Thierry Mugler Parfums' 'Le Coffret' (more information here) began as cultural experiment after Les Christoph's read Patrick Süskind's book “Perfume, The Story of a Murderer”. They explain their interpretations, olfactory lives and inspirations
Marian Bendeth: What was the basis for the coffret? When was it first conceived and by who?
Christophe Laudamiel: “I read the book when I started perfumery in 1994, and right away I knew I had to do something. This book is quite incredible, it has to do with the history and the art of perfumery, the challenges of the perfumer and every page is full of odours and descriptives. In 2000, as a hobby, on nights and weekends, I read the book and the scenes, personally for me were just striking. It spoke of the history of perfumery or symbols in terms of challenges to create the odours of many scents, and I attempted to recreate those very odours. Christoph jumped in 2002 and we continued to work together on this project. Then 2 years ago on the Internet, we saw that Constantin (the studios in Germany) were going to shoot a movie and this inspired us.”
MB: When you were reading the book, were you formulating what notes you would use or did this come afterwards?
Cristoph Hornetz: “No, it came afterwards and after reading some scenes, were were inspired to say, use the notes of leather but the actual formulas took some time to develop. We originally had 25 or thirty odours in mind, and then we had to be selective and settled for fifteen.”
MB: Which note or notes were you most challenged by?
CL: “The notes for ‘Baby’ were difficult as everyone had a different representation on how it should smell. Süskind's interpretations were gourmand to us and we wanted mothers to really connect with the scent, then we smelled different babies and of course each mother thought their baby smelled the best.
We also felt ‘Aura’ had to be abstract and needed it to work with just about every single fragrance on the market. It had to be compatible and complement feminine, masculine, light, heavy, modern, old-fashioned, cheap, expensive fragrances; it had to fit everything out there. This scent can be worn either on it’s own, or with your favourite fragrance and ‘Aura’ will give it more lightness, freshness and body.”
‘Aura’ is the only fragrance in the coffret that is not directly tied in with the film or book. We were inspired by Grenouille’s creation of virgin extract which created an aura around himself. Vera Strübi, Thierry Mugler Parfums, came up with the idea and challenged the two perfumers to create more of a feeling or aura for a person who will wear the fragrance and one who will wear it alone, or with their favourite scent.
MB: Was this the only scent that you worked with Vera on?
CH: “No, along with ‘Aura’, there was ‘Boutique Baldini’ which we started with her in January, 2006 and ‘Baby’ which became a collaborative effort. She really respected our work and wanted to develop new scents with us.”
MB: Have any of the actors been able to smell the coffret yet?
CL: “We haven’t heard anything about the actors but we have heard from the Director of the movie, ‘Perfume,the story of a Murderer’ who at first was a bit dubious. We then showed him our most esoteric scents, ‘Paris 1738’ and ‘Human Existence’ and he said we had a realistic impression of the scenes.”
MB: Have either of you been able to sit through the movie sniffing the scent strips?
CL: “No, not the strips but we were aware of some scent technology and experimented with it in Paris which needed some polishing, but the end result was fantastic. Walking through the streets of Paris, then this fabulous music and then this virgin scent, it was fabulous.”
MB: Are you thinking of doing this anywhere else in the world?
CH: “The technology isn’t quite ready yet but it probably will not be available until we have worked out the kinks”.
MB: Which odours in your lives, do you really loathe? What turns you off?
CL: “I hate the smell of cooked red beets. The kind that have been cooked for about three hours.”
CH: “Some human body odours, not sweat etc. but certain odours – I used to be a nurse.”
MB: But a lot of these odours in the coffret have to do with negative odours such as urine, fecal notes.
CL: “But these also involve the circle of life! Something degrading, decomposing, that is life and death.”
MB: If you could recreate an odour from your youth that fascinated or haunted you, what would it be?
CL: “My grandfather had a garage where he parked his Citroën. I remember it was woody, a haunting odour, he had some geraniums in there drying over the winter. It was near the airport. It’s hard to describe but I loved that odour.”
CH: “I recall the smell of my Moped. I grew up in a small German village, only 2,000 people so you had to have a vehicle to get around. I loved the smell of gasoline mixed in with motor oil and this meant to me a freedom to get away. I remember my father only wore shaving scents and whenever I smell those in the streets, I connect them immediately to my father.”
CL: “I connect much more to food and flowers. We used to go out and pick up fruits and flowers in the wild.”
MB: Speaking of inspiration, did you go out to seek out different odours for the Coffret?
CL: “Some were in the lab, and some came from the outside which we wrote down and formulated. The experimentation came in the laboratory”.
MB: Which notes were surprising to you?
CL: “The mushroom notes for the cave, the headspace that we used for the virgin.”
MB: Can you elaborate?
CL: “Ah, we used to have have a botanist at IFF, B. D. Mookherjee, who would analyze flowers through headspace technologies. One of his experiments involved taking this technology from the navel of a young virgin, it was all done with her parent’s permission and had a lot of criteria involved such as diet, etc. and we recreated his technology for the odour Virgin. It was the scent of clean skin. This was only one facet of the scent, the innocence came from yellow plum Schnapps.”
CH: “This coffret was not only meant to tell a little story, it was also a link to traditional perfumery, to modern perfumery or something that you just don’t find on the commercial market.”
MB: What would you like the Coffret consumer to experience?
CL: “First, we want them to realize that they have a nose on their face and it is as developed as their eyes and ears. We also want those who love perfumes or who are fascinated by fragrance to have a little Bible of perfumery. When you study every scent, there is more than just a reconstitution; there is a different way of creating a scent, say, using differing materials etc. and you really get an idea of what the art of perfumery is all about.”
MB: Other than ‘Aura’, are there other scents that one could wear as a commercial scent?
CL: “‘Ermite’ would be a nice masculine direction. Finished fragrances that have an atmospheric feel such as ‘Amor & Psyche’, ‘Noblesse’, ‘Nuit Napolitaine’, ‘Salon Rouge’, even the leather notes might attract someone.”
CH: “’Baby’ would be something that people would like to wear.”
MB: Which other scents have you made for the commercial market?
CL: “I made the ‘Youth Dew Amber Nude’ for Tom Ford, ‘True Star’ for Beyonce, ‘Polo Blue’ (with Perfumer, Carlos Benaim). Christoph Hornetz is still a junior perfumer. Together, we do more out-of-the-box projects. We recently scented a luxury doll (based on socialite Amanda Lepore) photographed by David LaChapelle and was distributed by Integrity Toys, it was successful. We also did an exhibition for an interior designer, for a hotel suite of the future. We not only did various scents but new technologies to show how hotels could use fragrances.
CH: “It was called the Five-plus Scents hotel” and the designer would focus on all the five senses playing with materials, light, music, video and she asked us to provide some concepts for smell.”
MB: What are you two working on next? Anything you can discuss?
CL: “We still love fine fragrances but we love new applications of perfume, scents and olfaction. We also work on education and I created the Education Board at the Fragrance Foundation in New York. We are not working for profit but we are putting things in place because as perfumers, we are trying to educate the public. People are very interested but it’s hard to create challenges if people don’t have the right questions due to lack of education but they are very fascinated”
CH: We hope the coffret will provoke people inquire about our industry. Fragrances have so much potential other than just in cosmetic products and I think this would be a great start. I think this is a great time for perfumery and I am very excited about the industry.
MB: Do you find it interesting that Thierry Mugler’s ‘Angel’ is still as strong as it’s launch in the early 1990’s?
CL: “Oh yes, still strong and we feel Thierry Mugler Parfums and Vera Strübi were very brave to do this project with us and we are thrilled they did”.
MB: Where can one purchase the coffret?
CL “The only dedicated website where one can purchase at this point is at www.perfume.thierry mugler.com The European market has sold out now and what is left will be in the US”.
Note: US residents with a US postal address may order from the above site while stocks last.