August 23, 2011
Mona Di Orio fragrances have always enjoyed a cult following among a select group of the cognoscenti. Mystery surrounded her inaugural line (reminding me of another Mona) from its launch to the present. One day they were at Bergdorf Goodman, Aedes and other shoppes in NYC. Then poof they were gone. There were even rumors the House was going out of business. But Mona loyalists ordered from her website and stayed true.
Now a new direction of Mona Di Orio fragrances have been welcomed by many and appeal to a wider niche audience- Les Nombres d'Or. I fell in love with Musc and Ambre, and found them to be beautifully constructed (and for me personally just as complex as her previous line but infinitely more wearable). In this interview Mona reveals herself, so that her fragrances have a context for those who are unfamiliar with her work, for those who are dissapointed by the new direction and those like myself and Mark Behnke who applaud it.
You were born in France to a Spanish mother and an Italian father what aspect of each culture has influenced you olfactive and personally?
It’s above all a deep Mediterranean influence. My grandmothers and my mother are all excellent cooks and I spent a lot of time observing them when they were in their kitchen or going with them to the market, I was always trying to touch and smell the fruits and vegetables. Indeed the market is the first place I visit when I travel, it informs me about the habits and customs of the country.
Our meals were always full of flavor, color and happiness .
I am steeped in Mediterranean culture, where cuisine and conviviality have an important place. Obviously all these scents and flavors influenced me a lot as they always attract me really deeply.
When did you decide to become a perfumer?
Quite early I must say ! Well, as a young girl I was already captivated by all the different fragrances around me, I was literally fascinated with the "olfactory world" and trying to capture each tiny scents. When I had created my first "perfume", blending some rose petals and fresh lemon juice from my aunt's Mediterranean garden, I was 6 years old ! Such an adventure!!!!Few years later I was deeply convinced that I wanted to become a perfumer…
Please tell our readers about how you met the great Edmond Roudnistka and how you became his pupil? How old were you and how long were your studies with him?
I was 17 years old when I wrote to Edmond Roudnitska. At this moment I had read all the books he wrote that I was able to find in the little town in the middle of the Alps where I lived then. I was incredibly fascinated by his writings. (unfortunately some of them were not published anymore).In my letter, I asked him first how and where I could find his other publications, but I also told him about my deep and true passion for the perfumes.
A couple of days later, I received a little box containing all the books I was looking for, but above all an invitation to meet him the following summer, I was ecstatic !!!!! So I met him regularly in Cabris where he lived, a small village on the heights of Grasse, during the three years I have continued my Art and Literature studies. Then, he proposed me to become his pupil, what a wonderful news it was !!! During all these years, I had never dared to ask him if I could become his pupil in his perfumes laboratory….
So, can you imagine my surprise and my huge happiness !!!!! My most cherished dream became reality….I was 21 years old when I arrived in his laboratory where I spent 6 years with him until his death, and again 11 years with his wife and his son Michel.
Is there any fragrance you wished you had created from any perfumes of the past ? Which have influenced you the most ?
Oh….. A lot !!! L'Heure Bleue, Vol de Nuit, Mitsouko of Guerlain, Narcisse Noire, Royal Bain de Champagne, Farnesiana of Caron, Cuir de Russie, Bois des Iles of Chanel, Bandit of Piguet, and of course Femme of Rochas, Dior Dior, the wonderful Eau Sauvage !!!! And so many other !!!
If you travel back in time whom would you like to meet and why ?
I would have loved to meet Colette who is my favorite author, she wrote so many beautiful things about the scents and the flowers, I'm still fascinated by her amazing books and her great sensibility…But also Germaine Cellier who was the first woman who became a perfumer; she was so talented and had such an incredible personnality !!!
Let's talk about your first collection which I remember at Bergdorf Gooodmans !!! Is it being discontinued or is it on hiatus. Why ?
As we said previously, we want to focus now on our new collection "Les Nombres d'Or" but our first collection will be relauched little by little… It's a surprise…
Les Nombres d'Or fascinate me for many reasons; they are a bold departure from any of your perfumes as they talk on the name of a single note. What was the creative process ?
I also studied architecture and painting and I was intrigued by the "Golden Ratio" considered as a divine proportion, a key to reach the beauty and the perfect balance.
So I have been thinking that it could be fascinating to refer to this theory considering the perfume creation. I work around a beautiful natural ingredient as I'm going to enhance one of its facets in particular, to accentuate its personnality, trying to sublimate it and looking for the perfect balance….
With your classical training, it must have been tempting to work for a House. Why did you stay independent and not work for a House ?
What I love about being independent is that I have the wonderful opportunity to use all the best and marvellous natural ingredients as I want, without any compromise, I don't have any brief, no prices limit, I'm totallly free and nowadays it is an incredible and rare privilege and a great luxury.
Please tell us about your use "olfactory chiaroscuro" ?
What I name a "olfactory chiaroscuro" means for me: the lights and the shadows as in a painting. I feel in a perfume that the the " lights" are the top notes, the shiny citrus, the sharp green leaves… And with the heart notes, we are going to enter slowly in a different mood, to experiment a certain density, more smooth, velvet-like including for example the woods, some flowers and spices… And then to reach finally the bases notes which are deeper, more intense, sensual, animal and darker (animales notes, crystallized products, resinoids…).
I do not like "flat" perfumes, some fragrances are linear, they smell the same from the begining to the end, it makes me bored as I don't travel, I don't feel a story… I need to feel a movement, to follow a development.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert ?
Well, both of them, it depends of the situation, I love to share my passion, to meet people and I could talk about fragrances for hours and hours. but when I create, I become very inaccessible, I like to be alone and focus on my creation so I can be on my own for days without talking, just smelling and thinking….
Your most vivid memory of nature ?
One of my first olfactory memory, the strongest one and certainly the most beautiful and vivid one is…. When I was a little girl, my grandparents lived in the South of France, each evening as a ritual I was watering the garden with my grandmother. The most magical moment was when she watered the geraniums…
Suddenly the smell of crackling dry earth, the intense and suave perfume of the geranium wet leaves. This deep intoxicating fragrance is still one of my favorite which brings me back immediatly to my chilhood and it's it's so precious and it's one of the reasons why I wanted to become a parfumer…
In what way do you take care after your mother ? What was her perfume ?
My mother is a very elegant lady, she comes regulary to visit me in Nice in my laboratory and she loves to discover my new creations and of course I enjoy a lot when she cooks especially for me my favorite recipies and always with a good bottle of wine I keep preciously for her ! When I was a little girl, I remember her wearing a lot of different fragrances and of course I was more than happy to discover some new perfumes ! I remember Shalimar and Nahema from Guerlain, Je Reviens from Worth, Complice from Coty.
As soon I began to create some perfumes she was really happy and proud to wear my creations. She used to wear Carnation for a long time I must say and now since a couple of months she is deeply in love with my Vanille !!!
Who is your favorite painter, (btw your beauty reminds me of a Modigliani) ?
Thank you, I love Modigliani ! I like so many artists like Balthus, Gustav Moreau, Pierre Bonnard, Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, Edward Hopper,Van Dongen and I enjouyed so much all the illustrations Grau made !!! But I enjoy also a couple of photographers like Nick Knight, Steven Miesel, Herb Ritts.
Those are some of my favorite artists as well Mona (especially Schiele, Balthus and Klimt) and I just discovered Van Dongen. I want to talk about your flacons. As Edmond Roudnitska said "you see through your nose". There are many perfumers who says its all about the jus. Is the aesthetic of both important to you and to your brand ? Just like a perfume, how was your signature flacon conceived ?
Photo courtesy : Jeroen Oude Sogtoe
Of course !!! I really enjoy the poems of Alfred de Musset, but I do not agree what he said : "Qu'importe le flacon pourvu qu'on ait l'ivresse", (what importance does the bottle have as long as you are drunk) Baudelaire would never have wrote anything like this !
No, Baudeleire said "my love swims on your perfume", much more romantic! But now to the flacons.
Photo courtesy : Jeroen Oude Sogtoe
Seriously, what I mean even our bottle is still the same for each fragrance, it's very important for us to introduce a perfume in a beautiful flacon as in a luxurious box. As you know, Jeroen Oude Sogtoen, my business partner is a designer, he is the "eye", I' m the "nose", what a perfect team .Being so demanding with the quality of my raw materials, I don't see how it could be different with the flacon. Maybe for certain perfumers, as they are not personnaly involved in the brand, they just have to focus on the perfume creation and the big brand for who they work is going to take care about the packaging and the marketing too.
When we began, Jeroen Oude Sogtoe, (my partner) , to speak a couple of years ago about how we would like our perfume bottle, we had in our mind a certain shape, an elegant flacon, timeless, both female and male, very chic and unique. The box is also important, because it protects in a lovely way, the perfume from the the lights which could accelerate the aging of the perfume itself.
The "muselet" of champagne that covers the cap was not happened by chance, but it's a "wink" to my passion for the champagne wines. I have a lot of admiration and I enjoy particulary the champagne from Jacquesson, which is one of the oldest and greatest vineward of champagne and it's also their ancestors who had invented this famous muselet of champagne. When you drink a glass of a good champagne it's always a moment full of happiness you wat to share… it's the same for a perfume, it's a magic moment…
Passions outside of perfumery ?
Yes ! Wines, I studied oenology for years, I visited some great vineyards in France and Italy, and I had the opportunity to taste some excellent wines which let me some wonderful memories… Few years ago, I enjoyed to give some wines trainings and to learn people how to smell and taste with a lot of attention wines and champagnes, it was a great experience. But I love also to cook and it was a great pleasure and an honour, a couple of years ago, to be involved in the development of a book in the kitchens of the famous chef Alain Ducasse !
Which fragrance of Les Nombres d'Or took the most time to create and why ?
Until now, the Oud has been the perfume the most difficult I've created. It is such a particular essential oil, with an incerdible strong personality ! I never experimented an ingredient which needs to macerate for such a long time before being totally integrated to the other components. Normally I'm used to wait one or two days before being able to smell my sample and checking where and how it goes. But with the Oud essential oil, I had to wait for several days before to be able to smell a sample totally and perfectly blended, this product needs a lot of time to integrate the other ingredients. So it was a very long and complex creation which drove me crazy sometimes ! Perhaps because I wanted the Oud to complement the absolute Osmanthus which also has a 'big' personality and it took a while before to find the ideal proportion.
Will Les Nombres be a limited series with a fixed number of scents ?
Not at all, I have so many ideas, I can't stop thinking about my next creation and there are so many stories to tell, so many dreams to translate….
They have simple names but i find they are quite compex. For example Musc shows its sweet side on my skin and Vanille has no sweetness at all on me. In some ways they remind me of Le Labo where the main note is a concept. Would you agree or are you trying for a true vetyver, a true amber, a true leather ?
What I wanted to express is my own idea about a vanilla, a tuberose, a leather…. Some of these ingredients exist already in the nature, but the perfumer is going to interpret these subjects of inspiration with his own sensitivity, his olfactory vocabulary as a musician will be able to write a partition with notes of music that already exist but he will make them unique, so it's going to be its own melody, through his own style and talent, it's exactly the same thing…And for example, the leather which doesn't exist as a natural ingredient, it's a blend of different natural and synthetic components, a stylization, but you do recognize the leather when it's a good interpretation.
Nature is an inexhaustible source of inspiration… The imagination and the experience of the perfumer is able to make exceptional the fragrance of a flower or anything else and above all unique and timeless…
Your new perfume Oud, there is so many on the market place right now. How is your Oud different ? One of our readers Gojira Todd Torres would like to know if you distill the oud by hand ?
Yes, it's true there's a lot of different perfumes called Oud or claimimg that they do contain real oud… But what is important to know to understand this subject is that most of them contain a synthetic base which reproduces the scent of oud and not the essential oil of oud, itself which is very different. I have studied both of them and the aura, the intensity, the beauty, the depth of the natural one is so fantastic, so magical, so mysterious and complex compared to the synthetic one which is simply a nice woody, leathery, spicy base without any vibration or any mystery. And regarding the prices it's again another story, the difference is huge…
The first time I smelt a sample of an oud essential oil, I was not convinced, there is also many different qualities and origins, as I was not seduced I was not really interested to work with it… Last year my provider called me, he just have received a new quality from Laos and this time when I smelt it, i was totally subjugated, intoxicated… Such an aura, such a essential oil, at this moment I realized deeply why this product was so mystical, intimate and secret for thousands of years and through many religions in the world. Just to give an idea about its value… 18.000 euros for one kilo…I wanted to create something unique and I thought about blending oud with somethimg rare and also precious, really different and unexpected like the absolute osmanthus from China which smells a little like jasmine and apricot confit and finally such a good match. My perfume is created from a real oud essential oil which is distilled by hand and traditionally in Laos, and especially it comes from a tree that has been replanted and cultivated with the fair trade mention. The demand is high but the offer is small of course, there are a lot of contraband and falsification, but we have also to take care to preserve the natural specie of this wood.
What is the percentage of natural ingredients in your parfums ?
Always at least 50%, sometimes a little bit more. Of course I do need synthetic ingredients for many reasons a pure natural perfume would not be nice and certainly a bit boring ; but also as I can't find certain notes in the natural ingredients anymore, I mean all the animals components (castoreum, musc, civette…) There are some beautiful natural ingredients as there are some nice synthetic ingredients. Quality is my goal, one of my main concerns ; I won't use any essential oil or concrete if the quality is not perfect, it's all or nothing and it's the same with the synthetics ones.
Which language do you dream in?
Well, I forgot almost all my Spanish as I don't practice it so often. Sometimes it happens I dream in English but let's say that most of the time it's in French.But maybe soon I would dream in Dutch as I begin to learn it, who knows?!!
An artist can work in any palette (look at the limited palette that Edmond Roudnitska had while he was creating perfume amidst the rubble Nazi occupied France when he created Femme de Rocha) how does IFRA which you must adhere to affect you art ?
I can understand that IFRA has to protect consumers against the potential dangers of certain cosmetics ; as I think it was an excellent decision to stop the use of the animal products in order to preserve their species. Although synthetic products are indispensable, in my opinion they do not have the same vibration, the same depth.. It makes me sad to see some of them rejected by the IFRA new amendments. Of course there is always an alternative but at the end is simply different. I could not imagine myself creating a perfume without a single drop of natural products.
I sincerely hope that IFRA is not going to forbid more products than it's necessary….
Again, when Edmond Roudnitska had created Femme of Rochas during the second war,of course he had a limited palette but the few products he used were some beautiful raw materials, both natural and synthetic and he created a masterpiece with his knowledge, his intuition, his artistic sense and his heart.
Working with a limited palette can be a challenge but only if the products are qualitative.
A sneak peak of what is next a hint ?
Surprise! As I mentioned it, I will continue to focus on "Les Nombres d'Or" collection but we are going also to reintroduce the previous collection little by little…
–Michelyn Camen, Editor in Chief
For our draw, it is reader's choice provided by Mona di Orio for Les Nombres which include Musc, Ambre, Vetyver, Cuir, Tuberouse, Vanille, and the new Oud. CHOOSE ONE. in addition, you can suggest which Di Orio fragrance from the first collection you would like Mona to re-introduce first OR a suggestion for her next etude. To be eligible for a full flacon you also must leave a comment on something you found interesting about our interview. Creativty counts twice. and please like Cafleurebon on facebook! Draw closes August 25, 2011
Our thanks to Mona and Jerome!!!