Fresh Breath: Selahatin Is The Future of Luxury Oral Care

The oral care industry has long remained unchanged – clinical tubes of near identical, mint flavoured toothpastes and mouthwashes from pharmaceutical conglomerates are the only thing you’ll find on store shelves. In the interest of radical innovation, it’s a market that’s virtually untapped; we do what the dentist tells us and our daily routines stay the same. Enter Selahatin, the Stockholm-based brand coined as the “future of oral luxury”. Founded by fashion designer/publisher turned oral artisan Kristoffer Vural in 2016, it’s taking an unexpected approach to oral care by focusing on elevating the emotional experiences of everyday ceremonies through the “sensory expansion” of an oral/visual product range, making the nightly scutwork a treat rather than a chore.

Vural, who’s of Turkish-Swedish descent, has created an offering of whitening toothpastes, mouthwashes, oral sprays and product accessories that have more in common with the perfume industry than mainstream dental products. Observing that most beauty products like perfumes for instance, combine emotion and sensual receptibility with function, Vural wanted to bring this way of working into oral care as well. Selahatin’s signature proposal, ‘Of Course I Still Love You’, for example, blends verbena, bergamot, cardamom and pine, while one of its more recent releases, ‘Snowfall’, mixes peppermint, sweet mint and menthol. It’s mint, but not just mint; compounding flavour-rich ingredients like sassafras, eucalyptus, cucumber, bitter orange, lime, anise, cinnamon and more. In all sincerity, what Selahatin does is entirely unexpected; you won’t realise you need until you try it, but trust me when I say a single taste will make it hard to go back to your old supermarket spearmint. Selahatin takes the mundane act of brushing one’s teeth and makes it sublime; a whole new blissful experience that you’ll actually look forward to.

Plus, it’s a favourite of fashion’s dark lord, Rick Owens, who raved about the brand in an interview with AnOther. “I had no idea how he found it or why he would use it,” Vural recalls. “I have been wearing his stuff for about 30 years, and he’s a real inspiration of mine so that was a good day at the office.”

Vural’s idea for the brand was born from, like many of the best things are, hardship. When he was 25 he suffered from a stroke that paralysed the left side of his body and confined him to a hospital for a year. As an outcome of the affliction, Vural developed a particular sensitivity to “all kinds of stimuli”, namely taste and smell. “I started to experience aromas like colours,” he says. A rather serendipitous turn of events, the founder unwittingly developed synesthesia, a rare sensory condition that allows him the ability to taste and smell colours, and to see smells and flavours. 

While in physical rehab (“a pretty dark period” of his life), one of the only things Vural could do to feel some semblance of normalcy was to place value in the things he would do on a daily basis; the repetition, ritual and ceremony of it all. “I think that when you’re suffering, you really start paying attention to what’s beautiful,” he says. “I had to start my day with brushing my teeth and I hated that because it just made a bad day worse. It tasted like a super synthetic chemical that was too strong, so I started thinking, ‘there’s got to be a way to make this an experience you can actually look forward to’.” From his stroke, came synesthesia, a distaste for traditional toothpastes and a desire for something different – the unique blend of ingredients that make up Selahatin.

“There are a lot of ingredients that other cultures use as an alternative to mint. So to me, [what Selahatin is doing] makes sense. In Turkey people chew cloves [or miswak] to feel fresh… because why does it always have to be mint? I don’t like repetition. It’s sort of like head shrugging the day, every day… it just makes the whole experience a chore,” Vural says. “I want it to be like a ritual instead, it should enrich us and enhance our life. No one really eats  the same food, every day, day in and day out. So why should we accept that toothpaste can only be a mint? And not only is it only mint, but it’s really soulless and soul crushing to me.”

Selahatin approaches flavour creation in the same way as a master perfumer approaches olfactory design. “It’s sort of like painting, but instead of colours, I used aromas. It’s pretty strange,” Vural says. “Sometimes it starts with an idea, sometimes it’s with a picture and sometimes I’m just riffing. It just needs to feel magical when I smell it. The inhale has to be like a drug; it’s got to sort of really kick.” Often opting for a combination of simple Swedish aromas that reference his mother’s side of the family and more chaotic spices harking back to Vural’s father’s Turkish heritage, Selahatin’s flavours are also something of a family affair. The name of the brand even pays homage to Vural’s grandfather, Selahatin who was born in the Ottoman Empire. And aesthetically speaking, everything is packaged in recyclable aluminium tubes and sleek glass bottles so it looks better on the bathroom shelf than the usual, and rather gaudy, run-of-the-mill products. 

What the artisan has set out to create resembles a way of “accessing the realm of the metaphysical”, through the lens in which one views reality, a lens of fantasy – which is how he defines synesthesia. “I’m just basically trying to be as true to what I see in my head,” he says, referring to the fact that somehow, Vural has found a way to make it make sense to the average punter. You might not be able to actually ‘see’ the flavours, but there’s something about their composition, paired with poetic namings and a vivacious visual identity that goes “hand in hand with synesthesia” all together evoke a tangible feeling. “People can use toothpaste like fragrance in the sense that you can have two or three or four depending on your mood and on the season. But for toothpaste and oral care, when I’m heading to sleep, I don’t want to have something that’s super strong like the equivalent of a big German slap in the face. No, I want to have something that’s more tranquil and that puts you at ease and to sleep like honey and peppermint.”

Designed to pull you away from the repetition of everyday life by activating the senses, the brand’s oral sprays have become an obsession for purveyors of the internet who’ve compared them to “mouth perfumes”. Speaking on these, Vural explains how, like all of his products, it’s packed with a lot more meaning than a simple breath freshener. “The spray is interesting as a product, because I don’t just want it to be something that you use to feel fresh, but also to be akin to walking on the street and stopping and smelling a flower; something that snaps you out of your everyday mood.”

What Apple did for computing, Selahatin has set out to do for oral care, and with a well-developed product roadmap that kind of revolution doesn’t feel very far off. “I do think we’re on the cusp of actually changing an entire industry, and being a catalyst for change. Because this category is dominated by a few global companies that own like 90 percent of the market share, there’s an incentive structure that means that doing things differently is a much bigger risk than proceeding with business as usual. So change has to come from the outside. We have to force this industry to change.” Going forward, Vural is only looking and growing, and getting even “weirder”. He says, “We are quite different in regards to beauty and I’m looking to expand and develop the range in a way that’s more about flavour than aroma because this hasn’t really been seen in the beauty context.” Whatever is in store for the future, if you’re not already on the Selahatin train, it’s about time you buy a ticket (or a tube of tasteful toothpaste).

Photography courtesy of Selahatin.

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