We spoke to Merle Bergers, the founder and designer of Lingua Planta, a brand using scent to reconnect people with nature. A conceptual designer, Bergers talks about how Lingua Planta was inspired by her fascination with plant communication and the incorporation of science into beauty.
I grew up in a tiny forest in the east of the Netherlands. During high school, I didn’t know quite where to fit in. I attended evening art school at a local academy and took analog photography classes. When a modeling agency told me I could work abroad I took the chance and travelled to London, Milan and Tokyo. I ended up in Paris where I lived for two years. After a while, I missed a life in connection with nature, the connection with myself and my own body. I moved back to the Netherlands and rented a small room where I also organized my studio and applied to Design Academy Eindhoven. 4.5 years later I graduated cum laude on two projects, one called What’s in a Tear, which started as therapeutic material research on tears. The other one was Lingua Planta. Both projects were really personal to begin with but connected to something bigger. After graduating Cum Laude I started modeling again to fund the further development of my work. I have my studio in De Bilt, in the Netherlands. Now, I am living in an old Town Hall from 1880 close to the woods.
In the shape and form it has now it has existed for just a little over 1.5 years. In the beginning, the focus was very much on the reality of plants communicating via scent. The focus now is much more product oriented but still very much in tune with the original idea; how to be human in this world we share with other beings.
When I grew up the trees were very much alive to me. I think many children have a very animistic relationship with other beings but when I got older I felt I lost this connection. I started researching and found many books and podcasts on the subject of plant intelligence. Something I felt intuitively when I was younger suddenly was very real, very alive again in my world. I knew that molecular communication was something that I wanted to work with. I felt the need to share these findings in science and ecology, and cross-linked it via the medium of perfume, to make a daily reminder of the intelligence of other beings.
The fragrances are all heavily influenced by the concept. As a wearer of the perfume you might not immediately notice the backstory but you might sense it in other ways. The structure of the main communicative messages of plants gave a guideline to the work. Attract for example is based on the ways plants attract bees and other pollinators. In the beginning, it was made only with the molecules that are present in this molecular signaling. During the time span of a year, I made the translation in only natural materials. I am self taught but had a lot of help along the way from other perfumers and l sponged many books and podcasts on perfume making. In many ways I am still learning and the scents have been evolving over the last two years. The response has been amazing and I feel very blessed to be able to do this work.
It starts with a thought I have. Often it’s something in relation to my search on how to relate intellectually to nature as a human being and how we can either change perspectives or be mindful of the more than human world. If it’s a fragrance trying to find a way into this world, I start thinking about the botanical materials that could fit this narrative. After a little while of composing the fragrance in my head (that includes going to specific places, both mentally and physically, to become very close to the scent and it’s nuances). I start blending my first blend, weighting every ingredient, noting down everything meticulously. Sometimes closing my eyes and trying to visualize the fragrance helps me. It takes quite a bit of time, trial and error to get to the scent that I had in my mind but I love this process. I think of the composition all the time and sometimes I get a missing link when I’m in the shower, or cycling or doing something unrelated. This process could easily take a couple of months.
I am sure I am not the only one who at one point felt distance or a disconnection from nature. As a perfumer, I use botanical materials in my fragrances. They are biodegradable and made from plant parts that won’t cause the entire plant to die. Designing or making perfumes in this way feels more respectful to the plants. Their entirety is far too often seen as a commodity and not as the actual beings we share this earth with.
Exciting! I love learning about the different materials I use and how heritage influences the scent. Cedarwood from Texas smells incredibly different from Cedarwood from Virginia or from the Himalaya. I use the one from Virginia made from woodchips now in the fragrances Defend and Henosis. I love the warm, dry woody-ness it brings, it’s fixative effect and that it is originally a by-product from a pencil factory. I love to learn where my materials come from and how they are made, but it’s not always very easy. The big fragrance suppliers are not very transparent when it comes to the origins of their products, so I am on a journey towards working directly with the distillers who are often more transparent.
The world is in dire need of transparency and integrity. For a long time businesses have been able to thrive without even considering the natural world and basic common sense and that needs to change. It is important for us to be sustainable and ethical because we want] to be very holistic in my approach and to think the whole system through.
Covid made me realize the importance of self-care, creating a home environment where I am both stimulated and totally allowed to relax. Because I did not meet people for a while, worked where I live, and didn’t travel, I finally felt the time to pursue creative paths that didn’t have to lead anywhere. I tried to be open to the lessons I needed to learn and to see it as one big exercise in letting go.
The day starts with a morning walk through the forest, saying hi to Ginkgo and talking with my love about our dreams and what the day will bring us. When we return I’ll make a pot of herbal tea and I will start working. My day consists of very menial to highly creative tasks; from administration to vendor meetings to designing new scents. I work long days and usually I work during the evenings as well. As a night routine I love to unwind sometimes with an Eucalyptus bath or doing a little face massage with the Lavender water I got from a friend. (Fragrant) rituals really are an essential part of bringing structure to my days.
Big dreams are made out of many small steps. You just have to take your first step, and usually the road you have to take will become clear before your eyes. Don’t forget why you started to do what you do and regularly plan creative sessions with yourself. Never forget to play and have fun with what you do.
I love using Lingua Planta as a daily ritual. Applying a perfume in the morning feels like setting an intention for the day. The natural ingredients used in the fragrances have a mood-shifting effect and can influence how you feel in your skin or in your home.