Interview with Roja Dove, Perfumer, Professeur de Parfums, & Founder of Haute Parfumerie at Harrods - Part One {Passion for Perfume - Portrait}

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We are delighted to welcome Roja Dove, Professeur de parfums, founder of Haute Parfumerie - and appearing perhaps in a role that is less often stressed - perfumer, on these pages. Roja Dove has recently launched a trio of perfume creations titled Scandal, Unspoken, and Enslaved, which we reported about earlier and which is his inaugural attempt at a relatively more mainstream approach to the dissemination of perfume delight. It is not by chance that there is the word "Haute" in "Haute Parfumerie", his perfumery for the connoisseur at Harrods, which proposes a personal selection of perfumes he considers worthy of the esthete's attention, as well as his work as a perfumer.

Roja Dove's own creations are usually known only to the happy few, extremely limited in their editions, and as you will see in this interview, they bring the concept of exclusivity to new heights.

With this new trio, we see a more ready-to-wear approach in terms of distribution, yet the philosophy presiding over the creations of the fragrances remains very niche, that is, that there is no brief and, yes, that there is an insistence of high quality ingredients sourced with exceptional care. This is at least what "niche" is supposed to mean in the best sense of the term, although one would have to notice that is does appear at times to just be another overblown marketing label, except in terms of limited distribution.

Interviewing Roja Dove over the telephone felt almost like a conversation at times. It was a delightful experience and for us there was a sense of contributing a few more pages to the fragile history of perfumes. We could have asked even more numerous questions but we had to limit ourselves. Despite this precaution the interview is long so we have decided it was best to publish it in several installments.Today is part I/4.

Marie-Hélène Wagner: First, thank you for accepting to take our questions.

I might perhaps start with a question about the origins of this perfume creation project. Because you have been for so long in this industry, more than thirty years, it must have been quite a long time in the making. And also, was it initially your motivation for entering the perfume industry, to pursue a career as a perfumer?

Roja Dove: I’ve only really worked on this project for two years, so it’s not so long. I mean I started on it two years ago. I’ve made perfumes for a long time, for a very small clientèle. It’s normally a private clientèle and fragrances are bespoke. That service is something I never normally seek publicity for. It gets written about from time to time but and I also have, I’m sure you know, the Haute Parfumerie in Harrods and in this place I have various fragrances for sale. They’re hidden in a drawer.........

We only ever get them out if we think somebody really understands perfumery and only fifty people can ever own one of them. I’ve been creating fragrances for quite a long time but these are the first ones that will be commercially available -- and I started to answer your question. I started the project, the first one I started working on was Scandal, which is the floral and I started working on that just two years ago. And so I entered the industry for a different reason. I fell in love with fragrance and the effect fragrance has on you when I was very, very small. So, in a way it was sort of destiny that I would end up, I think, working in the world of fragrance.

MHW: The fragrances you refer to that are hidden in a drawer, are these, the ones Clement referred to when he spoke about the Roja Dove fragrances?

RD: Yes, they are the Roja Dove fragrances, exactly. So, I’ve made eight of them in total and only fifty people can ever have one and then we close the book. It’s closed, exactly.

MHW: So you want to keep the romance of perfume alive, preserve a little bit more magic than is common these days?

RD: I never, no, the root of it is I never. First I never intended to open a shop, so I think the fact that I have now what is a very high profile perfumery in Harrods. I never ever intended to open a shop.

MHW: Oh, really

RD: Hmm, it was, no, I never thought to map my life out that way. And the perfumery in Harrods came about really as a result of all the traveling I have done. And I realized, the more I traveled, the more I realized people were, all around the world, were totally dissatisfied with the blandness of most new fragrances coming into the market and they also, a lot of people, were complaining that they had a lot of fragrances that, you know, they had loved and the other thing people complained about was that they were overwhelmed by the volume of fragrances coming into the market

MHW: Absolutely

RD: And so three years ago I made the decision that I would open this perfumery, the Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie in Harrods. When we opened it, because I had just, I think two years before that, I had offered a fragrance for sale at Christie’s, the auction house, for a charity called the “Terrence Higgins Trust London Lighthouse”, it’s one of the main HIV/AIDS charities of Britain and they host this ultra glamorous charity auction once a year and so people like Manolo Blahnik had offered a pair of shoes, and the woman who bought the lot would be the only woman in the world that owned them and they’d offered a sports car and so I decided what I would do was to offer a fragrance. I know the people at Baccarat very well and so they agreed to blow a bottle for me that I particularly liked, which is a bottle, which had been made for Lubin. It was for L’Océan Bleu with a dolphin, which they did. And so when that had received quite a little bit of press and so when we opened the perfumery in Harrods a lot of people thought that what we were offering were bespoke fragrances. You know it was a mixed message and so we were telling people constantly: well no, that isn’t what happens and so I suddenly thought if people were coming to discover what is a Roja Dove fragrance, that it would be maybe interesting to create something, with a …., I’ve never created anything thinking in a commercial viewpoint. I mean obviously I hope the thing sell, I hope people like them but it’s never the motivation and so I created a fragrance. I didn’t want to get involved in having bottles made and boxes, and marketing and so on. It’s not my forte and so I thought, well, let’s just create it, sell it in a perfumer’s flask and let’s see what happens and it needed to have an end otherwise it would carry on. So I decided I will make fifty pieces available.

MHW: I see…

RD: And that’s what we did and the customers seemed to love it and so I have been working on a second formula, a second accord and we put that in and that one sold out and it goes like that. So we don’t publicize it. Most people going into the perfumery wouldn’t know they exist. So we show them if we feel somebody has a feeling for perfumery

MHW: Mmm, I see -- a very intuitive rapport with people. This gives rise to two questions for me. Do you yourself really do creative fragrances or do you work with perfumers?

RD: No, I create the fragrances.

MHW: So you are actually technically speaking, a “nose”, and… all right, I see. And so it’s interesting to learn about the history of the Haute Parfumerie. It looks wonderful, from the pictures.

RD: Thank you.

MHW: It looks like it’s a little dream nook that you have thought of for, you know, people…..

RD: I wanted it to be like a cross between a sweets shop and a boudoir.

MHW: Oooh….[laughter]

RD: I wanted it to be something that was irresistible. If you like the idea of perfumery, I wanted it to be something like you when you’re a child when you see sweets through the window

MHW: How lovely!

RD: You want to get to them

MHW: How lovely -- Moving on to the questions about the names for the perfumes, the new trio. They were very intriguing I thought, you know, punchy, a bit provocative – why these names?

RD: Well, I think that the idea of the names were…the three are a trio. The idea of the story was that you were enslaved by something. A person can certainly enslave you.

MHW: All right…..

RD: And maybe something that has to remain unspoken because if it didn’t remain unspoken it could cause a scandal. That’s the way the names work. So, how the names came about? Scandal, it’s a fragrance built around a very, very large white floral accord. The important thing for me was that it should not have the sticky, jam-y quality that white florals often have and as you know white floral notes often can be very cloying. And so the reason I love white blossoms in particular, they contain a molecule called “indole” and the indolic note also naturally exists in the animal notes. So because of the way our brain processes odor. You have the emotional part, the cerebellum, which is responsible for processing scent, as I’m sure you know, and then you have the rational part. So when you smell this scent, the rational part of your brain smells it as a large bouquet of flowers but the irrational part, the emotional part picks up on indole and what it immediately thinks…sex.

MHW: Yes

RD: That is what we think when we smell indole. And I think the volume of it, the volume of white blossom in there is, if people knew the story of the indole, it would be something quite scandalous.

MHW: [Laughter]

RD: It’s almost…not a trick, it’s not quite right…..

MHW: A trap? [editor’s note: we were  thinking of the night moths for which white flowers produce  indoles]

RD:….it’s playing a game. I think it’s playing a game, it’s this idea that playing a game that one part of your brain thinks instantly of flowers and yet the primitive part of the brain picks up a totally different image. And I like that idea very much. And in the trail of the perfume you have this, as I’m sure you know, I worked at Guerlain for just nearly 20 years, for 19 and a half years, and so there are certain materials that I studied and knew and grew up around with and some of those ingredients are omnipotent through these creations. For example, they all have in the top bergamot. All three of them have Grassois jasmine and the jasmine I buy, I buy from Robertet who, I’m sure you know are the supplier of luxury natural raw materials. And the one I buy is exactly the same one that Jean Patou uses and to the best of my knowledge I am the only private individual in the world that buys Grassois jasmine.

MHW: I see…

RD: So just like that. So in the heart you always have this jasmine note. They all have a touch of vanilla, they all have orris and they all end up with this very sensual animalic trail, which for me is important.

MHW: I see, so there was a sort of common philosophy behind them, you wanted to promote a certain idea of perfumery, and then you dedicated each perfume to a different classic genre, apparently.

RD: Exactly. I think the classic genre because the new fragrances, the majority of them I think are so mediocre that it is difficult to classify them because there is so little work going in the base, deep base of modern fragrances, which is of course where the bulk of the complexity comes. And so they just become this blurred smell. I have always believed that generally, people tend to love fragrance from one family or genre over the other two. So it would have been totally, I would have been contradicting myself if I suddenly created one fragrance. My immediate thought if I were looking at me, is but what about the other two categories? And the people that love those categories? If that makes sense. That is why I decided I would launch three fragrances.

MHW: I understand….

RD: I believe that way you would have one fragrance for each, each lover of each family.

MHW: And so, logically, you are going to add more fragrances then, to cover more families? Oh, maybe?

[To be continued….]

You can now read Part Two and Part Three of the interview.

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1 Comment | Leave a comment

  1. Thank you for this very interesting interview. I like his point of view. So British. And I'm also so curious about what's inside the drawer and how those very special fragrances would smell.

    Octavian Coifan

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