Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Talk By Pierre Guillaume At Les Senteurs: Learning The Specifics Of Parfumerie Générale - Part 2

Right, so where on earth do we go next after the incredible Coze licking demonstration? I could mention that there was lively debate amongst the audience as we discussed the correct English term for the type of sugar we detected in Sucre d'Ebène (the scent also featuring PG's favourite macrocyclic musk, if you recall): "Demerara", "muscovado" and just plain "brown" were three possible contenders.

Bestial scents

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".

So moving on swiftly on from raunch to another upcoming launch...

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).

Finding the balance between commercial success and creative freedom

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")

Thoughts on the fragrance market and why small doesn't equal niche

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.

How many tests does it take to develop a fragrance?

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...

Pierre Guillaume and Francis Kurkdjian - a whiff of bromance?

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.

The talk overran considerably - PG was so diligent about fielding questions that (as I later learned) he and the Les Senteurs team missed their dinner reservation. At the end of the night I saw him sitting quietly on a sofa at the back of the store and went over to say thank you and to show him the bottle of Brûlure de Rose I had bought on behalf of a friend whom I had just introduced to the scent. He stood up and kissed me on both cheeks in that gallant way the French do. The "bi-cheek bise" made my night, and it occurred to me that though I hadn't associated any particular memories with the main - supposedly "talkative" - PG fragrance line prior to the talk, I surely would now.

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


ScentScelf said...

I had a haunch...erm, hunch...I should hold off making reference to L'Ombre Fauve yesterday. You know, of course, that it brings me all sorts of bristly pleasure to hear that PG refers to it as "liquid sex." Purrrrrr, kitty, purr. And the linkage to Kurkdjian's Soir is fun but not entirely surprising. (Though I would point my accusatory finger at the Absolue as being a more direct relative which has a stronger cognate in texture along with, um, smell--of course while acknowledging the lineage between the Soirs themselves.)

Gesture? On a balcony? Whatever could you mean? ::bats eyelashes innocently::

Also, a ridiculous yet reflexive smile at hearing that PG points to Papyrus de Ciane as a point of pride...that being a scent that inhabits space in our mutual zone when you and I Venn Diagram "things we like."

I nod in agreement with his observation that sometimes "small" houses/perfumers get (mistakenly) translated/understood as offering "niche" perfume. One does not mean the other. Indeed, that interpretation does practically make him the discount niche, though (ssshh, don't spread it around) I'd say perhaps Parfums de Nicolai also wears that mantel. (Or is PdN the small in volume version of designer but not niche? Hmmm. Anyway...)

So, other than finding ways to coo and ooh and validate myself when PG and I agree (hey, I think Terre d'Hermes is notable, too), I also enjoyed reading your account because it's simply a pleasure to be vicarious via a trustworthy guide when one can't actually be there. How nice it is to hear, too, that he is a good star to his fans.

If I were truly bold, in celebration of your real life/my virtual excursion, I'd go swath one side in L'Ombre Fauve, the other in Absolue Pour le Soir, and swing that Theo Fennell Scent tassel about. The very idea! Instead, I will probably go huff some Y to clear my head, and apply Bois Blond for happy sunny lolling in the hay transition time.

We do know what lurks in the shadows, though, don't we?

Vanessa said...

Hi ScentScelf,

I remembered your being a lover of the furry beast that is L'Ombre Fauve, a perfume that has another curious distinction, namely that in cold temperatures it mysteriously solidifies - the only one in my whole collection to do that! I must say I didn't spend much time with my sample of Cologne pour le Soir, put off by the opening, but I think it may have been you yourself who said I should have another go and make a point of hanging in for the drydown.

Parfums de Nicolai as discount niche? I have never been very drawn to the line and can't remember how much the bottles cost, but that might be a good example. The Rosines also work out as good value ml for ml as I recall, and the same was true of the Roja Doves until the retail recently doubled!

The vision of you spritzed in sultry scents and swirling your tassel (hot pink, as I recall!), is delightful, especially on a drab February afternoon. I must say that Y wouldn't clear my head exactly, hehe...

teecake said...

Sounds like a fabulous day! Les senteurs have some great workshops coming up. I only wish I could attend them!
I must confess I am totally new to pgs scents but am looking forward to sampling them!
Regarding the confusion with perfume/fashion houses and their mainstream versus 'private' collections surely comes down to money and profit. Everyone can buy into the luxury of say Chanel with say number 5 but only the most savvy customers will know about number 22 ! These houses can reach out and please different customers.
What is your favourite pg scent?

Undina said...


I'm sooo behind testing this line (well, both lines) that now probably it wouldn't even make sense to start buying samples - I need to find a distributor who actually carries the line in a B&M store and go and sniff.

I have to say it! Even though my iPhone is black (in my universe a phone can be of any color - so long as it's black ;)) but it doesn't have a cover. I've never even considered getting one! Are you impressed? ;) Does it make me closer to PG?

Olfactoria's Travels said...

And now he even kissed you...
I shall have to buy a bottle of L'Ombre Fauve to get over the fact that I was not there...

P.S. no cover for my black (Hi, Undina!) iPhone either. :)

Vanessa said...

Hi teecake,

I clocked that Les Senteurs had some workshops in the pipeline. We need them to open a branch up north one day really!

I personally don't have a problem with the twin ranges phenomenon - now filtering down to the likes of D & G with their Velvet collection. And as you say, many consumers won't even know about the exclusive ranges so it isn't an issue. Perhaps PG reckons the big perfume houses are having their cake and eating it, hedging their bets etc by marketing the two ranges, whereas he is staking his whole business and reputation on one style of scent. For as I said in my post, even the "commercial" Musc Maori is not commercial in mainstream market terms.

My favourite of the main PG line is a toss up between Brulure de Rose and Bois Naufrage, but I also love Aomassai, Jardin de Kerylos and L'Ombre Fauve, and like a number of others.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

I do hope you find a B & M store where you can sample this range at leisure, because it is very distinctive indeed.

And yes, having a naked iPhone, even a black one : - ) , brings you significantly closer to PG, I would say!

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

Another naked iPhone - yep, you are definitely in the club of people with close personal links to PG... : - )

I know you have a fine collection of PG scents already - I might have to refresh my memory on your blog as to the exact list - but L'Ombre Fauve would be a definite enhancement I am sure. Is there a month within the budget allocation when it could be scheduled, or is every month already spoken for, with some additional bottles "on stand-by" as it is!

The Candy Perfume Boy said...

Aw man, you got a kiss from PG? As the cast of The Only Way of Essex would say (not that I've ever watched it I hasten to add) "I'm well jell!"

I have a naked white (chav coloured) iPhone too - I'm very glad to be part of the crew :P

Vanessa said...

Hi Candy Perfume Boy,

I hadn't heard the expression "well jell", but it's well good!

The naked white phone is chavvy? Who knew? I would have said - or I would like to believe - that it is the favoured colour of media and creative types, not that I am either of those. But PG is!
And whatever its undertones - if you have had a naked white iPhone *all along*, you jump straight to the top of our PG-phone emulating pack!

Tara said...

Wow, I thought Part 1 was good! Loved this so much, V. Very interesting to hear PG's views on the industry in general. That awards ceremony sounded fascinating too.

I do have a feeling I'm one of those people who prefers the more commercial scents in the line but hearing you like L'Ombre Fauve, I will now give it a try (plus Papyrus de Ciane).

Thanks again for this wonderfully comprehensive report on the proceedings and I'm glad you got a bi-cheek kiss!

Vanessa said...

Hi tara,

I was conscious that there were no pics of PG in Part 2, so I am glad it managed to hold your attention all the same! : - ) : - )

I think ScentScelf may have been thinking of somebody else, for Papyrus de Ciane didn't work on me at all. I can see why PG would be pleased with his handiwork though, as it is unusual and complex, just not my thing at all.

And the opening of L'Ombre Fauve is quite a challenge - it is a bit "medicinal" like the openings of Strange Invisible Perfumes if you know that line too, but the drydown more than makes up for it. It is quite something. If you like Labdanum 18 it is in the same general ballpark, only more so!

Suzanne said...

Excellent reporting, Vanessa. I read another write-up on PG's talk at Basenotes, and it was a very good write-up, but reading your two reports has proven even more thorough and (as with all of your writing) more fun. Actually, just reading the comments put a smile on my face. I believe these certainly will go down in history as some of your most stirring posts! :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Suzanne,

I am happy to have caused a frisson or two at your end, as long as it was pleasurable... : - )

And thanks too for your kind comment - as you know, pretty much every topic is grist to my Bonkersising mill, so if I can also be informative, that is a bonus!

: - )

ScentScelf said...

Oh, dear. What I did was conflate Papyrus du Ciane with Bois Naufrage, which makes absolutely no sense at all. But your liking of Bois Naufrage (and not necessarily the other) *does* make sense against what I know of your likes, so clearly my brains produced addled from scrambled. Or the other way around. Or added the two to equal papyrus. Something.

Sorry to have caused any confusion.

Interesting that you find the open of the bestial shadow "medicinal." I'd agree entirely with the application to SIP offerings, but L'Ombre Fauve? Hmmm, now I'm thinking. There IS a something that made me wonder if there was going to be trouble in my first rounds of trying it. Will ponder the relation to medicine and the leading whallomp whiffs of a typical Strange Invisible Perfume.

Meanwhile, I like to think of it as just what the doctor ordered... ;)

Wordbird said...

I am also 'well jell' and have a rocking crush on hunk-next-door PG now. He sounds lovely.

Natalie said...

He kissed you! Squeek! I'm jealous too. :)

And like some others, no case for my phone, which is an Android though, so I guess that doesn't count.

Thanks for passing on all these fascinating details of the talk. And just so I'm not accused of being more interested in the beautiful PG, I will point to the many PG fragrances in my collection and on my wishlist.

Vanessa said...

Hi ScentScelf,

Not to worry about the Papyrus de Ciane confusion. Papyrus, paper, wood are all in the same thematic ballpark after all.

And maybe "medicinal" is not quite the right word for the opening of L'Ombre Fauve, though it is for the SIPs. It may just be a big wallop of patchouli or something dank and mossy.

Vanessa said...

Am testing L'Ombre Fauve again now. I think it is probably just the patchouli that I am getting - when I first tried this scent three or more years ago, I would have been a lot more intimidated by earthy scents - as in the smell of earth, I mean. And I can't say I like the opening even now, but I do like where it goes... : - )

Vanessa said...

Hi Wordbird,

"Hunk next door" is very apt to capture PG's good looks *and* approachability!

Sorry to make you "well jell" - can you also remember how to say that in a Stoke accent? There's a distinctive way of saying "jelly" in particular. : - )

Vanessa said...

Hi Natalie,

Your Android phone may not admit you to the club, but I am sure some special terms can be worked out on the basis of your sizeable PG scent collection - arguably that is a more direct link to PG than preferences in mobile devices!

: - )