This is part four and the last installment of our interview with fragrance expert and perfumer Roja Dove on the occasion of the launch of his three personal creations: Scandal, Unspoken, and Enslaved.
In this section he sheds light on his activities as the instrumental person behind many recreations of classic masterpieces of perfumery that can now be exclusively found in the Haute Parfumerie in London. Perfumistas in particular will be thrilled to learn of a few scoops regarding new recreations or creations that are to arrive soon.
The Haute Parfumerie does not have an e-commerce website, but you can mail order perfumes from the boutique using this telephone number: 020 7893 8797
Interview Part 4
Marie-Hélène Wagner: There is also your work as a historian of fragrances and we have heard about your attempts at resurrecting a number of fragrances. Could we have a clearer understanding of what you do? How do you convince people to put old perfumes back into production?
Roja Dove: [laughter] You have to be very persistent. The first thing I would say, which I am sure not many people realize about my perfumery, is that when we opened the perfumery I wrote a list of all the houses, in my opinion, that made great things. Then I wrote a list of what I thought those great things were……..
Then we went to the houses and said to them: “I don’t want all of these things.” I don’t know if you know but normally when you open an account with a cosmetics company, with a fragrance company, you have to have everything they make. This is the rule of our industry. And you can’t get an account any other way. I wasn’t interested in having most of the things they sold. So I said to them, look, I don’t want this, what I would like is to have that and that. “Is it possible you could remake this for me or get this for me, which I know you sell here. Well so how about it?” And all the houses agreed. And so it is the only perfumery in the world where that has ever happened. The selection we are offering in the perfumery is very, very unusual. And it sort of shocked me. I thought “God, I’m getting old! People are starting to take me vaguely seriously. [laughters] Is that a good thing?” And of course there were lots of fragrances which had sort of ….were on the wane or had disappeared. And it was just a case of working with people and talking to them and persuading them that they should bring the things back. And for example, after this work with the company called Jacques Bogart who owned the license for Balenciaga and the very, very, very first smart fragrance I ever bought and I think I was maybe about thirteen or so -I don’t know how old I was - was Eau de Lavande, which was by Balenciaga. So I said yes, but what I’d love you to do is to bring back the 75 ml Le Dix extract, which had disappeared. Quadrille had been going in and out of production for ages. So they remade Quadrille, they remade the 75 ml Le Dix and it was a very big success. The sad thing is that the licensing – I get very muddled up with it – has gone back to the Gucci group or whoever own it I can’t remember…and so all the production for Balenciaga has disappeared again. So then it’s very difficult. What I’ve ended up doing, I’ve bought the entire stock that I’m aware of left in the world of 75 ml extracts of which there are 78 pieces and when they’re gone there will be no more Le Dix perfume, for I don’t know how long. So it’s a case of being persistent. Not what a lot of people realize or maybe they do is that some of these very small productions are exactly that. They are so tiny you know that on a balance sheet when the people are looking at it, the financial people, they say “you shouldn’t do it” but there are often people who in a moment of weakness say “yes” . And it’s a case of getting in quickly with them, snapping up whatever I can. One of the very great perfume houses – and I can’t tell who it is – but it’s one of the great old perfumery houses, had totally ceased production. And through a lot of conversations I’ve been having, the family still own all the original formulas and I believe that within the next year we will have some of their fragrances back in the world market place. And that’s a fantastic thing. Weil, you know the Weil brothers set up Weil. I’ve working with a distributor in the UK and they redid Antilope and I said “lovely” but what about Zibeline, you will have to do Zibeline. And so they will bring back Zibeline as extract. They have the formula but no one had documented the exact dilution of it. And so they redid the formula and they did it many different dilutions and said to me which of these I think is nearest to the original? And so I said, well it should be this. And that’s what they’re doing. The Zibeline extract will be back. It’s just working slowly away and being tenacious.
MHW: When can we expect Zibeline extrait to come back?
RD: I don’t know, don’t ask me, I don’t know…..
MHW: [laughter] All right….
RD: It’s being made. I’ve seen the bottle, I’ve seen the box. The box exists, the bottle exists. We’ve agreed on the juice, and now I have to wait. They’re cooking something.
MHW: All right…..
RD: It’s like cooking something very slowly in a bain-marie. [laughters] It’s not as fast as cooking it on direct heat. But eventually what you get is beautiful. Not just you, I mean we, all of us.
And the other thing I sometimes do; when a fragrance comes that I particularly like I will just buy everything that is available in it. Like, I don’t know, Baccarat commissioned three fragrances for the Millenium. So they have no interest in perfumery but they commissioned these three fragrances. One of them is called Les Larmes Sacrées de Thèbes and I think it is remarkable. There are cedarwood and balsams, the way the cedarwood and balsams combine is so exquisite. And I thought it was just one of the best modern fragrances I’d smelled. And so I spoke with them and “will you keep it?...blah, blah”, “no, no”, so I have all the stock that’s left. When it’s gone, maybe they’ll agree to, in principle they have agreed they will remake it, but we have everything that’s going. Because, if you don’t and then you leave it and then you go back and it disappears somewhere.
MHW: Well, perfumes are ephemeral….
MHW: ….it’s poignant, but it’s also part of their charm
RD: Indeed, but memories aren’t. I agree with you fully, but memories aren’t. And the beauty of it, as your famous Baudelaire wrote, I can’t quote it properly, the flask…. as the cork was removed notes came dancing like golden crystal, it’s reviving the original dream. I’m sure that’s not the correct quotation
MHW: I cannot correct you unfortunately [laughters]
So you have a little bit of that persona... how to put it, the master of taste….. what is the expression already?
RD: The arbiter of taste?
RD: I quickly must say that I hadn’t thought that about myself
MHW: It might be very subjective but I think that there is a little bit of that in you. I hope it's okay to say so. [laughter] Among the recent perfume launches which ones are the ones that give you hope for the future?
RD: Truly from Steven Birmingham. When I smelled it I felt like the last 15 years hadn’t happened. You could smell that wonderful quality running through it. It smelled like - it did not smell like a Roudnitska - but something almost like these beautiful fresh notes that Roudnitska worked on in pared down formulas. It was like that had carried on. It is highly qualitative. I think really a wonderful perfume.
I think that Perles de Lalique is a fantastic scent. I think the way the rose note, the peppery aspect of roses has been pushed forward on this is very, very beautiful, and the chypre base. That was a very interesting launch. Likewise I thought that Sisley Soir de Lune was quite, quite interesting. Have you smelled the fragrance called “The Party”?
MHW: The Party...? No, I believe I haven't heard of it.
RD: It’s very new. It’s a fragrance called The Party and to the best of my knowledge and understanding the people that are behind it are the three people that started up Acqua di Parma, when it was relaunched. So when Acqua di Parma was nearly finished, you know, it was nearly a dead brand, these three people bought it up and resurrected it. I don’t know if it’s all three of them or one of them. Anyhow, that is their new project. And they have launched this perfume, it’s called The Party, the box is made absolutely by hand, it looks like something from the late 1920s or early 1930s. It’s a card box which is then covered in the most beautiful embossed paper. The fragrance is like…. it makes me think very much of Femme but not this re-orchestrated Femme, the real Femme, but it’s not a copy of it. It ‘s a very modern theme but with this very animalic quality of Femme. So I think The Party is very interesting.
MHW: Anything you are looking forward to?
RD: So many that have come out on the market are lovely. Like Kelly from Hermès is lovely but I think it could have been much more. I think they could have done something more inspirational with it, personally. I think some people need to take risk. If you look at the last big wave of commercial successes: Angel, Issey Miyake L’Eau d’Issey, also Cool Water, when the three of these came to the market whether people liked them or thought they were ghastly, whatever your thoughts, they broke every rule going and no one believed in them, only the people who are behind them, and they ended up making these fragrances which ended up changing the face of perfumery in the next decade. And I don’t see what’s coming on the market that’s doing that, fragrances that rock the boat a little bit. Not deliberately, you know, because that is just being shocking for the sake of being shocking. But I think when somebody has a strong enough view of something, they believe in what they are doing so much they will just say “no, this is it” and see what happens. I think we haven’t had enough of that recently in perfumery.
MHW: Finally and this is a little ritual we have, if you had only ten perfumes to recommend for people to try, what would these be, apart from yours?
RD: Tabac Blond, Eau d’Hermès, Diorella,…this is a very horrible question you ask me….the extract of Vol de Nuit, all of these should be in extract, Jicky, Egoïste, Arpège……these are stalwarts.
MHW: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with the readers of The Scented Salamander.
If you are in London on December 14, 2007, you can direct your steps to the Victoria & Albert Museum to listen to a talk offered by Roja Dove.
(Images from Harrods Urban Retreat and H Prints)