The man responsible for the rebirth of Buly 1803 – Ramdane Touhami – shares his five favourite smells

Let’s make one thing clear: Ramdane Touhami‘s as creative, as kooky, as crazy-on-the-outside-and-smart-on-the-inside as anyone we’ve ever met. First, he was responsible for injecting life into Cire Trudon, now a global force in home fragrance.
He left Cire Trudon for a very good reason: to revive the ‘lost’ Paris perfumer and ‘supplier of beauty vinegars’, Buly. We recently paid a revisit to their boutique on Rue Bonaparte, in Paris, and were once again blown away. With its apothecary jars, old-fashioned lettering and floor-to-ceiling wooden display units, its essences and ingredients for customers to smell, this is a place which feels and looks like it’s been there for 200 years – yet the boutique is entirely new.
Ramdane had been searching for a potential ‘phoenix’ brand. As he explains: ‘The “vinaigre de Bully” was a patented aromatic lotion for performing ablutions and preserving skin tone. With my wife, Victoire de Taillac, we spent hours collecting everything we could on the history of Bully and 19th century perfumers. We bought archives and catalogues when we could, but mainly browsed through those held by institutions.’
French-Moroccan polymath Ramdane has ideas coming out of his ears. A new Buly store in Japan is split down the middle: one side completely contemporary. In London, there’s a corner of Dover Street Market carved out as a Buly 1805 store-within-a-store – like nothing you’ve ever seen, with its petal-pink decorative tiled display towering skywards. (There’s to be another exciting London opening later this year –so watch this space.)
Formulations are modern – but again, packaged like something from two centuries ago. (Look out for quite the sexiest micellar water bottle on the planet, while our favourite indulgences are the glass-domed scented candles – no two of them alike, since they’re carved from real marble.) In the Paris flagship, meanwhile, there’s even a resident calligrapher – ‘we call him The Head of the Word’, smiles Ramdane – who will inscribe your purchases. (This is the calligrapher’s desk, below.)

We caught up with this whirlwind to ask him to share his five favourite smells – and of course, being Ramdane, the answers are a little off-the-wall. ‘I love to smell things wherever go,’ he explains. ‘Funnily enough, I don’t wear perfume. But my nostrils are always working…’
1. Petrichor – but which one? [Petrichor is the smell of rain on a surface such as pavement.] There are different types of petrichor; it depends on the city! Petrichor in Chinatown is a disaster, because the air fills with the scent of fish and it smells just so, so bad – but in London’s Hyde Park you have a fantastic green smell of petrichor. If you are in Provence, the dust gives the smell of petrichor, and it is different again; you think they’re the same but they’re different. I’m doing a project on petrichor from all over the world; we’re capturing it using headspace technology – I have an alert on my phone which tells me that in two days’ time it’s gong to rain in the Ngorongoro crater in Kenya, so we can be ready. (That’s a fantastic petrichor.) The next one we’re trying to capture is the petrichor from a little garden in Tangier… But don’t for a minute think it’s the same everyone.
2. Inoki. It’s the wood that was burned in old Japanese temples; in the Edo era, instead of painting them black they charred them to create a decorative, and that burning smell lingers in the temples today.
3. My mother cooking couscous. This is a real childhood smell. It took ages to cook; we were always starving before we got to eat the couscous, but for me it’s the smell of anticipation.
4. A brand new sneaker box. Leather sneakers, not fabric: Nike Air Force One, when you open the box has a particular smell. When you’re 20 and you have a new pair of sneakers, the smell is just fantastic. (I don’t wear sneakers any more, but that smell still gets me.)
5. Vintage cars. It isn’t a smell I like, but I miss it; I had many vintage cars from the 1950s and Sixties but I stopped because they cost me a fortune – they were always going wrong. But I still feel nostalgic for that smell: a mixture of fuel, wood, dust and humidity. People talk about a smell of ‘leather’, but actually, it’s not; it’s old plastic that’s been sun-baked. Whenever I see an old vintage car, I know exactly what it must smell like inside.
This is definitely one of the most interesting 5 Favourite Smells we’ve featured; so many of our interviewees, we told Ramdane, cite the smell of  baby’s head on their list. He laughed like a drain. ‘That’s not normal! I would never say that. It’s just the worst thing, when you have to clean a baby. I have three kids but I don’t miss one minute of that particular time – I definitely prefer them after the age of two…!’
Buly 1803 products are priced £24 for 75ml toothpaste to £132 for Campagne d’Italie scented candles
Find them at net-a-porter
Officine Universelle Buly 1803 6 Rue Bonaparte, 75006 Paris/+331 43 29 02 50


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