A good first impression is not only dependant on a strong handshake. It is also about being able to “smell” a person. A unique scent evokes memories and underlines an enigmatic personality – if the perfume is purely botanical, even better!

The Berlin based brand AER offers exactly that: eclectic perfumes that meet highest quality standards and make you stand out of a crowd. The founders, Stefan Kehl and Ted Young-Ing both look back on a successful career in the fashion and lifestyle business. Stefan, the head of perfume and Ted, the creative director share the same vision and never want to compromise on quality or sustainability. In their bright and airy atelier they sat down with INTERVIEW and talked about their shared journey.

Dive into the world of AER and get to know the founders through a ramble on their childhood, the downside of the perfume industry and their approach to creating perfumes in accordance with the earth.

Ted Young-Ing Stefan, How is your nose today?

Stefan Kehl Haha, my nose feels good. She is alright and I am capable of smelling a lot of things.

TY We just launched a new home fragrance with Garden State Candles. It contains fir balsam that grows in the Black Forest, where you grew up…

SK Yes! When I grew up I was always surrounded by trees and saw green in front of my eyes. It’s very dark in this area, all you see is fir needles. The nature is very rich, dense and solid. The fir balsam is the juice that comes out of the tree. We balanced it with a fresh touch of grapefruit. We used so many pines – so in the first hit you have this pine needle. It is very pleasant, lovely and reminds me of my childhood. It feels like home for me. Do you think it could smell like home for a lot of people?

TY Yes, I can see that. The idea behind it was that it should feel like walking in a forest just before dawn. I am from Canada and I have a memory of doing exactly that. This very specific smell is in my memory.

SK So we basically come from the same area, it’s on the other side of the world but there is the same nature structure.

TY That’s true. But on the other hand you grew up on the country side and I always lived in big cities. There is this urban versus rural viewpoint. That is also what works in our relationship – we have a different approach to things. We have a different way of looking at things. There is a tension between what you want things to be and what I want things to be. When it comes to Aer it is the balance where the two things meet. That reminds me of how the two of us met.

SK Luckily you are married to a very good friend of mine. At some point you stepped into his life and that’s basically the story, right? I went to New York for two years because of my carreer in hair and make up. I was happy to start a new life and sort of stumbled upon this scent developing thing. I wanted to create my own products because I thought that the make-up you could buy was still too thick and visible. It’s not always on photoshop making a face look perfect. So I experimented with waxes and natural oils to create a carrier for the product. Of course there came a point where I asked myself, how can I make this smell nice?

TY Was that the point where you fully stepped into the perfume developing process?

SK Honestly, I was a bit lost at that time and I met a person in the underground scene that I became friends with. I smelled that he had something very beautiful on him that I never smelled before. It was very thick, dense and it was touching. He told me that it was actually an essential oil. Then I wanted to find out more and started to buy some stuff, experimented with it and created perfumes.

TY But you wanted to make perfume all your life, right?

SK I realized that an old passion popped up again, a wish that I digged deep within myself when I was fourteen years old. Now it was right in front of me. I saw myself in front of my inner eye as a teenager, working in this bistro preparing spaghetti bolognese all day. I collected these little perfume testers and I had friends working at perfumeries who supplied me with those. When I then realized that I always wanted to be a perfumer that was the moment I couldn’t say no anymore. I had this passion already and I found it again. Then we met and I created a personal perfume for you.

TY Yes! When you came back from New York I was on the hunt for a very special perfume. Something that was also environmentally sane. It was very special and fascinating to work with you, because I never smelled anything that was anything like it. After we finished we asked ourselves if we could create three more and maybe make a brand out of it. I am a creative director by trade. I worked for some big fashion houses and also launched Gucci perfumes. I had a lifelong passion for perfumes and was always surrounded with it. I am also in the process of developing my nose…

SK How is this going?

TY If you are willing you can develop it. I think in the world you are taught to not use your sense of smell, because it can be overwhelming. You use it mostly when you taste and when you analyze things. If you start focusing on it and start using it more, it becomes stronger and it’s actually like a muscle which you have to train. I can’t name all of the thousand ingredience we have at our atelier but I am in training.

SK I know that it takes the time it takes. My nose is still under construction. I never smoked and I always had to deal with the smells of the outside world. Smelling everything was very intense and stressful. I figured one day that I have somehow a more sensitive nose than my surrounding because I would often be repelled by stuff. If you open the door you kind of get pushed into it. So when we started working together, things just aligned. We really had the same vision and love for perfume. Also we didn’t want to compromise on quality and sustainability.

TY That is what is super important for Aer. Everything that Aer is, has to be sustainable. I think that perfume is a luxury item but also it shouldn’t cost the earth. It was originally a natural product that was done in harmony with the earth. Now it became something very artificial and rain forest is chopped off in order to make perfume. That is something we can’t be a part of. We made a conscious decision when we started this business that we would only take actions that we felt good about. We want to be healthy for the environment, healthy for the customers and healthy for us making it as well.

SK It’s a fact that since I make perfume I am less sick. Have you heard about it, that natural ingredience are stabilizing your health? They are also used in aromatherapy and they have a positive impact on the body. I feel much healthier…

TY Yes, people that use our products won’t be in touch with chemicals. We are in close communication with our producers and we feel really good about that.

SK The western culture is changing a lot into much more sustainable thinking. Demanding environmentally friendly products. Perfume was not so much on the public radar regarding this until now.

TY That’s because you can’t look into the industry. No one talks about where the ingredience are coming from and how the perfumes are made. We made the decision early on that we want to be absolutely transparent about our resources and how we fabricate things. We also host perfume workshops, where we are very open about our atelier and the process.

SK I think it’s important that we do this storytelling. No one knows how real ingredience smell like anymore. Nowadays everything is artificial, some chemical formula equals tea scent. When you open the box at home it is a completely different story. The industry then says that it matches, the customer just doesn’t know the smell well enough – that’s the approach. They put a lot of effort into communicating how a thing smells but not say that it’s a completely different thing. People then forget how the real thing actually smells and believe what the big corporation tells them. Since we are on the market the customers tell us that they are reminded of something from their childhood. Often it’s the grandmother and them being in touch with natural things. It’s nice to see that not all of it is forgotten.

TY Yes, When you normally read the label and try a certain ingredience, it is probably not created by the thing that it’s called.

SK Not at all! For example we now know what a real rose smells like. If you imitate a rose you just take something that kind of smells like it. Then you create something that is not reality. With Aer scents you have the blunt reality.

TY Real rose essence is really expensive, so to save money you just go to the lab and take ingredience that cost 25€ a kilo instead of the 16.000€ you pay for the real deal. We have chosen the hard path which can be a burden but it is a very nice burden to have.

SK It is also not a mass market product that is very important to see.

TY We are very targeted and specialist. We want people to really connect with their perfume. It is something unique and we are not striving for perfectionism. Perfection is incredibly boring. I would aim for something fascinating, unique and different. I think it has to be very complex. The smells have to contrast with each other, not compete in order to make it very beautiful. Most noses are used to commercial synthetic and in general all the mass market perfumes are based on more or less the same five notes so they all smell kind of similar. Our ingrediences are much more complex and they bring out memories.

SK I also wouldn’t say that we follow trends. Right?

TY No because if we would follow trends, we would always be three or four years behind. It’s not really that interesting to create a brand on something that is happening now but we aim at creating the future. Trends are a part of the consume culture and that’s kind of boring.

SK I feel it’s the perfect time for our brand now. Everything is in such heavy change, the world can’t go on like this. I think the human kind comes from the earth and is connected to it. So we can all feel that we need to change our behaviour today rather than tomorrow.

TY It’s not even about being eco, it’s about being sensible and having integrity.

AER scents are available via aerscents.com