This month sees launch of L'Eau D'Issey pour Homme Sport...
Edited on 3/4/12
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An interview with Nathalie Helloin Kamel of Parfums Issey Miyake : "We Are Not A Niche Brand Any More"
It's not often that the product at the centre of a perfume launch is nearly upstaged by the hairdos of the attendees. But there was a moment at the recent London release of L'Eau D'Issey Pour Homme Sport when the follicular adornments of people's heads almost completely diverted all the attention away from the fragrance.
The Japanese designer's clothes are well known for their origami-like, meticulously-engineered precision, so perhaps many of the guests felt they had to do their bit by sporting styles that were equally architectural. There were Afros as large as icebergs, bobs so perfect they could have been fashioned from some sort of devilish, NASA-patented plastic, and curls that would have made a Spirogram drawing look like a messy scribble.
Eventually, the perfume managed to retrieve the limelight from the tops of people's heads, especially when the focus turned to the subject of its packaging. Nathalie Helloin Kamel of BPI (the company that currently owns the licence to create scents for Miyake, Narciso Rodriguez, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Elie Saab) explained that as the concept of 'sport' doesn't automatically lead to an association with the Issey Miyake brand, the packaging had to reflect a space in which the two could co-exist harmoniously.
Therefore, the decision was made to use the familiar minimalist skyscraper from the original 1994 scent, but this time, create it from different materials. Cue: tinted glass to resemble skiing goggles, a rubberised lid in the style of motorcycle handlebars and metallic trimmings inspired by hooks and clips used in rock climbing. It's a neat bit of design which manages to be pleasing on both intellectual and aesthetic levels.
When I managed to pull Helloin Kamel away from the hair parade for a brief interview, I first asked her whether she'd consider herself to be the Creative Director for Parfums Issey Miyake.
Nathalie Helloin Kamel: Yes, I'm a kind of Marketing Director. I'm the link between the fashion designer and the markets. My job is, first, to act as an investigator, to really get to know the fashion designer, to know his vision, his philosophy, his dreams. And then I have to translate this vision into a fragrance. That's my job, I'm a translator.
Persolaise: The original L'Eau D'Issey Pour Homme was made by Jacques Cavallier and you also asked him to make this new version. What was his reaction when you approached him with the idea of reworking a scent that's almost twenty years old?
NHK: Jacques is really enthusiastic about projects. We know that when you have a fragrance that's eighteen years old, if you want people to keep on talking about this fragrance in the present tense, then you have no choice: you need to re-work and to propose new angles. And for him, I think this was a very nice way to say, "If I had to create this fragrance today, what would I have done?"
P: The Sport version has a pronounced grapefruit note. Was that idea present from the start of the creation process?
NHK: Yes, since Day 1. He wanted to have this feeling of taking a deep breath, of the air on your face. For him the grapefruit is a symbol for this. The thing he wanted to keep at any cost was the nutmeg, which is at the centre, the heart of the fragrance. The idea was to keep the same structure: the citrus, the spicy element, and the woods. And then we moved from the yuzu in the original to the grapefruit, we kept the nutmeg, and then we added vetivert close to the nutmeg, and then cedarwood and patchouli.
P: How long did it take to create it?
NHK: It was close to one year. We had the idea very quickly. But then we had to fine tune, because there was something that was key: the long-lasting effect of L'Eau D'Issey Pour Homme is very strong in the original. Even if you want to create something that is fresh, you have to make sure that it's long-lasting. That's part of the signature of Issey Miyake. So that's what took time: to make sure the fragrance was long-lasting.
P: How closely involved is Issey Miyake himself in the creation of his brand's fragrances?
NHK: I go to Tokyo personally every two months to work with him on the fragrance and to present him with all the elements we developed. But I have to say that Mr Miyake is a Japanese guy... and the Japanese and fragrance, you know, they... [she shakes her head]
P: I've heard that the two don't mix very well.
NHK: Yes. You know, Mr Miyake's dream is to have a 'no scent' scent. That's the reason why we started with the L'Eau concept, because he used to say that there is no more beautiful fragrance than the scent of water on a woman's skin. That was the first brief. Can you imagine, for a Marketing Director, to have this brief? It was very difficult.
I think what's very nice with Mr Miyake is that he's definitely involved with everything that's linked to design and communication. As for the fragrance, I think that now that I've been working for the brand for 7 years, we work with real confidence, and he has a lot of respect for expertise. And the expertise we have at BPI is to make sure that the fragrance we develop will be suitable to the needs of the consumer. I think he listens a lot to my comments on fragrance. He never listens to me about bottles. He's very determined.
P: So the new bottle has been approved by him?
NHK: Oh yes, definitely.
P: But he probably won't wear the perfume?
NHK: I'm not sure.
P: Why do you think we're seeing so many sport scents now?
NHK: It's very interesting. For years, the feminine lines have had eau de toilette, eau de parfum, pure perfume and eau fraiche. And then with Allure Homme Sport, Chanel was the first to open a new segment. We had all tried to convince men to use not only the eau de toilette, but to move to eau de parfum or another concentration. But these were all failures. Men didn't want to move in that direction. And then the Sport scent was the very first way to create a new segment. It was a way to have a fresher fragrance compared to a classic fragrance. And now it's really part of the building of a regular line.
And another segment which is very interesting in the masculine world is La Nuit. Men hate to have an 'intense' fragrance or 'eau de toilette extreme' but they accept 'La Nuit' fragrances.
P: Is it all just playing with words and psychology?
NHK: I think it started as something psychological and now it's really recognised as a segment which is part of a classic masculine fragrance. I think that you have to have one sport fragrance now.
P: Why do you think the original L'Eau D'Issey for women, also by Cavallier, turned out to be so successful?
NHK: I think that at the time when it was launched, it was very unique, in terms of new ingredients, with the use of the famous calone, which was something that had really changed the market. Another brand had used calone before: New West was really the first one. But the way they had used it was too over-the-top, it was not that comfortable to wear. Jacques was the one who really found the appropriate balance.
P: Finally, you'll be aware that many people sorely miss the discontinued Feu D'Issey. Is there any chance it might return?
NHK: No, unfortunately. That's the problem when you have a fragrance which has such a strong personality, but it's not a blockbuster. From the commercial point of view, it was a failure. It had only a small target. But the people who were in love with it could die to have another bottle. At the moment, there is no project to come back with Le Feu.
In my mind, I'm very obsessed by what Yves Saint Laurent did with their fragrances, when they brought back some of their scents in one, common bottle, so that loyal customers could find them again. Maybe that would be a way to come back with Feu. It was an amazing fragrance. It was so different at the time.
With a brand like Issey Miyake, we create as if we were a niche brand, but at the end of the day, we are not a niche brand any more, because we have a big retail network, and we need to be moving forward, and we need to have success. We do our best to keep our personality. We cannot sustain tiny lines, but we'd love to.
About the author
Persolaise is a Jasmine Award wining writer and amateur perfumer with a lifelong interest in the world of fine fragrance. His perfume guide, Le Snob: Perfume, will be published later this year by Hardie Grant. You can find out more about his work at www.persolaise.com or by writing to him at persolaise at gmail dot com.
- Video: Ulrich Lang on new fragrance, Lightscape [News from Pitti]
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