It's genuinely sad to think that it's no longer possible to nip to the fourth floor of Harrods and stroll around what was one of the most impressive perfumery exhibitions ever put together in Britain. In addition to offering rare glimpses of several old Guerlains, Diors and Chanels, the Perfume Diaries also hosted a handful of special events, including a showcase of the work of a few European perfume houses on the 21st of September. Watched by a crowd too large for the number of seats provided by Harrods, the event consisted of curator Roja Dove introducing four short presentations from representatives of Chantecaille
. It came as no surprise to hear each of the speakers insisting that their scents are "unique", "distinctive" and "original", but thankfully, it was possible to get past the marketing jargon and gain several insights into the workings of major brands.
Olivia Chantecaille (pictured right) - Creative Director at her family's firm - began by telling the story of how her mother, Sylvie, grew up with an intense passion for flowers and scents. After moving to New York, Sylvie Chantecaille worked for Estee Lauder
and created the highly-regarded Calyx
. The experiences she gained enabled her to form her own fragrance line, the inspiration for which came from her frequent travels around the world. The Chantecaille presentation concluded with a distribution of blotters sprayed with three new scents: Vetyver, Pétales (a jasmine-tuberose floral) and Kalimantan (an ambery oriental).
Gilles Thevenin (pictured) and Peter Murray enthusiastically recounted the tale of how Lubin - one of the original Grasse perfumery houses - nearly vanished from existence in the late 90s before being rescued by its current owners. Although the firm had created scents for Napoleon's family and Marie Antoinette (whose exclusive fragrance became the original Eau De Toilette), its fortunes dwindled in the late twentieth century. It is now enjoying a resurgence, thanks to the efforts of its perfumers, Olivia Giacobetti, Lucien Ferrero and Thomas Fontaine. From 2011, it will offer a bespoke perfumery service from Harrods and its soon-to-be-opened Paris boutique.
The Creative Director of Loewe Perfumes, Juan Pedro Abeniacar, explained that although his firm is part of the giant LVMH stable, it follows a policy of drawing inspiration from Spanish culture. Solo - created by IFF's Carlos Benaim over a period of 18 months - is meant to represent the spirit of the ancient city of Toledo, one of many areas of Spain in which Christians, Muslims and Jews lived together in relative peace. The firm's latest offering, 7, takes its cue from pre-historic beliefs in numerology and the classical Greek idea of the number 7 symbolising a hero. The Loewe team decided that, within a Hispanic context, the concept of a hero should be linked to the figure of a matador, hence the advertising campaign's use of bullfighter Cayetano Rivera. Givaudan took 2 years to create the scent using only 7 ingredients, a feat requiring considerable skill on the part of the perfumers.
The evening ended with another name from the oversized roster of LVMH: Parfums Givenchy. Creative Director Françoise Donche - who has been with the firm for 22 years - chose to describe the creation of L'Interdit
, a scent that was designed specifically to complement the image of Givenchy's muse, Audrey Hepburn. Ms Donche explained how the structure of the fragrance - aldehydes leading to florals, iris root and the sweetness of tonka beans - was intended to reflect the modern, graceful classiness of Hepburn. According to Ms Donche, the scent still has a considerable following, not least amongst young consumers, who are drawn to its 'vintage' air. Apparently, over the years, several contradictory stories have been told about the selection of the perfume's name. Some believe that the idea came from an Italian journalist who suggested L'Interdit to Hubert De Givenchy because the latter had been strongly advised against releasing the fragrance. However, Givenchy's own version was that he was struck by the child-like appearance of Hepburn and wanted the scent's name to echo the French sentence commonly used to scold children: "Je vous l'interdit."
Although it was slightly disappointing that none of the speakers was an actual perfumer, this didn't stop several audience members from spending considerable time entering into animated conversations with them. Against the backdrop of cabinets displaying some of the finest achievements in perfumery, the hubbub of their intense discussions provided yet more proof - if more were needed - that London is growing increasingly hungry for events of this nature.
About the author
Persolaise is a UK-based writer and amateur perfumer who has held a strong interest in the world of fine fragrance for over two decades. He is currently developing his own line of perfume. You can find out more about his work at www.persolaise.com
or by emailing him at persolaise at gmail dot com