Saffron James Parfums

Saffron James Ipo Parfum. Courtesy of Saffron James Parfums

Some of beauty's best products can fly under the radar, quietly obsessed over amongst insiders in-the-know. We just tripped upon such a brand.

Inspired by the Hawaiian flowers of her hometown, former Elle and Lucky beauty editor Kate Growney's line of Saffron James fragrances emphasize the delicate and sensual scents from petals found in the Aloha State. From pikake to pink plumeria and hibiscus, fine oils make for blends that uphold the native floral tradition.

"Flowers are ingrained in the Hawaiian culture. Women will pick a flower and put it behind their ear, and use flowers as ornaments and accessories daily," Growney tells StyleList. "We don't really wear fragrance in Hawaii because flowers are worn in lieu of scent, it's a part of the way you get dressed -- which is why the creation of fine fragrance using the flowers hasn't been done before."

But this isn't your grandma's heavy floral favorite. The line touts five eau de parfums -- which recently became available in rollerball versions -- that contain the same gentle and slightly powdery scent of freshly picked flowers snipped and tied into a lei. Made of fine oils, all the fragrances are free of that dizzying sweetness made famous by their cheap counterparts.

Saffron James Parfums

Saffron James Le'a and Nani Parfums. Courtesy of Saffron James Parfums

Each scent comes housed in an elegant deep book that opens to reveal the legend-like tale behind the flower on the inside cover. "None of Hawaii's flowers are native. All of our flowers came with people on voyages, who brought their absolute favorite things from their countries," says Growney, who also adds that the packaging perpetuates the rich Hawaiian tradition of storytelling. "It's called 'talk-story.' I'd always sit around with family and stories would be told about personal adventures, like hunting or climbing, always with a unique humor," remembers Growney.

The newest launch, Ipo, or "sweetheart" in Hawaiian, is an exotically sexy blend of the pakalana flower -- also known as "chinese violet" -- with notes of Moroccan rose, orange blossom, Tahitian gardenia and lemongrass. Pakalana is the only scent worn by both women and men in Hawaii, a detail which wasn't lost on Growney. "I wanted it to remind you of your lover, or remind your lover of you," says Growney of the light, citrus-touched floral note.

Le'a -- which shares a scandalous translated meaning with Nars' Orgasm Blush -- is a blend of pink and white plumeria with pineapple leaf, passionflower and hibiscus. "Plumeria is what everyone smells when they get off the plane, and is what most people think of when they think of Hawaii," says Growney. Nani combines the same pink plumeria with pikake, mimosa, lily and ylang ylang for a decidedly lusher, more feminine fragrance that was created in honor of Hawaii's last crown Princess Ka'iulani, who was known for keeping peacocks for pets.

Saffron James Parfums

Saffron James Punono and Ume Parfums. Courtesy of Saffron James Parfums

Meanwhile, Punono flushes the warmth of a bouquet caught under the sun, with notes of ylang ylang, pikake, carnation, vanilla and Tunisian opium, while Ume mixes the spice of fresh ginger absolute with waterlily, gardenia, yuzu and mousse de chene. "Whenever I visited my parent's home near the rainforest, I would always go for a run through the forest. I worked to recreate that juicy, delicious scent of flowers blooming against really wet earth in Ume," says Growney.

So how exactly does one recreate the scent of such unique flowers? Growney worked with famed fragrance house Firmenich, which owns complex machines that break down the molecular structure of a petal sample so that a formula to replicate the scent can be created. Yet, getting a viable sample is the tricky part. "When you pick a flower, it immediately beings to transform -- and not always in a good way! It took months for us to capture the sequence of Chinese violet, which is an especially finicky plant," remembers Growney.

Another curiosity -- the brand name -- combines Growney's pen name of Saffron Caulder from her days as a magazine editor with her part-Hawaiian father's first name of James. "It wasn't fashionable at the time to use Hawaiian names, so my dad is the only one in his family who got a non-Hawaiian name," Growney laughs of the irony.

The rollerballs retail for $38, and eau de parfums start at $85, with $1 from every product purchase donated to the environmental and cultural preservation of Hawaii. You can find Saffron James at select Nordstrom and Anthropologie stores, as well as, online at and

And while Growney makes the world a much more sensually scented place, it's actually the protection of Hawaiian heritage that she says is her goal.

"It always killed me that Hawaiian shirts are what most people think of when it comes to Hawaii," says Growney. "I want to show the world a more local and insiderish perspective through quality fragrances made from the flowers I grew up and loved. To me, that's what Hawaii is really all about."

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