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Ten Minutes With a Perfumer–Behnaz Sarafpour

Behnaz Sarafpour led the design team at Barneys New York before launching her award-winning, eponymous, women’s ready-to-wear collection, eventually creating a line of luxury, organic, and eco-friendly fashions. In 2017, she launched Behnaz Fragrances, her water-based, single-note, flower essence line, which is sold at behnazsarafpour.com. The Iranian-born, Philadelphia-raised designer and her husband, Evan Shumeyko, share their circa-1780s Pound Ridge home with their watchful Italian greyhound, Atlas.

You were honored by First Lady Michelle Obama as the winner of the Smithsonian’s 2013 National Design Award. Were you always an eco-friendly designer?
Back in 2008, I started becoming very interested in how the work we did in the fashion industry affected the environment. If you visit fabric mills and garment factories, you see, in terms of waste and pollution, how bad it can be. I became fascinated with how to bring this to people’s attention.

What did you do?
I started moving a lot of my production locally to New York and devoting a part of my ready-to-wear collection to pieces that were made of organic fabrics, and they were all dyed and printed using plant-based dyes that were non-toxic.

What was the reaction?
I got tremendous support from the press, but it really wasn’t a trendy topic at that point.

Did you curtail your eco-friendly efforts?
No, I continued devoting a part of my work to that, and then about four years ago, I was thinking about what other products to create to address those issues and really resonate with the customer. That is where I got into doing natural fragrances. Everything I do in the fragrance business is made with fresh botanical extracts. All the way down to the alcohol that’s used in the perfume.

Did you collaborate with a beauty corporation?
No, I learned that mass-produced fragrances are all made of synthetics. Synthetics are very efficient. On the other hand, many of them have ingredients—preservatives—in them that are known to be hormone disruptors, which are not good for women’s health.

What was the alternative?
On a trip to Iran about 13 years ago, we visited a distillery where they were making distilled plant extracts. It was such a beautiful thing. So, after touring some cosmetics companies, I thought, why don’t we make natural plant extracts instead? It’s a luxury product, but it’s also good for you. And it perpetuates organic agriculture, which is good for the environment.

Tell us about your final product.
I like single-note fragrances. I started out with two steam-distilled, fresh flower waters. One was rose, and one was Neroli—which is orange blossom. My intention with my fragrances is to give people the feeling of being in nature. And, for me it’s more about quality than anything else. If you have—not a New York bodega bunch of roses, but—a real garden rose, when you breathe in that scent, it’s so beautiful in such a complex way, that I feel like if you can capture that in a bottle, why would you want anything more than that?



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