Ineke Rühland is a classically-trained perfumer with an independent studio in San Francisco. Her first four fragrances were launched last year to critical acclaim. Basenotes caught up with Ineke before the launch of her fifth fragrance.
Ineke was born and educated in Canada where she first fell in love with fragrance. "It’s a rather embarrassing story. When I was an adolescent, I was crazy about the Bay City Rollers, and particularly the bassist, Woody Wood. In one teen-magazine story, Woody said his favourite fragrance for women was “White Shoulders”, so of course I marched off to my local drugstore and bought a bottle. In spite of the fact that it made me smell like a 70 year-old woman, it did open me up to the pleasure of wearing fragrance, and I haven’t stopped since. It also shows the power of celebrity, especially to a young, unsophisticated audience."
In 1988 Ineke moved to Europe to embark on a career in the fragrance industry, and worked in the Netherlands, England and France, where she worked with Yves de Chiris.
"Yves was my boss for five years in the mid-nineties in Paris. It was an incredible experience. He is the best manager I’ve ever had, although he is far removed from the business-school style of management. He comes from an illustrious Grasse family that many generations ago established the first fragrance house there. Although he acted as a sort of creative director at Quest, he was not strictly speaking a perfumer. As a young man, he trained to become the managing director of his family’s business, even spending years in the colonies managing plantations of fragrance raw materials. Eventually his parents sold their company to a previous incarnation of Quest (now Givaudan), which is how he ended up there managing the fine fragrance group.
Yves is a big character in the fragrance industry, a flamboyant dresser who always wore waistcoats, and who is astonishingly fluent in many languages (he speaks the Queen’s English). The majority of what I know about fragrance, I learned from him. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of fragrance history, and an unbridled passion about the subject. He also had a very caretaking side, and made sure the people on his team were protected and challenged. He even made our coffee in the morning and often brought in viennoiserie for the team. It was a pretty joyful time … I remember waking up in the morning and thinking “yeah, I get to go to work today!”, which is pretty rare in the world of work, I think. Yves was also instrumental in allowing me to change from working in marketing to becoming a perfumer. He suggested that I attend ISIPCA and helped me get in – no small feat considering the classes are so small and I didn’t have an undergraduate chemistry degree like my fellow students. Yves is semi-retired now, occasionally doing consulting work for Givaudan, as well as independent perfume projects."
Had you made any commercial perfumes prior to your Ineke fragrances?
I contributed to the marketing and evaluation of fragrances that Quest created throughout most of the 1990’s. By the time I finished my studies at ISIPCA and my perfumery apprenticeship at Quest, I left Paris to move to San Francisco, so I never got to the stage of personally creating fragrances for customer briefs.
Which other perfumers do you admire?
At Quest, I most admired Chris Sheldrake and Maurice Roucel. Chris has a strong, uncompromising artistic vision, not to mention being incredibly generous and kind. Maurice is very open with the ability to apply his talents in many different directions. At ISIPCA, I most enjoyed our lab work with Dominique Ropion, who is a wealth of technical knowledge and generosity of spirit, as well as having a repertoire of particularly gorgeous floral fragrances like Amarige and Carnal Flower. I would also cite Jean-Claude Ellena and Jacques Cavalier as perfumers that constantly surprise me with their prodigious talents (although I don’t know either of them personally).
I didn’t know about these discontinued Lelong fragrances, so you’re teaching me something! I just looked them up on the internet, and they were quite interesting, with rather beautiful bottles from the 1920’s that have become collectibles.
My longer names were actually the starting point because I like the storytelling aspect that lyrical names can give a fragrance. The abecedary idea was an afterthought, coming from a friend of mine after a dinner we shared one night at Alcazar in Paris. The restaurant uses an “AZ” in their visual identity, and it looked really fresh and attractive. The use of letters in general can provide a nice visual element, and I also like the sense of chronology it gives the line, although I think ABC would be rather boring without fragrance names to go with it, only marginally better than 123.
I keep an alphabetized list on my computer of interesting words and phrases I pick up from conversation, books, magazines, song lyrics, etc., and I use those for inspiration when I’m coming up with a new name. I have some good ones coming up. I can share my E name already since I just trademarked it: Evening Edged in Gold. I have some great names for G and H that I’m really excited about (not yet trademarked), but so far nothing really interesting for F, which will likely be a masculine fragrance. The whole list remains a work in progress.
What happens when you get to Z and how long is that expected to take?
I launched with four fragrances in fall 2006, but from here will probably launch just one new fragrance per year. Although I’d personally like to do a bit more creative work than that, my retail partners have basically let me know they would prefer not to have a constant flood of new products. That means that I won’t get to Z for a very long time, so after that I expect I would retire!
Your packaging is exquisite, and not just the main bottles. We were very impressed by how much detail went into your sample packaging. Is the packaging as important as the product?
Thanks for the complement! I’m a very visual person, and the average person is much more visual than olfactive. I’m sure the Basenotes community is very olfactively evolved, but the average person has a rusty connection between their nose and their brain. I think it’s important to use visual cues to give some guidance as to what a fragrance will smell like, and for a niche brand without advertising, that has to come mainly from the packaging. I also love textures, colours, images and graphics, and found the packaging to be a true pleasure to work on. I think the packaging becomes particularly important in open-sell retail environments, which we’re seeing more and more.
Do you feel that the internet is becoming a way for independent perfumers to market themselves effectively?
Absolutely, even though it runs counter to what you might normally expect given that fragrance needs to be experienced in person. Our own website, www.ineke.com, is by far our biggest “door”, with about 25% of our total sales. We’ve managed to do this by offering a sample set at a very reasonable price, which is reimbursed if a full-size product is purchased afterwards. This reduces the risk for the customer and makes fragrance sales on the internet possible. Having a website also gives an independent perfumer a low-cost and widely-available avenue to provide details about products, personal history, stockists, press articles, etc. It also provides an immediate international presence to what would have probably been a local brand in pre-internet days.
What inspires you?
Two different things tend to inspire me: nature and the visual arts. My husband and I are passionate gardeners, and of course our specialty is scented plants. In fact, parts of our garden are not even particularly visually attractive since we often have just one or a few of each plant – we can’t resist trying all the rare scented plants we find, despite the limited space of our urban garden.
Many perfumers cite travels as their main inspiration, but that doesn’t tend to work for me in a direct sense. When I visit a new city, the first things I tend to see are the botanical garden and modern art museum, so perhaps it does work in an indirect sense. I’m also not big on food inspirations, or using historical perfume references. At ISIPCA, we had the historical collection of the Osmothèque stored in the basement and were constantly smelling the classics, but I always had a hard time getting past the density of older compositions, not to mention the prevalent use of civet! I’m not very sentimental about the past, tending to be rooted in the present in terms of my fragrance preferences. I actually think that perfumers today are much more talented and technically proficient than perfumers of the past, and I’m very grateful that we have a multiplicity of raw materials available to us that didn’t even exist fifty years ago.
Apart from D ~ Z, what are your future plans for the Ineke brand?
I would love to create some fragranced home products, and intend to make a small start by the end of the year. At some point I would like to do a candle collection, but it will take a couple of years because I want to invest in creative and beautiful packaging, in addition to original and technically-performant scents. The market for candles is really saturated, and I only want to add to the market if I have something truly unique and beautiful to offer, so I’ll take my time with this.
Basenotes would like to thank Ineke for talking with us. More information about Ineke's fragrances can be found on www.ineke.com