It might be a bleak and cold winter’s day but there’s something about being beside the seaside, inhaling the brisk fresh air that still feels good for the soul. As we drive the new Audi Q2 through the town of Margate, it’s hard to believe that this was once a teeming destination for Victorian holidaymakers, who enjoyed the medicinal properties of the salt water. Today, that bygone heritage is being revitalised by one small but fast-growing brand that’s reconnecting the town with its extraordinary stretch of coastline.
We’re here to visit Haeckels, one of the few companies in England with a licence to harvest seaweed, which it takes to its cliff-top lab and turns into a range of skincare products including beard oils and creams. That’s not all that sets it apart: the company also collects natural ingredients from the Kent countryside to create bespoke perfumes and candles identified by GPS coordinates instead of names.
‘Smell is fragile and fleeting,’ says Haeckels founder Dom Bridges as he sits in the back of his slick apothecary-style shop moments away from the Turner Contemporary art gallery. ‘I’m not into the idea of walking in here every year and being able to buy the same thing. Our perfumes are living scents – they evolve with the seasons, and the varying plants and flowers growing in the area.’
As well as collecting bladderwrack seaweed from the coastline a few times a week, Dom and his team regularly catalogue indigenous plants and flowers in the surrounding Kent countryside. The places they choose could be as unremarkable as a narrow lane off the M2 or as strange as a disused hoverport in Pegwell Bay, but what unites them is their abundance of natural ingredients. When the time is right the team returns to pick the flowers and plants, matching them with oils to create a powerful aromatic snapshot of a place. All Haeckels perfumes are eau de parfum, and come in amber bottles laser etched with a GPS coordinate, the day the ingredients were harvested and the weather on that day.
In a world of mass production, today’s consumers more than ever want to know that the objects they buy speak to them alone, and Haeckels is part of this growing demand. You could write a paragraph about yourself – a list of your favourite things or perhaps your favourite album – and the team will generate a bespoke blend from a range of pure distillations or extracts tailored to your personality. The perfume bottle can even be laser-etched as you wish. ‘We can craft any scent you want,’ agrees Dom. ‘We once distilled 200 Faber Castel F1 pencils because our customer loved the smell of sharpening them.’
Audi is also tapping into this desire. Whether choosing from 12 new exterior colours, throwing in a Bang & Olufsen sound system, or brightening your ride with LED lighting, the Q2 is its most customisable car yet and can reflect your personality down to the finest detail.
After a day spent breathing in Margate’s invigorating sea air and the beautifully presented Haeckels candles that smell uncannily like rain, I hop into the Q2 for the long drive home feeling more connected to the natural environment. As Dom says, ‘We perhaps don’t have the most dramatic or beautiful coastline or countryside, but what’s going on out there is pretty special.’
Written by Lisa Paul. Photographs by David Ryle.