Collage of different ingredients found in Helio's scents

Meet the nose behind Helio's Color Collection. Master scent designer, Ralf Schwieger.

Ralf explains his views on natural ingredients and the unique approach he took in designing Helio's scents.

As someone who creates fragrances for a living is there a particular smell that's popular right now that you don’t like?

I find powerful woody-ambery smells rather appalling. These notes were only recently introduced and have become very popular in men's colognes and increasingly in women's perfumes too. I just came back from a popular vacation spot and the scent I most often smelled on people was this. In these cases, I am unable to identify the actual perfume. Instead I just perceive this very powerful note which almost hurts my nose. There is no depth there and a lack of a real idea. It's just this single note. I find that rather boring.

You designed all six scents in Helio's Color Collection. The Color Collection has a very distinct style to it. Can you tell us what effect you were trying to create with these six scents?

Helio is a West Coast brand, stylistically closer to Asia than to European and classical French perfumery. So I aimed to create scents that were light, clean and transparent. They're fresh and easy to understand yet not simplistic. Very open, modern and forward looking. They're happy and colorful scents which hopefully put a smile on your face!

How was this experience of working with Helio different than a more traditional perfume project?

One big thing is that there were no budget constraints which is a rarity. The Helio fragrances all feature lots of natural ingredients and all the scents contain the more modern CO2 extracts which are closer olfactively to the botanical source material. I was able to play with some innovative and more daring ingredients such as Nootka Tree oil as well as a newly developed bell pepper extract which provides extreme freshness and a little bite.

Which of the six Helio scents are you most proud of and why?

I love the scent of lavender and think that Dula offers a modern interpretation that's very true to nature since we used the sophisticated supercritical CO2 lavender extracts. By contrast, lavender essential oil does not smell very close to the actual flower.

I also really like Quino's fresh and earthy contrast, provided by lots of sparkling citrus and bitter-green notes. Quino also features Nootka Tree essential oil, a powerful woody note and a very recent addition to the perfumer’s palette. Nootka smells a bit like cedar but is richer and has aromatic facets. For me it evokes being in a workshop – a scent that's not for everybody but something that I personally love.

"The extracts that Helio uses smell much closer to the actual botanical."

– on the natural ingredients found in Helio's scents –

Helio's scents contain a lot of natural ingredients produced with modern methods such as supercritical extraction and molecular distillation. From an olfactive standpoint, how do these extracts differ from more traditional essential oils?

The extracts that Helio uses smell much closer to the actual botanical. Essential oils are mostly water vapor distillations of dried botanicals. The problem is that water vapor is very hot. So when it's used to distill plant material many of the ingredients found in these plants don't survive the harsh treatment. The result are "metabolic artifacts", which result in the oil smelling "cooked" or burnt. By contrast, the supercritical extracts that Helio uses are processed at a much lower temperature and are less harsh on the botanical than water.

Helio uses many more natural ingredients than you'd normally find in a perfume. Can you explain some of the challenges of relying so heavily on natural ingredients?

Natural raw materials are important and provide a fragrance with a lot of depth and complexity. But if you're not careful, you can add too much detail and end up with a muddled effect. It's a bit like a superposition of colors which results in a dull grey color. Synthetic ingredients, by contrast, have more of a linear profile. The goal with Helio was to find a balance. So you get this rare impression of something coming from the natural world that's also in motion, living and breathing.

What is your favorite raw material and why?

One ingredient I love and have used in many of Helio's fragrances is bergamot essential oil. This note (and some of the other citrus oils as well) are so important to impart a fresh sparkle and the natural character of the top notes. I cannot do without it.

Many customers are concerned about their fragrances being non-toxic and their ingredients being clean. Is the idea of a "clean fragrance" important to you? Does the prohibition of certain ingredients provide artistic challenges?

Yes, indeed, clean fragrances are very important for me. All fragrance development should strive to adhere to clean guidelines. For Helio we made an effort to use lots of natural ingredients and even to select the more modern extraction methods such as the CO2 extracts. And we avoided those materials which have a low biodegradability score such as polycyclic muscs.