Tuesday, September 1, 2009

An Interview with Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour.

We so enjoyed this in depth interview with Havana Vanille creator, Bertrand Duchaufour, by the always talented Michelyn Camen, owner of Fifthsense N.Y.C., that we had to re-post it here for our fans! The original blog post can be found here. Enjoy:

Inside the Creative Mind Of ‘Rockstar’ Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour

Inside the Creative Mind Of ‘Rockstar’ Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour

08/28/09 09:24:52

By: Michelyn Camen

Bertrand Duchaufour is a perfumer who finds himself suddenly recognizable by perfumistos all over the world; lovers of fine fragrance who follow his every accord.

For years, (since 1985) as a young trainee at Lautier Florasynth group in Grasse through his 24 year career that includes stints at Florasynth Paris and Créations Aromatiques, he created his outstanding fragrances in ‘anonymity’ for such companies as Comme des Garcons Kyoto, Sherbet series, Avignon), Acqua di Parma (Colonia Assoluta with Jean Claude Ellena), for the niche house Eau d’Italie (Paestum Rose and all their scents) and perhaps his most memorable works - for L’Artisan Parfumeur (Timbuktu, Dzongkha and Poivre Piquant, to name just a few).

All are niche fragrance companies that allowed him to express his artistic vision while enhancing their brands’ core values. The brands all have very distinct identities but the common thread is that they all allow Duchaufour to push his creative limits, placing quality niche perfumerie over commercial success. Duchaufour would not work under any other condition.

Over a year ago, L’Artisan Parfumeur announced a new ‘arrangement’ with Duchaufour and Fleur de Liane, the first fragrance (which is an exotic floral) under the new collaboration was launched in September 2008.

It is the fourth in the Company’s ‘travel series’, (aka “Odeur volée par un parfumeur en voyage” by L’Artisan Parfumeur) which began in 2003 and includes Bois Farine, (co-created by Jean Claude Ellena), and Duchaufour’s Timbuktu and Dzongkha.

Now, the buzz is all about his latest work Havana Vanille. And deservedly so. It is in my opinion a masterwork. “A Duchaufour to die 4”.

How do I describe Bertrand? He is down to earth, hip, self-confident but without pretense; he is also a multi faceted artist whose photography and painting are his other great passions.

Ah yes; although his fragrances have been predominately unisex… it was a young woman - his first girlfriend who introduced him to fragrance when he was 17. Cherchez la femme…

Bertrand, you have created some of the most memorable fragrances of the past decade, including Timbuktu and Dzongkha for L'Artisan Parfumeur. Are you going to collaborating with the Company's as its sole perfumer going forward? Will you be doing other projects as well?

Bertrand Duchaufour: Michelyn, it is difficult to explain this unique relationship. I have an atelier in the L’Artisan Parfumeur office in Paris. It is my lab, (L'Atelier de L'Artisan Parfumeur) and I will have everything I need to create without limitation. I am free to work with a few other niche brands and L’Artisan may choose other perfumers as well. But we have a relationship, as you once called it,” Perfumer in Residence”. That is accurate.

What was the inspiration for your latest L’Artisan Parfumeur creation - Havana Vanille. Please tell us from start to finish. Everyone seems to believe it is about Cuba? Is it part of L’Artisan’s ‘travel’ series’?

Bertrand Duchaufour: Yes, it is most definitely part of what we call our travel series.
It started with the idea of Havana in Cuba - colonial houses, beaches, etc but it goes beyond that and it is a mysterious fragrance reminiscent of travels sea crossings and the spices indigenous to Caribbean.

The first challenge was to create a vanilla, the most beautiful possible, made with the most expensive raw materials possible. The challenge was difficult, because we used the finest vanilla, not vanillin (a synthetic), and it wasn’t initially apparent to me as to how to best make use of such expensive material in the best way.

The first step was to associate the best vanilla absolute (chosen between more than ten different varieties along with other vanilla balsamic, woody and ambery notes to create the most sensual, “gousse de vanille” (vanilla bean) like accord.

I combined more than 15 materials producing more than 80% of the whole formula; the original one and I worked with was the narcissce absolute, an very rich facetted raw material, which was at the heart of the composition and fave way to the subtle alliance of narcissus, everlasting flower and tonka bean. This accord is reminiscent of tobacco leaf- which is both honey-sweet and narcotic.

This was a bit of a ‘eureka’ moment in the fragrance’s development. We realized that this quality needed to be further explored and would center on the concept of a vanilla/ tobacco.

So that is how built the foundation of Havana Vanille… After that, everything turned around; no longer just Cuba but the idea of travel between the Caribbean Iislands to find the story of our fragrance… Cuban tobacco cigar, spices of the Jamaican island (pimento bay, cascarilla oil, red berries) rum from the Antilles and so on…

L'Artisan is known for its materials and artistry and not hype and marketing. As a perfumer, how do some of the regulations on raw materials effect how you create a fragrance?

Bertrand Duchaufour: We are, all the perfumers, more and more restricted by the more and more restraining norms but looking forwards the respect of these rules, we have everyone, the possibilities to bypass this kind of obstacle, such rich and numerous are the solutions of substitution of certain raw materials or combinations of different products to find the exact aim to reach at the beginning. It’s just a question of adaptability and imagination.

You told me once that you are devoted to the female world, yet most of your fragrances are non gender specific, please explain?

Bertrand Duchaufour: That’s true, I indeed prefer female references in everything I am touching or investigating, but before all, I work in the absolute way of artistry and therefore, I don’t want to feel limited. It’s the reason why, if I feel obliged to create something in a certain direction I will do it without thinking about any “marketing” image or sense. I‘ll do it just in the most evocating way possible.

Of all the fragrances you have created during your career, which presented the greatest challenge in terms of composition?

Bertrand Duchaufour: Magnolia Romana from Eau d’Italie brand has been the most difficult challenge I ever found, because it has been the hardest way to evoke and combine cypress and magnolia flower oils, which are very masculine scents in the most feminine way…

Which fragrance, besides your own, do you wish you had created?

Bertrand Duchaufour: There is only one; Dior Homme by Olivier Polge.

You have traveled the globe, Is there a place you want to see and study?

Bertrand Duchaufour: Yessssss! I want to return to Japan and Africa again do something specific upon the Karo Karoundé (I worked with for Timbuktu but not enough I guess).

How do you feel about the state of contemporary 'commercial' fragrance? Will the rise of niche and boutique fragrance force change to the landscape? Also, the niche market has exploded, and many fragrances are indistinguishable from commercial scents.

Bertrand Duchaufour: Here there isn’t a hard line, a tangible border between commercial fragrances and niche products. That means you can find the more horrible copy in a so-called niche brand and a very original innovative accord in a very commercial launch. Very difficult to point precisely as to the exact character of a new launched fragrance because, it is increasingly rare to distinguish between them.

I am sure of one thing: time is the best judge of a fragrance. If Perfumery is to remain an Art, it will be those fragrances that compel us based on quality and originality, not necessarily label or price.

Chanel and Guerlain have introduced niche extensions, some may be very good, yet I believe they should return to their roots.

How do you think bloggers and "perfume critics” have changed the fragrant landscape. There is a lot of transparency, everything is in real time. In what way do the same people, few of them are perfumers, help or hurt fine fragrance?

Bertrand Duchaufour: Mostly this has been very good, although some non-perfumers do get a little crazy and are too serious about it. It is important to understand there is a difference between opinion and expertise. But opinions are good if we all can learn.

I think bloggers will drive the perfumery critic in a more demanding way and will oblige the marketing brands to be, in the same time more precise, more serious and respectful of the work done by perfumers.

Of course, it will bring automatically more honesty regarding the consumers themselves, avoiding the bullshit and a more and more deplorable quality of new products. That will take time because it will be proportional to the number of educated people and so-called potential consumers.

You must be, as blogger leader, very careful of what you're divulging because you are the more efficient guarantor of the quality and veracity of any commentaries concerning fragrances and perfumery.

There are about dozen great perfumers who have a cult following, and often overshadow the brand Bertrand you’re a rock star, seriously… to thousands of perfumistos. How does that feel? How do you keep it real and be true to the core values of the brand?

Bertrand Duchaufour: Fortunately, I am not in direct contact too often with “my aficionados” and that permits me to be the more honorable with my own work and my own manner to conceive perfumes creation. And that’s good! Thank God!

What advice would you give new perfumers in terms of balancing their personal artistic integrity, especially if it doesn’t mesh with the client's desire for a commercial hit?

Bertrand Duchaufour: Walk away. Never compromise your art.

Is their fragrance in your mind that you wrestle with, that you have not been able to create?

Bertrand Duchaufour: I have difficulty with the orris absolute which is in the same time the more expensive product of the perfumery and the more unpredictable. Very expensive and the results have been problematic.

Favorite Artists?

Bertrand Duchaufour: Francis Bacon, Gerhard Richter, Cy Twombly, Edvard Munch, Per Kirkeby, the great Renaissance painters (Da Vinci and Raphaël).

What’s on your ipod these days?

Bertrand Duchaufour: Placebo, Radiohead, TV on The Radio, Archive, The Verves, Animal Collective.

Where did you grow up?

Bertrand Duchaufour: In the suburb of Nancy, a city in the east of France. Nearby there was a pine forest were I wandered and spent much of my time as a youth. It’s the reason why nature smells are so powerful on my mind.

First memory of scent?

Bertrand Duchaufour: Hum… Difficult to say… maybe it is the scent of dry hay in the garden of my grand-mother in the French Pyrénées. A very strong smell which is always haunting me…

You are in the process of creating a new fragrance for L’Artisan. Can you please give us a little ‘hint’ of what to expect later this year.

Bertrand Duchaufour: Right now, I am so busy. I am working on several projects for L’Artisan Parfumeur, including a Vetiver, a Tuberose, and an Amber Oriental. And I just finished for the next launch an incredibly strong OUD. I am very happy with this one.

Havana Vanille will be available in October in fine stores around the world and from the official online stores of L'Artisan Parfumeur.

Writer’s note: I wish to thank Olivier Segal of L’Artisan Parfumeur (who never sleeps), and of course Bertrand Duchaufour. Bertrand was on vacation; without his laptop, yet managed to handwrite the answers to my questions with grace, honesty and a straightforward eloquence.

Images: Bertrand Duchaufour, L'Artisan Parfumeur, richardefreeman, toprural, edu-tourist

Michelyn Camen is New York City based fragrance writer and specialist. Michelyn is an Editor. In addition, she is the Fragrance editor for www.fashiontribes.com, a top ten beauty blog, and the Fragrance Columnist/Diversions for http://www.uptownsocial.net.

Michelyn is the former Senior Contributing Writer for Sniffapalooza Magazine, New in Niche Columnist for Basenotes and Editorial Director/Fragrance Editor for Beauty News NYC & LA

Ms. Camen is the owner of Fifthsense N.Y.C. which provides personalized fragrance consultations based on body chemistry, fashion and lifestyle and consults for luxury, media and fragrance companies.

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