Ostens’ colourful creativity

Ostens have burst into the olfactory world by offering a unique concept in perfumery: granting perfume-lovers not only the right to at last smell exquisite ingredients in their own right (something only industry insiders had access to), but to buy them off the shelf (previously unheard of!) or try them in eaux de parfum, composed by some of the world’s top perfumers, to perfectly showcase that main ingredient’s charms…

‘I love that it’s you we’re speaking to about how all this started,’ smiles Christopher Yu – Managing Director of United Perfumes, one of the world’s most prestigious fragrance distribution and development companies, and now, co-founder of exciting niche fragrance house, Ostens. ‘You were there, at that LMR event we did with The Perfume Society…’ he continues, referring to an afternoon in which we’d invited VIP Club Members along with renowned journalists to experience the mind-blowing beauty of Laboratoire Monique Rémy – one of the world’s leading producers of natural ingredients for the high-end perfume industry, part of IFF, International Flavors and Fragrance.

Laurent Delafon is the other guiding force behind Ostens – CEO of United Perfumes, long-term colleague and like-minded friend of Chris, together they came to the realisation that something needed to change within the fragrance industry, because consumers deserved something more.

Offering a direct line from supplier and perfumers to people who crave exquisite quality perfume – a unique concept – was the propelling force for Ostens, making heroes of the ingredients and getting people excited about smelling them, in splendid isolation and then used within completely differing interpretations as part of an eau de parfum.

Tapping in to the current hunger for transparency in the beauty industry, Ostens explain, ‘In an age where we all want to understand better about craftmanship and provenance, Ostens gives you access to ingredients previously unavailable to consumers. Our aim: to celebrate and bring access to ingredients which lie at the heart of so many perfumes and to create sensory wonderment, open to all.’

And what wonders there are to explore! Smelling their Rose Oil Isparta / £65 for 9ml perfume oil – the highest concentration available – is like diving head-first into a mountain of freshly plucked petals, the vibrant, fruity scent declared by none other than Dominique Ropion as ‘the highest existing quality of rose oil.’ Used within the Impression Rose Oil Isparta eau de parfum / £145 for 50ml eau de parfum, Ropion has swathed those petals with labdanum, patchouli and Cashmeran, offering a velvety lick of alluring darkness. Fancy ramping up the rose to its fullest possible potential? Simply layer with that Rose Oil – or any of their other oils – to add your own unique signature or change up the character acording to how you feel that day.

What’s more, the oils aren’t meant to only be used with Ostens products. Chris and Laurent are realists, and they know people don’t live like that – how deadly dull it would be if we only ever wore one brand. They actively want to encourage people to experiment using them with perfumes they already own, and to tell them what combinations they’ve found really work. Thrillingly for us perfume lovers, Ostens want an ongoing conversation with the person who buys their wares, asking them what they’d like to see and smell next, what, exactly, is missing from their fragrance life, rather than dictating ‘trends’.

Ostens currently have a pop-up space in London at 62 Blandford Street, W1U 7JD, where they’ll be in residence until 28th February 2019, and we cannot urge you enough to visit while you’re able. There’s a reason fragrance experts and journalists have been buzzing since the launch, with several highly respected people we know, commenting to us that this was their ‘launch of the year’ and ‘the most exciting things we’ve smelled for ages…’

In their space, Ostens showcase one of the Préparation oils (currently Rose Isparta) on a plinth, with colourful synaesthetic backdrops of artwork created by their internal Creative Director, Mark Wilkie*. Stepping inside you are bathed in a coloured light that further represents the interpretation of the fragrance, and it feels like walking into the very heart of the scent itself. Walking through to the back room, you are then able to smell all of the ingredients and Impressions (eaux de parfum), trying them on your skin, layering as you please or simply smelling and delighting in them alone.

The whole experience is joyously like being a kid in a sweet shop once again, and if you’re looking to re-ignite your passion for perfume, or to explore and appreciate the world through your sense of smell, this is most certainly the place you need to be…

Having followed their fragrant journey from the very beginning, I was so delighted to interview Chris and Laurent at length for my Ostens feature in the just-published Stardust issue of The Scented Letter Magazine; so do go and indulge your senses fully by reading all about Ostens’ fragrant universe – most certainly sprinkled with something magical – and then smelling for yourself what all the fuss is about by visiting the boutique?

If you’re a VIP Club Member, you can download the entire issue for free by logging in to your account. Print copies can be purchased here, and we also offer International Subscriptions on electronic versions, for only £20 for a full year.

Written by Suzy Nightingale

*[In The Scented Letter, we mistakenly attributed the Ostens artworks to another artist, Philippa Stanton. In fact Philippa was the artist for a gin company also featured, elsewhere, in the magazine, and the two sections were accidentally mixed up. We do apologise for this editorial mistake – and we swear we hadn’t been at the gin!]

What does heaven smell of? Probably something like this…

Can you imaging being invited to enter a room in which several of the world’s best perfumers are seated, ready to share with you the secret scent they’ve been working on, just for the sheer pleasure of experiementing with the materials?

Step with us into the opulent surroundings of Claridges, and have your mind ready to be blown…

This week we were lucky enough to be treated to the annual (usually industry-only) Speed Smelling event, in which the IFF (International Flavours & Fragrances) perfumers gather to play. On this occasion, IFF had very kindly allowed spaces exclusively reserved for the winners of our Perfume Society competition – a rare opportunity, indeed.

And in case you’re what ‘Speed Smelling involves’, well it’s like speed dating, but with perfumers and their scents!

Given completely free reign, with no brief, no client and no expense spared, the noses get to work with materials and abstract concepts they’d never usually be allowed to explore in a commercial sense.

Judith Gross – Global Director, Fragrance Innovation at IFF – held aloft a bell and explained the concept. We were to experience a ‘Speed Smelling’ session with each perfumer, groups of us playing musical chairs as we moved from one to to another, and with a strict time limit of seven minutes per session (hence the bell).

Each year, the Speed Sniffing has a theme, and this time they chose the idea of ‘Post Modern‘ perfumes – like deconstructed works of art, we’d smell the accords or layers and then the final ‘fume. And oh boy, were we in for a treat!

‘Some of them go back to antiquity, others refer to the dawning of modern perfumery in the 19th Century,’ Judith explained before we began, ‘and they have been deconstructed, all the better to re-construct…’

At separate tables, the perfumers sat, passing blotters out with an array of fabulous ingredients and the final creation to smell…

It was with these incredible building blocks we began, as Christine Mortimer from LMR explained how precious the Naturals are (and how the IFF perfumers get so excited about using the latest of their ingredients). ‘We’re the premium supplier for fragrance ingredients, and also within the flavour market,’ Christine told us, while explaining how hard they work to obtain the very best quality of extractions for the perfumers to work with. Firstly we sniffed a stem-distilled juniper berry – which smelled like the best gin and tonic you’ve ever had – and soooo clean.

Our favourite of course had to be the most expensive – the orris – which can reach 100,000 euros per kilo. LMR use a blend of the very best, because the supply chain of orris can be incredibly unpredicatable, and so this way they can guarantee a vital constancy. The carrot seed – part of their ‘Heart Collection’ – was completely glorious, too. For this, they can remove the parts of the smell (in this case, the earthiness) they don’t like to amplify the very best aspects of an ingredient.

Rising star Fanny Bal’s Speed Smelling creation uses an innovative note evoking Nutella!

The first perfumer we spoke to was Fanny Bal –  who began her training eight years ago, and is now working with the legendary nose, Dominique Ropion. Mark our words, Fanny Bal is a name to watch and they way she’s begun her career is incredible (she’s been chosen by Fréderic Malle for the soon-to-be-launched Sale Gosse). Her creation was to revisit an amber base – bases are blends often used by perfumers to create the backbone of their fragrances – ‘I decided to remove ylang ylang from the original amber base and replace it with jasmine, which doesn’t have that medicinal note and isn’t so old-fashioned.’

Adding coriander and pink pepper to further the modernity, her final note was a real surprise… ‘It’s Nutella!’ she beamed, handing blotters for us to sniff. And it really smelled exactly like it! ‘I wanted an addictive, gourmand note, and so I added a completely natural LMR ingredient of cocoa accord. It’s not sweet at all, quite dry, animalic… I found it so interesting to use, with vanilla bean which is also quite dry, really spicy.’ We’d happily have bathed in vats of this, but, mouths watering, we had to move on.

Bruno Jovanovic and his Chypre creation – which he named ‘Neo Fur’

Next up it was the turn of Bruno Jovanovic, whose scent caused quite the sensation within our group – particularly for our Co-Founder Jo Fairley, who declared it was one of the best modern Chypres she’d smelled and ‘must have it!’ (and I’d be totally in on purchasing gallons of this, too).

Bruno’s inspiration was a memory of his (incredibly glamorous sounding) mother, who’d liberally spary her fur coat with Cabochard (a vintage leather Chypre) before kissing him goodbye when she went to work. ‘I wanted to create an olfactive snapshot of the whole image of her in that coat, with the lipstick, her face powder, everything.’ Talking about how special it was for him to remember her smell, that when he missed her while she was at work ‘the scent was a way to have her a little longer,’ he thought this deconstructing theme was ‘a perfect opportunity for me to use my “super powers” to create that again… but with none of the animal-based or unsustainable ingredients.’ And so, ‘this is a “vegetarian fur coat”,’ he grinned, ‘a way of indulging in that past without having access to the materials they used then.’

The final perfume he called ‘Neo Fur’ and he deliberately ‘didn’t look at the price – that’s the beauty of the exercise!’ Jasmine and rose absolute were used along with orris for the freshly made-up face effect… and oh, on the skin it’s just sublime. We couldn’t stop sniffing all day!

Domitille Bertier tricked our noses into detecting musk – without a droplet of that note

The wonderful Domitille Bertier was the next perfumer to describe her creation, and she ‘wanted to create a musk, but without any musk…’ And therefore the name, so suitably chosen, was Not A Musk. Using the indole from jasmine and natural vanilla extract, ‘smells very leathery, really animalic, and not like a cake!’ Domitille described using synthetics as being ‘the real art of the perfumer – a Trompe Nez! [to ‘trick the nose].’ Taking two months to finalise her composition, she said ‘it’s much easier this way, as I am the only judge.’ We asked if when she thought of a perfume idea, could she almost ‘smell’ it in her mind? ‘Oh absolutely!’ Domitille enthused, ‘It’s like when a musician writes a sheet of music. They can hear it before any sound has been made.’

Going back to perfumery’s very roots, Julien Rasquinet put myrrh at the heart of his scent

Julien Rasquinet was our next nose to visit, and he ‘wanted to go back to the very genesis of perfumery. And I want you to guess which note could be linked to this…’ Passing around the blotters, we thought perhaps frankincense? ‘Very close! But it’s myrrh, which the ancient Egyptians believed had healing properties. So for me this was for me a very important ingredient to work with.’ He wanted to capture the history, but also the literal act of smelling the wood, heating the incense and wafting the smoke. Using 8-10% of myrrh (incredibly expensive) he laughed as he said ‘I didn’t care about using so much, because IFF are paying, so it’s wonderful to use what you want!’ The name he gave it? ‘Myrrhveilleux [a play on “marvellous”]… because it also has another meaning. “Veilleux” can be someone who watches out for you and supports you – like a kid’s night light, you know? That’s called a veilleux.’ Adding flinty notes for ‘the gesture of the first man lighting the myrrh’ Julien used a mineralic molecule that’s also used ‘for scenting gas. Because naturally gas has no smell, so they have to scent it so you know if you have a leak.’

Whoah. Now this we did NOT know – did you?

Sophie Labbé challenged herself to create an Eau de Cologne – without using a single citrus note

‘I wanted to revisit an Eau de Cologne,’ Sophie Labbé said, while introducing her scent, ‘because originally they were drank for your health. And,’ she added, ‘it worked for the Queen of Hungary, as she managed to seduce a young prince, so it could be good for us, too!’ The original ‘unisex’ fragrance, Sophie explained she wanted her creation to echo this cocktail Cologne, and ended up calling the fragrance her ‘Moscow Mule Cologne’ to highlight this.

‘When you think of a Cologne, you think of traditional hesperidic notes such as orange, lemon, citruses, orange flower… but there are no hesperidic notes in mine.’ This we found incredible, because it really smelled as though it contained mandarin, but yet again this showed how a clever perfumer can ‘trick the nose.’ So the note she used to trick ours? ‘Ginger…’ And as soon as she said it, we could, fascinatingly, smell the fresh ginger, ‘both the heat and the cold of it,’ Sophie elaborated – a delicously juicy, fizzy juxtaposition of smells which she combined with gentian (that’s used to flavour Angostura Bitters, hence the booziness) and smelled exactly like walking into an old bookshop. The final fragrance was uplifting and comforting, familiar and new all at once.

Alexis Dadier blended four accords he’d previously perfected, to create ‘Rasta Vegan Milk’

Alexis Dadier began by explaining his approach was to use the concept of artists ‘who use collages of old things to create something new. And that’s what I wanted to do with this perfume.’ He described going to his lab and looking at traditional ingredients, but to combine them in a way that was ‘recycling’ them into a whole new smell.

At first he used an almond milk accord – which smelled exactly like hot milk, in fact, we all agreed. His second accord was green matcha tea ‘which is addictive but subtle, kind of salty…’ The next accord was hemp – a very traditional smell, but which we might now associate with a teenager’s bedroom. ‘Very bitter and araomatic, for me it has a nature that’s very vivid.’ An historic Fougere accord was made, and when combined with the other three accords, Alexis calls the scent ‘Rasta Vegan Milk. Something that’s addictive but good for your body!’ We didn’t know if we wanted to spray it on ourselves or eat it, so he defintely succeeded.

We staggered from the room at the final bell, noses having been tantalised, minds having been blown – but not before sharing a canapé and a drink or two with the Perfume Society readers who’d won a place, and were pinching themselves at their good fortune.

Certainly this was another day to be filled with wonder at the art of perfumers, and the skill of those who harvest and create their raw ingredients. The most frequently repeated word throughout the room? ‘Wow!’ And wowed we definitely were.

Wish you’d been there? Well now IFF are making a limited number (only 300!) of the Speed Smelling fragrances available for you to purchase.

From April in Europe they’ll be at shop.auparfum.com, the fabulous gift shop of the Grand Musée du Parfum, and also from luckyscent.com

And you can be sure we’ll be buying one for our archive…!

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Dominique Ropion receives IFF’s ‘Master Perfumer’ status & shares his scent secrets…

Dominique Ropion has long been thought of as a Master Perfumer, but now can officially add the title to his name having been bestowed that honour by IFF (International Flavors and Fragrances) – incredibly, only the second perfumer to be recognised with this title since 2013! It shows how seriously they take this award, for it’s a title that’s bandied around by many but truly earned by few.

‘At the heart of IFF are the people who consistently go above and beyond to passionately pursue their art and by doing so, revolutionise the industry,’ IFF chairman and CEO, Andreas Fibig enthused. ‘In his 17 years with us, Dominique has consistently achieved this outstanding level of creativity and passion for his art and our customers. We congratulate him on his many achievements – as we look forward to his future successes.’

‘Many achievements’ in fact seems something of an understatement when you see the panoply of perfumes he’s been responsible for – composing or co-creating fragrances for so many brands across the board it begins to look like something of a directory: from Frédéric Malle, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Thierry Mugler, Lancôme, Givenchy, Issey Miyake, Paco Rabanne and through to the Body Shop, to name but a few.

Many of these creations have gone on to be global best-sellers, and we’ve certainly had the majority on our dressing tables over the years, so which of these (now official) five masterpieces have you tried so far…?

Absolutely deserving of the moniker ‘modern classic’, a scent that makes you smell instantly put-together and somehow even stand taller. The decadent Turkish rose is rippled through with blackcurrant, raspberry and clove, nestling on a bed of patchouli that sighs into silky sandalwood punctuated by wisps of frankincense. Sublime, a must-sniff!

Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady £158 for 50ml eau de parfum
Buy it from fredericmalle.co.uk

Exotically seductive, this huge-hitting oriental helped define an era with spicy clove dappling the heady jasmine, ylang ylang, Egyptian rose and iris bouquet, and an amber-speckled, Tahitian vanilla base that leaves a trail ensuring you’ll never be forgotten.

Givenchy Ysatis from £26.99 for 30ml eau de toilette
Buy it at theperfumeshop.com

In this recently released third opus for the house, pear, rose (something of a signature for Ropion is his exquisitely refined handling of roses) and an aquatic accord melt seamlessly to a fluffy base of cashmeran, amber and sandalwood. Utterly wearable and quietly perfect for every day.

L’Eau d’Issey Pure Nectar de Parfum £62 for 50ml eau de parfum
Buy it at boots.com

A stunner of a scent, it’s buxomly bold enough for the original Alien (also a Ropion creation with Laurent Bruyere) fans, but with oodles of creamy wooziness amidst the jasmine, heliotrope, myrrh and cashmeran wood. Even refuseniks of the fabulously rambunctious Mugler creations have been converted.

Thierry Mugler Alien Essence Absolue £56 for 30ml eau de parfum
Buy it at mugler.co.uk

 

Ropion collaborated with fellow IFF perfumers Anne Flipo and Loc Dong for this sheer and salty swoon of ‘your skin but better’ type scent, with juicy, green citrus sashaying its way from a zip of ginger to the unctuously addictive salted vanilla base.

Paco Rabanne Olympéa £44 for 30ml eau de parfum
Buy it at superdrug.com

If you want to explore more of Dominique Ropion’s creations, have a browse through some of our previous interviews with him, and search our huge database of scents to learn more…

But how did a childhood convalescence in the mountains lead to Ropion becoming one of the greatest ever perfumers? Read on to find out if not all his scented secrets, then at least to gain a very good idea as to what makes this Master Perfumer tick.

What is your first memory of fragrance?

Dominique Ropion: ‘When sniffing chalk, my childhood school opens its door again. I smell ink, or paper glue, typical scent memories of French lower class schools, and my school playground appears, the games… My memories are scents. It is with the scents of guimauve (a typical French marshmallow) infused with lemon or orange flower that I took my first steps. They bring me back to the mountains, a landscape where I was reborn when I became conscious of my need to smell. I was 7 years old, was a young city boy exiled in the mountains as I had gotten very sick. I would stare at my bedroom ceiling looking for comfort, and spent the rest of my time inhaling mountain air and fresh field scents. I had been advised to breathe in as much as my lungs could take it, I did so, breathing in scents of heights. That’s how I became accustomed to smelling the world as if my life depended on it.’

 What was your first job in the fragrance industry and how old were you?

‘I owe my education in fragrance to luck, which found me an internship at Roure as I was studying physics at university. I started with a 3 year academic training followed by 3 years of on the job training to become a perfumer. I will always remember my perfume “first time”. As I was a very young perfumer at Roure, one of the ideas I had been working on was selected to be presented amongst other works to the then President of Givenchy, Jean Courtiere. My fragrance was selected, and in 2 weeks, it was finalised. This became Ysatis. I call it beginner’s luck.’

Aside from becoming Master Perfumer at IFF, tell us about another career highlight…

‘Each new creation is a career highlight. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve worked for many prestigious brands, as well as for small and unknown brands or projects. Each time, I find an angle to spike my interest.’

What fragrance did you enjoy creating the most at IFF and why?

‘All of my fragrances are journeys, encounters, adventures. I can’t say there’s one that I enjoyed more than others. Each new creation teaches me something: about myself, about the ingredients I use, about the people I meet when creating. Of course I’m proud about the market successes I contributed to creating, but it’s definitely not my only criteria of “enjoyment”. Some of my creations I did alone, some with colleagues, some lasted years to finalise, some just a few months…’

When you begin designing a fragrance, where do you start? What process do you normally follow?

‘Since I left perfumery school, I’ve been obsessed with finding the perfect balance, like a tightrope walker. For each creation, I look for the perfect balance between each ingredient I carefully select to combine. This tightrope walker number may seem absurd, but I genuinely believe this is how I create, risking a fall with each new ingredient I add to the formula. To combine them, the perfumer has no alternative: he needs to start walking on the rope. It’s a very hands on job: a perfume requires hundreds and hundreds of trials… It’s a precision job.’

Where would you recommend a person begins if they want to become a perfumer?

‘At IFF, we have an internal perfumery school. Training the perfumers of the future is one of the aspects of my job I’m particularly passionate about. Some of the perfumers I have trained have become recognised and highly demanded ones, some are just starting their career. They all have very different personalities, but what characterised them all is of course their passion for scent, their curiosity for all ingredients, and some necessary qualities: resilience (bordering obstinacy), patience and a sense of details (borderline obsessive). It also requires very good listening skills, necessary to understand what brands desire, as we perfumers don’t create for our own sake, like artists would: we create in the world of brands, and all our creations are an encounter with the brands developers.’

What are the next big trends in fragrance in your opinion? 

‘The next big trend really depends on the next big success… I can never explain the success of a perfume, I can only witness it. Each step of the way, I always feel like I’ve achieved a perfect balance, but I can never guess the public’s reaction. The success of a fragrance is always unpredictable. My next fragrance may set a big trend… or may not! Of course I’m always happy when it does, but I can only humbly say that there’s a perfumery magic I cannot explain.’

 Original interview supplied by IFF, written by Suzy Nightingale

The scent of success… Perfumer Karen Gilbert talks us through the fascinating world of 'functional fragrance'

When a perfumer creates the scent for a ‘functional fragrance’ – a product that millions of people around the world use daily in their homes or on themselves – they are composing the scent of a home, a loved one, the smell you associate with your own clean skin, perhaps. An incredibly technically challenging role, perfumers are plucked from the very same schools as those who create fine fragrances, indeed may often be the very same ‘nose’…
For a full exploration of this fascinatingly secretive cross-over between designer fashion fragrances and the scent of “clean washing”, see the hot-off-the-press Fashion & Fragrance edition of The Scented Letter magazine. But we wondered – is there room for a perfumer’s artistic expression, or does it necessarily take a differing form? We caught up with perfumer, expert consultant and teacher, Karen Gilbert, to talk about the challenges perfumers and evaluators face when evoking the scent of “clean washing”, and wondered how on earth she got into this fabric care – or “functional fragrance” – world.
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‘I fell into it by complete accident,’ Karen reminices. ‘I originally went to The London College of Fashion to train as a make up artist after working the cosmetics industry for a few years. I decided to stay on and do a cosmetics science diploma and two-week work placement at IFF [International Flavors & Fragrance]. They asked me back for a six-month temp position that turned into five years working on UK own label products as an evaluator, and running the fragrance library for the London office.’
Having interviewed the perfumer’s at IFF’s Centre of Excellence for fabric care, we knew how talented they are. But although the world of fine fragrance and fabric care/fucntional fragrances are entwined, some raw ingredients simply don’t translate because of the high temperatures and processes they’re subjected to.
Explains Karen, ‘Creating fragrances for an alcoholic fine fragrance is the easiest thing as there are much fewer technical challenges. When you are creating for a laundry care product you not only have to work with a base that already may have an unpleasant odour but you need to make sure the fragrance doesn’t get washed away during the wash/rinse cycle. There’s also the budget to consider, as most people will only pay a certain amount for something like a fabric conditioner.’
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And exactly how closely do the fabric conditioners and fine fragrances rub against each other? ‘Oh goodness everything filters down eventually to functional products. It’s so weird when people ask me to smell a perfume as I really learned about fragrance whilst I was at IFF so most of my days were spent sniffing “types” rather than fine fragrance. So if I smell a particular men’s “Aquatic” fragrance now I always think of blue toilet cleaner, and to me Tresor translated down to peach fabric conditioner. Whenever I smell a new fragrance I still find myself thinking “oh that would be good for a roomspray”  or “this would work in a men’s shower gel”. I was never a “perfumista” so my view of fragrance is quite different to the average fragrance fan I think!’
Such is the demand for perfumers to create various scented products for fragrancing every aspect of our lives that, as part of her fragrance training offering, Karen now runs a specialised course for those wanting to learn more about this intriguing yet technically challenging world. She explains that ‘…it came out of years of students coming to my live classes where we make an alcohol based EDT, who really wanted to create for their own product line.’ And that although the techniques of making a fragrance are the same ‘…there are lots of other things you need to take into consideration when creating for other types of product base.’
Aimed at anyone who want to learn more about developing fragrances for face, body and bath products – including how to professionally evaluate the performance of your products – you can find out more about Karen’s course, here
Written by Suzy Nightingale