Womanity by Thierry Mugler, with Pierre Aulas and Christophe de Lataillade
Part 1: Angel-and-Alien Rewind
TSS - Could we rewind a little bit with you and go back to the success stories of Angel, and also Alien? What is the nature of Angel's success today? Can we know how much its popularity relies on a loyal customers base and if the perfume continues to find new devotees? Are there countries where Angel is particularly appreciated and others where it is less so?
Pierre Aulas: Angel can be considered to be a great global success because it is in the Top 5 bestsellers in the world! We have observed that Angel due to its originality and powerfulness operates on a Love-and-Hate mode and that when people love it, they adore it and remain faithful to it. And this is how it has been working for 18 years, even with the generation which is discovering Angel now. Angel is in the Top 5 in practically all the countries of Europe (except for Germany and the UK) and in the Top 15 in the US (which is a very good ranking when one knows that Angel is sold in 4 to 5 times fewer doors than on average!)
Alien follows a little bit the same model, and like Angel, it has taken time for it to take off. Here again its success is due in great part to the juice itself, which has its adepts and loyal fans. There is also a lot of word of mouth going on. Alien has entered, after 5 years of existence, the French TOP 12 and the European Top 15. It does very well also in Russia and the Middle East. Results are a bit more mixed in the US (perhaps because of the name) but in 2009 there was a very clear progression...
TSS: What is the relationship of Alien to Angel? Was Alien created to please more Anglo-Saxon cultural tastes, who are reputed to adore, in principle, white floral bouquets?
Pierre Aulas: At Mugler's we do not create perfumes for any given market or geographic zone. Moreover, who would have thought 18 years ago that Angel could have become a very popular perfume in the US when fashion dictated an exclusive taste for anything and everything aquatic and transparent! Mr. Mugler is in the habit of saying that we do not follow fashion trends we create them! Furthermore, if we observe the results of Alien, it is in the Anglo-Saxon countries that it performs the least well!
TSS: In order to help us better understand the heritage of Angel which is declined in 2010 in a new way in the almost edible inspiration for Womanity, what do you think of the popularity of so-called "gourmand" perfumes today? For instance, Shalimar is a perfume which could have been a gourmand as early as 1925, but it wasn't. To wit, Ernest Beaux famously stressed that for his part, he would have turned it into a custard cream, which was of course not meant to be a compliment at the time. Despite the existence of the olfactory literary motif of the madeleine of Proust, no one seemed to want to wear a perfume wafting of madeleine. What do you think has happened?
Pierre Aulas: At the time that Shalimar was created, women still wore corsets and sweeping gowns! Times change, olfactory fashions as well! There are now overdoses that polite society did not authorize then and which have now become widely accepted. Moreover, the customers who bought perfume at the beginning of the [20th] century were completely different from the ones that buy perfume now; democratization implies changes in taste and therefore changes in formulation!
TSS: If Womanity is a perfume with a gustatory connotation, it reveals nevertheless it seems to me a wish to render gustatory notes more sublime. How do you insure that there is this dose of abstract flight and ideality in a fragrance?
Pierre Aulas: Even if there are facets directly inspired by gustatory ingredients, they are showcased by other ingredients in the formulation -woody, spicy, green ones - which insure that we are contemplating a real perfume, a real composition with its multiple points of balance and harmony. Furthermore, the choice of caviar and fig, which are rare and less commonly smelled, makes the perfume feel more intriguing.
TSS: Do you have a favorite term to designate those perfumes, which could be said to be foody? Do you like to use words such as gustatory, gourmand, gourmet, culinary or others? Do you see the genre as a French exception originally? Is it a more general movement of sensibility which is bound to endure?
Pierre Aulas: I rather like the term "gustatory" even if we do not really eat our perfume! It is a fundamental movement in perfumery as I think that it "reassures," creates a link with what people are familiar with. They feel less lost confronted with the mystery and complexity of perfume. And in a period of crisis, people need reassurance.
TSS: Does it irritate you that Angel has so many copycats or is it for you like a homage, which renews itself each time?
Pierre Aulas: It's both at the same time! To be copied means that one starts having success and it is always a good sign. On the other hand, what irritates me are those perfumes that have a significant olfactory link to Angel (and therefore cannot claim to be original creations) and who are successes!
TSS: If you were to choose between luxury and creativity? Is it easy to combine both or must one make choices?
Pierre Aulas: Why make a choice? Can't one be both luxurious and creative? For me, nothing is incompatible. It is all just a question of brand DNA.
Part 2: Womanity
TSS: Could you please describe for us the level of participation of Thierry Mugler in the elaboration of a fragrance and of Womanity in particular? How does the creative process unfold? How would you define your role within the creative team?
Pierre Aulas: Thierry is really very much involved in the development of all the new perfumes. He gives us his inputs, his inspirations; he sketches the blue print for the flacon; he offers feelings to illustrate the concept, and it is our job - to each their own specialty - to translate those. We see him regularly and validate with him when we are on the right path.
As artistic olfactory director for the house, it is my task, by seeking inspiration in the fragrance companies, to find the accords, ideas or olfactory paths which will translate as best can be what Mr. Mugler has in mind, and then to transform these ideas or accords into a real perfume!
TSS: If you were to roll out a list of credits including the names of the principal actors having participated in the creation of Womanity, which names would appear at the top? More generally and continuing to follow the model of movie-making, how many people do you estimate have participated in the creation of Womanity?
Christophe de Lataillade: The people who have participated in the creation of the Womanity fragrance are numerous; it is a real teamwork, company's work The main actors are Mr. Mugler, Joël Palix, President of Clarins Fragrance Group, Pierre Aulas, Artistic Olfactory Director, accompanied by the marketing development teams led by Nelly Chenelat, Mugler Studio, which I head (or directed by Christophe de Lataillade) for the image, the films, the packaging, logo, and the development teams who worked on the flacons. There is total of about 50 people operating internally.
TSS: One finds anew in the image of Womanity, the Muglerian thematic of super heroes and demi-gods. There is something of theValhalla in this universe, it seems. The olfactory signature of the perfume (like for most Mugler perfumes incidentally) seems also to reveal this same fascination for a feeling of powerfulness, as well as betray a taste for excess. What are for you the roots of this universe that one could characterize as being Wagnerian or more simply put, Muglerian?
Pierre Aulas: I am in complete agreement with you. There is something Wagnerian, mythological in the fashion and perfumes by Mugler, with their feminine archetypes, their goddesses, their demons, and their fantasy universe. Mr. Mugler is in the habit of saying "My measure is no measure." For him, nothing is ever impossible and he always pushes us to pick up creative challenges. This is how the flacon of Angel, which not one glassmaker, a priori, would agree to make, was made, that the refill fountain that a priori no distributor wanted is now an institution, that the dosage of raw materials in the perfumes is unheard of, that technological innovations are very often presented to us in sneak previews (like the molecular extraction for Womanity)...
TSS: Womanity is also a perfume which makes you think of a salty macaron filled with caviar on a bed of pureed red fruits and something like moon dust. It is gustatory, gourmand, a genre which was sanctified by the success of Angel. It is also a bit of an extra-terrestrial entity, like Angel. In both we find this very gustatory imagination and an inspiration derived from the domain of food. How did the caviar idea dawn upon you and could we know what kind of caviar was used? In case this note would become a new classic, can you tell us if there are caviars that are more promising than others for perfumery and are they necessarily the tastiest?
Pierre Aulas: Everything sprung from an idea of Mr. Mugler's who asked us at the beginning of the project to explore sweet-and-savory. We wanted to avoid expressing sweetness with something purely gourmand like for Angel, so that we ended with fruits inspiring us; but here again, we wanted to avoid those fruits that are often used in other perfumes. We therefore asked Mane when they offered us an exclusive on their molecular extraction technique to apply it to the fig FRUIT, as until then only fig leaves had been used.
Regarding the savory part, we were immediately interested by caviar since it is a symbol of luxury and rarity; we experimented with several caviars (Beluga, Sevruga) before selecting Oscietre caviar, which offers a more animalic dimension and smells almost of hazelnut.
TSS: One could think by seeing this interest in defining a feminine humanity that the aromas that were chosen offer a symbolic value. Is caviar your version of the odore di femmina? Was fig selected for its symbolism, which is evocative of the garden of Eden? Its milky aspect, is it an allusion to maternal milk? The marine aspect of the perfume (mer/sea = mother/mere), is it some kind of psychoanalysis or a genre which attracted you and why? (we know that Angel was motivated by Thierry Mufger's children memories.) How did the principal caviar-fig accord impose itself rather than for example, caviar-passion-fruit?
Pierre Aulas: The connection you make with l'odore di femmina and maternal milk is very judicious but we did not imagine it on purpose! It is purely by chance.
TSS: Where does this pronounced metallic facet of the perfume, which seems to echo the hieratic figure and the barbarian frieze, come from?
Pierre Aulas: I am sorry, but I do not smell a metallic fact in Womanity; it is the first time that someone makes this remark.
The flacon was designed by Thierry Mugler and created by Jean Jacques Urcun (like for all Mugler flacons by the way.)
TSS: What is the symbolism of the metallic chain, which incidentally really makes the noise of a metal chain?
Christophe de Lataillade: The chain on the Womanity flacon represents the implicit link which connects women between themselves, around this idea of connectedness, link, transmission, solidarity.
TSS: Could you explain to us what was the work you did on the fig note? It has an aromatic aspect, like a bouquet of Provençal herbs, which is a little unexpected a priori.
Pierre Aulas: We did a molecular extraction of a Bellone fig and reproduced its subtle aroma, which is fruity, green, juicy, and very lightly milky, as delicately as possible. This aromatic Provençal herbs facet comes from the fig-wood accord which indeed contains an effect which is a little reminiscent of the scrubland, and is almost like labdanum.
TSS: With which perfumer did you work?
Pierre Aulas: The nose who created the accord of Womanity is Fabrice Pellegrin. He got help afterwards from the team of perfumers as a whole at Mane to finalize the perfume. One must be a Wagnerian hero to work for a Mugler perfume? Therefore we often need the help of other gods!
TSS: Did you rely on focus groups? Did you encounter interesting or amusing reactions towards the perfume?
Pierre Aulas: No testing at Mugler. We only listen to our convictions. On the other hand, we know since Womanity has been presented to the public that it is a real Mugler perfume because it provokes love-and-hate reactions!
TSS: What are for you the easiest and most difficult aspects of this perfume?
Pierre Aulas: The easiest part is the fresh, fruity aspect of the fig in the top notes. The woodsy facet found in the heart and the base notes is rougher on the skin but makes the accord original. Where the animalic, leathery aspect of caviar is concerned, it is not easy either, but it makes the note be unforgettable!
TSS: To conclude, could you cite for us 10 of your favorite perfumes?
Pierre Aulas: I will set aside Angel, Alien and Womanity which obviously interest me due to their creativity and powerfulness. On the masculine side, I love Fahrenheit, Aramis, Macassar, and Terre d'Hermès. On the feminine side, Féminité du Bois, Aromatics Elixir, Montana (the first one), Chloé, Balenciaga Paris...and all the others that I forgot!
Picture: Heroes II by Calum Colum
Acknowledgments: Thank you very much to Erin Cohen for offering the opportunity to do this interview and helping organize it.