Tilly Wood explores the inspiration behind the scent that combines smoke and sweetness to bring out your inner wild side
Picture this: you’re walking along a British country lane around dusk. As the light dims, the freshness of the crisp cool air takes on a woody aspect as the scent of a bonfire gently perfumes it. You reach the most glorious country lodge, push open the heavy door and are met with a waft of antique leather chairs, a crackling open fire and sweet cigars. ‘Think of this scent as the coolest party you’ve ever been to; it’s moody, it’s smoky yet sweet and it encapsulates that sense of effortless nonchalance,’ says Tilly Wood, the founder of Aja Botanicals.
Tilly grew up in the British countryside and created Aja Botanicals in 2020 during a quest to find fine fragrances – for the mind, home and soul – that are as pure as possible. She studied perfumery, but also collaborated with leading noses to develop her evocative blends. ‘As I’ve learned more about perfumery, I’ve grown to love the fragrance families that I wasn't aware of before. Although we might think of leather notes as more “masculine”, there’s a super-sophisticated and chic softness to them. I grew up in the country, and that scent of leather takes me back to warm summer days spent riding horses and cleaning the tack.’
Scents are an integral part of creating and storing memories, but we often forget that they can shift our energy and mood entirely. ‘When you’re wearing the right perfume it’s like an invisible layer that makes you feel extra special; it gives you the same boost you feel wearing your favourite outfit,’ Tilly says.
The same applies to home scents, which we tend to overlook, focussing instead on creating impressive tablescapes or cooking elaborate feasts. ‘There’s a powerful moment when you light a candle; the intensity of the flame can supercharge the energy of a space, whether you’re just doing some yoga, or you’re setting the ambience for a big dinner party,’ explains Tilly. ‘It also sets out our intentions for the day or the night, and lighting the right candle can be the added boost.’
With that in mind, getting the perfect oil blends was crucial to the process of creating Walk on the Wild Side. ‘I worked with the perfumer Richard Howard on it. He created the original Cowshed range and is a very old friend as well as a truly talented nose. It took nine revisions as I really wanted the smoky and leathery notes to have the right amount of softness and warmth,’ Tilly explains.
But the blend of notes in the scent weren’t easy to work with – cade, a variety of juniper, has a tendency to be overpowering so needs a particularly deft touch, while adding labdanum gives an unparalleled sweetness and a warmth when done expertly. Just like that moment when a candle is lit, the scent came to life with some musical inspiration: ‘I was with Richard and we played Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side, and that magic happened and it all came together – the music gave us the inspiration and vibe,’ Tilly adds excitedly.
People tend to associate Britain and British scents with a sense of properness and tradition, but Walk on the Wild Side is the epitome of the rebellious underbelly of British culture. ‘For me this fragrance is reminiscent of the 1970s, with incredible music, the excitement of changing times and impromptu parties in book-filled members’ clubs – the sweetness of cigars late at night, with velvet smoking jackets and log fires. It’s about the possibility of a wild night, wherever you might be,’ Tilly explains.
But the scent also references the other iteration of wild. ‘We use the best quality natural ingredients, and are so inspired by the fauna and flora of our heritage that the scent – and name – also references that too. I think it’s the earthy and musky oakmoss that really delivers that, but either way, “wild” is both a feeling and a connection to the beautiful outdoors,’ she concludes.
Anita Bhagwandas is a journalist, author, broadcaster, public speaker and consultant who specialises in the beauty industry and its culture. She is beauty columnist for The Guardian Saturday magazine, freelance beauty director at Condé Nast Traveller and has featured as a contributor to BBC Radio 4 shows Woman’s Hour and Mary Portas: On Style
Discover the Aja Botanicals Walk on the Wild Side collection.