Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Talk By Pierre Guillaume At Les Senteurs: Learning The Specifics Of Parfumerie Générale - Part 2
Or I could tell you that Pierre Guillaume referred to L'Ombre Fauve with its distinctive earthy notes of Amber 83, patchouli and musk as "liquid sex". He also described it as "very dirty" - quoting Francis Kurkdjian, and replicating the gesture more commonly seen on football terraces which FK used to describe his own creation, Cologne Pour Le Soir. And none of that is surprising really, given that the name of L'Ombre Fauve roughly translates as "bestial shadow".
Corps & Âmes EDT Apaisante
There will only be one new Limited Edition scent released in the main PG line this year, a reworking of Corps & Âmes, called Corps & Âme EDT Apaisante, "apaisante" meaning "soothing" or "calming" in French. The original Corps & Âme reminds me very much of the civet cloud that is YSL Y, while the new LE - a chypre with notes of geranium, lemon verbena, jasmine sambac and a patchouli heart - had a slightly acerbic citrus / herbal opening, on card at least, and I wouldn't have said they were all that closely related. In fact I detected echoes of Guerlain Sous Le Vent (which PG said he would take as a compliment, when we were discussing our initial impressions). Then PG agreed with those who spotted a resemblance to Aromatics Elixir as the scent wore on. To give uplift to the chypre structure, the new version of Corps & Âmes will contain a linear musk called Serenolide, developed by Philip Kraft, German fragrance chemist with Givaudan.
PG's favourite scent from the Huitième Art range
"The new one!" (ie the "Polywood" blockbuster featured in Part 1).
PG talked about the fact that he has to strike a balance between following his muse in creative terms, producing scents that challenge and interest him personally, while ensuring that there are some more "commercial" perfumes in the mix (this is of course a relative term when applied to a niche brand). The latter can be relied upon to generate sales, including the funding of his more edgy creations such as Papyrus de Ciane, the scent that he is most proud of as a technical achievement.
Scents by other perfumers PG wishes he had created himself
- YSL M7
- Thierry Mugler Womanity (he admires its huge power of diffusion: "I think we will talk differently about it in 10 years' time")
- Lolita Lempicka au Masculin by Annick Mennardo ("she is the mistress of diffusion")
PG singled out a couple of mainstream scents which had particularly impressed him - JPG Kokorico and Terre d'Hermès - describing them as "a few pieces in an ocean of new launches". He finds the co-existence of mainstream and exclusive ranges within houses such as Tom Ford, Dior, Hermès, Chanel etc bewildering - "I am lost" - and assumes the public must be equally confused by these two-tier marketing strategies. PG also laments the fact that certain perfume brands are springing up which - on account of their small size - automatically position themselves as niche. PG doesn't feel this necessarily follows, and considers some of these ranges to be overpriced.
"That is not my version of niche. (By comparison) I am the discount of the niche!"
The PG distribution strategy and why small is beautiful
PG's distribution strategy is to limit the numbers of points of sale and grow the business slowly, as the use of distributors can lead to loss of control and dilution of the brand. This explains why, a year ago, I had been surprised to see the main PG line carried in a small independent perfumery in Holland, yet when I went back last autumn it had mysteriously vanished from the store.
Not as many as you might think. PG cited the case of a perfume house which advertised the fact that some 500 tests/iterations had gone into the creation of one of its scents. PG puts this down to marketing spin, and gave 60 as a more typical number, while Intrigant Patchouli he got right first time!
"A good perfumer doesn't need that many tests."
Falling in love with fragrance and why "we are all reptiles on the Discovery Channel"
Actually, PG didn't actually quote this song lyric, or even the original version with "animals" in it, but he did say that the act of falling in love with a perfume is involuntary and more or less instantaneous. He explained how the process is governed by the hypothalamus in the brain and described it as "reptilian", leaning in towards the audience to emphasise his point, like a crocodile eyeing its prey. I have just googled "reptilian brain" and looks to me as though the limbic system may be more where the action is at, but I am not one to split hairs (or cut them in four, as the French say).
I interjected that we sometimes fall in love (with a perfume or a person, indeed) only to fall out of it again pretty smartly, as the scales - to stay with our reptilian theme - fall from our eyes, and we realise we made an expensive mistake...
PG and Francis Kurkdjian are not exact contemporaries - PG is 35, FK 42 - and PG described their relationship as competitive but friendly. "We fight a little bit...and we go to the same place in Spain for our holidays."
It was in fact Francis Kurkdjian, who, on smelling Coze, PG's first creation, encouraged him to pursue a career in perfumery.
They also both attended the recent awards ceremony in Paris, where the order of “Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres” - an honorary title granted to those who have made outstanding contributions in the arts world - was bestowed upon five perfumers chosen from each of the main fragrance and flavour houses. (Kurkdjian had already received this award in 2009.) PG described it as an emotional occasion punctuated by episodes of horseplay and banter: Dominique Ropion took a photograph of the Minister of Culture, while Maurice Roucel amused the audience with his trademark spoonerisms.
And my iPhone hasn't been in its cover since...
Oh, and today I realised that my phone is not the only link with the whole PG experience - he mentioned that Ambre Ceruléen was inspired by the so-called "cerulean speech" in The Devil Wears Prada, in which Miranda teases Andie about her ignorance of the precise colour of her old sweater:
"But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise. It's not lapis. It's actually cerulean."
Well, as it happens, I own a (distressed PVC) replica of the messenger bag worn by Andie - a gift from a friend who works in PR. It isn't blue, sadly, but I think I have enough memories of the talk to be going on with...
Photo of bestiary, reptiles and the Palais Royal from Wikimedia Commons, photo of PG bottle from basenotes.net, photo of Anne Hathaway from fabsugar.com, other photos my own