How I'm Skirting the Rules

I’m Using Perfume to Change the World—Really

Even though beauty insiders said it couldn't be done, industry newbie Wendy Berger found a way to make phthalate-free, pregnancy-safe perfumes. What's more—each bottle gives back to charity.

Wendi Berger, founder of Pour Le Monde Parfums

Wendi Berger's Pour le Monde Parfums do no harm and benefit charity.

It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention, and this proved to be true for former beauty magazine executive Wendi Berger, who has worked at titles such as Elle, InStyle, and Vanity Fair. Her love affair with perfume started at age nine when she was given Love’s Baby Soft as a birthday gift. After doctors advised this fragrance addict to stop wearing perfumes during her pregnancy because they’re often made with chemicals such as the preservative known as phthalates, she turned to the natural roller-ball and solid kinds. However, she felt many of the natural fragrances smelled too “granola,” and she craved more complexity than the single-note essential oils offered.

So Wendi decided to create her own line. While it sounds like a straight-forward path, it was littered with obstacles, such as industry insiders telling her a complex, all-natural perfume simply couldn’t be made because there aren’t enough certified 100-percent natural essential oils available to work with. Wendi proved the experts wrong and, after two years in development, introduced Pour le Monde Parfums to the market. The product stays true to its name, which means “for the world” in French, because each of the three scents benefits a different charity, including the Cancer Support Community. We caught up with Wendi at Skirting the Rules‘ first Art of Being Salon in Manhattan to find out how she found a side door for making the impossible, well, possible.

I’m Skirting the Rules by defying what the beauty industry veterans said couldn’t be done: Creating certified 100-percent natural fine fragrances. Before us, no one had had success creating truly natural perfumes without using absolutes, which are concentrated plant extracts that call for using solvents that still contain trace amounts of petrochemicals. Our eau de parfums are made with certified 100-percent natural essential oils and a lot of love. It takes the guilt out of spraying a fragrance on you and into the air.

A time when I found the possible (a creative solution) within the impossible (against incredible odds) was when, after finally finding a fragrance house to take on the challenge and two years of testing more than 60 different formulations, we were almost ready to call it quits. Then we had a breakthrough where we finally found the right notes for the Pour le Monde collection that would give this natural line the complexity needed to smell as good—or better!—than the synthetic fragrances on the market. For example, Empower has citrus top notes such as Persian lime and Brazilian orange; middle notes such as cassis, lemongrass, spearmint and basil, and a sensual cedar wood for its base. All three scents in the collection are created in layers, changing with your skin’s chemistry to become your own unique scent.

I believe my most powerful feminine strengths that helped me get ahead are not taking no for an answer…with a smile.

An example of how listening to my intuition has helped me is when I just knew the green beauty market was on the cusp of exploding into the mainstream while everyone thought I had turned into a hippie tree hugger.

My secret talent is I can sing just like how Edith Bunker does to the theme of “All in the Family.”

My biggest rebel move (or my biggest risk) was definitely leaving my cushy, I-get-a-paycheck-every-week job to launch something in the unknown. Very unlike me! But I just knew there was a hole in the market that I could fill, so I had to go for it.

A woman is most powerful when she is totally calm in a situation where most people wouldn’t be.

A time I wish I’d listened to my inner knowing more was when I was really fresh in the world of beauty. I listened to a lot of seasoned people who, because of their experience, convinced me to do this and that. I knew it didn’t feel right because they just weren’t getting that there was a need for an all-natural scent. For example, people with asthma, those with fragrance sensitivities, and pregnant women are affected by synthetic fragrances. It cost me more time, aggravation, and money than if I had just followed my inner knowing sooner.

The female disruptor who most inspires me and why is too many! I immediately think of Gregg Renfrew from Beauty Counter, Jessica Alba from Honest Company, and Sarah Blakely from Spanx—even Brownie Wise from Tupperware. They all recognized a need in the market and made it happen!

I wish I could tell myself when I was starting out to not sweat the small stuff. As you get older you realize things that used to upset you were petty, unimportant, and with people you probably won’t associate with in the future.

My favorite skirt is to make a to-do list before I go to bed to clear my mind. That way I am not up all night thinking about everything. Confession: I still am!