Talking to a creator: Ellis Brooklyn founder, Bee Shapiro

As a beauty columnist for The New York Times, Bee Shapiro experienced first-hand the lack of cleanly formulated fragrances available on the market. Then in 2013, when she sought to clean up her beauty routine during her first pregnancy – to nix ingredients like parabens and phthalates, for example – she simply couldn’t find a clean, sophisticated fragrance that she loved in her bathroom cabinet, or on the shelves. Inspired by the possibility of what she could create, the preternaturally stylish New Yorker launched Ellis Brooklyn in 2015 to fill this unmet need – and officially added fine fragrance to the ever-expanding clean beauty category.
The line of natural, sustainable perfume, body care, and candles, is named for her older daughter in honour of its origins, and has become one of my favourite go-to’s when I’m looking for a fragrance that is unique, fresh and guaranteed to turn heads. The super popular Myth is one scent that I never get tired of wearing, and next on my list is Salt, just-released Florist, and the gentle and warm Vanilla Milk. Obsessed? Sure am, and here for it!

With all of that in mind, read on for this shameless fan girl’s chat with Ms. Shapiro herself, via Zoom one sunny Auckland afternoon…

You have sailed successfully through many careers, including as a lawyer and a very high profile one as a beauty editor! Was beauty your first love?
When I first started writing about beauty for the New York Times I liked it, but I was a most definitely a fashion girl. I was in my mid-twenties when I was started and was like, ‘well that’s nice’, it was gifted to me when the then-beauty editor left after being offered her dream job in travel. I wasn’t that deep into it but I like to say that I grew up with beauty, and now I’m a true beauty girl and obsessed with everything about it.

How did your fascination with perfume come about, did you have an early fragrance memory that stuck with you? Someone you knew who never left the house without a few spritzes?
I did, I had an aunt who I adored, who had a job purely for fun at the beauty counter at Le Bon Marché in Seattle. I was so little and was so fascinated by what she did! But my earliest scent memories were from the outdoors, I was really outdoorsy as a kid and really took it all in.
Then when I started writing about beauty, I loved that fragrance was a really different category to makeup and skincare, it was all about stories and memories as opposed to something more concrete like fixing a skin issue. I was obsessed.

Perfume is traditionally a pretty “unclean” industry, how did you face that head on in your early days? I know personally that I’ve tried a few natural fragrance brands over the years that are absolutely beautiful, but the scents just don’t last. As opposed to Ellis Brooklyn, which has the same wear time as a chemically-laden formula but is just so very clean.
It’s definitely all about what I wanted to leave out, which was always going to be a challenge. We had to think about how to do things differently, and that started out by having really rounded base and middle notes as a “fixative”. It’s all about what goes in and what doesn’t, and then how does it wear.

Did you work with a perfumer, or study in Grasse do get more of an insight into the process?
I would love to do that one day! I have always had a very acute sense of smell, however as I started reviewing fragrance more and more I was privy to amazing press previews where you met master perfumers and explored notes, and I was so fascinated. On top of that I loved the telling of stories in perfumery, and I wanted to know more.
Then when I got into the industry I thought, “I’ve got such a good nose, maybe I’ll do the mixing myself” but no, I was really not great at experimentation! I quickly realised that there is a real difference between a creative director and a master perfumer, the latter are training their entire life and know things down to a chemical level, it’s a beautiful art. I have a vision for a scent that I want, but need to work closely with perfumers to bring that to life.

Do you have a favourite perfumer to work with?
I work with several perfumers, and have found that you really need to get to know each other and get a scent vocabulary going as it’s so hard to describe something. For example, say I want something to smell ‘sexy’. That is so different for so many people – for some, that smells dirty, for some it’s a red dress or maybe, a white t shirt. The perfumers I work with really understand my vision through a shared vocabulary, and that’s why I love working with them.

Was it hard to ‘audition’ perfumers in Ellis Brooklyn’s early days?
Oh absolutely, because clean perfume just wasn’t hip back then. Perfumers were like, “who is this girl coming at me with a huge no-no list?” I guess you could say I was difficult in the beginning, but now people see what I was talking about and see how beautiful a clean fragrance can smell.

Do you have a favourite from among your creations, or is that still to come?
I do, I created Myth for myself and still love it so much. For me it’s personal, the perfect white musk. It’s a different way of looking at sexy, it’s sensuality. It’s not a major projector but it’s there, and makes people want to lean in closer.
Lately I’m wearing a lot if Sun Fruit too, it’s very joyous and hedonistic and inspired by the Italian riviera.

Lastly, are there some releases from the rest of the beauty world that are inspiring you right now…
Always! I’m a huge of the Omoravicsa Ultramoor Mud Mask and Thermal Cleansing Balm, it gets everything off in a very gentle way. I’m a huge fan of Skin Medica’s Even and Correct line for addressing sunspots and sun damage, as well as PillowtalkDerm’s Major Fade Hyper Serum.
When it comes to makeup I love the Westman Atelier Super Loaded Tinted Highlighter in Peau de Pêche, and although I favour clean, when it comes to eye shadow I basically need the makeup equivalent of spackle. I have hooded lids and clean eyeshadows just don’t cut it!

You can shop Ellis Brooklyn at MECCA - and I highly recommend that you do!


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