Dora Arnaud seems like a good sport. At the end of our interview, during which I've overwhelmed her with geeky enthusiasm, she laughs and says, "You're as difficult as the Parisian journalists!" But then she fixes me with her gaze and says that she always relishes any opportunity to chat about the nuts and bolts of the work she carries out at Firmenich. On this occasion, she's in London to discuss the launch of Caligna*, the first fragrance in L'Artisan Parfumeur's Grasse Collection, which has, until now, consisted only of candles and scented gloves.
Not surprisingly, when L'Artisan approached her with the project, they asked for a perfume inspired by Grasse and Provence. This led her to smell various materials associated with the region, and finally, to settle on a high-quality clary sage oil - heavy, dark and yet clean - which immediately got the thumbs up from the people at L'Artisan. Within about two weeks, she'd formulated an accord based around the sage, and that's when the process of composition took off.
One of these innovations is a tincture of oak chips which have been obtained from the wine-making industry. "It's a very nice quality of oak that we infuse. It's very interesting, it gives all these smells of prunes and vanilla. It has a balmy side. Also, it's not smoky. It's a new natural wood for us."
She also had an unusual idea for introducing a hint of sweetness into the scent. "I had a dessert in a very nice restaurant in the south of France: it was jasmine marmalade. I went back to my office, and I created a jasmine marmalade accord, and used it in Caligna.” She chuckles briefly. “I stole the chef's recipe! There's apricot, orange, a little bit of basil."
The fragrance took eight months to create. "It was about 190 trials. One thing I remember is that the last drop was rose bud. There was no rose at all in the fragrance. We have a very, very light quality of rose, like a wind of rose. And the last trial was that I put a drop of this in the fragrance. And that was it. It's there to give femininity and to envelop. It's like a coating."
When she undertook the project, did she spend some time studying L'Artisan's existing scents? Bearing in mind that many of their latest creations have been made by Bertrand Duchaufour, did she make a decision to move away from his style?
She cocks her head to one side before answering, settling her small frame more comfortably in her seat. "I wanted to reconnect deeply with the brand. I smelt everything, without looking at whether it was Bertrand or not Bertrand. Then I forgot all that, and I focused on my own way of working on the project. I didn't want to be 'different from' or 'close to'. I just wanted to fit with L'Artisan - this was a challenge too. And I wanted the fragrance to do justice to the brand."
So what did she identify as the characteristics of the L'Artisan style?
"Poetry around the materials. Daring accords! When I smell Bois Farine or Premier Figuier, I see they were daring when they were launched. You have to think outside the box. This is L'Artisan for me."
What are her favourites from the brand?
"I love Premier Figuier. I love Dzing! And I smelt Safran Troublant this morning, and I rediscovered it again. And Mûre Et Musc, too. There is a fig note in Caligna - made with one of our headspace NaturePrint materials - which is an homage to Premier Figuier."
I ask her if she's concerned about the effects that proposed legislation might have on the availability of certain materials to perfumers. She sighs and takes a moment to compose her thoughts. "The biggest challenge for us - brands and perfumers and everybody involved in fragrance art - is the lack of creativity, I think. We are in danger of the lack of creativity more than the legislation.
But isn't she worried about the fact that she and her colleagues might have to spend all their working hours re-engineering scents which they made only a few years ago?
"Yes, we do that every day. We have to adapt, we have to deal with it. We have no choice. It is true that the time we spend dealing with legislation is time we don't spend on creating new accords. This is a shame. But we are helped by new technologies. We are helped by chemists who are trying to give us substitutes every day. But it's true, we can't be very happy about the situation."
And if there's one perfume which she'd love to smell in its original form, which would it be?
She bursts out laughing. "If I answer, that means the version you smell now is not like the original. Your question is a trap! If I could re-smell L'Origan, that would be a gift." She shrugs her shoulders. "But I'm sure that's not possible."
*Caligna means 'to flirt' or 'to court' in a Provence dialect.
[COLOR=#3E3E3E]About the author
Persolaise is a twice Jasmine Award winning writer and amateur perfumer 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. You can find out more about his work at www.persolaise.com or by writing to him at persolaise at gmail dot com[/COLOR]