Perfume companies claim to do a lot: Any commercial featuring Kiera Knightley or Nicole Kidman has us thinking that a spritz of Lancôme will firmly and magically place you on the rump of a white stallion as you gallop through the English countryside. Air Company’s Air Eau de Parfum purports one thing: You can wear a fragrance made of air. Only, they’re not lying.
Air Company was launched two years ago, after CEO Gregory Constantine and CTO Dr. Stafford Sheehan invented a technology that converts carbon dioxide into impurity-free ethanol, which is basically a way to recycle carbon dioxide out of the air and into an alcohol that can be used for consumer products. The only other byproduct is water, which is then recycled. Air Company’s first release was obvious: Air Vodka, which was billed as the world’s first carbon-negative spirit. Last year, in response to the global public health crisis, they also released a hand sanitizer.
Now, Air Company has a perfume made from the air itself. But what does something as amorphous as “air” smell like? Especially since it was made in New York City? Fortunately, the company used safe synthetic scents to create the feeling of something fresh, which translates in this case to notes of fig leaf, orange peels, jasmine, azalea, and tobacco.
“It was easy to have a concept that was really focused on the outdoors, but it was really tough to try to create something genderless and as unique as possible, so we worked really tirelessly to push the scent to be as unique as possible,” Constantine told NYLON. “Hopefully it’s still light and fresh and takes people to the outdoors and has their elements of air, water, and sun, which are the elements that make up our technology as well.”
But can we solve climate change with air? The company estimates that a bottle of perfume removed approximately 56 grams of carbon dioxide, resulting in a net environmental removal of 36 grams after factoring in manufacturing processes, or about the equivalent of the carbon dioxide it takes to produce about nine emails. But the amount is less important than the fact that the technology exists at all – and the company has plans to use it on a bigger scale. For example, they’re currently working with NASA on a series of projects that are applicable both in space and on earth, Constantine says.
NYLON spoke with Constantine about how to scale up their proprietary technology, how to use consumer products to tell a story about helping to solve climate change, and how exactly they went about creating and marketing something as amorphous as air.
Air Eau de Perfume is now available for purchase.
Air Company has vodka and hand sanitizer. Tell me a little bit about why you chose perfume for your latest product.
The reason why we chose perfume is we have such an innovative technology that our belief is that when we’re able to put real products out in the world that are proof points of technology, it’s the best way to educate people about the power of technology. Especially when you merge technology with creative thinking, anything is possible, and we’re hopeful that these products that we create are really beacons of that theory. So we decided to put out our perfume, not only because our technology tends itself towards the consumer industries, but because we think it’s the best educational tool to show the world what’s possible.
I’m interested in the concept of products being a way to tell a story or share a technology – especially with perfume which feels so personal, and the emotions that scents bring up.
Absolutely. A scent for me and for us is always a reminder of a point in time. It’s this emotive, really beautiful memory that we can create. Not only did I grow up wearing scents, but we wanted to create a scent that was reminiscent of the outdoors after several years of spending time indoors during lockdowns. It’s a way of taking people outdoors and having them touch on those emotive principles, as well.
And I feel like vodka almost has a similar power in alcohol being celebratory and intensely personal in the way that perfume is, too.
Yeah, I think more so than anything, when there's so much turmoil happening in our lives and in the world today we really believe in the power of positive thinking and hope we can get connected together through social elements whether it be over a beverage or through memories as well and hopefully that comes through with fragrance, as well.
I’m curious to make and market a perfume where “air” is the concept? It’s something that feels so amorphous.
It’s an interesting one and one we spent a lot of time on and selfishly we try not to over market things and we try to really allow design to be a massive principle for us. We hope that when we create products the design is the foremost thing that we utilize, but then we love to let the product and the technology do a lot of the talking. From that design perspective, we try to be as minimal as possible. Hopefully you see that with the vodka, the bottle is as minimal as possible so we let the liquid do the talking. Similar to the perfume: How can we be as minimal as possible? Not only from a waste perspective, but so folks will really go out and enjoy the scent as well. So we really focus on design and hopefully that’s come to light, as well.
“We decided to put out our perfume, not only because our technology tends itself towards the consumer industries, but because we think it’s the best educational tool to show the world what’s possible.”
As far as the actual scent, how do you decide to use synthetic as opposed to natural scenes? How did you decide what this should actually smell like?
We made a conscious decision to utilize safe synthetics because they’re actually far more sustainable than their predecessors and have gotten a bad rep from communications and PR and media in the past. For us, it's about the overarching mission: How can we be as regenerative and sustainable as possible? So we made the decision to use safe synthetics. But when it comes to the actual scent itself, personally, I’m from Australia and grew up in and around the outdoors and everything we stand for and the mission and the company is really centered around the climate, so it was a tough and an easy one. It was easy to have a concept that was really focused on the outdoors, but it was really tough to try to create something genderless and as unique as possible, so we worked really tirelessly to push the scent to be as unique as possible, but hopefully it’s still light and fresh and takes people to the outdoors and has their elements of air, water, and sun, which are the elements that make up our technology as well, so there are a lot of kind of tie-ins through the technology and some of the principles we stand for as a company, as well.
You hear so much about this idea of clean beauty, which feels so nebulous. What do you think are some things perfume and beauty companies can do that they aren’t doing? What does clean beauty really mean?
There’s an array of things that can be done and I think hopefully companies like ours are helping people think about stepping outside the box and trying a little bit harder and hopefully we can be a bit of a beacon for that. There are so many, not only new innovative technologies, but materials too, that make up a lot of the waste when it comes to things like packaging. We spend a lot of time and energy on the packaging side of things, which is beyond what we can necessarily control from a technology view and it will be great to see the beauty industry take a stance on not only the packaging, but the liquid as well as what makes up the scent. It’s always hard to think outside the box, but in this day and age that we live in we have to.
From a consumer standpoint, obviously you’ve utilized and converted a ton of carbon dioxide throughout all the products. But is buying these products – and converting this small amount of carbon dioxide – helping on a large enough scale? How do we scale up your technology?
That’s a great question. It’s a start and it won’t solve climate change, but for us and something that we always harp on about is if we were to apply our technology to every industry that it could be applicable to, which is obviously the spirits industry and the fragrance industry and even fuel industry, when you think about this one single technology, if it were applied, it could mitigate annual global carbon dioxide emissions by over 10 percent, which is billions of tons of carbon dioxide a year, and that’s true impact. While that is our goal and that is our ambition, a larger ambition of ours is to be a proof point to others because we can’t do it alone. We have to work together, whether it’s other entrepreneurs and other young businesses that are starting or whether it's the large corporations of the world that are either innovating or taking part in technologies like this. It’s got to be a joint effort. Success for us is if we inspire others to go out and try to incite change as well.
If your tech is proprietary, is there a way to make it easier for other companies to do this kind of work?
There is and it’s through collaboration. Collaboration is key. We’ve said openly so many times that we would love to collaborate with other organizations and other businesses as well and hopefully that we can have our technology readily available to those who want to utilize it as well, because it is about coming together and collaborating as one.
Can you talk about that initial idea to utilize and convert the carbon dioxide? Where did this come from? Is anyone else doing anything that’s similar?
We started the business almost five years ago now, myself and my business partner, after having spent several years in the U.S. and living in New York, which is obviously such a stark contrast to the outdoors of Australia. I became so acutely aware to my surroundings and the environment and how it degraded overtime and when I met my founder and business partner Stafford, he got his PhD from Yale in Chemistry and Physics and has been a career technologist and environmentalist, that kind of initial inspiration that I had was heightened so much more with meeting him when we were talking and becoming friends. We went and set out on this mission and pathway of being like, “If we have the ability to commercialize a technology like this and at least put one product out in the world, that would be a huge success.” And if we have that initial success, we may be able to go on and see it applicable to all these industries where we could really incite massive change for the better, from a carbon sequence point of view and hopefully for the climate. At the time, whether it was foolish or not, we decided to leave what endeavors we were doing at the same time and start this company with a mission for helping the planet for the better.
What products or types of products are next. What are you thinking about, what are customers asking for?
We’re working with NASA on a couple projects that are applicable in space, but can also be applicable here on Earth. There’ll be some cool announcements of new products we’re putting out later this year as well. We’ve put out a new product every year for the last three years, which is a true innovation in itself, but we're definitely targeting at the consumer industries with one portion of the business and we've got some amazing goals were working on over the next five, ten years that are targeting these massive industrial industries in aerospace and aviation, so it’s a pretty exciting trajectory.
Is there anything else in beauty in particular that this technology could lend itself to?
It absolutely could and we’re working on a couple areas within the beauty space that this technology could see itself in as well. Hopefully, we’ll be able to announce one of the partners that we’re working with very shortly on that.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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