‘Made in Margate’ is not a phrase you often see on perfume bottles, which is one reason Haeckels has garnered plenty of attention. The brainchild of Dom Bridges, a graphic designer and film director who used to make commercials for the likes of Lucozade and Pot Noodles, it was launched in 2012 after he and his wife moved to washed-up-and-coming Kentish seaside town of Margate and he was looking around for something to do.
Haeckels’ first products were soaps made with seaweed from the beach, and while Bridges has branched out into skincare and perfume since then, the raw ingredients (apart from some of the essential oils used in the perfumes) and packaging still come from within a twenty-mile radius of Margate. It’s a great back story, and the design – both of the products and the appealingly hand-crafted Haeckels shop – are a testament to Bridges’ creative and visual talents.
Each perfume is inspired by the scents of specific sites near Margate, and is (not very memorably) named after the GPS coordinates for that spot. They come in brown apothecary bottles with heavy brass tops that looks like bits of plumbing, and each is foam-packed in a wood-veneer box, the sliding lid perforated with its matching GPS numbers. You also get an information card and a rectangular stick of chalk, which you can spray with scent and use as a room-diffuser – a clever touch that also references the white chalk cliffs of Kent.
All of which I love – but what about the fragrances themselves? I’ve tried two: GPS 26′ 3″E and GPS 12′ 0″E. The first, ‘Picked on 1 August 2014. Cloudy day’ according to the website, is inspired by the chalk clifftops of Botany Bay in Broadstairs, an attractively frayed-round-the-edges little seaside resort much favoured by Charles Dickens and London cab drivers. Bridges describes the bay’s beauty as ‘shown best on days when it rains, as the rain hits the chalk a fresh and clear fragrance come off the rock to give way to the freshness of cliff grasses, annual seablite and sea orache.’
I certainly get the freshness, but what it smells like most to me is blackberry – that quintessential late-summer scent of English hedgerows and wasteland, with a hint of the other ingredients mentioned on the Haeckels website: bergamot oil, cinnamon and lavender. It’s a pleasant enough scent, if not in any way original, and reminds me a little of L’Artisan Parfumeur’s classic Mure et Musc.
The other, GPS 12′ 0″E, is oddly similar, again with a hint of autumn fruitiness, though this time mixed with a longer and more complex run of ingredients, including bergamot and mandarin oil, rosemary and lavender, rose and olibanum, fir balsam and even turpentine – which perhaps accounts for its slightly medicinal smell. This perfume is inspired by the ruined Roman castle at Reculver, further west along the Kent coast, which (completely incidentally) was the first place in England I heard a nightingale sing.
Bridges describes his inspiration for the fragrance in some detail, also noting that it was picked on 23 July 2014, a sunny day. ‘With waves smashing into the sea defences below sits a ruined abbey, graveyard and wild, overgrown fields. Remnants of more recent uses are now overgrown and covered over with blackberries, raspberries and sea lavender. The salt water spraying up onto the path and the grass leaves small puddles so that the smell of the sea is carried by the wind to mix with the berries, flowers and wild parsley to create a fragrance that is fresh, but shows the history that surrounds this place in every direction.’
I wish I could like these perfumes more, since everything else about Haeckels is so appealing. It’s not that they’re bad: far from it – they’re pleasant enough, just not very interesting or original, which would be fine if they didn’t cost £160 each.