An interview with Ulrich Lang

14th April, 2008

Having worked for L'Oreal and interned at Aramis in the UK, Ulrich Lang certainly has industry credentials but it was his 2003 launch of Anvers, a project that combines fragrance and photography, that made the industry sit up and take notice. Following the success of Anvers with Anvers 2 cemented Lang's reputation for creating fascinating, contemporary fine fragrance. The German fragrance designer, now based in New York, took time out to tell Basenotes what inspires him

Anvers is a fascinating concept, combining fine fragrance with contemporary photography. The packaging features muse Roger Szmulewicz, a dealer in 20th century photography who has a gallery in Antwerp, the French name for which is Anvers. Fashion photographer Erik Swain shot images for Anvers, whilst artist Katy Grannan photographed Roger for Anvers 2. I want to know where the crossover occurs between the two art forms for Ulrich:

"In 2002 I had developed Anvers, a contemporary, introspective, unusual combination of florals, woods and leather notes. I wanted to have a new kind of man to represent this scent and Roger Szmulewicz, who I admire for establishing a great photography program for his gallery at a young age, seemed to be the ideal candidate. He's quiet, intellectual and has interesting features. Everybody loved Erik Swain's photograph of Roger and we decided to use the image as a design element on the box. The concept also links back to my past in the art world and to the city of Antwerp where Roger's gallery is based. My background is in the Cosmetics Industry and in New York's art publishing arena. I have a very good nose and my interest in contemporary photography (which I collect) sharpened my eyes over the years. It was pretty natural to me to combine both fields in a product because I am passionate about both art and fragrance."

Lang followed the incredibly well received Anvers with Anvers 2 in 2007. I ask if the creative process is different the second time around and in a multi faceted project such as this, what comes first, the photography or the fragrance? "I think doing a follow up to an already successful product is a difficult task for everyone. It doesn't matter if you're in the record industry or in the fashion world. People look at your "first". So when I saw a photograph of Roger taken by Katy Grannan it inspired me to do a "sequel", using the same model but using a completely different setting and style. The photo which showed Roger in a forest setting wearing a formal coat and sneakers was inspiration enough for Anvers 2, a floral oriental scent built around mimosa and blond woods. It's almost a non-fragrance, rather an emotion and I think I could not have wished for a better photographer to translate it than the amazing Katy Grannan who captured all that in her picture."

As many Basenoters will relate, fragrance often becomes part of one's life at an early age. What were the early reference points for the perfumer? "My sense of smell was developed through my grandmother who had a small beauty salon in the South of Germany. As a child I grew up with lotions and potions and as a teenager I was able to name fragrances people wore on the street. Growing up in Germany in the 80s I think there was no way of not being influenced by fragrance brands like Wolfgang Joop or Jil Sander who had a very clear vision which was most likely a result of their founders' input. I personally wore fragrances that were not available in Germany at that time which made them unique to me. For example, I brought back Halston Z-14 from a trip to New York and wore it for a decade. "

Often our early influences continue to inform our current choices and when I ask about Ulrich's current choice of day to day fragrance it seems that he is no exception to the rule: "I am very loyal to brands I like and keep wearing them over and over again. Apart from the Halston fragrance, I could probably also quote Yatagan by Caron. I think it's a timeless fragrance. I like things that stand the test of time, something I am hoping to achieve with my fragrances. Since 2002 I have been wearing my own scents. Anvers 2 has become a new signature for me now. It is great on my skin, subtle and works great day or night. I also find it "snuggly" on a cold New York winter day."


Of course a penchant for fragrance does not drive everybody to create a fragrance house - how did this become a career for Lang? "I worked with fragrance houses while I was at L'Oreal but I did not work in fine fragrance. "Given my background in creative industries, my sense of style and with the "just do it" mentality I learned in New York I was poised to combine my expertise in fragrance and art and create a scent. That's how Anvers was born."

Four mentions of New York in this interview indicate that the perfumer's new home is a major influence on his work. Has this geographical relocation influenced his creative processes and if so how? "It's a very interesting question which I constantly ask myself. I have become more American over the years (getting used to all the convenience, to the fast-acting, less complicated lifestyle the US provides) but at the same time I learned to re-appreciate my European roots. I feel privileged to be able to be inspired by New York City with all its complexity where I find new ideas just by walking down the streets of Manhattan or Brooklyn and by my humble, quiet surroundings in the South of Germany where nothing really is over the top and where I find inspiration rather in the simplicity of it all."

Finally I could not risk the reader's wrath by failing to ask what the future holds for the brand. "Ulrich Lang New York will continue to launch products that will be different and unusual. Right now the focus is on fragrance but our client base keeps asking us for extensions such as home fragrance and personal care. I personally would love to work on a face cleanser because I am always looking for a better one or a better smelling one. But I think I'll leave that to the big manufacturers who have already come very close to my ideal wash!" With two internationally successful fragrances already attracting the most favourable attention, whatever the future holds it looks very bright indeed.

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About the author: Danielle Cooper

As well as writing Jasmine Award shortlisted articles, Danielle was previously Basenotes' Community Manager.

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