An Interview with Bertrand Duchaufour & Denyse Beaulieu on the release of Sťville ŗ L'Aube

02nd August, 2012

L'Artisan Parfumeur has unveiled its latest release, Sťville ŗ L'Aube (Seville at dawn), by perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour. The creation is a collaboration between himself and the writer Denyse Beaulieu and was inspired by her experiences of a passionate night in Seville during Holy Week many years ago. The creative process of making the perfume was described in a recent book by the author called The Perfume Lover. Lila Das Gupta talked to them both at L'Artisan Parfumeur in London's Covent Garden.

In what way were you stretched working with Denyse? How was it different to other commissions?

Bertrand: The challenge was hard: the story told by her was very exciting and interesting and I thought the raw materials supposed to be included in that perfume Ė orange blossom and incense, were extraordinary to fit together, I thought it would be easy. The two main raw materials or players, both of them are very mineral in the same way -that was supposed to be easy. Finally it was more complicated to do something beautiful and wearable.

How do you go about bottling someone elseís memory of a night of passion in Seville?

Bertrand: The best way to be inside her head was to be faithful to her story, playing with the elements she wanted to find in her perfume, orange blossom, incense, the lavender colonia that men wear in Spain , her Habanita she was wearing at the time (we made a Habanita accord for the perfume). I tried to be the most neutral possible, (he laughs uproariously at this point) sometimes it went well, sometimes it was completely awful, we had a lot of disappointments.

I didnít make the perfume for her, I tried to make the memory of the moment. The perfume is a kind of mirror between us: of Denyseís feeling at that moment in Spain reflecting itself at my own point of view.

Denyse, What were the challenges for you?

I didnít know my way round a development, I only saw perfume as a fait acompli: you dive in and you analyse. The surprise was looking at something unpromising and looking at its potential, itís something Iíve never done before. What did make me angry was when he asked me what I wanted. I didnít expect to be put in that position. I thought I would give him my story and he would make the story. He said ďit has to reflect what you want from that storyĒ. At that point I thought that I had been failing him, that I hadnít been there enough.

Bertrand: Yes, at the beginning I couldnít find what I wanted to find.

I asked in desperation ďwhat do you want?Ē

What was the breakthrough?

Denyse: When I brought back Modification number 5, which had obsessed me. I remembered that when I visited Spain I used to wear Habanita all the time. I thought about the Mod and realised that there was something missing: we had an orange tree in the perfume, but there was no one sitting under it.

Bertrand: Lavender was the breakthrough after Mod 5. The lavender was supposed to be a top note, but it was very difficult to make it fit with orange blossom by itself. I had to find a cologne/ fougŤre note on the top to fix it to that. We found the solution by chance because a partner of mine presented me with a new raw material, Luisieri lavender. It has a very different smell of leather, cistus, tobacco, incense - nothing to do with lavender at all. It was a good solution to link all the effects from top to bottom.

This became the keynote, the thing that holds it up Ė itís only 0.2% of the formula, but it makes such a good effect and vertically with lavender on top, it makes an echo with it. So, the top is lavender fresh cologne, mixed with sappy, vegetal green notes, mixed with orange blossom solifore, reinforced by jasmine and beeswax, beeswax is the best way of harnessing the pollen effect and the wax of the church during Holy Week in Seville.

Denyse: Miraculously itís called Seville lavender: incredible and magic.

How did you deal with the part of the brief, described in Denyseís book (The Perfume Lover) that says ď the perfume should make me want to say a prayer and get my knickers ripped off at the same timeĒ...

Bertrand: Itís easy to try to re-interpret or to make bullshit. You can force images into peopleís head, just because you are supposed to be a good perfumer, but I wanted to have all the presence of these things. It was a very satisfying thing to mix them.

Denyse: Bertrand has never been to Seville, I took him there with my words. The difficulty for me was keeping the story on track. Iím not a client or an evaluator, but it is my story! There were moments I was terrified I had derailed his process, but he forced me to know when I was right, to listen to my intuition. I remember the time when Bertrand told me that I was to be trusted in evaluation was when I said the fragrance is breaking up into 2 pieces: one that stays on me, and one that goes into the room.

How do you know when to stop (there were nearly 130 mods)?

Bertrand: We knew when the accord was right and fitting completely well. But then we had stage two - it wasnít exactly right because it was not smelling enough. It was not diffusing enough.

How did you know that?

Denyse: I wasnít getting any compliments for it!

Bertrand: I just reworked on rebalancing everything, sometimes itís sufficient to alter only 0.05% of the formula to get a large change.

Time also plays an important part. Itís very important as an artist to let your creation live by itself. Time is doing more than you are doing in the mixture, so let time do it. Sometimes you leave things for 15 days or 3 weeks for example, then just re-discover it. You canít imagine what happens in these few weeks, even for me, an accomplished perfumer, itís always a surprise.

The second criteria in the creative process is to try to leave things to chance Ė you realise that chance is always the best advisor because it surprises you a lot, and if you are a good artist, you can profit by that and exploit these chance things. You have to be open to it.

Is creating a perfume a bit like writing a book? Are there periods of depression and self-doubt? Do you wonder if you can carry this burden and finish it?

Bertrand: I paint as well, I enjoy painting very much. Sometimes you are filling all your painting on the canvas but you are asking Ďis it all I want it to beí? Then you go about erasing all that you did and begin again. Itís like that with perfume.

Denyse: Itís similar to writing in that sometimes you donít find your motif immediately ... you have to build things but let things evolve. It alternates between intuition and analysing.

What sort of emotions do you feel about Sťville ŗ L'Aube?

Denyse: I feel something in my gut when I get the first whoooosh! But for me itís not about this note or that note, itís all the different aspects of culture, life and experience that makes you appreciate a perfume. Itís everything else you bring to the table. You use it as a door to open your imagination. When you open that door, what does it open on to: music, fine food, it could open all those doors if itís a good perfume. I hope that the perfume, because of its richness, can be told in a lot of different ways.

When people ask me if it takes me back to Spain, I tell them it takes me back to its exhilarating moment of creation, which for a perfume lover has to be the thing. Plus the stupid simple beauty of it Ė you donít have to analyse it.....

Bertrand: Iím just trying to go on further on my own path, through beautiful occasions, and meeting Denyse was a beautiful occasion.

Denyse: (smiles) La gallantrie FranÁaise !

Denyse Beaulieu is the author of The Perfume Lover and writes the distinguished blog Grain de Musc. Follow her on twitter @theperfumelover

The perfume is available at the Covent Garden store, Tel 44 (0)20 3040 3030

And via the company website L'Artisan Parfumeur

main image:

  • Share this

About the author: Lila Das Gupta

Lila Das Gupta is a London based journalist with an interest in all things olfactory. Lila also organises the Perfume Lover's London meet-up group.


Advertisement — comments are below


    • PureBoy | 2nd August 2012 16:11

      Wonderful interview!!! Loved it!!!

      Mr. Duchaufour is completely hilarious with that fan! Strike a pose...VOGUE!

      Canīt wait for the perfume!

      Congrats Lila!!!

    • teardrop | 2nd August 2012 16:44

      Great interview Lila, thanks! :)

      l just read the book, & l can recommend it to anyone fascinated with the process of creating a perfume. l will definitely be trying Seville a l'Aube!

    • forfreddie | 2nd August 2012 18:43

      Owww, I was there on the Wednesday, I wish I could have met you again Lila!!

      It was a lovely talk :)

    • Lila Das Gupta | 2nd August 2012 20:55

      Thanks everyone. Glad you enjoyed meeting them too Freddie and hope to see you again soon!

      It was a real treat talking to them both. He's a very lovely man, warm and cerebral. She's so full of life and has a real sensibility for perfume. I enjoyed re-reading the book and smelling the finished perfume at the same time.

    • MonkeyBars | 2nd August 2012 22:07

      I love what they say about the process of creation, leaving the work, coming back to it, intuition, chance, erasing it, and analysis. Just like any other art really, but I love to hear it applied to fragrance composition. Great interview Lila!

    • 30 Roses | 2nd August 2012 22:19

      Thank you for a good read!

      This statement by Denyse interested me:

      "...When people ask me if it takes me back to Spain, I tell them it takes me back to it’s exhilarating moment of creation, which for a perfume lover has to be the thing."

      I take it to mean that the fragrance is not a photorealistic and immediately evocative reproduction of the scents of that night (how could that be achieved? It would be very difficult, if not impossible), but an impressionistic portrayal of them.

    • Lila Das Gupta | 2nd August 2012 23:05

      I think what she meant is that the perfume doesn't remind her of that one night in Seville (though the olfactory ingredients of the night were in there), when she smells the perfume now, it takes her back to the time she had with Bertrand and that moment that they both realised they had a creation.

    • 30 Roses | 2nd August 2012 23:30

      Yes, that is what I got out of it, too. I understood about her memory of the realization of the perfume in its final version. :)

      But by extension, we who smell it also would not be smelling that night just as it was, but an impression of it. If the perfume had in fact truly reproduced that night (impossible feat, not to be expected) then smelling it would remind her of that night. I'm sure we have all had moments when we smelled something that instantly took us back to another place or time.

      That is not a criticism of the perfume! Just an observation.

    • PeteH | 17th August 2012 23:13

      I want to know, who is the handsome devil second from the right in the photo?