Dominique Ropion by Louis Bourjac
Zeit Online have created a new series on perfumery and perfumers entitled Duftnoten – Alles über Parfum (Perfume Notes: Everything about Perfume). Perfumer Dominique Ropion was invited to share his thoughts on the state of perfumery.
Interestingly enough, the French nose proves he can be quite blunt - sometimes it's easier to do so on foreign turf; the Germans have a tradition of speaking in an unadorned fashion too, the influence of general philosophical training - and so he dishes out a few of his truths on perfumes...
When asked if perfumery is an art form, Ropion states that the ones who insist most on it being an art form are often not the best of perfumers.
The way we understand this is that there is an almost intangible quality to perfume which has to do with balance which will probably be found more in perfumers who are able to straddle the different sectors of perfumery from the haute parfumerie one to the mass market one. Incidentally, Ropion does insist that there are very nice perfumes in the mass-market and when asked he says that there are no differences in his approach to making a perfume for Editions de Parfums or for The Body Shop; this is where he exclaims that he hopes Frédéric (Malle) will not read him!
He underlines the fact that while niche perfumery usually uses more expensive ingredients and has a stronger signature, it is all too easy to make a bad perfume with high-quality materials. If you think of couture, the parallel is striking. Entrust a very expensive textile to a less than gifted couturier and he or she will savage it. Going further, Ropion stresses that there are many totally uninteresting fragrances in the niche sector of perfumery and that there are not many good perfumers in the world.
Another point the perfumer makes - and you have to read a bit in between the lines - is how briefs can be stultifyingly stereotypical. The liberty of the perfumer and the pride he takes in his trade therefore dictates that he think about perfume on its own terms, and then make it fit into the marketing concept presented. It is like a different level of reading of the perfume you will smell, where you can distinguish the progression of the work of the perfumer and the story appended to it.
Visible and personal authorship are not important to Ropion from the beginning and in the final analysis. Musing about how Emeraude survived in Shalimar - and became perhaps more interesting - and l'Origan in L'Heure Bleue, he states that what is most important to him is the fact that the idea of a perfume survived rather than the name of the person who created a perfume. Perfumery must be to him, we think, what UNESCO call a part of the World Heritage.
Read the interview in German: "Die starke Idee im Parfum überdauert"