Givaudan perfumer Shyamala Maisondieu grew up wanting to be an astronomer, ‘…but in Malaysia, there are no astronomers!’ and so decided she wanted to travel, broaden her horizons and eventually became a perfumer. And there’s a link with the stars in more ways than one, for did you know that there are more people who have walked on the moon than there are master perfumers?
We loved watching this insightful interview with Shyamala, which we’ve shared with you, below, and especially hearing her views on niche versus mainstream (or what she calls ‘selective perfumes’), especially because she has worked extensively across both categories of fragrance, enjoying them in differing ways but finding ‘a symbiosis between them.’
‘I think perhaps travelling gives you different insight into differing people, different cultures, different backgrounds. And as perfumers, it’s imporant for us to understand the diversity of human beings!’
‘People are more in tune with themselves, and they need things that reflect them, and you cant make one type of perfume for so many different types of people.
It’s always such a pleasure to hear directly from perfumers themselves, on what drives and motivates them, what inspirations they bring to a fragrance brief – something we enjoy talking about in our series of Working Nose interviews (just search that phrase at the top of the page), and when asking noses about their Five Favourite Smells (which never fails to be an eye-opener!)
Watching this video and Shymala’s humble but obviously passion for her craft, it’s also encouraging to see diversity of gender and culture finally breaking through in the fragrance world. For, as Shymala puts it so well: we humans are a diverse bunch, so why shouldn’t our fragrances reflect this?
As part of our ongoing Working Nose series, we were thrilled to meet up with one the busiest and most talented of perfumers – the incredible Bertrand Duchaufour.
We met with Bertrand at the launch of a new trio of fragrances for Miller Harris, for whom he created Hidden (On the Rooftops) as part of the Forage collection. Inspired by urban foraging and the joy of happenstance, these scents focus on seldom used ingredents which we may overlook or even tread on as we traverse our cities.
Miller Harris chose Bertrand along with fellow perfumer Mathieu Nardin (who made Lost (In the City) and Wander (Through the Parks), and you can read Part One of our perfumer interviews with Mathieu, here.
I began by asking Bertrand how he went about translating an original brief into a final perfume. How does that alchemical process actually begin…?
Bertrand Duchaufour: ‘Well this is my interpretation of foraging, and I think the original concept was to take the idea of humans foraging – you know, wandering through parks and gardens in cities and coming across this incredible array of plants, herbs and flowers we don’t normally stop to look at. In fact we came to London with the Miller Harris team and went foraging with a professional forager. It was really very eye-opening to take this practical trip as a creative exercise.’
So, did you end up using ingredients in Hidden that you’d never used before?
‘No not really, but here’s the interesting thing – although I’ve used all these ingredients previously, it depends on the way you work with them, how you make your accords, what else you put them with, and then you can make new smells that replicate the ones you were inspired by. As a perfumer it’s not always a matter of just writing a list of ingredients you come across and then using them to re-create a scene, because often that doesn’t work.
I try to translate certain plants and herbs I found, the smell that came from scrunching up their leaves, and it was really quite amazing to try and accomplish this. Foraging for me was something completely different, and for this fragrance I tried to look at it from the perspective of a bee. I imagine the route the bee takes, all the flowers they visit in that area. It’s a bee’s eye view of a city!’
‘I only recognised one plant I could eat while foraging, the Wild Garlic, which we also have in France – and I used that to make a homemade pesto!’
Why do you think we so often overlook the plants growing around us and think of exotic ingredients for fragrances?
‘Well I guess we are just not that curious! We tread on them almost every day, but we worship the expensive materials we don’t have access to.’
Do you have a set routine for working on a fragrance, or does this change depending on the project?
‘Too much focusing on just one project is never good as a perfumer, you get lost in it and can’t see clearly anymore. Spending all day long on one fragrance is not healthy. I’m always working on many things at the same time. Sometimes you just happen on an idea, it comes to you just like that [snaps his fingers] and those ideas are usually the best!’
Are there visual stimuli used to help with the creation of each perfume?
‘Sometimes yes, sometimes no. For Miller Harris they gave me a moodboard made up of photographs, and this is a starting point, I found it very inspiring because ideas start to form in your head right away. It gave me the idea of having the bee’s eye view, foraging from the bees, just from the photographs. I thought that because honey can taste very different depending on where the bee forages, the same should be true of this fragrance.’
Do you prefer to get up early in the morning to begin?
[Bertrand looks utterly aghast at the word “prefer” in regards to getting up early, so I modify the question as ‘Is there a time of day you work best?’]
‘Again, it depends with each project. I have so little time to just sit and think, so there is no going for a long walk to find my muse or anything like that! I work on perhaps twenty or thirty different fragrances at once, so sometimes you just have to get your head down and get on with it.’
People have the idea that any creative person must use the luxury of time to be inspired…
‘Maybe Jean-Claude Ellena can use the luxury of time – you know, wandering around his garden – especially now he is retired, but the majority of perfumers cannot!’
Miller Harris seem very good at allowing perfumers to interpret the brief in their own way. How do you find working like that?
‘It’s a different way of beginning, certainly, and really interesting, but in the end you still have to go through the same process, and so I always work the same way. You have a concept, and there are many ways to interpret even one word of a brief, or the way you are inspired by a picture. I like to talk about synaesthesia, the way these things cross over in our senses, the millions of ways we can each translate something. Synaesthesia is the art of making correspondence between one expression of a sense to another one, and it’s not that easy. For me a patchouli, for example, might be likened to violet or something purple. I might be convinced of that, but Mathieu might have a completely different idea. It always has to be personal.’
Miller Harris say: ‘High above the city, London is home to countless hives of diligent honeybees. A whoosh of fresh honeyed floralcy leads you to the crisp green privet of a HIDDEN rooftop garden. The hazy yellow sun warms new flowers, motes of pollen and seed buds dance lazily.’
Top notes: Bergamot, lime, angelica seeds, violet leaf absolute, clary sage, red berries, black pepper Heart notes: syringa, privet flower, pollen, honey, honeysuckle, Turkish rose oil, tea Base notes: vetiver, ambergris, sandalwood, driftwood, musk
Miller Harris Hidden (On the Rooftops) £95 for 50ml eau de parfum millerharris.com
Renowned for their controversial names and inspirations, Etat Libre d’Orange actually encompass all manner of fragrant tastes – yes there’s the off-the-wall uber niche scents, but we find the majority are utterly wearable, perfectly beautiful fragrances that definitely deserve to be sniffed, worn and adored…
The latest to join the scented throng came about due to a collaboration with scent expert and critic, Chandler Burr – no stranger to controversy himself, it seems a happy match – but, we wondered, how did the relationship between Etat Libre d’Orange and Chandler Burr begin? Meeting with self-proclaimed ‘trouble-maker’ and founder of ELDO, Etienne de Swardt, is a rare opportunity, so we were thrilled to get up close and personal with him as he revealed You or Someone Like You to the British press; and began by asking him just this question…
‘Chandler has been a friend of ELDO for something like eight/nine years – he was very involved in the perfume we did with Tilda Swinton, Like This. We were impressed with his involvement in the perfume industry – his technical and journalistic experience, and I was a true fan of the name, You or Someone Like You. So I said, Chandler, one day we have to do a perfume when you stop being a perfume critic and move on to the other side of the mirror of the perfume industry! I said he could be the creative director and appoint any perfumer he wanted to create it. So he did this perfume as his vision of Los Angeles – for a woman who does not exist.’
Part of the mischievousness so beloved by fans of ELDO involves never playing by the rules or doing the expected. As such, the exact notes of the latest fragrance are kept under wraps. But why was this? Etienne takes a deep breath – presumably having been expecting this question: ‘We decided, mostly because of Chandler and his beliefs, not to disclose the ingredients. We say – perhaps somewhat arrogantly – that if you want to know what’s inside You or Someone Like You, it’s probably not for you… This is something like a piece of art that’s far beyond subjectivity.’
(Pssst! You can try You or Someone Like You in our next Discovery Box, keep an eye on the website for details of when it launches!) So what does it smell of? Well, one spritz and we’re in the mood for Mojitos, the zest of fresh lime, mint and ice cubes clinking. The scent of freshly cut grass, wild roses rambling in shady nooks, patches of sunlight glinting from dewdrops of a just-watered herbaceous border… we catch wafts of clean washing hanging in the balmy breeze, ice-cream sodas and fluffy cashmere throws. Soaringly fresh, it somehow fills your head with light…
So now, what else but to ask this fragrance maverick his five favourite smells? We’re always fascinated to discover how psychologically revealing this can be, and certainly weren’t disappointed with Etienne’s answers. Having been asked the question and taking a few moments to gather his thoughts, Etienne took a sip of his drink, leaned back in his velvet chair and held court, his first choice – It had to be! – completely unexpected. And other choices… well, of course controversy came a-knocking… 1. Food in planes: ‘I have to start with a smell I don’t like, because when I was a kid I was living in New Caledonia, and the flight to visit Europe was twenty five hours long – just awful – so it’s like a Proustian moment but with negative thoughts. Whatever you eat it all smells the same, as soon as you open the aluminium, so to me it’s the strongest smell memory because it reminds me when I was lost in the air for so many hours… It’s such a strong memory, though, and I am always taken right back there.’ 2. Dogs: ‘I especially love the smell behind their ears, as well as the coat. I was born the Year of the Dog in 1970, so I’m a true dog lover. It cools me down, calms me, when I can smell a dog and it just grounds me. And we all need that, you know? We rush around so full of anguish, and we need something to just smell and feel grounded again.’ 3. Oakmoss: ‘I love this smell – I reboot myself in the forest with my wife and family, I like to jog there and when it rains I love to stand near an oak tree and pick up the oak moss and smell it and feel that connection to nature.’ 4. Guerlain Jicky: ‘I truly believe in past lives and this smell connects me to my grandmother. I believe we are nurtured by the dead people and by the force of other spirits. Fir this reason, it is my samsara – not Samsara the fragrance, but MY samsara…’ [the cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound, according to Sanskrit belief]. 5. Sea notes/Semen: ‘This is a little bit naughty and pornographic…’ Etienne grins, his eyes flashing with mischief, ‘but I love the border in between attraction and repulsion. That notion of Secretions Magnifique [ELDO’s infamous fragrance evoking semen, sweat and blood] is very much me. Deep-rooted. You know the French poets Baudelaire and Rimbaud were talking about sexuality and La Mer which could be La Mère – the sea or the mother, the place we all are born, where we all come from. So for me sea notes, from an oyster to human secretions, it’s that bridge between attraction and repulsion…’
Étienne interviewed by Suzy Nightingale
Being in the privileged position of interviewing some of the most famous perfumers in the world about their lives, inspirations and perfumed preferences; we like nothing more than getting to share that with you – the people who actually fall in love with and buy their fragrances.
We believe their talents should be recognised and celebrated – just as composers, artists and (more recently) chefs are acknowledged for their gifts, and the enormous pleasure they bring us. Until lately, almost all perfumers worked behind the scenes, anonymously. Now, noses are emerging from their laboratories, starting to talk about their creations, and what goes into them.
Tea is having such a moment in fragrance, we’re finding – a surprisingly versatile note that can be smoky and resinous, a quenching cup of uplifting silvery freshness or playing on the unique dryness found in green teas. At once beckoning images of far-flung places and yet comfortingly familiar, it’s perhaps no wonder that perfumers are reaching for the teapot for inspiration in their leafy compositions.
The niche house of Mona di Orio is no exception, and we were fascinated to learn of the inspiration behind their just-launched Bohea Bohéme. As perfumer Fredrik Dalman explained, this evocative, unconventionl and epicurial scent taps into a rich seam of history while carrying aloft the reputation of the house following the sad passing of the co-founder, Mona… Fredrik Dalman: ‘Tea is a perfect scent in so many ways. It has the extraordinary power of escapism trapped in its leaves, instant relief and a journey to a faraway land on a rainy day, or, for those who cherish gloomier days, an instant journey back to that moment. The scent of tea is far more complex than at first glance, with layer after layer of hidden facets. Smoke from burning pine is exactly the same – infinitely complex. A combination of the two, as in Bohea tea is therefore naturally an exciting challenge. Poplar Bud Absolute provided the perfect spiced honey note that was needed in the smoke. The fraction of Fir Balsam was a fantastic link between the creamier notes of the tea with the darker notes of wood in the base. Blue Chamomile, which is the main player on the top, gives an herbal touch of sweetness to the whole creation.’
Describing the unique take on a note we all feel we know so well, Fredrik explained that ‘…Bohea bohème is not a tea scent in the way many people are used to.’ Not to be taken too literally, then, he continues: ‘I was not looking to recreate the scent of sticking your nose in a jar of tea. This creation wants to take you on an olfactive adventure, constantly finding new facets just as you would in real Bohea tea. As a creator, I wanted you to feel as if you were standing by the fire and smelling as the smoke seeps through the freshly plucked tea leaves, whilst feeling the same kind of comfort you might feel as you walk past your local tea shop. This is an intimate scent, just as drinking tea is to me!’
Mona di Orio Bohea Bohéme £150 for 75ml eau de parfum
Buy it at Les Senteurs
With tea having such a renaissance in perfumery today, we urge you to seek out some other favourite examples of this refreshing trend…
‘Tea Tonique celebrates the energising and restorative powers of tea. Immediately captivating, like a swirl of tea leaves and steam or hearing a story for the first time. An infusion of Italian bergamot with smoky tea and maté add an unpredictable nature to the aromatic blend. Hints of warm nutmeg and birch create a smoky and multi-faceted character…’ Miller Harris Tea Tonique £65 for 50ml eau de parfum
Buy it at Miller Harris
‘A delicately balanced floral eau de toilette fragrance for her, inspired by the beauty of a Sichuan goddess. Composed of zesty top notes softened by a floral heart that floats on an embracing warm base…’ Molton Brown Blossoming Honeysuckle & White Tea £39 for 50ml eau de toilette
Buy it at Molton Brown
[Psst! Try a sample of this in the fabulous Art of Fragrance Box]
‘An infusion of well-being, an invigorating and soothing perfume to be shared. Between the sea and volcanoes, a stroll in the fields of mandarin trees and tea plantations, waving in the wind of an Asian island. The crystalline mandarin bursts into freshness, contrasting, in a soft and soothing breeze, with the tea, green and leathery, and the osmanthus, carnal and fruity, like a caress on the skin…’ Annick Goutal L’ile au Thé £67 for 50ml eau de toilette
Buy it at John Lewis
‘A smooth and comfortable fragrance of the private moment of the recovered inspiration. A full-bodied, mysterious concoction that captures blue tea and bergamot in the warmth of smoke and leather. ‘
Atelier Cologne Oolong Infini £100 for 100ml Cologne Absolu
Buy it at Selfridges
Written by Suzy Nightingale
When you’re a direct descendant of Xavier Givaudan – founder of the eponymous fragrance house, and therefore responsible for many of the greatest scents in the world – growing up with perfume practically running through your veins; it seems only natural the fragrance world would also beckon you forth. And when your childhood is spent living in a house bursting at the seams with creative, eccentric and loving family members – how natural, then to be inspired further, and create an olfactory family album…
Pozzo di Borgois a new fragrance house, launching with five fragrances exlusive to Les Senteurs in the UK – each of them based on one of Valentine’s family members, and created by collaborating with differing perfumers for each scent. Pozzo di Borgo explain they are ‘…an olfactory portrait of an ancestor or a living relation, creating fascinating links between past and present, interpretation and perfume. The fragrances showcase precious traditional ingredients in a revealing way.’
‘Valentine has the perfect background to create an intriguing scented gallery. Having grown up surrounded by fragrance, and habitually drawing on this olfactory intimacy, she has always had the motivation to create her own personalised fragrances. Named after the dates on which each family member was born, Pozzo di Borgo perfumes are contemporary readings of the past as well as characterisations of personalities we can all recognise. The bottles, at once classic and contemporary, are designed by Pierre Dinand, creator of the iconic Opium bottle.’
We caught up with Valentine Pozzo di Borgo during the launch at Les Senteurs to ask more about this intriguing – and so personal – project in perfume. What inspired her to begin…?
‘I decided to do olfactive portraits of my family because I think you decide to wear perfume based on your character – who you are, who you want to be, where you are going… I used to live in a huge houseful of my family, all the cousins, grandparents, parents, it was crazy, but it gave me a lot of time to think about all their characters. For each member, they chose the inspiration for the fragrance, and I would say if I liked it or not, but really it was a direct dialogue between them and the perfumer. It was very important for me to choose the right perfumer for each project, based on my knowledge of their work – their unique styles had to fit the character of each family member. It was a very long process, as you can imagine!’
When judging, and “capturing”, someone’s character in scent, all manner of problems must arise! But which has taken the longest, we wondered? Explains Valentine: ‘The perfume for myself was probably the most difficult for me personally. The first perfumer I chose was a friend, and he kept seeing me as iris, but it wasn’t really how I saw myself. In the end I went with Violaine Collasand said “this is how people keep seeing me – iris, but it doesn’t work I don’t think…” She also saw me in iris, interestingly, but mixed it with fig and musk and somehow that just worked!’
8 Mars 1764
The first creation is a celebration of Valentine’s 18th century ancestor, Carl Andrea Pozzo di Borgo, a Corsican politician and diplomat and one of the most colourful members of this ancient aristocratic family. This is a spicy citrus with warm, rounded base accords of Russian leather and cognac: Diplomatic, shrewd, eloquent, tenacious. Perfumer: Philippe Bousseton
27 Fevrier 1950
A tonic cologne with bergamot, patchouli, and neroli, with the Corsican additions of lavender, caraway, boxwood, and oakmoss. Inspired by Reynier Pozzo di Borgo: Creative, tolerant, sensitive, elegant. Perfumer: Pierre Bourdon
19 Mai 1957
A scent of powerful yet elusive intensity. Evocative of the Corsican landscape of the family heritage, with the liquorice-like odour of the maquis, lavender, eucalyptus, vanilla, heliotrope, cistus labdanum, and peru balsam. A portrait of Alexandre Pozzo di Borgo: Intrepid, entrepreneurial, witty, sophisticated. Perfumer: Sonia Constant
24 Octobre 1985
A scent for Valentine’s cousin Chinzalee – an aquatic and green aromatic scent of mint, grapefruit, and galbanum, with gourmand facets of rum and pear, and a suggestion of cucumber: Independent, spirited, enthusiastic, generous. Perfumer: Mathilde Bijaoui
23 Janvier 1984
Valentine’s own scent captures the enchanting contrasts of her character. Freshness, sophistication, and spontaneity are characterised in this luminous perfume of cardamom, petitgrain, coriander, fig, iris and musk: Discreet, energetic, audacious, enigmatic. Perfumer: Violaine Collas.
So what next for Valentine’s perfumed portraits – we wondered if every single member of her family is queuing up to be “captured” by a perfumer in scent? Valentine laughs, and admitted that is kind of what’s happening; but there’s one fragrance in particular that’s very special for her.
‘I’m working on the two next fragrances at once – one is for my cousin who’s in a wheelchair following an accident. In fact he has completely lost his sense of smell and taste, and that’s very challenging because we’re working on his olfactive memories, it’s very emotional… Everything is disconnected, he can only move his head, and it’s so complex trying to explore his smell memories and then recreate them – without him being able to smell them. We’re working with Sophie Labbé on it, and it’s fun but super personal…’
Pozzo di Borgo £99 for 100ml eau de parfum
Exclusive to Les Senteurs – available now in-store, and soon online.
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