Hall Newbegin, the founder of the natural fragrance company Juniper Ridge, is in the middle of leading a 15-person group of employees and guests on a wild harvesting hike through the Sierra Madre Mountains just north of Ojai when he stops to pick up a piece of dry cougar scat.
lifts it to his
nose and inhales deeply. â€œIt is a little sweet,â€� he
tone suggests that he
is merely confirming what everyone else suspected.
â€œOh, for godâ€™s sake, thatâ€™s so not good.
Donâ€™t smell the poo,â€� protests his
wife, Juniper Ridge
co-owner Laura Boles. â€œWeâ€™re going to eat lunch.â€� Her
belated outcry doesnâ€™t pack much of a punch. (â€œIâ€™ll wash my hands,â€� is Newbeginâ€™s only response.) But after years of living with a man whose favorite activities include climbing trees to scrape sap boogers (Newbeginâ€™s word) off the branches and crawling in the dirt to get closer to the fungi below, she
likely knew that her
words would fall on deaf ears.
embraces life nose first, and he
wants to wake up your sense of smell too.
woodsy band of fragrance foragers regularly hit the trail to harvest bark, moss, mushrooms, and plant and tree trimmings to turn into soaps, colognes, perfumes, and beard oils (a stealth way to get guys to wear fragrance).
The companyâ€™s fragrances, which include Big Sur and Cascade Glacier Trail, are named after the places where the ingredients were harvested.
compares the products to olfactory snapshots.
I follow behind Newbegin
fragrance philosophy. â€œI hear everyone saying, â€˜We donâ€™t use our noses.â€™ And Iâ€™m like, â€˜Yeah, you do.â€™ Youâ€™re turned off by perfume.
According to Newbegin
, about 8,000 plants grow in the Western states, compared to about 2,000 plant species in the Mediterranean. â€œWhen you see ancient ecosystems, youâ€™re seeing cycles that extend back 10,000 years ago to the end of the Ice Age.
That kind of biodiversity doesnâ€™t exist in Eurasia.
Itâ€™s really a New World phenomenon,â€� he
explains. â€œWeâ€™ve got a much richer fragrance palette to draw from here, and no one has touched it.â€�
A well-worn field guide to flowering plants sticks out of the back pocket of Newbeginâ€™s jeans, but I never see him reach for it.
seems to know these hills intimately, and he
interrupts himself every few minutes to excitedly point out new plants.
picks a few silvery light-green leaves off a shrub and passes them around for everyone to smell.
Around the campfire that evening, Newbeginâ€™s eight-year-old daughter, Jane, instigates an impromptu talent show that includes the head of business development Matt Cacho and director of R&D Tom Accettola competing in a headstand challenge and Newbegin and Kauffman, or rather â€œHall and Obi,â€� doing a rendition of Hall and Oatesâ€™ â€œMan Eater.â€�
thinks the perfume industry today is where the wine industry was 40 years ago. â€œI think more and more people are going to be doing this, and in 50 years thereâ€™s going to be a Western perfume industry thatâ€™s based on the fragrance grammar of this place.
Weâ€™re just beginning to chip away at the edges of it,â€� he
says. â€œItâ€™s our sincere hope that other wilderness perfumers will follow us.â€� Based on Juniper Ridgeâ€™s growing popularity, it seems likely that others will soon pick up the scent.