Cleverer Than A Rose - Olivier Cresp At The Launch Of Peoneve From Penhaligon's

18th July, 2012

Things are rosy at Penhaligon’s, in more ways than one. The brand enjoyed considerable critical success with 2010’s Sartorial. Last year’s FiFi-nominated Juniper Sling has become one of their best sellers, especially outside the UK. And now they’re about to release Peoneve, a brand new floral, which just happens to take its cue from roses. The man behind the new creation is the near-legendary Olivier Cresp (Angel, Light Blue, Elle) who attended the London press-launch in May, together with Nathalie Vinciguerra, Creative Director of both Penhaligon’s and its sister company, L’Artisan Parfumeur.

In between sipping a specially commissioned, violet scented cocktail and nibbling on smoked salmon sandwiches, Vinciguerra explained that Peoneve came to life over eighteen months ago. “The brief was to create a new floral, a new rose. We have a lot of soliflores at Penhaligon's, like a fragrance called Elisabethan Rose, which is very traditional, made a long time ago, and we thought it’s time to introduce a new scent linked to a rose, or a peony. Emily [Maben, Head Of Marketing] and I were doing some brainstorming. And just after we finished Juniper Sling with Olivier at Firmenich, I started to look at some raw ingredients with him and we completely fell in love with a NaturePrint peony.”

NaturePrint is Firmenich’s own variant of what is more commonly known as headspace technology: the technique whereby the scent within and around an object is chemically analysed, broken down into its constituent molecules and then re-engineered in a lab.

“In Firmenich we also capture the atmosphere around the flower,” says Cresp. “We can capture, let's say, 95% of peonies, and of lily of the valley as well. Here our quality of peony is very natural, because we use some green, leafy elements, even some aquatic elements in order to make it very natural.”

Unlike lilies of the valley, peonies do yield a scented oil which could, theoretically, be used in perfumery. “But you get a very low yield. 0.2%,” Cresp explains. “I smelt it once in Japan, years ago. It costs a fortune and you cannot source it. But if you take a big bouquet of peonies and compare it with the Firmenich engineers' and chemists' peony, I can tell you, it's very, very close, because we found almost 95% of the plant.”

Whilst composing Peoneve, Cresp took his inspiration from pastoral scenes. “The image of the peony I had was like a peony you grow in a garden. It’s wild and big, and it smells very much like muguet and rose - but it is a peony. I used a big quantity of the NaturePrint peony in the formula: 25% to 30%. I wanted to link it with something which belongs to the earth: a CO2 extraction of vetivert, from Haiti. Penhaligon's are a clever company. They put their money inside the bottle, not outside, so they gave me more money, so I could use the best extraction, instead of using a normal extraction of vetivert.”

When asked if the 2010 Haitian earthquake has had an adverse effect on Firmenich’s stocks of the much-used ingredient, he shakes his head.

“No, we buy something like 12 tons. And the earthquake was close to the city and in fact, the vetivert grows 300 km from the city. And we also grow some vetivert in Africa.”

The perfume took around eight months to develop and required approximately 200 mods or experiments. “It’s not much,” says Cresp. “In fact, if we look at our first experiments and the last modification, we have used 60% to 70% of the same products. It was more about fine tuning, and dressing the vetivert. I think the peony links very well with Penhaligon's, because it's about naturality, authenticity, femininity...”

“And it's very English,” says Vinciguerra. “And timeless.”

Cresp nods. “And it's cleverer than a rose. A lot of people have been working on rose, and with roses you can sometimes have a bad connotation of 'old fashioned'. In my own style of perfumery, when I'm mixing ingredients, for me, rose is still a bit heavy, old fashioned, and too traditional. Within the peony, it was easier, because it has something more fizzy, more sparkling, more light, more young, with more colours, because you can easily add some traces of violets, some traces of leafy, lush elements.”

Peoneve is also notable for being the first overtly feminine scent from the house for some years. “Absolutely,” Vinciguerra agrees, “we thought it was time for the brand to have a very sexy feminine fragrance.

Eager to continue discussing the fragrance’s structure, Cresp makes a revelation about its drydown. “I used some ambrox. I noticed that women are really crazy about ambrox, especially when it's overdosed. Quite a lot of clients know that ambrox is key to make something more sensual, more sexy. So as we had some money to spend on the perfume, within the vetivert, you have ambrox, which fits very well. There are less than 15 ingredients in the formula. Usually it's been 20 and 25. When it's longer, I can't manage, I can't ‘drive’ it, I don't have a grip on my formula. But when it's simple, I know exactly what to do. Then comes something more mathematical. At the beginning, it's a matter of feeling and sensitivity. And then comes something more logical.

“Long-lastingness is key as well. If you want to make a success today, you have to be different from the competition, you have to find a strong idea. So creativity is key. Then you need to have some sillage, some long-lastingness. If you're missing those elements, then you're not going to make a success.”

Did he study other peony scents during the creation process? “No. I used the peony base in Nina, but that was about 2%, just a facet. He we are building the peony to make it wearable. It's the pillar of the perfume.”

“We never look at the competitors,” says Vinciguerra. “We just stick to our creation.”

And what does the future hold for fans of Penhaligon’s part-quirky, part-conservative aesthetic? Is the house planning to release anything as strange as Bertrand Duchaufour’s Amaranthine?

Vinciguerra smiles. “Not as strange as Amaranthine. We have two amazing projects we're working on at the moment. They're both very different, very English.” She steals another sip of her cocktail and her grin widens. “We're going back to our roots.”


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 or by writing to him at persolaise at gmail dot com.

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About the author: Persolaise

Persolaise is a four-time Jasmine Award winning writer with a lifelong interest in the world of fine fragrance. His perfume guide, Le Snob: Perfume, is published in English by Hardie Grant and in German by Süddeutsche Zeitung. He has written for Sunday Times Style, Grazia, Glass, The Scented Letter and Now Smell This, amongst others.


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    • MonkeyBars | 19th July 2012 00:46

      Good interview! Nice details in there.

    • Fleurine | 19th July 2012 14:31

      Thanks for this! I love reading about M. Cresp because he is so rarely in the press. Can't wait to smell it!

    • androidi | 21st July 2012 20:25

      An interesting interview, thank you!

    • heavenscent1 | 22nd July 2012 13:03

      Would like to try this scent. Interesting to read about the perfume making process.

    • Possum-Pie | 22nd August 2012 12:34

      Penhaligon's has always meant great scent, mediocre projection, and poor longevity. I wear them only for my enjoyment, except Opus 1870 which projects farther and lasts a bit longer. I hope they go back to "classic British fragrances, with some staying power!

    • Schilling | 24th March 2013 16:22

      Well-timed adjunct to having just completed 30Rose'sPeoneve Sample Pass yesterday. It's good to compare personal notes and see where my brain got it "right" (and wrong). This is definitely a lean, straight-forward young english rose. It's fresh, feminine and topped with early greens. Longevity lacked, as it climbs for 30 minutes, plateaus for an hour and mutes to a whisper before disappearing at the 3 1/2-hour mark. If you're a Penahaligon's fan try it, but if you're expecting une fleur francaise in this English garden, you might not find it here.