Wit & West Perfumes has taken the Mile High City’s fragrance market to new heights. Despite the enigmatic nature of the perfume industry, Colorado-native Whitney Swales broke into the fragrance world and brought Wit & West, a natural perfumery, to Denver.
“It used to be a world that was a bit secretive, so only the elite or their family members became perfumers,” Swales said. “But it’s evolved. The training, ingredients and education surrounding perfumery have become more democratized and accessible now.”
Swales is originally from Colorado Springs but has lived in Denver for about 25 years now. During her childhood, her parents owned a British imports boutique that carried various goods from the UK, including British perfumes. From there, her interest in perfumes blossomed.
After working in finance and marketing in corporate America, Swales began to seriously consider her entrepreneurial goals. At the encouragement of her husband and now Wit & West business partner, Rob Westendorf, she embarked on an educational journey to explore her affinity for fragrance.
Swales learned from some of the most renowned perfumers in the indie world, including Mandy Aftel, a recognized pioneer of natural perfumery. As both her knowledge and appreciation for fragrance grew, Swales took what she’d learned and created a natural perfume brand of her own. At the beginning of 2021, she and her husband launched Wit & West Perfumes.
Wit & West Perfumes is a 100% natural and cruelty-free small-batch artisanal perfumery. The company is committed to the Perfumery Code of Ethics, which was established by fragrance industry veteran, Christophe Laudamiel. As a natural perfumery, Wit & West is also interested in how to make sustainable and ethical choices throughout the production process.
“I think people sometimes associate ‘natural’ with automatically being sustainable, and that’s not necessarily the case,” Swales said. “Just because an ingredient is natural doesn’t mean that the farming practices and the treatment of workers have been done ethically or sustainably.”
If a supplier can’t provide documentation and origin traceability of their ingredients, Swales won’t use them for her products. She focuses on working with suppliers who can give her confirmation that everything is sourced from sustainable farms or harvesters. She also won’t include endangered ingredients in her perfumes and finds alternative ingredients to use instead.
“If I’m going to use these wonderfully beautiful ingredients, I think it’s sort of my duty to make sure that I’m focused on where they’re coming from and how I’m sourcing them,” Swales said.
Perfume As An Experience
At the beginning of the fragrance design process, Swales searches her past experiences for inspiration. Most of Wit & West’s perfumes have a connection to Swales and her husband’s lives because she believes perfume is an experiential product.
“Your sense of smell is very connected to memories and emotions,” Swales said. “And so I think about things in my life that have been important or special to me.”
Wit & West carries perfumes named after Swales’ travel experiences, like Gavitella, or after her love for ballroom dancing, like Rosa de Bolero. With every added note and ingredient, Swales recreates a memory and tells that story to her customers through fragrance.
“While perfumery is a science, it’s also an art,” Swales said.
Many of Wit & West’s customers have noticed the artisanal value of perfume, including perfume enthusiasts on TikTok and Instagram. Swales was surprised to find that there was an online community for people who are invested in collecting and appreciating different perfumes. One product that’s especially popular amongst that crowd is Brumaire Woods, which combines scents of oakmoss, tobacco and lavender. Swales noted that the scent is versatile and can be worn by any gender.
“I think all of our fragrances are genderless and gender neutral,” Swales said. “Natural perfumes lend themselves to be more gender neutral than synthetic perfumes.”
Finding Your Fragrance
When it comes to helping her customers find what they’re looking for, Swales always asks if they’ve tried natural perfumes before to understand their expectations. Because natural perfumes tend to be very rich in scent, they’re much different than the synthetic perfumes most customers are used to. Swales developed a Scent Quiz on the Wit & West Perfumes’ website to help her customers understand their options.
“I think a lot of times people don’t necessarily have the vocabulary to articulate what they’re looking for,” Swales said. “The quiz is designed to kind of point people in the direction that I think would make the most sense based on their answers.”
While the online quiz is helpful for many of Wit & West’s customers, Swales also enjoys interacting with them in person at pop-up events throughout Colorado. Customers can find Wit & West at Boulder Fall Fest on Pearl Street with the Firefly Handmade Market in September. They will also be present at Sloan Lake for the Denver BAZAAR Fall Market in October.
As Wit & West Perfumes prepares to share their products in person, they’re also working on a new perfume that’s expected to come out soon. By extracting irises from her garden, Swales has created a perfume using traditional French methods. Though it’s been a laborious process, the company is looking forward to introducing a new fragrance to its customers.
To keep up with Wit & West Perfumes and learn more about their mission, their website is frequently updated with pop-up event appearances and new product information.
All photos courtesy of Wit & West Perfumes.