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Fulton & Roark Is a New Way of Doing Fragrance

Fulton & Roark breaks tradition, crafting uniquely American fragrances inspired by landscapes, using unconventional notes for bold scents.

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For a long time, there’s been a way of doing things when it comes to fragrance, and most typically, it’s been the French way: floral aromas here, herbal notes there, often attuned to and inspired by the region of France — in the South — that has dominated perfumery for decades. But at Fulton & Roark — called an “American Fine Fragrance” company by its owners Kevin Keller and Allen Shafer — they’ve taken a slightly more idiosyncratic and original attitude to assembling scents: pure imagination. “What Americans keep doing over and over is imitating the European establishment, doing our best impersonation of what we think they do, and that lands us weak, watered down versions of Belgian chocolate, French wine, and German beer,” says Keller. “Then eventually we learn it well enough to go, ‘You know what, we’re going to do it our own way.’ That’s when you get California Cabernets, potato chips covered in chocolate with Thai spice, craft Imperial IPAs. That’s where we want to be with fragrance.” 

This novel approach has led to a wide wistful range of Fulton & Roark extraits de parfum (highly concentrated fragrances), soaps, oils, and — most inventively — solid wax fragrances that can be applied to the skin with finger smudges, all of them tributes to specific places on the American landscape. Take HWY 190, which was inspired by a long drive Keller took through the parched fever of Death Valley. “You can see for miles — there’s nobody in front, nobody behind,” he says. “I had a physical memory of that, of driving as fast I could through the desert, feeling the sun through the glass, the barren landscape. I wanted to create a fragrance that spoke to some heat, some adrenaline and, frankly, some arrogance.” It would’ve been sensible to use more obviously arid notes of pinon, sandalwood, or juniper to replicate the aura of the Mojave. but instead, he hoped to capture the feeling more than just the facts, and, playing around with concoctions, stumbled on an unlikely blend of orange, pink pepper, myrrh, and, surprisingly, the sweet smell of freesia, for something that registered to him as “spicy, hot, fast, intense, dry.” “It’s almost like a painting. If I was painting Paris, I don’t need the paint to come from Paris,” he says. “I just need to create something that makes you feel like Paris, right?”

Sometimes, it’s an unusual ingredient that leads them down an interesting path. For Thousand Palms, an ode to an oasis in Mojave, it all started with just about the unlikeliest note in perfumery: bell pepper, the same kind you chop up and saute. Working on the product with Frank Voelkl, the legendary perfumer who worked on the beloved Sandal 33 for Le Labo, they were tinkering with various notes, eventually landing on the pepper, initially thought best used as a co-starring accent — not the main event of the scent. “He had been toying around with bell pepper as a little complimentary thing. I was like, no, no, no, no, I want that to be the center of a fragrance,” says Keller. “Frank was like, ‘Are you sure? This seems weird.’ and we were like, ‘Yes.’ It’s familiar and it’s foreign at the same time. You can conjure chopping into a bell pepper, and it does something to your mouth immediately. It’s crisp and it’s green and it’s urgent. I don’t want that to be a cool little note among 100 notes. I want that to be the backbone of this. We may drive this thing off a cliff, but I really wanted to go for it.” 

There’s newness in form, as well as function. Fulton & Roark crafts two types of products that offer unique ways to engage with aroma: the Formula 5 oil, an ingenious method to apply fragrance to both the skin and the hair that also nourishes and moisturizes both, and a smudgeable solid fragrance that can be easily packed away in a pant pocket or dopp kit for use whenever. ”For people traveling on planes, getting ready at the gym, going straight from meetings out with friends after work, the idea of a glass bottle of flammable liquid being your only option just seemed outdated,” Keller says. “We knew we were going to piss off a lot of the folks who get moral about aesthetics when it comes to fragrance.”  

As the company goes forward, there’s one thing that remains absolute when the foundation of the business is artistic freedom: exploration, at all costs. Whatever comes next for the fragrance brand, Keller remains committed to staying open enough that the old methods won’t get in the way of a great new idea. “My gripe with a lot of traditional fragrance companies isn’t really what they’re doing — what they’re doing is lovely. I just don’t think that that’s a good enough reason to elicit my curiosity because someone before you did it for hundreds of years in the same way,” Keller says. “I do think the striving to offer something new — something creative, finding interesting new ways and new perspectives — is worth doing.”

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HWY 190 Premier Set
HWY 190 Premier Set

“I've always hated the idea that someone would invest time and expense in finding a scent that really speaks to them, and then pair it with the strongly-scented drugstore deodorant that they grabbed without a moment of thought. That's how you end up smelling noisy. This set allows you to layer your fragrance across products, meaning that the scent of your bar soap, deodorant and hair oil will coordinate.”

Purchase: $368
Thousand Palms Extrait
Thousand Palms Extrait

“If you want a scent that really stands out from the crowd, I suggest Thousand Palms. The first note you're likely to notice is fresh green bell pepper. It's such a lively scent. If charisma had a smell, it might be this.”

Purchase: $205
Ramble Formula 5 Oil
Ramble Formula 5 Oil

“We've had more than a couple of our customers refer to our Formula 5 Oil as ‘magic,’ and I totally get it. It's a ‘dry oil,’ meaning that it doesn't feel heavy or greasy on your skin or in your hair. It tames frizz, gives your hair a deep luster, and nourishes your skin, locking in healthy moisture. Whether you have shoulder length hair, or a crew cut, your hair will instantly look a little better with just a couple of drops. Plus, you'll smell fantastic.”

Purchase: $55
Cloudland Solid Fragrance
Cloudland Solid Fragrance

“When we first started Fulton & Roark, it was our Solid Fragrances that initially got everyone's attention. One of the major differences with Solid Fragrances is that they wear a little closer to your person — meaning the people you're comfortable getting close to will certainly notice, but not the entire room. Cloudland is the perfect scent for a solid, because it's a very intimate fragrance. It's a skin scent that changes considerably based on your body chemistry, meaning it smells a little different on everyone. With clean musks and notes of petrichor (the smell of imminent rain), it's a very addictive scent.”

Purchase: $60
The Fragrance Discovery Set
The Fragrance Discovery Set

“If you're not sure which scent is right for you, we highly recommend our Discovery Set. I recommend turning it into a little event, either with a significant other or even a group of friends. Treat it like a wine tasting. Don't stop at, ‘I like this one,’ or ‘I don't like this one.’ Make some notes, discuss. You might be surprised. As a bonus, each set comes with a $30 coupon code toward your next purchase.”

Purchase: $60
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