Perfume Q & A with Perfumer Alberto Morillas: Around the Launch of Iris Prima by Penhaligon's



Alberto Morillas is one of the great contemporary perfumers and one of the most influential on the olfactory plane. Without him, the world would not smell the same. His compositions are very balanced, yet sensual, but also in quest of a radiant luminosity. It is difficult not to like a perfume signed by Alberto Morillas, the name behind compositions too numerous for you to be able to remember them all off the top of your head. His career has strongly impacted the perfumery of the cities, the one so-called "designer perfumery", oriented towards fashion and lifestyle. For Penhaligon's he has engaged in a more intimate exercise that of the interpretation of a place, the English National Ballet, and that of a luxury material, iris.

1) How was organized the meeting with Penhaligon’s over this new project about Iris Prima?  Do you have any personal memories linked to this perfume house ?
This was my first time working with Penhaligon’s. This house embodies for me a veritable sense of English luxury, and a rooting in a tradition which survives the passing of time. I was comforted in this vision all along the project…

First of all, I met the development teams in London; I visited the luxurious store in Covent Garden and appreciated the different existing fragrances so as to internalize the style of the house and their « palette » of emotions and smells. Then, I attended some rehearsals of the dancers from the English National Ballet as well as a performance of The Nutcracker. This was an unique opportunity for me to watch and « smell » the behind-the-scenes, the costumes, the atmosphere of the place, which is at once intimate and awe-inspiring. 

2) You are very famous for your central contribution, in particular, to what is commonly termed « designer perfumery » the one resembling most fashion in its outlook. Do you see it as a specialization, or a gift ? Do you need any particular qualities to sense what a large audience will want to wear in their everyday lives, welcome in their lives in order to mark important occasions? Do you think that so-called « niche perfumery » requires the same qualities, or complementary qualities in a perfumer?
I would say that alternative perfumery offers a greater freedom of expression to perfumers. It is often about strong ideas developed around beautiful raw materials which put the onus on the creator to be bold and spontaneous!
3) This choice of an iris note for a composition reflecting something of the soul of the English National Ballet - is it the choice of a perfumer and observer of places and persons - Nathan Young and Lauretta Summerscales in this case - or a choice suggested by a brief, an industrial congruence?
First and foremost it is a choice made by the brand which had never worked the iris note before, and a personal choice too as I feel a lot of affection for this raw material. The more so since the creative house of Firmenich makes accessible some very beautiful qualities of iris, a fact which strongly inspired me and helped me in developing this fragrance. And then, there was this olfactory evidence when I met the dancers and discovered the opera house. Floral, powdery, woody and leathery notes of iris very faithfully transcribe the universe of dance and ballet. And this was confirmed to me all along the project…
The best quality is called Iris Pallida, coming from the Tuscan region, in Italy. But there are also beautiful qualities coming from Morocco and China.
Firmenich’s palette of ingredients offers several qualities for the perfumer.
Iris absolute and iris concrete :
The roots of the flower are picked, washed and peeled, then dried in the sunlight for ten days. After three years, the rhizomes finally release their precious scent.
The rhizomes are crushed and then treated with volatile solvents, providing iris concrete or ‘butter’. The purification of the concrete eliminates any residue, and allows the absolute to be collected.
Iris SFE :
The extract is obtained by using Firmenich technology that allows extraction to take place from dry materials, thanks to the use of CO2. It optimizes the capture of the most volatile molecules and so guarantees an extract of a very high purity.
Iris flower:
There is no natural extract of the iris flower in perfumery, its smell is reconstituted by the perfumer thanks to his unique palette of raw materials.
4) For a time you became an ethnographer of scents of sorts, you could say. Is this a new type of creative approach for you ? What did you learn from the project ? How do you go from the reality you perceive to the composition itself, in this type of approach?
I live my passion and my profession through travelling and direct dialogues with persons. This is the strongest source of inspiration for me. My inspiration comes from my meeting with the client. Their words are important. Closeness makes all the difference when it comes to creating perfumes. This is why naturally I appreciated the approach Penhaligon’s took with the English National Ballet. 
This meeting with the dancers brought a new human dimension to the work of the perfumer. I recognized some common bridges with this universe – the aesthetics, the emotion, but also the technique and the discipline. I conceptualized my perfume as if it were an olfactory choreography in which each ingredient participates in an ensemble movement, and creates a new fluidity.
5)The perfume Iris Prima, this is striking to us, has something atmospheric about it when you smell it for the first time, even before perceiving it on skin. The iris seems to create an atmosphere as if you were standing in the middle of a room. How did you manage to create this sensation ? Do you see a link with your work for your own house of scented candles, Misensir?
It is a totally different approach to that of the creation of perfumed candles. The fragrance of course recreates the soul of the place but goes well beyond that. It retranscribes the emotion created by the dancers, the beauty and fluidity of their steps, it lives with the person who wears it. 
I chose the iris absolute in the heart of the fragrance as if it were the prima ballerina, liberating with charisma the natural gracefulness of its signature which is both aerial and powdery. It is a vaporous intensity, elusive and timeless which marries well with the carnal sensuality of Sambac jasmine. Underneath the apparent frailty of its petals, the white blossom unveils its sensual curves, and incarnates the image of a delicate body whose power is controlled. Magic operates finally thanks to Hedione and Paradisone, two innovative molecules for which I have a particular liking and which breathe into this floral heart a radiant modernity and fluid movement. In the background, sandalwood and vetiver, warmed up by vanilla and benzoin, reconstitute the soul of the Opera and the majestic quality of a place steeped in authenticity. 
6) In your view, what are the characteristics of the leather note you developed?
For this leather note, I took inspiration from the  ballet shoe. The elegance and suppleness of the material waft of a voluptuous musky smell, both powdery and sensual, which I made richer thanks to woods and balms, to create the sillage of the fragrance. Olfactorily speaking, the leather contributes this invisible presence, which is experienced upon the skin, and leaving a memorable trace…
7) Are there things you wanted to express but which in the end « didn’t work » in the composition due to its materiality, or internal coherence ? More generally speaking, do you substract, change the formula a lot when you compose a perfume?
A fragrance is born out of the exchange taking place between the creative center and the client. To start with, there is an idea which is presented in the very beginning of a project but it is an idea which is going to evolve with the client – this seems perfectly natural – so that everyone appropriates it and gives it life. For Iris Prima, it was love at first sight for iris. The fragrance evolved a lot but the idea always remained very strong, and this is what, from my point of view, allowed us to create a beautiful story. 
Your olfactive autobiography in a few questions :
8) What is your first memory of a smell?
The smell of the jasmine flower in our family home in Sevilla.
9) What are your favorite smells?
I like hesperidic notes a lot, white flowers, which express an idea of freshness, sophistication, and joy.  
10) What are in the area of gastronomy the accords, tastes, sensations that are the most enchanting to you?
I appreciate the mix of genres between European cuisine and Asian cuisine, for example. This allows for a revisit of numerous classics, and gives them new life – an exercise which I often have to do in my creations.  
11) What are your favorite perfumery materials?
I am very much attached to natural ingredients and I cannot do without them in my creations. For originality and innovation, I also need exclusive molecules created by Firmenich. What matters most is the search for a balance between naturals and synthetics, between shadow and light, strength and refinement. Since I am a very visual person, I like to imagine my formulas as if they were ambiances, with their own colors, contrasts and graphic representations, in order to evoke a perfume. 
12) What are your favorite perfumes amongst those you composed?
If I had to choose amongst my own creations, I would have to say CKOne, Acqua di Gio and Daisy by Marc Jacobs.
13) What are your favorite perfumes in life or in the history of perfumery apart from those you created?
Generally speaking, I love perfumes which have a strong personality and character, perfumes that bring something new to the market, olactorily speaking. The story-telling around the perfume is also very important for me. I really like everything which evokes the Mediterranean, a sky and an intensely blue water, the sun and nature which are part and parcel of that atmosphere. 
14) Could you define for us what is « duende » in Spanish culture, and is there or are there perfumes which illustrate this notion particularly well in your estimation?
Being from Spain originally, I spent my youth immersed in the colors and charms of Andalusia. Duende embodies for me the inspiration of the perfumer, the magic and passion which you need to demonstrate in the practice of your art. 
You can read the original version in French here.

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2 Comments | Leave a comment

  1. Thanks so much for this. It was a fascinating mix of the personal and professional. I'd love to read such interviews with other perfumers.

    • I'd love to do more of that too. Thank you for your encouragement.

      Chant Wagner

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