Le Labo co-founder Eddie Roschi was in London recently to hold a perfume workshop at the Liberty's shop in Regent Street. Lila Das Gupta met him at the Le Labo store in Marylebone.
Lila Das Gupta: How did you get into perfume making? What is your training?
Eddie Roschi: I studied chemical engineering, but then I realised I didnít want to pursue it as a career, so I started shopping around for a job that would be more fun, but enable me to use the chemical knowledge that I had. I was born in Lugano, the Italian part of Switzerland. A friend told me about Firmenich, and I got a job there as director of accounts for Africa and the Middle East. There was lots of travelling to the region intensive, mostly it was Ďfunctionalí products. I did an MBA 1999 in Paris. I started working for LíOreal, for Giorgio Armani and younger brands. Thatís where I met Fabrice Penot, my business partner Ė he developed the Armani Privť brand and the Acqua di Gio [Armani] line. We used to meet Giorgio once a month and both became friends. We decided after few years that we were tired of complaining, and we said to ourselves: Ďletís start a brandí.
LDG: Why did you both decide to create Le Labo? What is the idea behind it?
ER: We felt it was more about the product versus emotions. With big companies itís all about product development, not about a beautiful note or a beautiful product. We wanted craftsmanship and storytelling. Basically we had outgrown our situation, we had become bigger, we wanted to put a focus on the art of perfume blending. There is a good perfume in every type of sector, but bad ones too: bad expensive ones, and some good ones that are cheaper, but it is easier to make a good perfume if you get to decide whatís in the bottle.
Le Labo means ĎThe Labí, we wanted people to have a sneak peak at the lab behind the creation.
LDG: Successful business partnerships are a bit like marriages. Would you agree? How does your business marriage [to Fabrice Penot] work?
ER: We always say that! Itís a very good parallel itís like how successful people manage their marriage, in the beginning there is fusion, but as all these things wear off, you are left with issues and pleasures that you share. You are able to make it work because you talk through things and you have the same goal and the same intention and drive. Itís also important to have the same values in achieving that goal, as long as you can agree with those values, then problems can be solved by communication, thatís how we function.
We complement each other from a personality point of view ĖI am a detailed obsessive, which can sometimes slow me down, Fabrice is a global picture person, but he sometimes misses things.
LDG: You both have a very strong ethical streak Ė Le Labo perfumes are all Ďveganí? Is that something all perfume companies could do?
ER: Fab and I are both vegan as people, so it starts from there. It starts from something that you know how to do, with the minimum impact on resources that we all need to thrive. Our objective is to sell aesthetic perfumes that people fall in love with the minimum cruelty. Weíre not activists, we donít put it on the front of the labels. Itís a natural extension of how we look at things and how we are. If you can, why not?! Weíd rather use synthetic substitutes. Civet farms in Ethiopia are just very cruel places, I can use a replacement that is 95% as good as the natural. Itís the same with petals picked by children, we try to be as transparent and discerning as we can, we talk to our suppliers and use as much recyclable energy as can and recycle boxes, refills etc.
LDG: You are known for your ĎCity Exclusivesí Ė which city on earth do you most feel yourself most at home and why?
ER: When I was in my twenties I would say I love London, I love New York. When you get older you become wiser and you distinguish between the glitter and the surface and whatís underneath. Thereís good and bad in all the cities, there are things that I connect more in each city. I divide my time between New York and Paris and I am totally in love with Tokyo too. If I could just choose one it would be New York Ėyou feel free and freedom is the essence of all creation.
LDG: Where do you draw inspiration for creating perfume?
With Neroli 36 for example, we were in Paris in the rain and we thought Ďwouldnít it be amazing to have a potion that transports you to a sunny beach?í Something that reminds you of suntan lotion, add some florals, marine aspect, itís the equivalent of sticking your head in a Caribbean island.
LDG: What would you say is the hallmark of a Le Labo perfume?
ER: The Japanese philosophy of Wabi-sabi, the art of simple living, is something we both go by. It is a very complete, all encompassing philosophy Ė itís perceiving beauty in the imperfect, the ever evolving, the unfinished, I would say our scents are beautiful because they are imperfect....
By that I mean, that they smell like they are unpolished Ė although some have been worked on for years, they donít smell like they been worked on for years, they smell like a crazy whiff of something that the perfumer just came up with.
And strong personality, imperfection gives that. Unpolished, I think is a good word, tension as well, there is tension as well. Instinctively itís what we like in general, we researched and read a lot, the philosophy of Wabi-Sabi is what summarised it for us very well Ė itís finding meaning in the unplanned. We have another company called Candy Machine that makes perfume for labels Zadig & Voltaire, Anthropologie, hotels and others. We are working on the next Kate Spade perfume, and also scents for the Gramercy park hotel and a boutique hotel chain.
LDG: Which other perfumes do you admire?
ER: I do wear other peopleís perfumes. My first strong olfactive memory is Drakkar Noir by Guy Laroche, (In fact Drakkar Ė the one even before that Ė I wore it when I was 13 or 14,) then Old Spice. I used to wear Givenchy Gentlemen, I also like Mugler Cologne, the Comme Des Garcons, Iím a big fan of their perfumes as well, anything that has a very abstract, strong connection to me. I love Givenchy Gentleman, the strong patchouli in it, Vetiver by Guerlain is also one of the great perfumes as well as Eau Sauvage by Christian Dior, you canít not like these perfumes! I also love our Oud 27.
LDG: What kind of people would you say wear Le Labo perfumes?
ER: Throughout the years and the stores that weíve had as many men as women, late twenties, thirties, forties and above, it is expensive so itís people with more personality. Itís everyone that likes to do some research and fall in love with the products they have, perhaps they like to buy wine from local wine shops, and go to stand alone hotels, people that tend to look for individual, experiences, they have a stronger advertising. Itís someone who will mix Balenciaga with Zara.
LDG: Why do you put Best Used Before notices on your perfumes?
ER: In the fridge perfume will probably stay fresh for 2 -3 years. Leave it in a car and it will oxidise in three months. Itís a way to remind people that itís a living thing, itís an organic thing and it changes, we say itís fresh for a year, to remind people I need to take care of it.
If you are spending a lot it's important to store it properly.
If itís an expensive perfume, you should store it in the fridge. Some people have small cosmetic fridges and if you are a perfume lover it makes sense, itís the same principle as wine Ė except that perfume doesnít age well.
LDG: What are the future plans for Le Labo?
ER: The good thing about having spent all these years in big companies is that you get so used to doing business plans and the minute you that you donít have to do them you donít.
Our ideas are linked to places we want to be: we open in Paris, Saint-Germain in mid July, itís a beautiful cute little store, weíve just opened a counter in Saks in Texas, we are opening two counters in Russia, in autumn. We are about to open a counter in Harrods, but not in the perfume hall, itís in the womenís designer section. We are opening in Abbot Kinney Blvd in LA, San Francisco too.
ER: From August the body lotions will have new brown packaging.
We had a lot of demand for shower gels so weíre bringing out this summer highly concentrated, super textured shower gels in the whole line, including the infamous city exclusives.
Also new are our Travel Tubes Ė travel sizes of Le Labo 10ml that come in metal travel cylinders. You will be able to have them engraved with initials in our stores.
There is a new Middle East city exclusive called Cuir 28 coming out in Dubai, but there is still no date as to exactly when.