It’s a rare opportunity to sit in on a masterclass with a perfumer, so when we were invited to hear Alexandra Carlin explain her creation of Thameen Insignia, along with the brilliant Christopher Chong – now resident as Thameen’s Creative Director – we veritably leapt at the chance!
Part of Thameen’s Sovereign Collection (all of which are inspired by the Crown Jewels) Insignia evokes the magnificent Garter Star (the late Queen Elizabeth II’s beloved insignia jewel, which she often wore in memory of her grandfather, and is now owned by King Charles). The Garter Star represents honour, loyalty, charitable work – sentiments that meant so much to the late Queen, and continue to resonate through the work of King Charles.
Christopher Chong explained as we began the session that the project was the first he’d worked on in his new role with Thameen, and so it was already special – a project that took on even greater significance with the Queen’s passing, and respectful silence they kept during the period of mourning. ‘That’s the reason we’re only really starting to talk about Insignia now,’ says Chong. Describing how they collaborated on the fragrance, he continues: ‘I proposed that to Alex, to look into heritage from her perspective. She loves doing extensive research. We create today thinking of tomorrow.’
Alexandra Carlin: ‘What I like with Christopher is he always gives me a lot of freedom of expression and interpretation. I wanted it to be for sure a very elegant fragrance. Talking about heritage & transmission I knew I wanted to use a base from De Laire – a fragrance house started in the 19th century now owned by Symrise. They specialised in bases, a mix of synthetic and natural. Now we also make new bases – this is one of them, an incredible cognac oil.’
Arrayed before Alexandra were tantalising rows of raw ingredients, little bottles that hold the scented secrets to Insignia’s composition, and which we were now going to smell. Oh, that cognac oil! How to describe it? A dusky, aged oak barrel discovered in an ancient cellar, the wood and contents made one with time; a smoky, supremely smooth kind of booziness that swirls warmly, but so mellow – never overwhelming.
Alexandra: ‘The clove is obtained by SymTrap technology from clove leaf. You do a distillation and then a second distillation and capture the scent. Its note ethereal and horse like, leathery. This one is from Brazil.’
Again – a revelation. Coming from the leaf, this is no ‘Christmas spice’ of a scent, instead the sun-warmed hay notes shine, revealing an unexpected softness and intriguing levels of complexity.
Alexandra next passed us blotters of the new (and extra special) geranium they used for Insignia, telling us:
‘This geranium from Madagascar is the most refined quality, one you just can’t usually get these days. When I first went there to smell it at the place they distill it, with perfumers like Maurice Roucel, I I knew how great it was even before I smelled it myself, as I saw him well up, almost cry with how it reminded him of this supreme quality you cannot get anymore, which we thought had been lost forever, but we can use again.’
A note called Sandalwood Dreches was next, which Christopher explained was actually upcycled, and has been ‘…distilled from sandalwood chips that are leftover to create an edible note but not milky. It’s toffee, almost salted caramel but not overly sweet. Insignia was the first perfume on the market using it.’
When we finally smelled the base note of Cuir Velour – an accord masterfully blending notes of raspberry, violet, velvet, leather – it left our group gasping. A caress of a scent, it’s something we’d be happy to wear as a fragrance in itself. Of course we were then champing at the bit to smell the final fragrance, and goodness it was worth waiting for…
Top Notes: Whiskey, fig, bitter orange
Middle Notes: Bay Leaf, geranium, Damask rose
Base Notes: Sandalwood, vetiver, suede
Thameen Insignia is the perfect example of how a perfume is always so much more than the list of its notes; though these are intriguing enough on paper, it truly comes alive on the skin. There’s a sparkle to this scent, a radiance that seems to hover above the skin like a fragrant aura. Having smelled the notes in turn, you could definitely recognise them in the composition, but because they’ve been so seamlessly blended, they feel suffused with a dignified subtlety. There’s nothing gaudy or showy about Insignia – a silky, dry powdery-ness adds hushed glamour, the equivalent of candlelight refracted in a foxed mirror.
What an honour to have attended such a masterclass, and have the privilege of talking to the very perfumer and Creative Director who worked on the fragrance itself – and to smell such quality of raw materials, which normally would only get to be sniffed by other perfumers. We so hope Thameen repeat this experience, and that our recounting of it adds to your enjoyment of trying Insignia on your own skin…
Thameen Insignia, £235 for 50ml Extrait de Parfumharrods.com
It was with great sadness we learned of Master Perfumer Olivier Pescheux’s passing. A loss made deeper still by the fact he was just 57, and should have been making fragrances long into the future. Many of us have Pescheux to thank for our most treasured fragrances – scent memories that will live on indefinitely.
We might spend many hours listing and talking about all the fragrances Olivier Pescheux created (and we hope you wear them and will talk about them within your own circle of friends in the coming weeks, to honour his legacy), but of course the focus often goes on the best sellers – incredible blockbusters such as Paco Rabanne 1 Million, which has consistently been one of the best selling fragrances in the world since it was launched, and should be on every perfumista’s list to try.
Pescheux also made some of our favourite Diptyque fragrances – including Tempo (one of the finest patchouli fragrances you can buy, no question), and Eau Capitale, which is a modern classic rose in every sense of the phrase. He also created Montblanc Explorer, and Versace Eros Flame – further fragrances which became legends in his own lifetime. And yet, according to all his colleagues and friends, he remained incredibly humble, full of generosity and good humour.
Givaudan, the fragrance creation house Olivier worked for, released a moving statement, honouring Pescheux on their Instagram, alongside a handwritten formula which, it turns out, was the very first he’d created for them. Givaudan said:
‘It is with deep sadness and profound emotion that we announce the passing of Olivier Pescheux, on July 10th in Paris, France, at the age of 57, after fighting against a long disease.
Well-known for his elegant and luminous olfactive writing, Olivier Pescheux has been at the origin of countless successes such as Paco Rabanne 1 Million, Dior Higher, Lacoste L1212 Blanc, Diptyque Eau des sens, Fleur de peau and Orphéon.
“Olivier immensely contributed to shape today and tomorrow’s perfumery. He was loved for his warm and friendly character, his generosity and his boundless artistry. Olivier will be deeply missed.” said Oriol Segui, Head of Fine Fragrance Europe.
We found one of Olivier’s fragrance formula dating from 2009, published in Les Echos Série Limitée, which was about imagining the fragrance of the future. We share it with you on this occasion as a symbol of his creativity and his poetry.
Rest in Peace
We love you!’
Givaudan also included a message from all of their perfumers and teams who worked with Pescheux, saying:
‘Dear Olivier, We all shared and loved your sense of humor, your light-hearted yet profound approach to life, a style and elegance that we also find in your marvelous creations. We’ll always remember your humor, your smile, your luminous gaze. We all send our love The Givaudan Perfumers and Teams’
Elsewhere on social media, perfumer Mathilde Laurent replied with her own memories of Olivier Pescheux, recounting the fun she had spending time with him and (as she put it) ‘playing perfume’. Nathalie Feisthauer was among many fellow perfumers posting pictures of Olivier, saying: ‘Olivier Pescheux a friend and a Colleague. Sad day (will miss you).’
Hugely prolific, immensely talented, already much-missed, Olivier we add to the messages from perfume lovers pouring in from around the world, and say:
One of the perfumery world’s most distinguished figures, Master Perfumer Olivier Cresp has composed hundreds of your favourite creations, including Christian Dior’s Midnight Poison, Penhaligon’s Juniper Sling, Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue, Givenchy Gentleman and, of course, the utterly legendary Thierry Mugler Angel – a perfume which became all the more poignant this year with the passing of Manfred Thierry Mugler on 23 January.
Named a master perfumer in 2006, Cresp joined the Firmenich team in 1992 and was honoured with the title Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres from the French Ministry of Culture in 2012. In 2018 he was announced as the Fragrance Foundation’s 2018 Lifetime Achievement Perfumer Award recipient, and far from slowing down, he’s now launched his own fragrance house of AKRO with his daughter, Anais.
Suzy Nightingale recently had the privilege of sitting down with this paragon of perfumery and in an exclusive interview originally for our magazine, The Scented Letter (which you can also buy a gorgeous print copy of) and discovering exactly how he works…
When does your day start?
Olivier Cresp: I like to play tennis in the morning, then go to the beach in the afternoon… [laughs] No, seriously, I never really feel like I’m working because it’s my passion, that’s why I’m still working within Firmenich, and then my own projects with AKRO – that’s pure pleasure because we have no limits, we can dare. On a normal day, I get to the office around 9:30. I love that you’re interested in this! The other day I had someone filming me all day long, for a short video that will be edited down to three minutes. It’s interesting that people want to know how perfumers spend their days, now. The first thing I always do is talk to the other perfumers – ask how their evening was, have a coffee. Around 9:45 or 10am I open my laptop and then start working.
Where do you work?
I have a double job, in fact: working for them as Master Perfumer, based in Paris, and working for my own house, AKRO. I have assistants, FDMs (Fragrance Development Managers), sales teams, managers, any number of colleagues depending on the project.
How does your day break down?
My office is open, so I have the FDMs come to see me, followed by the evaluators and the salespeople. After that some customers call me. A new thing is the number of Zoom and Teams online meetings we do throughout the day – a few years ago this just didn’t happen, but since lockdowns, it can be three hours a day of talking to colleagues through this connection. When I’m working on my laptop, I try to concentrate myself on the projects I have open at that time.
How many fragrances might you be working on at any one time?
In the past, when everything was done by hand, I could only work on eight or ten fragrances a day. Now, with computer technology, I can send fifty formulas a day, sending them all over the world. There are perhaps twenty projects I’m working on at once, sometimes more. I prioritise the fragrances by dates and even hours for deadlines. I can be fast. You have to be! Depending on how quick you are, you can win or lose a project. To work fast you must have the experience and use your time well. Instead of doing hundreds of experiments, like I did at the beginning of my career, I now only need to do four or five – then I know exactly what to move in my fragrance formulas and it just works.
Do you compose fragrances mostly in your head? Do you write by hand or use a computer?
It’s a good question – perfumers are like writers, some prefer handwriting or dictating, others like writing straight on a computer. Twenty-five, what, even thirty years ago now, I used to do everything by hand and my calculator. I’d handwrite the ingredients and work out the percentages and the price for them, because you have to know that. Those days are long gone. Now we have special programmes that work those bits out for you. When I’ve written my formula on my laptop I send it straight to the robot, the robot compounds about 80% of the formula. Then I have my assistants who weigh and compound the missing 20%. As soon as I get the idea for my fragrances, I know exactly what ingredients I want to use.
The next step for me is to discover the correct type or best quality for that fragrance. In two or three hours it’s fixed in my head. From that point I think about what else it needs to create the atmosphere I want, so I might think about what could create some smokiness or an animalic note, for example. Sometimes the idea is easy, but then it’s not easy to find the right molecules to match that smell in your head. I try to be figurative, to catch the profile of what I want. The other day I had to create the smell of a marshmallow. I’d never done that before really, but in two or three experiments I had it. I knew I wanted orange blossom, I used some violet and some rose-y elements, then some praline and vanilla to make it smell edible. It must be logical. It’s a chronological story, and then I’m never lost that way – it’s kind of a red thread I’m following.
What kind of other inspirations do you look for, during your day?
I can be inspired by anything, but conversation is really important to me. I buy loads of magazines on all subjects, I really enjoy reading Figaro, but I get lots of feminine magazines especially. I also love walking, being in the forest, foraging, fishing, smelling the seaweed. I always carry blotters with me, so during the day I tend to jot down ideas on those, just in a few words.
Do you break for lunch – or eat at your desk?
After meetings and working on those, I like to meet colleagues for lunch around midday to 1pm. We always go out because there’s no canteen or anywhere you can food in the office. Perhaps a few times a year if I’m in a hurry I grab a snack and eat that at my desk, but that’s not funny to me, I hate it. I could also go to my house for lunch, because my house isn’t far away, so that’s always a possibility. I might walk there and stay an hour, make myself some nice food, have a change of scenery, then I come back and feel revived by that.
After lunch, how long do you work for – and what will the afternoon be spent on?
I always feel more energetic in the afternoons than I do in the mornings – probably helped by the lunch, inspirational conversations with colleagues and simply the change of scenery – so I feel I can tackle more difficult things then.
What time do you go home? Is that the end of the day, for you? Do you continue to think about the fragrances when you get home?
In the past I used to stay until 9pm, when I was younger I’d work at least twelve hours a day, but I don’t do that any longer. So, let’s say after lunch, from around 2pm I usually stay in the office until 7:30pm minimum, then I go back to my house and do some sport. I never work at home, not ever, otherwise my head would explode. Well, okay, sometimes when I’m fed up, I take my laptop and work from home instead of the office, but on these occasions I’m with my wife and we stay maybe a week in Paris and a week in the South of France, where we have a nice flat.
Seeing the sea, the luminosity of the area – being in Cannes, visiting the islands, the harbour, watching the boats coming in and out – it gives me such inspiration. My nose doesn’t switch ‘off’ as such, but we’re not going around smelling things all the time as a perfumer, not in the same way as when we work, I think it would be impossible to have a life.
Do you need to be in a particular mood, to create?
Not especially, but I do need to feel energised I suppose, I must feel passionate about what I’m doing because otherwise what’s the point?
How long does it take from concept to finished fragrance, in general?
I mean my initial concept can be done in two or three hours, but how long it then takes to come out as a finished fragrance might be two or three years! Ideally, a year and a half is enough to create a great fragrance. You see you have to wait until the year after that to be on the market. There’s one project, I don’t want to say for whom [he chuckles], but I’ve been working on it for eleven years. And it’s still going on!
Do you listen to music while you work, and if so, what kind – pop, jazz, classical…?
No, I can only concentrate in one thing at a time when I’m working. So I couldn’t even read a book or magazine with the radio on in the background, for example, I don’t do that thing of watching TV while you’re on your phone and half reading something else… I do find most of the perfumers like to have music on the radio or stream it from their smart phone, but for me the key is to focus.
Is a visual moodboard of inspirational pictures / colours helpful for you to create?
More and more clients send me pictures to look through. Before, I’d be sent a few piles of pictures a year, in hardcopy. Now it’s mainly digital they can easily create a moodboard, it’s a visual language. To see on the screen what they want is useful. But often they can turn out the same. You know: it has to be strong but easy to wear, pleasing to the market, something different, long lasting, another unique fragrance…
When I’m gathering inspiration for myself, I read through all the magazines that I buy, I like to first of all flick through in about ten minutes to get an overview and see the colours, colours really drive me. I like to keep my eye in, see what people are interested in. Sometimes I then see these images again in moodboards clients then send me, because they often use images they’ve found in magazines, so I like to know the context. Sometimes the inspiration they send is really good, it helps give me ideas more quickly.
What is the most number of modifications you’ve ever had to do, on a fragrance? And the least?
Some just happen really quickly. Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue, for example, I did in forty experiments, but I have some that are painful – the longer you’re working on something I feel it’s the worst for creativity because you can get lost. I’m lost, the client is lost. The entire concept can change, the name, if it’s feminine or masculine in style, literally everything.
How many materials do you have at your fingertips, to work with? And how many tend to be in your regular palette?
Out of 1500 main ingredients I have access to – though it’s what we call a ‘living palette’ and that can always be added to – I’m usually working with the same 400. This means I don’t have to smell them all the time, which might sound strange to some people, but I know them so well I know all the outcomes and possibilities of them. It takes you ten years to get to know them that well – to see, to feel, to touch, then just to know.
How much of your day (or perhaps week) is spent on your own work – creating new accords, working with materials that may have been offered to you by the ingredients houses, to ‘store up’ and use for future finished creations?
I don’t have that time generally. The only trésor time I have, to do exactly what I want, is with AKRO. The thing is, I don’t get to actually smell materials all day, I don’t need to do that anymore to write a formula, I will only then smell them to create a big step in that formula or change it somehow. When we get new molecules or ingredients and extractions to smell, that is always exciting, because I don’t know them!
Is there one fragrance you WISH you’d created, and why is it so special?
[Without hesitation] Shalimar. It’s what I’ve smelled in my family for years, I love the richness of the bergamot with the leather and vanilla, the benzoin. It’s magic! I created Champs-Elysés for Guerlain – with musk, mimosa, you know, very different. I loved it but it didn’t go so well. [He laughs] I created for them, anyway, and it was a great time. For a masculine, I’d loved to have created Dior’s Sauvage. Another all-time classic. What more can you ask for?
Fragrance and literature have a scented symbiosis, a way of piercing beneath layers of logic to reach our most instinctive emotions. They tap into deep-seated memories, dare us to dream, and share the power to make us feel a certain way, even if we don’t fully understand why.
Consequently, English Literature is a particularly bountiful resource for perfumes – so many have taken inspiration from the pages of novels, hoping to evoke the atmosphere of the story itself, or exemplify famous characters through the ages.
Writers frequently allude to other senses when attempting to fully plunge the reader into a plot – the most skilled wielding the sense of smell as another character, almost, or underlining that most private, inner world the other characters inhabit.
I encourage you to dive into these scented stories, for as Master Perfume Jean -Claude Ellena says:
‘Perfume is a story in odour, sometimes a poetry in memory…’
Sarah Baker Parfums Far From the Madding Crowd
Juxtaposing idyllic pastoral scenes with simmering, intense emotions, this fragrance references Thomas Hardy’s book of the same name, seeking to evoke an atmosphere that is, to quote Baker, ‘simultaneously exquisitely beautiful and cruelly unforgiving.’ Amidst the beautiful note of heliotrope – a flower that often grows wild among ancient hedgerows – dangerous declarations and balmy evenings are poised betwixt the romantic idealism of a country picnic. Think long summer grasses, orchards filled with fallen fruits, wide meadows to run through in gauzy gowns, willows to sit beneath while passionately pining.
Renowned for her androgynous pen name, Sand was ‘the incarnation of the first modern woman’, and forms a central part of the brand’s literary leanings (which include an intriguing voyage via their 1828 Jules Verne and the rather more risqué 1740 Marquis de Sade). This vibrant throb of a scent tempts the senses with succulent pineapple before lavishly decorating with tall vases of white flowers and coming to rest on the warm, ambered sensuality of the spices that ripple throughout. If ‘fruity’ fragrances have previously made you recoil, come back into the fold with this utterly grown-up and bosomy embrace.
A writer, traveller and strong yet gentle man who spent a lot of time in Paris, this fragrance was not only inspired by one of his poems, the office he wrote in and the materials he used – it radiates a sense of his poetic soul. A refined and ultra smooth blend of sophisticated spices are seamlessly stirred through orris butter, rose and Oud Palao. Ah, but this is a sheer, spacious and uplifting oud that speaks of wooden desks, piles of papers, the gentle scratch of a fountain pen on parchment and writing as the sun sets. An elegantly comforting scent that feels immediately timeless, how perfect for perfumer Pissara Umavijani to honour her literary father in this way, and what an honour for us, the wearers, to share it.
Author Claude Farrère was a close friend of Jacques Guerlain, so when Farrère included a Guerlain fragrance in his novel Opium Smoke, describing ‘Jicky poured drop by drop onto the hands blackened by the drug’, Jacques was thrilled at the symbiosis and returned the favour by naming one of his greatest ever creations after a character in Farrès novel La Bataille. Conjuring romanticism as see through a woman’s eyes, this scent is a complex unfurling of cinnamon infused, milk-lapped plump peach skin, the oakmoss trail that lingering beguilingly for hours. The masterful current reformulation by Thierry Wasser is as close as we’ll get to the original, thanks to oakmoss restrictions, but oh it’s a must-sniff for literary and perfume lovers alike.
In Henry James’ eponymous novel, protagonist Isabel Archer sulks her way through immaculate gardens, burdened by blessings of too much beauty, intelligence and wealth [#thoughtsandprayers] while James himself seems to scamper behind, awed by her melancholy and reflecting that ‘a visit to the recesses of one’s spirit was harmless when one returned from it with a lapful of roses.’ Dominique Ropion’s fragrance leads the wearer face-first into that lap, a rambunctiously sexualised and swaggeringly confident portrait of the woman she might have been, perhaps; the shadier bowers ravaged for ripe berries, lips stained vermillion from their juice, petals torn as velvety pocketfulls of roses are ripped from their stems. A page-turner on the skin, for sure.
Responses to the question ‘What would Santa smell like?’ have revealed a wide range of answers from children all over the world, depending on their age and where they live. Perfumer Penny Williams took the most popular answers and turned them into a fragrance that teachers can use to engage school children in discussions around their sense of smell…
Lisa Hipgrave, Director of IFRA UK, who undertook the research, says ‘We are working with a group of people across the fragrance industry to develop ways to help people understand and benefit from a greater awareness of their sense of smell. Whilst this is a lighthearted approach to get us all in the Christmas spirit which we hope people will try at home, it is part of a wider piece of the work of that group. We have created a new website called fragrancematters.org to help people find out more about the importance of their sense of smell – from new and quirky facts, to taking a deeper dive into the world of olfaction through highlighting wider research, activities and events.’
So, what were their answers? ‘Soot and sweat’ was a popular response, while others answered ‘leather, boot polish and velvet’ and ‘pine trees, from brushing past them on his journey, and from Christmas trees as he places presents under trees in hopeful homes.’ More poetically inclined children decided he might smell of ‘nose-tingling magic and moonlight’ or ‘starry nights from his journey through the night sky’ and even ‘like space, perhaps with a little whisky’. Contributions from the USA included ‘the New York night sky just before snowfall’, and Canadadian children said ‘the first snow of winter on the pine woods’, while responses from Australia included ‘countless beach barbecues’.
Unsurprisingly, food and drink was a major theme, with cinnamon, gingerbread and mince pies appearing most often. Many children think that Santa smells of milk and biscuits, until they reach around 14 years of age, when Santa’s snacks switched to ‘sherry or brandy and mince pies’.
British perfumer Penny Williams, Chairperson of the IFRA UK working group, Vice Chair of the IFRA UK Technical committee and founder of Orchadia Ltd, says: ‘The human sense of smell is incredible. We take around 20,000 breaths a day and each one is an opportunity to learn about our surroundings. Inside our nose are olfactory bulbs, which are linked directly to our brain and create a memory link. That is why our sense of smell is so important to our wellbeing and feeling connected. Through our noses, we can also sense temperature and humidity. Both also affect how well we can smell – and smell is also the flavour of food. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted how losing our sense of smell can make us feel disconnected. Our sense of smell isn’t just about the present, it’s about the past and can create feelings of happiness and nostalgia.’ She continues:
‘We want to bring back that innocent joy, comfort and sense of happiness to pupils in the schools we are working with. However, this is such a fun experiment for anyone of any age, so we are inviting people across the UK to spark up the discussion with family and friends. Using everyday objects and a few Christmas treats you can quickly get your olfactory sense working. Our nose is connected to a part of our nervous system which is responsible for detecting heat (chilli) and cold (menthol). So, menthol, found in peppermint and often in toothpaste, has a physical cooling effect that we can feel and mince pies might create a feeling of warmth. The different sensations and feelings evoked by our sense of smell comes from many places and somehow comes together in a wonderful way: rather like Christmas.’
Using these responses, Orchadia created a special fragrance that follows Santa’s journey with a mixture of 48 traditional and modern ingredients that have made an intriguing and bold scent. Most noticeable on first spray are smoke and ozone –using the uniquely woody smokey scent of vetiver and an ingredient that smells like fresh water. Menthol hints at snow flurries in cold air. Also featured are pine needle and davana oil, which is reminiscent of Christmas pudding. There’s even the leathery scent of reins next to reindeer fur, accompanied by earthy patchouli oil. The fresh forest notes are extended with cedar, eventually fading to vanilla and soft moss.
Victoria Osborne, Teacher at Hinchingbrooke School in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, says ‘The children are going to have so much fun discussing what Santa smells like as part of their STEM learning. It is a really lovely way to get them to use their own personal experiences and memories whilst also learning about the science of smell. We are going to have a science lab that smells like Christmas has come early as we will be taking time to properly breathe in the different layers of smells in mince pies and to take time to notice if something created a warm or a cooling smell.’
Children respond amazingly and often explain smells in the most creatively imaginative ways, so if you find yourself desperate for a way to entertain the kids during the holidays, why not gather together some ingredients from your pantry (and toothpaste from the bathroom!) to create a sensory station in your own home, where children can explore their sense of smell? Ask them to smell each ingredient and describe how it smells. you can use questions we ask people to think about at our How to Improve Your Sense of Smell Workshops:
If this was a material, would it be velvet, suede, linen, fluffy towels…?
If this was a musical instrument, which would it be?
Would it be loud or quiet? High or low-pitched? Fast or slow?
It’s a jungle out there – an incredibly refined, ultra-green, 1970s-inspired one, thanks to Frédéric Malle and perfumer Anne Flipo‘s latest creation: Synthetic Jungle eau de parfum.
We were lucky enough to be part of the virtual launch event for Synthetic Jungle, where Fréderic and Anne discussed the inspiration behind the fragrance, and exactly how the composition came together. And Frédéric was particularly keen, as you will see, to make the point that synthetics are a vital and creative component to the fragrance industry, not some dirty little secret that fragrance houses should seek to obscure from public view…
Fréderic Malle: I had an idea about revisiting ‘green’ perfumery, and thought Anne was the perfect candidte for that. She’s very good at starting points. We looked together at formulas from the past.
One we thought particularly interesting was Private Collecion by Estée Lauder. This was our starting point. Working with Anne was like two musicians jamming together. We were very comfortable together, with common interests, a common language. There was no fear!
Anne Flipo: At the beginning I was a bit stressed because I had to understand how he works. But it was immediately very easy, he works the way I do. Everything was possible, but I wanted to organise the floralcy around the greenness. I chose lily of the valley.
Frédéric: The paradox, that people don’t often understand, is that to create a natural smell we need synthetics. Each synthetic note is part of the puzzle. I chose this paradoxical name to remind people how perfumery functions. And to show that what man makes is often as interesting as nature. …
Anne: When I choose the ingredients, (I work with over 400), the green note, for example, is very different to the colour itself…
Frédéric: There’s a difference between a smell and a perfume. Between a flower and a fragrance. A fine fragrance has to feel like it’s coming out of you, not worn on the skin.
Anne: I wanted it to smell like this jungle was coming out of you. The chypre accord helps it last on the skin, it balances the formula.
Frédéric: When Anne added the lily of the valley it was a huge turning point, it was the key. And then the dampness comes from Patchouli.
Frédéric Malle: Interesting perfumery really started at the end of the 19th century, because there were some synthetics available. Perfumery as we know it today has big doses of synthetic, and furthermore, if you want to recreate nature you need synthetic. The name, Synthetic Jungle, is a way of opening the debate, I love nature, it needs to be preserved, don’t get me wriong; but this idea that everything from nature is great and everything from man is awful is a new kind of facism.
Anne Flipo: Making the formula very short was important to me, overdosing some ingredients – there’s a lot of cassis, overdoes of floralcy, not so many base notes volume-wise. They’re present, you smell them, but the construction is very modern.
Frédéric: Sometimes you have contrast. The patchouli and oakmoss is a black background, but it’s not dirty. A lot of the fragrances from the 1970s smelled dirty. This smells carnal, but not dirty. There’s a distinction.
Anne: I’m so proud and so happy to be part of the Frédéric Malle family.
Frédéric:Yes, look, she’s a completely transformed woman! [laughter]
Anne: Well, we really had the chance to challenge each other further during this.
Frédéric: It was a challenge, yes, but Anne has a great sense of humour and that’s really important. It’s like dancing, making perfumes; deep concentration, but also deep relaxation…
Synthetic Jungle is brave in many ways. For one thing, it has the word ‘synthetic’ in the title, at a time when there’s much so-called ‘green-washing’ – the implication that fragrances and cosmetics are ‘toxic’ if they aren’t all-natural, when in fact many essential oils are potentially more harmful and less environmentally sustainable to produce. For another, intensely green fragrances aren’t always the easiest to love. But Frédéric Malle has always been about the quality of the fragrance first, allowing the perfumer’s talents to shine through. And oh my, how Flipo shines in Synthetic Jungle…
What does it smell like? Bitter green crunchy stems and sticky sap – it’s very chic French Chypre from 1970s snogs a Cologne and goes wild, hacking through undergrowth, with vibrant bursts of tart, mouth-puckering blackcurrant, fuzzy tomato leaves examined under a microscope. WHOAH BLACKCURRANT GOES NUCLEAR! Everything gets HUGE AGAIN! Rolled in soft moss and seed spores to dampen the edges, the fruitiness gets warm, viscous, jammy.
Synthetic Jungle is the Indiana Jones ride at Universal Studios, or a missing scene from Honey I Shrunk the Kids as shot by a Vogue photographer in 1976 (a steamy greenhouse becomes a surreal cartoon jungle and everything’s impossibly glamorous). You emerge with berry stained lips and leaves in your hair, covered in grass stains and grinning wildly.
Nose is a more than a documentary following Dior perfumer François Demachy, it’s a paean to the raw ingredients of perfumery, and the hardworking people who grow and harvest the ingredients around the world.
Having first premiered at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, the film has just been released – watch the trailer, below, read our review and find out where you can watch…
Dior describe it as ‘A true “smell good movie” Nose sheds light on one of the most secret jobs in the world.’ And while we mostly remainly quarantined, what a wonderful way to travel by your nose it is.
‘Perfumes are a language everyone understands, but few people can speak’ Demachy explains as he sits in his office, filled with endless bottles and piles of books, later commenting that ‘For me, a perfume is a land of sharing.’ Fascinatingly, when asked what his first ever perfume was, he reveals ‘The first thing I did was a perfume intended to whet the appetites of bovine, so they would eat the fodder.’ Quite a leap to his life, now, and yet in this film we get to see how he works with the growers of the materials he so loves, eventually whetting all our appetites with their distilled passion.
In Sulawesi, Indonesia, Demachy travels for three days to visit the patchouli plantations, and says for him, it was the most rewarding part of filming Nose.
‘We took a small plane, then a four-wheel drive, followed by a hike through a few isolated villages in the middle of nowhere. That in itself was already an enjoyable adventure, but then there was this magnificent reward at the end, and I finally got to see my favorite ingredient in its natural environment, on these steep slopes… It’s quite moving to see this… This is where it all begins for perfumery.’ François Demachy remarks as he watches the freshly picked patchouli being washed (and having covered his arms in the fragrantly oily residue).
Fragrance writer Eddie Bulliqi makes an apperance at several points during the film, discussing the links between music and fragrance, and the creative process; but again, it’s the growers who are most celebrated in Nose, even more than the often romanticised life of a great perfumer.
From the idyllic fields of jasmine and rose in Grasse, we meet the women who own the land and discover exactly how hard it is to work those so-pretty fields. And we hear from Patrick Lillis, a ‘Celtic ambergris broker’ from County Clare, Ireland. As the wind and rain lash the shore, Patrick and his dog walk beside the broiling sea, and this gruff-voiced, sou’wester-wearing man waxes lyrical on the magic of ambergris in perfumery.
‘It’s a personal taste thing, you know?’ he says, while sniffing a white (and therefore older, stronger) lump of the precious material. ‘It’s quite a profound, animatic smell… Some people say it adds another dimension to perfumery, that a normal perfume is 2D and this is 3D. It’s the best natural fixative for perfume, and it’s oleophilic – it grabs hold of the oils. But it also does another thing which is a little bit magical: it transforms other fragrances.’
Simply put, Nose is a feast for the senses, and a much-needed way for us to feed the wanderlust we’re all experiencing. Gorgeous, swooping shots of landscape and sumptuous close-ups of dew-speckled flowers accompany this portrait, that goes beyond the work of Demachy, and invites the viewer to fall as passionately in love with the world of perfumery as he and all the people behind the scenes so obviously are…
Safe scents – what are they, who checks, and what processes do fragrances have to go through?
It’s such a minefield, and there is much misinformation floating around the internet and social media, of late, regarding the topic of ‘safe scents’. So we welcome the ‘open door’ approach many perfume houses and perfumers are now taking, making the public more aware of what goes on behind-the-scenes in not only creating a fragrance, but ensuring its safety.
Perfumer Pia Long, from the fragrance creation house and expert consultancy, Olfiction, recently created some images, while she was working on a new creation for a client – ‘…the creation in question being a sparkly citrus eau de toilette with a very high percentage of natural materials.’ (Because yes, even if a fragrance is 100% natural, it still has to be checked. Just because an ingredient is deemed ‘natural’, it’s still a chemical and it still needs to be safety checked).
Pia has been noticing more comments on social media from consumers, who, she explains ‘…say (wrongly) that there are no safety considerations for fragrance prior to it going into a product, or that natural is always safe and synthetic is always not (also wrong).’
So, Pia took some screenshots of ‘the stuff I have to be fluent in,’ and wanted to share them with the public because she thought, ‘Maybe it’s time we perfumers start to show you a little more than nice photos of us in our swish laboratories or eccentric offices; or maybe just seeing content from brands is not enough these days.’
We all love seeing those ‘sneak peeks’ into perfumers’ labs, or the harvesting of fragrant crops, but while that content is incredibly enjoyable to see, it doesn’t address the misinformation regarding fragrance safety. So while it’s fantastic to learn more about what Pia terms ‘the artistic and olfactive side of our work,’ she reminds us that not also talking about the various stages a fragrance goes through ‘…can make our contribution minimised.’
These images are from Pia’s ‘first sketch of a formula’. It’s vital she goes through this process for any kind of fragrance she creates – whether that will be a fine fragrance or to scent another product, because, she tells us:
‘I want to make sure the formula is compliant before I do any more to it. We are sometimes requested to do more than 100 modifications to a fragrance. We have to do the safety calculations each time. When the fragrance is signed off, it’s then off to (further) stability and safety testing.’
Basically, Pia wants to get the message across that if you are buying a perfume or fragranced product that has been supplied by a professional perfumer or perfume house, ‘they will be following IFRA guidelines.’
IFRA – the International Fragrance Association – was formed in 1973, with a mission ‘to represent the collective interests of the industry and promote the safe use and enjoyment of fragrances around the world.’ And as for those guidelines, IFRA says that, ‘The IFRA Standards ban, limit or set criteria for the use of certain ingredients, based on scientific evidence and consumer insights.’
We’d love to see more of these insights from perfumers. While not as romantic as seeing them strolling through lavender fields, such conversations are a vital reminder of the huge amount of work that a fragrance entails. And clearly explained topics of safety and science go hand in (scented) glove with the questions consumers are (rightly) asking about sustainability and inclusivity – topics we cover in depth in the Beyond Fashion & Fragrance edition of The Scented Letter magazine, if you’d like to read more…
Les Parfums (‘Perfumes’) is a just-released and utterly charming French film following the life of a feared and reclusive ‘nose’, and her troubled realtionship with her new chauffeur.
The English-subtitled film is a gentle comedy, but takes a serious (and very well presented) look at the life of a perfumer, and it has been released in the U.K. Now showing at selected Curzon cinemas, it’s also on Curzon Home Cinema (to stream at home, for those of us not near one of the venues or who prefer to watch from the comfort of our homes).
Curzon Home Cinema says: ‘Anne Walberg (Emmanuelle Devos) is a master in fragrance who has fallen from grace amongst the upper echelons of the perfume industry. However, her skills are still in demand from companies looking to mask the smell of their odorous products. Over the years she has become selfish and temperamental. When she hires Guillaume (Grégory Montel) – a down on his luck chauffeur with too many points on his license and a rocky relationship with his young daughter – they strike up an unlikely friendship. Together they look to repair their lives and create a new signature scent to return Anne to her previous fame.’
There are so few films about perfumers and our sense of smell, and we were thrilled to discover this new movie more than lives up to expectations. Following the rather hapless chauffeur, at first, Guillaume’s first clue to the trials and tribulations ahead with his new client is when she sniffs him, names the brand of his cigarettes and, when he offers her one, throws the packet out the car window. Other clues to her profession (and her character) come when Ms. Walberg demands that he help her change the sheets in a hotel room, declaring: ‘They use a fabric conditioner full of galaxolides for that “clean” smell. I hate it!’
Asked to recreate the smell of an ancient cave to diffuse at a tourist attraction, Ms. Walberg takes Guillaume along with her, rubbing the walls. ‘Mineral, earthy, camphor, touch of moss… Iris root’ she bids him write down in her notebook. Later, she asks him to smell something she’s created on a blotter. He complains that he doesn’t know what it smells of, but she gently encourages him to say whatever thoughts come to mind. ‘Trust yourself.’ Before we know it, Guillaume is in the supermarket, sniffing various shower gels – under the watchful gaze of a bemused security guard. ‘Something quite mellow…’ he says, as the guard shuffles closer, clearly unused to such behaviour in Aisle 5.
The extent of of Walberg’s’ fame is revealed when she smells Dior J’Adore on a waitress and casually tells Guillaume she created it. (In fact, it was composed by perfumer Calice Becker in 1999, but this is a fictional film, after all). Later we learn that, after she became famous with her photo adorning the cover of magazines, she ‘began to lose (my) nose.’ She thought that ‘with my experience of blending I could do it from memory.’ But after making a mistake, her confidence in composing fine fragrance was truly troubled and Devos lost her contract. Her sense of smell came back, but ‘the perfume world is small,’ and so with her reputation struck down in flames, she stuck to smaller, industrial and functional fragrance jobs while avoiding the public gaze.
Suddenly, Walberg loses her sense of smell again. Terrified, she decides to part ways with her pushy agent and, under the treatment of an anosmia specialist – who describes the condition as when ‘The nose and the brain stop working together,’ she begins her journey back into the fragrance world. But can this chauffeur with ‘a good nose’ actually help her recover her reputation and heal his own life…?
Les Parfums is a wonderful evocation of that joy of sharing a love of fragrance, of watching someone develop and explore their own sense of smell. And it’s also a healthy reminder that anosmia – losing one’s sense of smell – can be a terrifying and life-changing experience, even if you don’t happen to be a perfumer. A gentle film that’s slow in pace but nonetheless completely gripping because of the sensitive character portrayal by the two leading actors, there’s some stunning shots of the French countryside and those Parisian streets we miss so much, too. A paean to the world of perfume and the gift that is our sense of smell, we say this is a must-watch for anyone who loves fragrance.
Now we’ve caught your interest, watch the trailer, below, and allow yourself to fall for Les Parfums’ charms…
There are so many hand sanitisers out there now, but when we were looking for a special extra gift to pop into our Treat Box, we wanted something that would be incredibly useful and smelled beautiful (of course we did!)
So as soon as we heard the BODYGUARD Protect hand sanitisers are made by French perfumers at an atelier in Provence, we knew we had to get our noses on them. Let’s face it – if we have to use them every day, we’d rather our hands smelled fabulous. And this is a fragrant ritual we can get behind.
Founder Celia Nicolosi explains:
‘Our heritage and all our expertise comes from creating fine fragrances in Provence, France. We use traditional techniques passed down through generations that take time and patience to deliver.
Our BODYGUARD anti-bacterial hand sanitisers are fragranced with a fresh Eau de Cologne formula, with each bottle made in our own L’Atelier in Manosque, Provence, this allows us to maintain the quality standards of our product. Our formula is also incredibly gentle on your hands, this is because we use a very high grade moisturising glycerin, which we don’t filter so that you receive all the added goodness to care for you hands.’
As we’ve discussed before, fragrant Colognes were traditionally used for health purposes – the alcohol was cleansing to the skin and many of the ingredients added additional anti-bacterial properties (though people didn’t realise that, then. They simply thought pleasant smells warded off sickness).
The BODYGUARD anti-bacterial hand sanitiser contains a powerful 70% alcohol formula with moisturising properties, to cleanse and calm your hands, each beautifully scented in four unique fragrances, and priced at £4.95 each.
Which will you choose as a daily fragrant pleasure…?
The gentle clean scent of the tropical moringa flower subtly enhanced with violet and a touch of cedar.
A breezy sea fragrance, of fresh Mediterranean bergamot, with a hint of woody cedar and musc.
Our coconut fragrance is an irresistible, dreamy, exotic cocktail of coconut, vanilla, jasmine and amber. A holiday must have!
Bursting with orange, bergamot and lemon, this classic citrus fragrance is awakened with notes of lavender and epice.