Fueguia 1833 is no ordinary fragrance producer and is far removed from the licensed luxury brands that overwhelm the perfume and cologne markets. The vision of artist and scientist Julian Bedel, and founded in Argentina circa 2010, Fueguia’s limited edition unisex personal scents utilize only natural and entirely biodegradable ingredients, all free from preservatives and dyes. Fueguia’s new line of homeware items—four beeswax candles, wooden and brass diffusers and bioactive sanitizing skin and textile sprays—adhere to these same standards.
To step into one of the brand’s boutiques, like the NYC outpost in SoHo or the brand new Ginza store, feels like venturing into a multi-sensory concept artwork. There, amidst more than 100 fragrances (which include collaborations with the likes of Hauser & Wirth and Yasiin Bey) visitors get a tantalizing sense of Bedel’s aesthetic and the virtues of a groundbreaking brand that was developed by accident.
“I wasn’t interested in perfume. I am not a perfumer,” Bedel tells us about the genesis. “My father is a conceptual artist. I am too. I grew up in the atelier of my father. I could see and smell all the materials of his art from my earliest days. I was very fortunate to have such an influence.” Bedel began with guitar building and playing music. His practice expanded into painting and sculpture. Then, his father sent him an article about the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2004.
“It was about two American physicians, Linda Buck and Richard Axel, who decoded the genome of the olfactory bulb. They finally had scientific facts about what was going on in our nostrils, as soon as they are impacted by volatile molecules.” The science of scent fascinated Bedel. He learned (as we did, while he explained it to us) that a mixture of molecules carries “chemical signals that can be understood by people, animals and plants as scent. It’s a universal language.”
“Depending on our knowledge of associations, our brain can start building an idea of what’s going on, when we smell something,” he says. The article also addressed the simultaneous, scentless and perception-altering molecules that accompany all of the volatile molecules we recognize. These are interpreted by a different organ, one that reads pheromones. “I knew this is where I had to be to create a true level of transformation with my art. With this palette of ingredients, in this medium, I could do it,” Bedel says.
The artist began to explore the technical process of harvesting and blending scent. “The initial idea was to reproduce the scented landscapes that I was exposed to in Argentina, little corners of farms that I knew. I thought I could recreate with the actual ingredients I found there. I didn’t have to invent an ingredient because it was all traditional botanical ingredients.” Bedel says he was able to tap into nature’s recipe; this idea is one that empowers the brand still.
Bedel debuted his first fragrances in an art installation. “I created a story and put these ingredients there. I designed this glass flask and I then patented it. I presented maybe 15 scents, designed as landscapes. They were not conceived as perfumes, but as spatial scents—but then people wanted to put it on their skin. They started asking me the prices. So, then it ended up becoming a perfume brand.” And Fueguia 1833 was born.
In an age of artificial scents, Fueguia’s fragrances recall memories of the outdoors. Its success is due to Bedel’s ingredient sourcing. “I’m a true believer in the complexity of natural ingredients,” he says. “I feel that if I do not use them, people will not like my scents. When I smell synthetic molecules—and some are fascinating—I believe that you get an idea that you are smelling something beautiful or magnetic but the pheromones are not being released and time is not being altered. You are missing the complete language between the botanicals and our body.”
To source premium natural components today requires a commitment to sustainability. Their molecular distillation technology already allows them certain advantages, but other initiatives include local preservation and partnership efforts. For instance, Fueguia work with a community in Patagonia who trim trees on the streets of their town and give the leaf clippings to the University of Patagonia for distillation. They also fund communities that want to develop certain botanical crops.
The fact the Fueguia offers more than 100 fragrances is another intentional, discerning attribute. “I couldn’t care less about the marketing of scents,” Bedel says. “I have my own shops, on my own tables with my own storytelling and it has to make sense to me. I want to connect consumers with the scents and if I have to have 100, 200 or only 20, that’s my problem.” Bedel is not short on inspiration—and the fact they craft in small batches means more room for variation, too.
Bedel’s vision extends to the meticulous packaging and store design. “The design of the shop has to be about how you create a place where you focus on smelling and dim the awareness of your other senses. This requires acoustic materials, a lot of wood and low light.” He uses the design to facilitate a more meditative experience and each boutique calls upon local materials, too.
“With the packaging, we do not use any plastic. We never have,” he says. “I created a foundation, Help Argentina, that collaborates with a preexisting foundation from Patagonia. I asked them to see if they could teach locals to produce the box, and use pieces of found wood and fallen trees.” Bedel then then established a wood shop in the region. The design of their packaging was informed by the question “What do we have handy?” It is still all made by hand.
In addition to product launches like the home aroma items, Bedel is always on a quest for new ingredients. “We have more than 2,500 ingredients but many repeat themselves,” he says, noting that he “might have 45 different types of jasmine extractions”—just one example that embodies his commitment to natural ingredient exploration.
“There is jasmine growing in our plantation in Uruguay that grows around a pink pepper tree. What we did was collect the bacteria that lives around this jasmine, that feeds from the pink pepper tree. We fermented the pink peppercorns with the flowers and cold distilled them all together. That’s a new ingredient. These are new molecules.” To Bedel, this ingredients is a little landscape itself, drawn from and representative of its own micro-ecosystem.
Through the power of scent, Bedel finds himself in the business of emotion and memory. “I think I can be a mediator, putting together different types of scent ingredients, editing this composition with a purpose of improving mood or making people feel better or creating some kind of distortion.” Bedel wants each bottle to pose a question about what the olfactory sense is capable of.
Images courtesy of Fueguia 1833