Hive Mind is my best seller to date, partly because of some kind coverage from prominent reviewers, and partly (I hope) because it is so nice! I’ve also been contacted by a couple of people who told me they chose Hive Mind for their wedding day. Saying that is a sure-fire way to make me cry…
Here is the story behind it.
Bees! What more do you need?! They’re incredible little things.
More specifically, it was a moment after I had been tending to my own bees. I was taking off my beekeeping gloves (a soft leather-type material), and they were coated with the rich orange and yellows of the hive: bits of propolis (a natural resin which is antibacterial in the hive, and serves to glue bits of the hive together), wax, and drops of honey. Being curious, I of course decided to smell my gloves. It was amazing. This intoxicating mix of leather, resin, wax, and sweetness was uniquely different from anything I have smelled before. Think of suede coated in beeswax with an animalic twist. If I could tincture my gloves, I would.
It set me thinking of what a ‘storybook’ beehive would smell like – if you could extract all the different parts of the hive, emphasise them, enhance them, and balance them. This set the creation of Hive Mind in motion.
Hive Mind in the wonderfully smelling gloves
Now, let me rewind and tell the story of how I ended up keeping bees in the first place…
During my years at university, where I ultimately studied chemistry, I also studied Evolution & Animal Behaviour. My interest was always in the weird crossover bits between the natural world and chemistry. The type of things that could answer the questions about life on other planets.
As part of Animal Behaviour we studied social insects, because, on the surface, they don’t ‘make sense'. If evolution is about survival of the fittest, why would thousands of individuals forgo the ability to reproduce in favour of having one Queen? Is it control, is it altruism, or is evolution wrong? Now, thankfully, the logic stands up, and it isn’t a topic to answer here... But these sorts of questions really interested me. In a hive of 60,000 bees, how is there such ‘order? What maintains the Hive Mind? Bees have different jobs throughout their lifetime (from cleaners, to nurses, to foragers, even undertaker bees); how does that work? And the list goes on.
Being a bit of a nerd at heart, I continued to read and learn, and in my second year, I decided to complete my summer project on bees. This meant I ended up spending a lot of time staring at the same patch of flowers, counting bees, and spotting different species mid-flight.
My particular college at university happened to have a couple of hives, so I spoke with the head gardener and asked whether I could help out on an inspection, and actually get hands-on. YouTube videos and forums only offer so much. I wanted to see some of the theory in practice!
Let me tell you, the first time you open a hive in summer and are greeted with the prospect of tens of thousands of stingers potentially coming your way, it is pretty sobering. After a while, the hum of the hive almost becomes meditative, and you realise how peaceful the bees actually are. Sometimes a bit curious of you (if someone took the roof off of your house, you would be too...) but generally very calm.
A shot from inside my own hive
The interest never really went away from that point, and I decided that when it was practical enough after university, I wanted to keep bees myself. The need for conservation is really high. Bees are a vital part of not only our agriculture, but also the biodiversity around us. Because of a parasite (the varroa mite), which is now prolific in Britain, very few wild colonies will survive beyond a few years. Couple that with the unpredictable weather (which has an impact on the food for the bees), and the need for supporting our bee population is higher than ever!
The opportunity came in 2020, when I signed up with my local beekeeper’s association to do so some more hands on learning, and ultimately took the plunge and bought a hive and some bees from a local beekeeper. I keep my bees not far from Hardwick Hall, where they have a bounty of fields and hedgerow forage to support them. 3 years in, and I have only ever taken a kilo or two of honey from them (the majority of which got turned into mead); my priority is to leave them with plenty to keep them healthy and happy!
Fun fact – I have been stung 2 times in the 3 years. It is inevitable, and it hurts. Once was on the wrist, and the second time I had taken my suit off, and one had followed me back to the car. It got stuck in my hair, and I panicked. Right on the top of my head—that one really hurt.
The creative process
Hive Mind sort of wrote itself, I just had to let it come to life and help it out in its beauty. Staying true to the idea that inspired it, I took each ‘element’ of the hive and worked out how to translate that into fragrance.
The hive itself is actually made of cedar, which is a popular perfumery ingredient. This wasn’t meant to be the focus of the fragrance, though; it served to ground and support the other notes nicely.
Next came the honey and the beeswax. These two were crucial! Beeswax absolute is a thick, waxy, material that smells beautiful and captures the honeyed, animalic nuance of beeswax, along with its thick, waxy texture. It’s very expensive though, so use with caution! It’s also a bit of a pain to get out of the bottle, but worth it.
There are 2 main pheromones which I considered referencing as part of the composition; one of the ‘control pheromones’, and the ‘attack’ pheromone. The attack pheromone contains isoamyl acetate and butyl acetate, both of which are readily available and smell like banana and banana/apple, respectively. However, it is the other that interested me more, the Nasonov pheromone is given by worker bees to orientate, recruit, and also signal nesting sites – something that ‘smells like home'. It has geraniol, citral, nerolic acid, and other things. Some people say it smells like lemongrass. I decided to use a mixture of a lemon essential oil and a ginger one to create an analogue. I also liked the extra ‘sting’ using these gave. Just enough to remind you of the power of the hive.
On evaluating the fragrance, I still felt like it was lacking something. It needed a setting, and that’s where the flowers came in. Again, not a main player, but something to fill the white space between the highlighted notes. I used a mixture of floral materials to give a ‘generic floral’ bouquet, but quite a high dose of jasmine because I like it, and it fits the space nicely without taking over.
Hive Mind in good company. (I knelt on those stones in shorts for so long to get that shot!).
Bringing it to life
The cap looks like your ‘typical’ British countryside beehive (called a WBC hive), the ones you usually find depicted on jars of honey (either those or something called a Skep, which I think is quite cruel as it means killing or making the bees homeless in the honey harvesting process – people don’t tend to use Skeps anymore).
If you look closely, you can see the detail of the wood grain, and even the interlocking joints on the corners. It’s those little details that are my favourites. It also has a little landing board for the bees! We stopped just short of adding a little bee… I’m still waiting for the day I get a shot of a bee landing on a bottle of Hive Mind, or on the cap.
Hive Mind's bottle top
For the packaging a vibrant yellow was perfect for the belly band and insert. I must admit, I was worried at first about the blue box and yellow band looking a little bit too much like a particular Swedish flatpack furniture company…
I spent a particularly long time on the poem inside the box. I wanted something thought provoking with double meaning that referenced the importance of the conservation efforts for our pollinators. I hope that this came through; the next time you read it, read it from the perspective of the literal, the bees, and a second time from the point of view of humanity and the loss of our pollinators… Then go and plant some wildflowers, support a charity, or leave those flowering weeds a week or two longer before you mow/pick them.
Hive Mind, fully packaged