Bravanariz: Capturing Nature with Ernesto Collado
2021 . 10 . 22 |
According to Ernesto Collado, “Smell has more to do with emotion than with intellect and the language of plants is smell.” Having been an actor and director, he is an animated soul who discovered a passion for the plant world of his local surroundings in l’Empordà, a Catalan region in the Northeast corner of Spain. A self-taught botanist and perfumer, he then founded Bravanariz with a unique approach to scent that went viral following a New York Times article. By going into forests, exploring his local countryside, touching and listening to plants, he has uncovered a whole universe of olfactory voices that affect and transform us. “Plant aromas are a kind of language which we bottle for people to practice and get emotional about. Don’t try to study or understand it – just feel it. You are feeling nature and becoming close to nature!” Intrigued by his philosophy, I contacted him directly to learn more about him and his brand.
Your website says you came into contact with scent in a surprising way. Can you share the story with us?
I was in the contemporary art and theater world and I became disillusioned. I started to suffer from phantosmia* – a type of anosmia that produces olfactory hallucinations inside the brain. I was creating things in my head that didn’t exist and I couldn’t smell anything else! I couldn’t smell my baby’s hair! I suffered for over a year. My doctor told me the only way to come out of it was to retrain myself by smelling things that were important to me every day. I started with plants and essential oils that I remembered from my youth. I smelled plant by plant until finally one day I recognized the smell of rosemary. I wanted to cry! This exercise made me realize how incredible the landscapes in my region smell. I felt if I could only capture the aromatic essence of these landscapes, then I could help other people to reconnect with nature. This is how Bravanariz started. We help people reconnect to nature through smells. So you see originally it wasn’t about the perfume, from the beginning it was something else.
Nature plays a key role in your brand as a source, an inspiration a type of muse. Tell me how you see nature.
I discovered in talking with a neurobiologist that all of our cells are designed to live in a natural environment. So people that live in cities experience a daily cellular stress. When we walk through a park or go to the mountains, our body feels a cellular relief. This might be a “flower power” connotation, but it is a fact that our body is meant to be in a natural environment. From the moment I grasped this concept, I really understood that this is physiological. Our grandfathers knew this by practice, and now, for example, we see a huge trend in forest baths. Am I inspired by nature, yes, but I am inspired by you, by my mother, by my father, by a rock even. We are all nature. My inspiration goes much farther than nature.
What is the role of nature in your fragrances?
The motor behind this project is my fascination with nature. When we started on the project, I worked with a biologist and environmentalist for 6 months. At first I wanted to produce all our fragrances from wild harvested plants – but to do so without destroying the landscape. We studied all the aromatic plants in our region for 6 months before creating our Sustainable Wild Harvest Protocol – we use it strictly in all our wild harvesting actions. The first conclusion, of course, was that it was impossible to produce all the essential oils from wild harvested plants, because with some we could and with others we could not. This Sustainable Wild Harvest Protocol also gives us specifics for each plant based on the recovery of the plant.
In addition I have created a set of rules for my brand. I have an obsession with natural essential oils and so we are 100% natural – this is a law that we follow strictly. Since our production is small we do also work with some other organic and local producers. I know them and whenever we have a new supplier, I make it clear that I have standards to maintain. I take a lot of time to screen my suppliers.
I know that working in this way sets limitations, but sometimes that can cause more creativity: when you have fewer options, you have to work harder.
Let’s talk about the fragrances. How do they differ?
We have different families of fragrances and we always respect a law for each family. For the Olfactory Captures, we only work with essential oils that come from the plants found in the landscape that we want to capture. With these I’m literally capturing the smell of a specific landscape or season. When I’m inspired by a particular forest or a small cove or a landscape I study that place and I only use essential oils that come from plants found in that place. It’s figurative. It’s not a reproduction, it’s literally capturing the aromatic essence of a place.
The Olfactory Digressions are the opposite. They give me the ability to be abstract and conceptual. They are radical. It’s literally a digression! We even have a warning on the back of the box that says the product is not a perfume but an olfactory digression which gives me absolute freedom. Here I learn a lot by getting out of the rules a bit. For example, for Fum, which means smoke, we made a 4 day expedition to the mountains in the middle of winter. We were harvesting from sunrise to sunset, we needed the fire to warm ourselves and to cook, we were eating oranges, and we were covered in resins from the trees. This is really the interpretation of these days; it reproduces not only a place but a whole experience.
With the Inside Scents there is one fragrance for each season of the year. We know that nature creates and gives us certain smells for every season. It’s the same idea as eating fruits and vegetables that are in season: we bring you the smells of the season. For theses we only work from essential oils that have their best aromatic moment in the season that we capture. For example in May, throughout Spain you find geraniums in bloom. It is a plant that is aromatically characteristic in this season.
This is very artisanal – made by hand. Tell me about your production.
I consider myself more a craftsman than an artist. We make perfumes in exactly the same way as people make wine – it’s handcrafted every step of the way. I was doing the harvesting, the distilling the formulating. When I started it was me and one other person and now we are 4 – but that’s it! We don’t have a huge team. And this is why we need time! To harvest, to distill, to put the label, to pack an order, to have a phone call.
For this reason, our production is small. For the Olfactory Captures, it is maybe 600 bottles per year and the Olfactory Digressions are less – maybe 50 bottles. I’ll tell you about making Casa Cuervo, an Olfactory Digression that is an homage to my father. It recalls his cattle farm with leather notes from the harness room, the boots, the saddles, the chaps and the smell of the tobacco he smokes in his pipe which has tonka bean notes. We used the Wild Harvesting method to use plants that grow on his farm like Cistus, so you see we are precise in reproducing a place. I sent samples to my brothers and took their feedback to make the final version. This one is almost sold out in a month. Shall we make a new edition? Well, it won’t be the same because the ingredients are used up. We would have to re-harvest and then it will be different because the conditions are different.
I ask myself; how can we maintain the true quality if we expand production? Next year’s crop won’t be the same so the smell won’t be the same and the smell of the landscape won’t be the same either.
What is the positioning of Bravanariz?
Once we got into the market, we were put in the niche section, but I’m not sure it’s where we should be. There are incredibly beautiful brands and projects, but we’re very far from each other.
We don’t talk about ourselves as a natural perfumery brand. We work only with 100% natural essential oils, but it’s not for marketing purposes, it’s the basis of our brand. Our principle is to be local and natural, even if it’s more costly. I’m crazy about being sure this is how we are. I may become bankrupt because of this but if it works, it means people are also looking for truth!
I understand you take small groups on olfactory walks. How did this get started?
When we started we thought Bravanariz was a crazy idea. To convince retailers and distributors we decided to invite them to come and see what we do. We went on a normal day outside; and as we walk the plants tell me what I have to tell the group. They smelled everything at the source, then we harvested, we distilled and we created an olfactory capture of that day and of that landscape – and then they understood what I was doing.
They loved it and then they asked me to start doing walks so it became part of our business. We did about 20 walks in the summer, 12 in autumn and 4 in winter. I never saw this as a guided walk – it is just a moment that we will enjoy and discover together through our noses. Let’s see where our noses take us – follow your nose. It’s a really nice way for people to become ambassadors of the brand!
On your website you have videos in which you refer to plants as collaborators or partners. What can we learn from them?
The most important knowledge I get is from being with the plants – touching them, smelling them. Capturing the language of plants in a bottle is not to study or understand but to practice the language. You don’t need to understand someone to love them.
For more information visit www.bravanariz.com/en/
*Phantosmia (phantom smell), also called an olfactory hallucination or a phantom odor, is smelling an odor that is not actually there. (Source: Wikipedia)