Sondrine Kehoe

Sondrine is the talented mind and nose behind Cygnet perfumery, a slow and mindful operation unlocking our olfactory through botanical extrait de parfum and regenerative skincare, released annually. Sondrine is based in a small coastal town on the Mornington Peninsula and moved there from Brunswick just over four years ago, spending the first three years in Shoreham before moving down the road. She slowly began working on Cygnet after the birth of her daughter Sunniva in 2018, and officially launched the business in February this year "what a year to start a business?!" she reflects.

Sondrine has been kind enough to open up her world to us, read on below.


What is it about motherhood that inspired you to begin Cygnet, such beautiful happenstance that the two came in tandem...

I have made botanical perfumes since I was a girl, and actually planned on starting a perfumery not long after finishing secondary school. However, circumstances changed and I fell head-over-heels in love with midwifery. I was a student midwife for four years before bringing Sunniva into the world, so I guess motherhood gave me the space to breathe again and fall back into my creative practice of slow-crafting scent. Motherhood has taught me how to live slowly and be flexible, as well as expanded me emotionally – I believe tapping into these changes gave me a drive to finally realize a lifelong dream and thus Cygnet Perfumery was born. I’m known as Swan by those close to me, hence the name Cygnet.

How have you been feeling of late? 

I have been feeling up and down, like I’m sure most have given the current circumstances. I worry about our children’s future, miss my community, and the stressors of feeding a family during a pandemic are real. But, it’s also been a deeply reflective time which has left me feeling more grounded and grateful. I have been feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be supported doing what I love every day, privileged to be living where I am, and thankful to be living life with two eternally optimistic humans.

What are your earliest memories of being enamoured by perfumery?

I remember making perfumed waters as a child– my parents always had a beautiful rambling garden full of fragrant plants. When I was in primary school, family would give me old perfume bottles and books on making natural scent & skincare for birthdays. I still have a perfume I made when I was 12 from violets, propolis and honey –perhaps it was the forerunner to Primaveral.

There are certain scents in my life that immediately transport me to particular times and places. Can you share any particular scents that might hold special transportive memories for yourself?

Scent is the most wonderful gateway to memories, and I always enjoy hearing where our extraits take people. Conifer holds a special place for me – it smells like a magical spot in Shoreham called the Pines where I would walk every day when I was pregnant. Also - the smell of Cedarwood reminds me of my father’s shed, eucalyptus leaves take me eight years back to when I met my partner, and hand sanitizer instantly transports me to attending births.

How does the inspiration come about for your fragrances? Do you aim to distill the spirit of certain places/memories or is it more of a scientific experimentation of scents? 

Yes, most certainly I am inspired by the incredible landscapes surrounding me and the feeling they evoke – Conifer & Plein Air evolved this way. Primaveral came from a memory of my first perfume, as well as a need to distill the spirit of Spring air – which was particularly therapeutic to bottle during isolation. I am also greatly inspired by the ingredients I work with, which are incredibly rich in tradition, history, mythology and therapeutic qualities. That’s why I choose to work with botanicals – I am enamored by the process it takes to make them and the unique terroir each possess. Finding the best distillers and suppliers is something I take great time and pride in doing – it’s a connection with the ingredients that gives me real joy. You’d be surprised to know how many essential oils and absolutes are adulterated, as well as how different they can be depending on distillation, origin, seasonal variances and time of harvest. When I smell the intricacies of a particularly beautiful extract, it can inspire a perfume – that’s how it was for Nocturne, Antiquarian and our last extrait de parfum for 2020 being released next month.

How would you describe your approach to self care and beauty?

I would describe my approach to self-care as resourceful, flexible and sensual. I’m all about baths, stretching, aromatics, gardening and walks. My approach to beauty is a minimal skincare routine, hydration and spending as much time in nature as I can (I’m all about the microbiome).

Can you share your beauty ritual? I would love to know how you integrate your upcoming skincare products into your routine...

Once I learnt about the intrinsic connection between skin health and our microbiome, I became really careful about what I put on my skin. Our skincare “range” being launched in November is actually only two products – and they’re all I use. I first use the face mist made from the most divine hydrosols and an organic brown seaweed extract from a biolab in Tasmania, followed by a nutrient dense serum with anti-inflammatory properties. Our philosophy is regenerative skincare; products that are regenerative for both the ecosystems on our skin as well as our planet. We actualize our philosophy through numerous ways, which has been something I’ve been really excited about developing.

Being that you run a slow and mindful operation with annual releases, how do you balance this thoughtful pace with sustaining yourself financially? I've found it challenging to balance the two within my own practice

That’s a great question, I feel you. It’s something we are still learning to balance – particularly with the added hurdles of this year. Our business model places a higher value on creativity, connection and ethics than money, however I believe these values are appreciated by our customers and will sustain our business better in the long run. To ensure it still can support our family as well as sustain the business, I created a five-year business plan which I found very helpful to ensure it was financially viable. With our business model, I have to plan a year ahead for the extrait de parfums, which means estimating our growth to ensure batches are big enough. Working this way also means I can accurately budget out the year ahead, grow in a way that fits the pace of a young family, and ensure no product wastage. With a skincare range being released soon, and a few other exciting projects on the horizon, I believe we will strike a balance without any compromises to our standards and procedures.

What might you be listening to or reading that you'd love to recommend?

I currently share my reading list with my two year old hehe, so if you’re after some good childrens books I highly recommend the publishing house Magabala Books. With little time for novels at the moment, I like reading research articles – something I’ve carried over from Midwifery. On my desk at the moment is ‘The skin microbiome: Impact of modern environments on skin ecology, barrier integrity, and systemic immune programming’ by Prescott, S L., West, C E., Danica-Lea, L., & Luis Caraballo. I’m listening to BaU (Business as Unusual) – a podcast my partner is involved in that has been a great motivator. I always wind down with Matthew Halsall or Alice Coltrane. Some newly released songs from Melbourne I’m enjoying are Dewi by Komang, As Tradition by Maple Glider and my friend’s new album Second Body (Two People).

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