When the words ‘mood board’ are uttered, there’s a moment of tension. It’s barely perceptible, but the writers in the room pick up on it straight away and give each other a worried glance. Karl Bradl, founder of New York’s much-revered niche store, Aedes De Venustas, has just used the term to explain his preferred method of communicating ideas to the perfumers who have made scents for his brand. One of these very perfumers, the ubiquitous Bertrand Duchaufour, appears to detect the frisson as well. A knowing smile appears on his face, suggesting he’s well aware that ‘mood board’ has almost become synonymous with ‘death by committee’: a sure-fire way not of generating creativity, but of completely annihilating it.
“I can assure you,” he says, “that there's nothing similar between a mood board coming from Calvin Klein and a mood board from Karl.”
As if to prove the point, Bradl produces an iPad whose screen displays an evocative collage: images of specific geographic locations placed alongside recognisable fragrance raw materials as well as swatches of colours and textures.
“Other brands’ mood boards are usually very metaphorical and completely inexpressive,” Duchaufour continues. “Karl's mood boards are understandable, touchable, readable, clear.”
The two men are in London to discuss Aedes’ first two perfumes* and introduce a new range of four candles. Bradl explains that when he first approached Duchaufour a few years ago with the proposal of creating a perfume specifically for his shop, he knew one of its themes would have to be incense.
“You can call it a kind of incense,” Duchaufour says of the eponymous 2012 scent, “but before being an incense, it's a rhubarb. Very fresh, very green, very crunchy, very energising. Astringent, a bit like a pomegranate, but in a completely different way. I used vetivert to make the rhubarb effect more long-lasting. The vetivert works vertically, from the top notes, because of the presence of a lot of vetiveryl acetate. There's also a spicy effect with cardamom and red berries. But all the greenness is reinforced by the presence of the vetivert and Rhubofix. The vetivert is present at more than 5%. It cuts through the whole structure like a green laser.”
Iris Nazarena - the brand’s second fragrance - released in April in the USA - was inspired by a find made by Bradl. “One day I came across a postcard with a stamp which had a picture of the iris nazarena,” he says. “I researched it and discovered it grows in the mountains of Nazareth. That was perfect, because Nazareth is linked with the history of incense. I tried to get the flower, so I called the local flower market in New York. They called Israel, and they were like, 'It's almost extinct. You're not allowed to pick it.' So I went back to the picture and that served as a muse for the creation. I made a mood board which I gave to the perfumer, Ralf Schwieger.
“It took almost a year for the perfume to be created. I wanted it to be a cold iris. I wanted something transparent and sheer. But there's also a leather effect, created with oud and clove. I'm not a big oud fan, so I'm not mentioning it much, because it's been overused. But it does create the leathery effect.”
For the new candles, Bradl decided to create separate narratives to present to the various perfumers brought on board for the project. Patricia Choux was asked to explore the theme of honey, which resulted in the almost disconcertingly mouth-watering Mel Mellis, the most expensive of the quartet. Olivia Giacobetti was encouraged to focus on a near-mythical past. For her candle, Cellarius, “I wanted to create the smell of an old-world planetarium,” says Bradl. “Pencil shavings, leather, old books, the metal of the telescope, rubber erasers. And we did only 2 mods. She nailed it right away.”
Duchaufour worked on two assignments, Phoenicis - described with the phrase “smouldering pine needles and incense ashes” - and Indica, which Bradl calls “a sophisticated version of pot. It doesn't smell like a dorm room. It has tomato leaf, basil, some ganja. But it also smells a bit like a Christmas tree.“
When the questions turn to more business-related matters, Francois Duquesne steps in. As the CEO of Beauty Enterprise - the firm which holds a licensing agreement with Aedes - he explains that when the shop branched out into releasing its own scents, there were a few initial worries. “At the beginning, we were scared that maybe people would interpret the creation of the Aedes De Venustas collection as an ego trip from the owners. Our goal is truly to establish a brand which represents a lifestyle. It's a brand which lives outside the store too.
“We had an issue on the distribution side with some retailers who said, 'I'm not taking an Aedes fragrance, because that's my competitor.' But it's not a private label. Diptyque started as a boutique. They were selling lots of different candles and at one point they said, 'Ok, we're going to do our own candles.' And then it became a candle brand. The challenge for us was to say that this is not a private label brand.”
Despite these challenges, Duquesne states that the various Aedes De Venustas products have already achieved notable success. “Our biggest market is the USA. Italy, Germany and Russia are the most promising markets.The candles are very much appreciated in Japan. But the French market is a very conservative market. I am convinced the French market will be great, but it'll take time. It's a very conservative market for perfumery, because the people there think they already know everything. They say, 'I know, I know. I have Guerlain.' It's a question of curiosity. We perform well in markets that are curious. We're starting in the UK market and we're very positive, because people are very curious, and appreciative and educated. People always get quality. People sense value.”
The Aedes De Venustas perfumes are currently available at Liberty and Harrods.
*"first two" refers to the Aedes fragrance relaunch. All Aedes fragrances prior to the 2012 relaunch will be discontinued when stocks sell out.