens, the bad ones we don't want, but still allow the others to thrive. So with the perfumes, they are alcohol based. And alcohol is obviously...
We've learned about that this year.
Sondrine Kehoe: (11:30)
Yeah, we learned about that, and I think we can all feel that, with all the sanitizer we're applying as well, that it's not a great thing for our microbiome. But it's needed sometimes. So it's something that I would love to integrate further with our fragrance line, as we grow.
Sondrine Kehoe: (11:49)
The key thing with it, that I wanted, was... You'll note that they're all applied the traditional way. Because they're extraits, we dab them. We don't spray them. And so they're applied to a really tiny surface area of your skin. So I definitely wouldn't claim that they are going to benefit your microbiome. But I would have to leave it to the experts to...
Yeah, but I guess that makes a lot of sense, that you're not like spraying this mist all over you, that's going to hit multiple parts of the body.
Sondrine Kehoe: (12:32)
Yeah, definitely. But it certainly has different benefits too, wearing as, say, a synthetic fragrance.
Yeah and I mean, your skincare... I just received some the other day. I just opened it this morning. It's beautiful. [crosstalk 00:12:47] So I'm looking forward to having used it for a little while, but I'm really interested in your work around that, because there's a hydrosol product with the seaweed extract in it, which looks [crosstalk 00:13:03] And then I've got the serum. So I'm interested, how did that come about? What's your process with putting that together?
Sondrine Kehoe: (13:10)
So I was working on that for quite some time. We called the line Regenerative Skin Care because we follow a philosophy where each product has three criteria that it has to meet. So we source all our ingredients direct from farmers, producers, distillers, scientists that are using regenerative, organic or bio dynamic practises. And they have to be microbiome friendly for our skin. And then also we plant a tree with each one sold.
Sondrine Kehoe: (13:48)
So the whole concept is that it's meant to regenerate the microbes both on our skin and on the earth, through biodiversity. And it's been an amazing journey. I've just met so many incredible producers and distillers. So most of our ingredients are sourced within Australia, and then there's a couple internationally. But it's been so nice to connect with these amazing people, and definitely been one of my favourite experiences so far in the business. So it kind of emerged from that.
Sondrine Kehoe: (14:29)
And so at the moment, there's only two products, a serum and an elixir, I guess you could call it. It's a mist. And we're also slowly working on a cleanser. But it will always be really minimal, because if you're into microbiome friendly skincare, you'll know you don't need much for your skin. A minimal routine is best.
Yeah. Leave it alone.
Sondrine Kehoe: (14:59)
Exactly. And as little ingredients as you can, just of really high quality. But the ingredients that have made these products, I've fallen in love with. You mentioned the seaweed extract. So that's one from a company in Hobart, Tasmania. And it's wakame seaweed that they collect from Patagonia, as well as a little bit on the coast of Tazzy. And they organically extract it in their lab.
Sondrine Kehoe: (15:34)
And they work, I think, with a university nearby them. So they've done some really amazing studies on this product they create, and it's just really an incredible extract for the skin, and for the microbiome as well.
I'm excited to see that, because I think seaweed's just such an incredible... I know they're kind of weird plant animal things. [crosstalk 00:16:06] But they're such an amazing boon for humans and the planet. It's really exciting to see them getting a bit more time in the public arena.
Sondrine Kehoe: (16:16)
Yeah, it is, isn't it?
Yeah. And so I was really curious about where Cygnet came from. Because it's a baby goose, but is that your relationship with it? Is it a baby goose [crosstalk 00:16:31]
Sondrine Kehoe: (16:31)
Funnily enough, it basically is. So a cygnet's a baby swan.
Sondrine Kehoe: (16:36)
It's slightly different from a goose.
Yeah, no, gosling. Of course.
Sondrine Kehoe: (16:38)
[crosstalk 00:16:40] my baby brain.
Sondrine Kehoe: (16:42)
We were just in Sydney, feeding baby swans, cygnets...
Oh, were you?
Sondrine Kehoe: (16:45)
... And my daughter was like, "What's a baby swan called?" And I was like, "It's called a cygnet." Yeah, anyway.
They're so cute.
Sondrine Kehoe: (16:49)
Yeah, they're sweet, aren't they? So my loved ones all call me swan. So that's how it came... And then Cygnet obviously evolved after I became a mother. So we were chatting one evening, and the name came about.
It's so beautiful. And all of your branding, all of its really... I can just tell how much your attention to detail and that alchemy has sort of carried through the whole range.
Sondrine Kehoe: (17:24)
Oh, thank you.
It's really beautiful to experience it.
Sondrine Kehoe: (17:26)
Like that paper, I swear, every time I get it I'm like-
Sondrine Kehoe: (17:31)
Yeah, isn't it amazing? I just keep it but I don't know what I'm doing with it.
That paper's called lokta paper, and it's a traditional Nepalese paper that is made from a plant there. But it's beautiful.
Sondrine Kehoe: (17:46)
It is. It's really, really special. And so tell me a little bit about... Do you do some of the distillation stuff yourself, or are you... I mean, I'm thinking about time. How long do these take you?
I know. I would love to. It's definitely a big hobby of mine. I was lucky enough to go and have a day distilling with one of my producers, who distils the rosemary hydrosol for me. And it was amazing, learning about distilling.
I'd love to eventually get a still and have a go myself. But I think it would be a big learning process, and I'm very fussy with my sourcing. And the oils that I'm working with, just of a calibre that would probably take me years to figure out how to distil them as well. So I'll leave it to the experts for now.
But I do some things in house, so using an old method called enfleurage, where you use a bit of fat... I use organic shea butter... And it's for flowers that are too fragile to distil as an essential oil. So maybe like violets and-
Sondrine Kehoe: (19:12)
Jasmine and rose.
Yeah. All of those beautiful ones. So you lay them on the fat, and you have to change them every day, at least 30 times. So it's a really slow process. And then you wash them [crosstalk 00:19:25] Yeah, exactly. So I do do that. I enjoy all those slow processes. And I also make tinctures. So with the spiritus vini, you can extract certain materials as a tincture, and then age them as well, separately to the perfume.
Sondrine Kehoe: (19:47)
So you're using those tinctures in the perfume, as a part of [crosstalk 00:19:50]
I am. Yeah, as a part of the base. Some of them are really strong, so they don't constitute the whole base. So for example, Vigneron, which I think you just would have got. Is that right? [crosstalk 00:20:06] Oh no. End of the year [crosstalk 00:20:10] December, sorry. That has a-
Sondrine Kehoe: (20:08)
That all started from a tincture I made of heritage roses from a vineyard nearby.
Sondrine Kehoe: (20:18)
Yeah, so that's beautiful. And it also has an oak barrel tincture as well. So it's a lot of fun. I think alchemy's one of the things that I'm just super into, and I feel like perfume [crosstalk 00:20:36] really old art, that if you go back all the way through human history, we've been playing with scents. Because there's that really primitive sense of how much scent brings forth memory, and brings forth really subtle layers of our consciousness. Is there a scent for you that's really meaningful, that holds...
Sondrine Kehoe: (20:59)
A lot of memory?
Yeah, [crosstalk 00:21:03] You've worked with a lot of really powerful scents in your range.
Sondrine Kehoe: (21:05)
Yeah, definitely. I think whenever that happens it always takes me by surprise. So recalling something comes to mind right now, but [crosstalk 00:21:20] you'll get a smell of a perfume. Someone's walking by, and you'll smell what they're wearing, and instantly [crosstalk 00:21:27] taken back to another loved one. But I'm trying to think...
It's probably all hand sanitizer right now.
Sondrine Kehoe: (21:39)
Yeah. Well actually, the hand sanitizer brings me back to the birth suite. [crosstalk 00:21:43] so I kind of have this nostalgic love for the smell.
That's really charming. Delivering babies.
Sondrine Kehoe: (21:52)
Exactly, yeah. And it's funny like that. I think it's the strongest sense we have that's connected to emotion and memories. It has a really powerful ability to bring back memories. A lot of the time it might just be things like cooking, I think, will often bring me back to my childhood. A certain dish that my mum would make.
Yeah, even stuff you've eaten overseas. Smelling-
Sondrine Kehoe: (22:19)
Yeah. Is there something for you?
I have a thing for vetiver because... This is a weird story, but I had an eating disorder in my late teens and early 20s. I was very disembodied, and I worked with this woman for a really long time who would rub vetiver all over her hands before she worked on me. And the first time I ever remember feeling my body, all I could smell was vetiver, and it's just this very-
Sondrine Kehoe: (22:49)
Wow. What a powerful memory.
Yeah, it's a really grounding smell. Every time I smell it now I'm like [crosstalk 00:22:59]
Sondrine Kehoe: (22:59)
And it's distilled from roots as well. So that's [crosstalk 00:23:02]
Sondrine Kehoe: (23:03)
Yeah [crosstalk 00:23:04]
So that makes sense. Really earthy. But I've always liked spag bol and things like that.
Sondrine Kehoe: (23:12)
I know. It's always those simple things. Manila or all those.
Or certain incense. I used to own a yoga studio, so there's times when I would light a certain type of incense I'd be like, "That reminds me of that space." [crosstalk 00:23:28] I find perfume [crosstalk 00:23:31]
Sondrine Kehoe: (23:31)
Definitely. I love using scent purposefully, to bring you back to a certain way of feeling, or a time. And using new scents that you haven't smelled before to help establish a memory, I think's really beautiful.
Yeah, like creating a new pathway.
Sondrine Kehoe: (23:52)
Is your daughter interested in this process at all?
Sondrine Kehoe: (23:57)
Yeah, she is. She's already doing it in the garden.
Has she created anything interesting yet?
Sondrine Kehoe: (24:08)
Yeah, she's my prodigy. The pressure's on her. No, she definitely loves exploring, and I can't wait till she's... She's only three, but when she gets to the age where she's able to tinker around at my perfume organ and play with all the oils. I can't wait to see what she creates. She's definitely very interested in it.
But is she more in the mud and petals stage?
Sondrine Kehoe: (24:37)
She's still in the mud and petals stage.
My daughter [inaudible 00:24:43] not a nice smell, but I'm very proud of you for trying.
Sondrine Kehoe: (24:49)
And are you using a lot of traditional... I mean, my understanding of perfumery is a lot of, I guess, our more modern processes out of the French style, I guess, that I know. [crosstalk 00:25:06]
Sondrine Kehoe: (25:05)
Yeah, for sure. It is, yeah. So the processes we use are inspired by, I guess, the golden age of perfumery in France, which was around 16th to 18th Century, I think, before synthetic molecules were discovered. And there were these beautiful perfumes. A lot of them were made up of hundreds of different essential oils. And they would also use... The spiritus vini comes from there too, a particular distillation of grape alcohol.
Sondrine Kehoe: (25:44)
And the style, extrait de parfum, is also a French style that's the most concentrated, purest form of scent, and why I really love that intimate physical process of applying it directly to your skin, rather than spraying. [crosstalk 00:26:07]
I totally agree with that. It's very sensual, and slow, and [crosstalk 00:26:13] in putting it on. And I mean, I guess, is that tradition... I'm interested in how... Are you looking at Australian botanicals, and going, "Well, how do I weave..."
Sondrine Kehoe: (26:27)
I don't know how they'd play with your perfume.
Sondrine Kehoe: (26:32)
Yeah, so influenced by those old traditions but then weaving in more contemporary insights and methods, and I guess disrupting a little bit what the tradition of perfume is.
Sondrine Kehoe: (26:46)
So I've used some beautiful Australian oils, and at the moment I've got a really gorgeous duo of oils from a distiller in New South Wales that I've been slowly working on.
Sondrine Kehoe: (27:05)
I find one of my favourite scents is the smell of the bush by the beach, but it's something that [crosstalk 00:27:11] hard to capture.So I've been working on something for years, but I'm still not happy. It's hard to do it justice.
Because I guess you've got so many layers of nuance, and that [inaudible 00:27:26] fresh, seaweedy, and then [crosstalk 00:27:28]
Sondrine Kehoe: (27:28)
And you guys are on the Mornington Peninsula, right?
Sondrine Kehoe: (27:32)
So you've got the proper Aussie bush.
Sondrine Kehoe: (27:35)
Exactly. We are. We're on a little beach town here. And we're on five acres, so there's mainly tea tree on the property where we are.
Sondrine Kehoe: (27:46)
And the smell of that sandy soil and the tea tree when the sun warms it up, it's so beautiful. We've got some amazing oils coming from Australia, particularly our Australian sandalwood as well.
Is that sort of an emerging industry here? Because I think it seems like these big oil companies, which we don't need to name names, but we know who they are... Then there's all these little people who are just quite small. Is it hard to compete with these kind of big, MLM, global operations?
Sondrine Kehoe: (28:29)
Yeah, definitely. So like the artisan distillers... There's definitely a bit of a monopoly on the oil industry. And a lot of politics, and also sustainability issues as well, with sourcing. It's something that we're super careful of.
Sondrine Kehoe: (28:53)
I'd love to be able to source everything direct like we do with skincare, for fragrance, but we make our batches in really small quantities that are released once a year, so it's just not viable for the producers of these oils to sell them in such small quantities.
Sondrine Kehoe: (29:13)
So we work with three different suppliers. One of them mainly sources from artisan distillers, which is really nice because it's a completely different product. For example, vetiver, you will smell three different oils and they'll smell completely different depending on where they're grown or who's distilled them, what the climate was like that year.
Sondrine Kehoe: (29:39)
And so here in Australia, it's definitely starting to grow a bit bigger. I would say the main oils that are coming out of Australia for the perfume industry are Australian sandalwood, particularly because sandalwood's an endangered species.
Sondrine Kehoe: (30:00)
So we used to use Sandalwood coming out of India, but basically the sandalwood trees there got just decimated by the perfume industry and essential oil industry, which is really sad, and something to be wary of when you're buying oils. So we don't use any endangered species in our perfumes.
Sondrine Kehoe: (30:22)
And the other oil that comes out of here... It's actually an absolute... Is called boronia, and it's a tiny little brown flower. I'm not sure if you've ever heard of it.
Yeah, is it like the little succulenty kind of-
Sondrine Kehoe: (30:35)
It does look a little bit like that, and it looks a bit like a bell, the flower.
Yeah, I think I grow some.
Sondrine Kehoe: (30:41)
Yeah, I know. One mil of that is about usually $60. [crosstalk 00:30:49] Yeah, exactly.
So what's it smell like? What's its notes? How would you describe it?
Sondrine Kehoe: (30:58)
It's really beautiful and unique. It's like a perfume in its own right. It's kind of like...
Kind of a floral-
Sondrine Kehoe: (31:05)
Floral but a little bit fruity. So we don't currently have a perfume with it in there, but it's definitely on the cards.[crosstalk 00:31:16] Yeah, I get too excited. All these different projects running at once.
Yeah, I mean, I think we're very similar here. We always have 500 things in the pipeline that never seem to make the light of day. But it's a really interesting thing with sustainability, because again, in researching the essential oil industry a few years ago, I was just pretty devastated with how... And I mean, even the spiritual community, like palo santo and all of the things that we...
Sondrine Kehoe: (31:44)
Yeah, I know.
... Everyone burns in their [crosstalk 00:31:47] White sage is getting destroyed. And I was reading a lot about frankincense in Africa and [crosstalk 00:31:59]
Sondrine Kehoe: (31:59)
Yeah. The same with that as well. Yeah, I think there's not enough awareness about it, perhaps. And I think maybe people think that when you're buying online, that it's all of the same calibre and produced in the same way. And even the amount of oils that are fake essential oils online as well is really shocking. You definitely want to know who your supplier is.
And I noticed that with your perfume, it's so viscous, compared to even good quality organic perfumes and stuff I've bought, there's a real... Viscosity's only word I can think of. It's a really deep texture and substance to it. And really rich smells.
And I think there's something... The first time I ever got a vial... I think it was the [inaudible 00:32:59] It was the first one I got, and I was like, "Whoa. This is a very different experience to all the other ones I've ever bought." Which are mostly from health food stores or small makers. They're probably the oil based ones that you were talking about earlier.
But I can sort of tell that... And I've noticed that with buying essential oils. You can see how the concentration and how the colour and the smell... And there's a real difference in quality.
Sondrine Kehoe: (33:23)
Yeah, for sure there is, isn't there?
[inaudible 00:33:27] Are there any sort of companies for the public that you like? Like Australian based?
Sondrine Kehoe: (33:32)
Yeah, for sure. Well, Australian based, I have bought from Ahimsa, and I've been pretty happy with them. Really happy. And our biggest essential oil distributors here would maybe, I'd say, be... There's New Directions or Auroma.
Sondrine Kehoe: (33:54)
I don't buy too much from them so I'm not quite sure. I can't really make a comment about them. But I find it quite hard to source within Australia, and so my two main suppliers Hermitage in Italy and Eden Botanicals in America, to be completely transparent, if anyone wants to check them out.
I've bought from Eden in America when I've been over there. And in my research, a lot of the better companies did seem to be the European based, because they were-
Sondrine Kehoe: (34:35)
Yeah. I think it's also to do with... I've been trying to get a few oils direct, and dealing with customs is another world.
I know all about that.
Sondrine Kehoe: (34:47)
And the taxes you pay on top of it. So I think it is really hard for a business here to offer that kind of array of products within Australia. But I really love the values of both of those companies, and completely trust how they test and source their products. But I'd love to hear if anyone's had some good experiences here as well. I know there's another company called earthYARD which is relatively new.
Yeah, I've heard of them.
Sondrine Kehoe: (35:27)
They're really transparent with where they source as well. So they've got quite a small range of essential oils, but also carrier oils as well.
And so can you explain that concept for people who don't understand? You said before that you don't want to put pure, unadulterated... That's not the right word but you know what I mean... Pure essential oil on your skin. Acupuncture brain fry.
My friend... My gosh... He literally burned himself. I can't remember what he put on his skin, but then he went out in the sun, and he had third degree burns.
Sondrine Kehoe: (36:05)
Oh, no. Oh, the poor thing.
One must be careful.
Sondrine Kehoe: (36:10)
So oils that can do that particularly, are bergamot and certain citruses. It's called they're phototoxic, so if you go out into the sun wearing them, then [crosstalk 00:36:25] So yeah, definitely don't play around with oils at home undiluted.
Sondrine Kehoe: (36:34)
So there's a perfume body called IFRA, and they set the rules for how much of both synthetic and natural ingredients can go into a perfume at a safe skin level. There's a lot of maybe discussion around whether those rules are right or not. And in Australia we don't actually have to follow what they do, but in countries like in Europe, you do. To sell your fragrances you have to follow those guidelines.
Sondrine Kehoe: (37:12)
And I've chosen to follow them, just because it does set out a safe level so that people are less likely to have an allergic reaction. And particularly with those phototoxic essential oils, how much can you put in the perfume without someone going out into the sun after and getting a terrible burn like that. [crosstalk 00:37:35] it's something you definitely don't want your customers to experience.
Sondrine Kehoe: (37:40)
So their guidelines are all available to the public, and it's definitely interesting to read if you're going down the route of learning about perfumery as well. And then also, there's lots of great aromatherapy resources that also go into safe skin levels.
Yeah, because I grew up reading my mum's aromatherapy books. They were in my house.
Sondrine Kehoe: (38:11)
That's so nice.
Yeah, but I remember being like... You'd never put anything on straight. Even [crosstalk 00:38:18] you'd put in a carrier oil or something. And then 10 years ago everyone starts getting really into essential oils, and dabbing them on everything. And I was like, "Maybe I'm missing something in my learning about this." And what you're saying about the microbiome as well. They can be very powerful.
Sondrine Kehoe: (38:40)
Yeah, they are. I think that's the important thing, that just because it's natural or organic doesn't mean it's formulated in a way that's safe for your skin, or particularly for your microbiome. That's still such a new and emerging field of research. And I think skincare will all head there. I just think that that's the future of skincare. But slowly. There's a lot of work to be done there.
Yeah, they don't realise that they're actually part of the plant's hormones. I don't know if you've ever read... Obviously Perfume and Jitterbug Perfume, any of those books around perfume? Have you?
Sondrine Kehoe: (39:25)
I've read... What's that classic one? [crosstalk 00:39:30] Yeah, it's great. Patrick Suskind. Is that right?
Yeah, I think that's right. There's another book called Jitterbug Perfume, which is by Tom Robbins, which is not as well known, but it's one of my favourites.
Sondrine Kehoe: (39:41)
Okay. I've heard of that, actually, I've been meaning to read it. Is it good?
It's amazing. It's very absurd he's trying to capture the fragrance of beet at one point.
Sondrine Kehoe: (39:52)
It goes all through New Orleans and France and Seattle, and all these different places. But just that idea of the essential oil being like the blood or the essence of the plant.
Sondrine Kehoe: (40:07)
Can you speak at all to that? Because I find that such a fascinating idea.
Sondrine Kehoe: (40:16)
Yeah, definitely. I do see it like the essence of the plant for sure. Especially when you're in the room, when it's being distilled. Being in that room, and when Bridget from Granite Bar Rosemary was distilling the rosemary, there's just an energy in the room as well when you start smelling it come through this amazing old copper...
Sondrine Kehoe: (40:43)
Yeah, still. It does have this really amazing feeling, and the oils do feel so alive as well. And that ties in to the old alchemy as well, doesn't it? Extracting that...
Yeah, that very essence of...
Sondrine Kehoe: (41:03)
Yeah, the very essence of the plant.
And then what, I guess, a privilege that is, to have access to that.
Sondrine Kehoe: (41:09)
Oh, it is.
And [crosstalk 00:41:10] it just becomes this whole story.
Sondrine Kehoe: (41:15)
For sure. We try and treat it with that respect as well. That's part of the whole reason of releasing really small batch, and only once a year, and not just producing in mass production, to make as much profit as you can out of these amazing plants that I feel like we have the privilege to work with.
Yeah, I mean, herbalism's the same for us. It's this funny dance between... You want people to experience the magic, and then at the same time it's like we have to respect what's realistic within the capacity of these plants to be spread around the world.
Sondrine Kehoe: (41:59)
Yeah, what you can harvest.
Yeah. And I think about that a lot with all of these things we consume for pleasure, beauty, health. It's easy to just be like take, take, take, and at some point... I love that idea that you have that regenerative...
And I know you guys pay the rent as well, like we do. We support a company that buys land to regenerate, and we pay the rent, and give to some indigenous communities.
But it's just this idea that... Mason and I have always talked about it, where it's like the plants give us so much. It's the least we can do to give back in some way.
Sondrine Kehoe: (42:37)
Yeah, definitely. The business model needs a lot of shaking up, doesn't it?
Yeah. And I think there's people like yourself, and I'm starting to see... I mean, I think the internet is a blessing and a curse, but it provides this forum for us, especially... I mean, we're still a small business... To really get out there and be seen by people, and not have to go through these big distributor channels. And you get to have direct relationships with customers [crosstalk 00:43:06]
Sondrine Kehoe: (43:06)
Yeah, it's so nice, isn't it? It makes it all really worth it, especially that direct relation with your customers.
And so what does that look like for you guys? I mean, I saw you wrote somewhere that you had a five year plan. What's Cygnet's journey looking like? Is it [crosstalk 00:43:28]
Sondrine Kehoe: (43:30)
Well, it's always evolving. And it's definitely heading in the direction of... The immediate goal is broadening our range of skincare offerings, and continuing to establish those relationships with farmers, growers, distillers around here.
Sondrine Kehoe: (43:53)
And then the dream would be to have a regenerative farm. I think that's more of a 10 year goal. I'd absolutely love to head in that direction, and have an aromatic garden as well, and be able to produce more ingredients for perfumes.
Sondrine Kehoe: (44:15)
But it's all still growing, and the business is growing with my family. And this little bub's on the way, due in October. And I'm sure that everything will change again. It's been a really nice way to do business. Just take the pressure off constantly producing more, and those concepts of success and everything, and just slowly grow it with how the family's [crosstalk 00:44:53]
I mean, how do you define that for yourself? Is this just something that lights you up, and you feel successful just seeing it come to life? When you have that farm, will that be the thing that makes you feel like you've really made it, or have you-
Sondrine Kehoe: (45:09)
Feel like you've got there?
Yeah. Because I think about that a lot with us. I'm still not sure sometimes. I feel like we've achieved so much and I could kick back, and I'm like, "I'm good."
Sondrine Kehoe: (45:19)
Yeah, and then do you think, "Where would I like to grow from here"?
[crosstalk 00:45:24] we just did a process with our team where we did a five year plan, and the team were dreaming up that we had a wellness centre, where people could come and heal. And listening to them all talk about their dreams for what SuperFeast could become, I was like, "Oh, wow."
It's really inspiring... Because Mason and I have carried it, like you're probably doing right now... It's ourselves for so long. And now we've got this group of other people that are contributing as well, and it's actually-
Sondrine Kehoe: (45:53)
That's so exciting. Really special.
Yeah, it's kind of like you feel that community vision coming through. So anyway, it just got me thinking a lot about, what does it even mean? [crosstalk 00:46:06]
Sondrine Kehoe: (46:06)
I know. Well that's beautiful. I think that community vision, getting to that place, is somewhere where I'd feel like that's where I wanted to be, is building a community out of what you're doing is so special. And being able to invite other people in to imagine where your business could grow, so it's not just yours. It's as much your customers. And then inviting people in to work with you is so nice, having that team. So probably, when I had a beautiful team like that I would be feeling like, "Wow."
It is. It's definitely a really challenging part of business too. I'm not going to lie. But I find, for me, it's probably the most rewarding part too, is... It sounds trite but it literally feels like family. The people we've worked with for... I've been here for six years, so people I've worked through that whole time. And there's something very special for me about those relationships, and the stuff we've all been through.
Sondrine Kehoe: (47:13)
Yeah. And just how they dream SuperFeast to life every day as well.
Sondrine Kehoe: (47:19)
Yeah, that's amazing. It's so nice. [inaudible 00:47:24]
Yeah, well, I think it's similar... We've always talked about preserving land and trying to... Even, we want to bring the Australian indigenous herbs to market. It seems like an impossible dream in some ways, because we've been working with the TGA for a few years now, and it's just such an ordeal.
Sondrine Kehoe: (47:47)
Oh, wow. Yeah, I can imagine.
But it's possible. It's just you've got to keep [crosstalk 00:47:52] consistent.
Keep your vision and keep persevering. Yeah [crosstalk 00:47:58] And I've got this feeling, even in these times when, especially with COVID and all this stuff going on, that the earth is dreaming her dream too, and we're all a part of that. And I think there's a lot of beauty and small pockets emerging of sustainable, positive, really earth focused business. And it feels good. I try to stay in that space, and not go into, "Oh my god, the world's going to end."
Sondrine Kehoe: (48:33)
Yeah, it's nice to kind of use that rage, or what you're feeling, despair, or hate, and try and turn that into positive action, isn't it?
Yeah, [crosstalk 00:48:52] use your business to make a stand for the things that you believe in and preserve [crosstalk 00:48:57]
Sondrine Kehoe: (48:56)
Yeah, definitely. I think there's always room for that in what you're doing. Definitely. I feel like it gives it purpose. [crosstalk 00:49:09] Is there more skincare... Is that just the cleanser at this point, or you're going to do [crosstalk 00:49:17]
Sondrine Kehoe: (49:16)
Definitely always kind of dreaming about more little things, but [crosstalk 00:49:23] I think that, realistically, it'll be the cleanser this year, that's coming, and that's coming along really beautifully. And then slowly build it from there.
Sondrine Kehoe: (49:38)
Also, I'd love to be doing more one-off perfumes. I've got all these old flacons that I've collected since I was a girl, and I'd love to do one-off perfumes with that. But with pregnancy actually, I haven't been able to work with my oils.
That was literally going to be one of my questions, because I have been illegally dabbing.
Sondrine Kehoe: (49:59)
I've been using a little bit. I just said illegally dabbing.
Sondrine Kehoe: (50:06)
You can always, as well, put them on like a hankie or something, or clothing.
Yeah, I'm trying to be very mindful. But I was thinking, would you mind speaking a little bit to that? What's the rationale around pregnancy, and avoiding-
Sondrine Kehoe: (50:20)
Avoiding essential oils?
Sondrine Kehoe: (50:22)
So, particularly important in the first trimester, when your baby and your placenta and everything are still forming. There really just isn't enough research to say what a safe concentration level of essential oil is, obviously for ethical reasons. You can't really do a study saying that. So the best thing is just to avoid them.
Sondrine Kehoe: (50:50)
I think there's a very small list of safe essential oils. They're still advised not to be used in the first trimester. Some of them have really powerful effects, you'll know, even on your menstrual cycle. They've got the ability to cause contractions and-
Sondrine Kehoe: (51:09)
Yeah, exactly. So they are really powerful ingredients. Also, just personally as well, with smell, anything that's strong sets me off.
Very unfortunate for a perfumer.
Sondrine Kehoe: (51:28)
It is. It's really funny having a ridiculously heightened sense of smell... I can smell things from miles away... And not being able to work at the perfume organ. It's slightly annoying, actually. But that's one thing I'm super excited about, is getting back to creating perfumes again, once this [crosstalk 00:51:49] Yeah, exactly.
I would love, if you don't mind, just before we sign off, sharing a little bit about... You said you had your daughter at home. You're a midwife, so I assume you've trained in all aspects of midwifery?
Sondrine Kehoe: (52:08)
Yeah. I actually still call myself a student midwife, because I had my daughter a semester out from finishing my degree. And was still really lucky to attend a lot of births. You do a lot of placement during your degree, and work with lots of beautiful midwives and pregnant women, and also learn how to have access to all the research as well.
Sondrine Kehoe: (52:43)
And I can solely put it down to doing midwifery that I had confidence to birth and confidence in my body that I could birth my daughter at home as well. So I'm so grateful that I found myself doing midwifery. It was a really beautiful experience. Me and my sister, as I said, both had our babies at home together with the same midwives.
That's so beautiful.
Sondrine Kehoe: (53:11)
And they were joking we'd go at the same time.
Be nice and convenient.
Sondrine Kehoe: (53:13)
So it didn't happen. They come when they want. So I did have her at home, and I've got the same beautiful midwife again, another one who's gorgeous, this time. So we'll be having this one at home as well. [crosstalk 00:53:34] Did I read that you had a home birth too? Is that right?
Yeah, my daughter was at home. So we live in a different house now, but in South Golden, where we live now. Which is really cute. We walk to the beach and I'm like, "That's where you were born." And she's always like [crosstalk 00:53:50]
Sondrine Kehoe: (53:49)
That's so nice.
Yeah, it's really cute.
Sondrine Kehoe: (53:55)
That's nice, isn't it?
Yeah, and the woman who owns the place is still a friend. So it's very nice. And I guess my mum always spoke of birth as... This sounds terrible but she's like, "We're animals. Animals give birth."
Sondrine Kehoe: (54:11)
That's not terrible at all.
They just do it.
Sondrine Kehoe: (54:13)
Sounds very non romantic. Horses don't lie down on their backs and birth. They walk around and then they squat.
Sondrine Kehoe: (54:22)
We watched videos in our uni of animals giving birth.
Oh, did you? There you go. So I guess I had a lot of faith in that biologically, physiologically sound birth. And we're really fortunate in this area, to have a midwifery programme through the hospital that...
Sondrine Kehoe: (54:42)
Yeah, that's amazing. [crosstalk 00:54:43]
... Allows for home birth. Yeah, so if you're no risk and tick all the boxes, you can do it. So we were really grateful for that.
Sondrine Kehoe: (54:52)
Because that was a time when SuperFeast was not that big and we were very poor.
Sondrine Kehoe: (54:56)
No, it's not accessible, which is really sad. In Melbourne, I know there's at least one hospital that offers the home birth programme, in Sunshine Hospital, but you have to live within 30 minutes drive.
Yeah, so it's the same here. You have to be within shooting distance of the hospital. And I think they get so many people apply. I think there's a team of 10 midwives. So I think they give priority to women who've worked with them before, and then women that live in the area, and then they will take, occasionally, people outside. But I just think that I'd love to see more of those kinds of systems. There are some. I know there's a handful around the country.
Sondrine Kehoe: (55:44)
Yeah, there's a lot of challenges facing midwives, and home birth midwives in particular, that you'd be well aware of. It's a whole other.
Yeah, well we had a woman called [Cheryl Siri 00:56:01] on the podcast, who used to be a home birth midwife. And [Jane Hardwick Collings 00:56:06] as well, who I'm studying with. And just their stories... It's a really challenging time to be-
Sondrine Kehoe: (56:14)
It is, but at the same time, there's so much research supporting it, and particularly coming out now, in very baby steps in that direction. There's a lot of support for continuity of care. So when you have one midwife that whole pregnancy.
Sondrine Kehoe: (56:31)
And a lot of hospitals are implementing [crosstalk 00:56:35] continuity of care programmes, but like you said, tyre still tiny. The capacity to take a lot of women in those programmes just isn't there.
Yeah, you read the statistics... I think there was a study done in the States with 16,000 women or something, and there were no adverse outcomes for home birth. It was just such a positive study on how safe and how it's just such a minimal risk, especially these days.
I mean, I was talking to someone about this today, where I'm like, "I'm 20 minutes driving slowly to a hospital. They've let the ambulance know I'm having a baby. They've got the [crosstalk 00:57:18] in the fridge if something happens." There's a lot of steps put in place to make sure you're safe as well. It's not just...
And that's what I also believe. I've had friends that are free birthed, and I think women deserve the right to be educated to choose to have the support if they want it. And I do think it should be-
Sondrine Kehoe: (57:39)
Yeah, information's key.
Yeah, and just accessibility, like you're saying, that it's five to seven grand plus for a private midwife is a lot for a lot of people.
Sondrine Kehoe: (57:47)
Yeah, definitely. Not really affordable. But hopefully it moves in a good direction. [crosstalk 00:57:57]
Yeah, is that something you'd ever thought of getting back into?
Sondrine Kehoe: (58:01)
Definitely, yeah. I feel like once you've done it, it's just like...
Sondrine Kehoe: (58:04)
Yeah, completely. So I think once the kids have grown up, it's something that I'll go back to. It was too hard with having my little one. The only way to finish the course was to enrol her full time in daycare before one, and so it just wasn't really a possibility for me, or an option. And so I'll definitely go back there once I'm older, for sure.
Done making your own babies.
Sondrine Kehoe: (58:37)
I think there's something about that experience of having your own births too, that would... I had a student midwife with my home birth, and she'd had two boys fairly recently. She was only a couple of years older than me, and there was something about her being so close in my age, and having just had... It was like really nice to share that. And then also having older midwives who were... Been around the block, had seen everything, really relaxed and really calm. It was a really nice mix.
Sondrine Kehoe: (59:07)
Good women's business stuff.
Sondrine Kehoe: (59:10)
Yeah, it is. It felt like that When I got to uni. It was I think over 100 women enrolled in this course. Like Hogwarts.
Hogwarts for ladies.
Sondrine Kehoe: (59:24)
Learning all these amazing things.
Well that's wonderful. I want to thank you so much for spending the time. I know that those last two weeks of pregnancy are exhausting, so I hope you've enjoyed being here with us.
Sondrine Kehoe: (59:40)
It was so nice.
Yeah, I'm really grateful because I just really love what you guys are doing, and what you're doing.
Sondrine Kehoe: (59:50)
Thank you so much. That's lovely. Same goes to you as well.
Thank you. I love that we get to connect with people through this. I'm like, "This is so good. I get paid to talk to people." [inaudible 00:59:59] So cygnetperfumery.com.au is the best place to find you guys, and online, on Insty?
Sondrine Kehoe: (01:00:11)
Yeah, we're on Instagram as well, cygnetperfumery [crosstalk 01:00:16]
I can put the links to that. And any other places you want to send people or any other things you want to share?
Sondrine Kehoe: (01:00:24)
No, I think that was covered beautifully. I think just engaging with your fifth sense. We so often neglect it, and it can bring so much joy.
Yeah, well especially, I think, in these times, what's been so nice for me receiving your parcels is just taking the time, reading the notes, and just having a very different experience.
I mean, we work with smell a lot, with herbs too, but it's not the same pleasurable... It's more around the sort of, "That's good, that's potent, that's strong" Whereas this is like this really beautiful and romantic experience. So I really love what you guys are doing.
Sondrine Kehoe: (01:01:09)
That's so nice to hear. Thank you.
Sondrine Kehoe: (01:01:11)
Thanks so much for having me on.
Yeah, well I hope you guys check out Sondrine's work, and we'll stay in touch. I'm so excited to continue to try your skincare.
Sondrine Kehoe: (01:01:22)
I just [inaudible 01:01:25] be done. Because I feel like I've been trying all these different things and I'm just getting a bit like, "Ugh." Because I really just want like two or three things in my life.
Sondrine Kehoe: (01:01:35)
Yeah, you don't need much, which is the opposite of what the skincare industry will have you believe.
Well I tried absolutely nothing. My husband is this annoying person who's never washed his hair.
Sondrine Kehoe: (01:01:45)
I'm just like, "I hate you."
Sondrine Kehoe: (01:01:48)
No. And I'm like, "Well boys don't have to do it. Why do girls?"
Sondrine Kehoe: (01:01:54)
Probably if you gave your body that break, I guess your microbiome would [crosstalk 01:01:59]
I've tried with my hair and it...
Sondrine Kehoe: (01:02:01)
Well, I gave it like four months, and I was like, "No. This is gross." But I definitely found with my skin... I learned that when I was in my... I came off the pill in my mid to late 20s, and I got really bad acne, which I later worked out with acupuncture and stuff, but at the time, I was like, topical... And my skin just got worse and worse. And I ended up going to nothing, like jojoba oil, and sometimes a clay to just pull it out. And it calmed down heaps after that. And my mum used to always put avocado and honey on my face.
Sondrine Kehoe: (01:02:40)
That's great. Your mum sounds wonderful.
Oh yeah, she's definitely crunchy. We grew up with a lot of weird and wonderful things. But I think it definitely reminded me just to strip it back to the basics. And since then, I don't use a lot of stuff. But I find you start buying oils, and then you have all these oil potions, this potion, cleansing potion, and then you're like...
Sondrine Kehoe: (01:03:03)
Yeah. Your vitamin C, your retinol.
Well I've never got into that. There's this great natural skincare place here, and they one time were like, "Vitamins." And I'm like, "No, that's too complicated." [inaudible 01:03:19] but they're probably good for me.
Sondrine Kehoe: (01:03:22)
Well, your microbiome does most of the work so [crosstalk 01:03:28] support them and you'll be fine.
Well thank you so much. It was such a pleasure to talk to you.
Sondrine Kehoe: (01:03:33)
And I hope you have a really great day.
Sondrine Kehoe: (01:03:35)