Alfarom interviews Alberto Borri, of the Italian niche brand, nu_be.
Your line is a solid candidate to become one of the most interesting ranges of fragrances of the last few years. How everything started and what's the concept behind it?
Until four years ago, I worked in a perfume company called Morris Profumi (mainly we produced perfumes for selective brands, but we also distributed some niche brands as Robert Piguet, Etat Libre d’Orange and some others…). I was fascinated by the world of niche perfumes, so after 10 years I left my job and I decided to found my own company in order to create a niche brand. I was really impressed by the way in which Etat Libre D’Orange developed one of the most interesting line in the last years.
My idea to reach the goal for something really different was to collaborate with different artists that have never worked for the beauty industry before. After some experiments, I met our designer Francesca Gotti (she didn’t know almost anything about perfumes, she used to design bags and accessories) and thanks to her passion for materials and textures we create the concept of nu_be. nu_be means cloud, like the nebulae of dust responsible for stars and planet formation, and “new being”, like a newborn creature made of the same substance.
It is a perfume that speaks of the origin of the universe, but that deals also with the primordial elements at the foundation of life or that shape matter and its transformations. The thread which connects the collection is represented by an “olfactory periodic table”, in which each perfume is inspired by a basic chemical element.
You're working with very selected and extremely talented perfumers such as Antoine Lie, Françoise Caron and Sylvie Fischer. How did you choose them and how the creative process works?
I met some of them because of my previous job, within the common work in several projects, or in past collaborations. Other perfumers were taken into consideration on the basis of the affinities which they showed in respect to the spirit of the project. After an initial and general draft, which encompassed all our inspirations and references about the elements, we let every nose free to express their own personal interpretation of these suggestions. In the further phases, we have worked together with them on the development and adjusting of different alternative versions for each perfume. My final choice was always encouraged by the cohesion of a determined composition in respect to the concept and by particular features of discovery and mysteriousness, which I required it to have.
What's your background when it comes to fragrance? Your reference houses, if you have any, favourite perfumers of the past, favourite fragrances...
I made classic studies and then, after some exams in a Business University, I decided to take a course of design and communication. A very important reference for me is represented by my family stories about the beginning of Morris and the particular kind of perfumery projects typical of those years (the period after the Second World War). That approach has deeply influenced me, as a peculiar way of doing things. Among the perfumers that I admire the most, with the exception for the ones I’m already working with, I can surely mention Pierre Bourdon, Alberto Morillas, Christine Nagel, Pierre Wargnye…
Have you always been into perfumes and perfumery or Nu_Be is the result of a different artistic path?
I’ve always been into perfumes since I was a child, as my grandfather was the founder of Morris Profumi in 1948. My father Giovanni Borri continued then to develop the company until today. So I remember that I used to smell all the samples of the different projects that my father took at home and I shared with him many moments and thoughts within the different phases of product development. I met many perfumers during this time and I was always fascinated by them.
I particularly like the tear apart styrofoam packaging. Minimalistic, not expensive but incredibly striking. What's the concept behind it?
We were trying to conceive a particular “sensitive object” which could have a life on its own. We are definitively fascinated by an experiential way of thinking in design and sociology, according to which objects are never inert nor passive, but rather contain their own potential for action: they always invite and provoke gestures that can be also very original and unpredictable. We wanted to transfer this into a packaging, aiming at the same time to break up with the “sacredness” of many traditional perfume boxes and bottles. The opening of the pack is turned then into an adventurous breakage, which is daring, enigmatic and it ends always in a final outcome which is never the same. It symbolically represents a “triggering” of the fragrance which has to be “unleashed” to express itself… On the other hand, we neither wanted nu_be to be a sort of ‘glamour icon’: we prefer the unusual beauty hidden in the “brutality” of the industrial object, a hybrid charm which comes from blurred boundaries between natural and artificial, animated and inanimate.
What do you think of the status quo of contemporary perfumery? How did you manage to stand out?
I developed nu_be when there were already many brands on the market, but I was conscious that many of them are just a luxury packaging with a fragrance more or less good.
I think that we stand out mainly because with nu_be we contributed to outline a different way to interact with perfume, based upon discovery, mystery and the invitation to reconnect ourselves with our origins. We are speaking about life and I think that this can move people in the most intimate way.
What most fascinates me about your brand is the incredible honesty it exudes from all over. Reasonably priced, extremely nice compositions, artsy but not pretentious, avant-garde but not snob. Very solid fragrances that feel incredibly wearable but have remarkable twists. In this context, they often made me think about the work of Comme De Garçons or Etat Libre D'Orange. Do you feel any kinship with these brands?
It is an honour for me to be compared to those brands. I think we have some points in common with them, the minimal and industrial art of Comme de Garçons, the courage and the iconoclastic attitude of Etat Libre D’Orange.
Your new launches (Sulphur and Mercury) are now hitting the shelves. Can you introduce them to us...
Sulphur and mercury are two “demanding” elements, notorious because of the dangerousness of their physical properties and thick of alchemical and historical references… Thus they required an unconventional and brave approach, a really free and open-minded spirit, in order to be translated into perfumes. Qualities which nu_be could share once again with Antoine Lie. In his interpretation and “reading” of these elements, Sulphur [16S] discloses then a kind of “mephistophelian” aspect, instinctive and visceral, while Mercury [80Hg] surprises for its funambulist and dynamic facet, evoking the restless imagery of a metallic and technologic fluid. We worked on the aspect of persistence and we wanted for them a formula which could be respectful of the complex cultural fascination which emanates from the both.
If you were to collaborate with another brand, which one will it be and why?
I think that we are currently too busy with many projects for nu_be to consider a collaboration with other brands. But luckily enough, since we always connect with other people to find new roads for nu_be, we never exclude a meeting with other brands beforehand… Well, let’s see!
Your distribution in Europe seems very good. Are you planning to expand to the US as well?
Yes, we would like to, but we are thinking about the best way to enter in their market, as the US are very different in terms of retail logics and needs.
Sulphur and Mercury are available now from Les Senteurs (London), Nose (Paris), Skin Cosmetics (Netherlands), Aus Liebe zum Duft (Germany) and other nu_be stockists