October 10, 2010
If Luca Turin is the “Emperor of Scent”, than Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour on Thursday October 7, 2010 at the L’Artisan Parfumeur Boutique at Henri Bendel NYC was the Sultan of Scent.
Remarkably unfazed by the elaborate staging for his appearance at the U.S. launch of the new fragrance "Traversee du Bosphore" which included turbaned Turkish musicians, rich Orientalist trappings and a damask ottoman inside a private velvet tent where he met with journalists, he greeted me as if nearly four years had not passed since our last ‘face to face’ interview in New York, as if we had seen each other just last month and were merely continuing our ongoing email dialogues.
The first thing you notice about this man, unarguably one of the world’s greatest contemporary perfumers, is his composure, his unpretentious manner and individualism no matter his surroundings. Throughout the interview you will see a recurring theme of his perfumery as his challenge and the exploration of duality in order to amplify a concept or an accord. I have called Bertrand the ‘Rockstar’ of Perfumery on several occasions; I amend that statement… he is the fragrance world’s most intrepid explorer, always his own man, requiring no entourage, flattery or handlers as he pushes the boundaries of 21st century perfumery.
And we think he has a future on Saturday Night Live!
Rebonjour Bertrand! Wow this is some set-up. Please tell me the story behind creating "Traversee du Bosphore"?
BD: Charniere. (Translated it means a junction between both worlds) Istanbul is the door between the East and West. At the beginning the project we had in mind to make a travel fragrance that evoked a trip on the "Orient Express"; but there was a lot of difficulties with trademarks and ownership, so we didn't do that exact project. We took another idea; rather than a trip going to Istanbul, we were to be in Instanbul. So I spent ten days over there, to find the best pretext for something that was Oriental but different than the traditional oriental notes. In creating this perfume, for me it was very important to show duality. The leather contrasted with the Turkish Delight is very important element of this fragrance.
When we last met, at the launch of "Fleure De Liane", you had just joined L'Artisan Parfumeur in a new role, a different relationship which I called a "Perfumer-in-Residence". Can you please explain the exact nature of how you work with the Company?
BD: Frankly speaking, I am as you called it a "Perfumer-in-Residence" on the second floor of the flagship boutique which is across from the Louvre; this is my own private 'labo'. It is a kind of a gift, a terrific gesture for me, because they want my presence inside their building. I work for L'Artisan much of the time, and for Penhaligon's too, but I am free to work on any other projects.
You have had a very active role in reviving Penhaligon's. What is your charge when you reformulate or create an new Penhaligon's scent?
BD: First, it is to respect the brand's traditional perfumery, to build on that it and make it relevant and contemporary and of course honor its British heritage.ditional
What inspired you to compose Penhaligon's new scent "Sartorial"?
BD: In this case the Director of Penhaligon's Emily Mabel asked me to visit tailors' shops on Savile Row. I thought this was a great idea. I went three times to different workshops. I tried to capture this unique ambience in the fragrance— from the dust on the wood of the antique furniture, to the British leather club chairs where customers were waiting to try on a suit. I was intrigued by the fabrics, especially the effects of the irons steam on the fabrics; the presence of the steam is everywhere.
Did you buy a bespoke suit?
BD: No, its not my style.
Do you work from a brief? How much latitude are you given in each fragrance's creation?
BD: I am quite free to do anything I want. The marketing team at Penhaligon's and L'Artisan can give me ideas and sometimes we choose together.
Which comes first in developing a perfume… the sense of location , of place, or an idea?
BD: Location can be a pretext or I can get a concept before picking a location. I can work both ways, first of all idea to choose a few words or a concept… for example one of duality. For example, I was in Japan two weeks ago and I got the idea of doing something around rice and black ink. Its a good concept.
Will that be your next perfume?
BD: It will be one my next perfumes. I am sure, because I want to do it and I will do it. It is a great challenge. At the same time a duality a symbol of what is Zen,Shinto and Taoism, the white and black, the Yin and Yang; the ink and rice completely symbolizes it.
L'Artisan's Limited Editon Special Harvest series last fragrance was Iris Pallida in 2007. Any plans to create a new one? If so what would you choose as the soliflore?
BD: No, not at the moment…But it is a good idea. Yes. I would want to do a jasmine. Absolutely. Jasmine sambac.. the sweetness and the greeness with the light scent of orange blossom.
How much time do you spend traveling?
BD: Three months a year.
What is your greatest passion outside of perfumery?
BD: African Art, it is very important to me.
When I last saw you, you told me that and that you would return to Africa. Have you?
BD: Yes.Twice since we last saw each other. I recently went to Madagascar. Of course I will go back to Africa again.
In our last interview you stated emphatically that the blogging community must be responsible for the veracity of their information? It was quite a controversial a proclamation among some bloggers. Have you changed your opinion?
BD: No, not one bit. This is where people turn to for information. People look to you for this. It is so important.
You are the nose behind Frapin's new fragrance . What is the story behind it?
BD: The name of the fragrance is "Les Ailes du Desir" (Wings of Desire) inspired by the movie by Wim Wenders. The owner of Frapin, called me for a meeting. He wanted me to really bring out something unexplored in the cognac note – subtle ike a glimpse.
It was the first time I ever drank Cognac.
What do you drink?
BD: Whiskey. I love whiskey.
So many perfume lovers feel a strong connection to your fragrances. In your opinion, with so many fragrances on the market, why do so many of your perfumes resonate with the public?
BD: Because they are well done (laughs)
A lot of fragrances are well done… really…
BD: They are really rich, high quality, readable, and I try to make something explicit. Understandable. For example, in "Traversee du Bosphore" the leather note smells like leather, with a leather that is full and in front of you…
Do you remember the first fragrance you created?
BD: No, it was so long ago… I created three fragrances for Jo Malone (Editor's note: Amber/Lavender was one) and a lavender fragrance for Yves Rocher.
In order to be considered Art, must a fragrance smell good?
BD: Yes, I think so. Yes. Yes. Yes. It can be so easy just to make something experimental or to shock. The art of perfumery must be at the same time, innovative, harmonius, and "sent bon".
Are you a Kindle person or a book person?
BD: What is a Kindle?
What is the last movie you saw?
BD: It is a French Movie. "L'Amour C'est Mieux A Deux".
What is your idea of a perfect social evening?
BD: Spending time with good friends. An intimate dinner.
Reflecting on your past journeys, is there a place that you have been that you wish you could bottle?
BD: Again Africa… and oh yes, the desert. Notes of sand. Very minimalist and warm, cold …vast.
Anything you would like to tell me before the next time we meet?
BD: Here I will write it for you: "For Michelyn with all my friendship and to our next crazy going out in NY. Big Kisses, Bertrand".
– Michelyn Camen, Editor-In-Chief
Thanks to L'Artisan Parfumeur we are holding a draw for a 1.7 oz flacon of Bertrand Duchaufour's Timbuktu, the masterpiece that was one of only a very select few to merit five stars in Perfume the Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez. To be eligible you must leave a comment on site. Draw closes Wednesday, October 13th at 11:59 p.m. EST.