The complexities of relationship between the owner or Creative Director of a perfume brand and ‘le nez’ is one that is still kept a secret by many companies. One of the most successful such collaborations involves the visionary behind Parfums DelRae and the renowned perfumer Michel Roudnitska. To gain rare insight into the creative process of one of niche's most celebrated lines of perfumes, Michelyn Camen recently talked to the dynamic DelRae Roth, CEO and Creative Director of Parfums DelRae and Michel Roudnitksa about collaborating, being an American in Paris, and the melon-scented tale behind her latest fragrance, Emotionnelle (available at Barneys and LuckyScent.com) - a "gourmand" mix of melon, tangerine, bergamon and Ylang-ylang (top); violet flowers & leaves, jasmine, rose, prune, and iris (middle); and a base of cedarwood, vetiver, labdanum, cloves, vanilla, amber, cinnamon, and honey.
Michelyn Camen: Please give a very brief description of what inspired you to create Parfums DelRae, and why you decided to create a line of fragrances?
DelRae Roth: The simple answer is that I wanted to change my life!
And in thinking seriously about that, I knew that I wanted to combine some of the things I loved, and was ready to take risks and to put myself 'out there'. As a friend said, it was time to exercise my 'savoir faire'. Also I was increasingly disappointed with what the perfume world was putting on the market. I felt that there was an audience for more inspired, exquisite perfumes. It was almost 2001, and the niche market was just starting to get attention. So the timing seemed right.
MC: What distinguishes Parfums DelRae from the hundreds of new niche lines? What is truly different about the brand and the perfumes?
DR: I think Parfums DelRae is distinguished in the niche market by the complexity and originality of the fragrances. My vision is of rich, complex perfume, with a classical construction, using wonderful materials. The concentration is at 17%—20%, I don't use any colorings or preservatives— the quality is paramount.
MC: With the niche market so crowded, what are your thoughts about these hundreds of fragrances claiming to be niche? And, in your opinion, what qualifies a scent as a niche perfume?
DR: The niche market has really exploded, as the industry is really looking to niche to see where to go. It’s where the real risks are taken. To me, a niche brand represents genuine quality and exclusivity. And, perhaps most importantly, these brands have a vision, a real point of view. Because of this focus, these brands tend to be smaller and have a creative visionary directing development. My experience suggests that if you are trying to satisfy everyone, it is not possible to be innovative and qualitative.
MC: All your five fragrances were formulated by Michel Roudnitska, one of the greatest contemporary perfumers in the world. How did you meet? What is the secret of your ongoing collaborative relationship?
DR: I had the concepts for my first three perfumes fairly well developed. I began ordering oils from France and mixing and so on. But I realized early on that I needed to work with someone who had the training in fine perfumery to assist me. I had the ideas, the creative direction, but not the formal training. And I didn't want to go back to school! So, I contacted Michel, introduced myself, explained my situation and my ideas, and asked if he was open to working this way. It was quite straightforward, but also very unusual at the time, as I was American, a woman, and not from this 'world". I went to the south of France and Michel and I began working.
I think the success of our collaboration is, as in all satisfying collaborative efforts, that we respect each other. We each bring something to the table, as it is my company, I bring the creative concept, the name of the perfume and direct the development of the perfume until it is at the point where I am very pleased and feel it reflects my intention. With that of couse, as it is my company, I also assume all the risk.
Michel has the technical background, and great passion for the art form, and he appreciates this very wonderful creative opportunity. Collaborations can be difficult and complicated. As a designer I am very much use to this kind of creative process, and I find that if a person is talented and secure, they will often be open, appreciative and generous. To create something at this intimate level, freely, collaboratively, it’s a very great luxury.
MC: With you in San Francisco and Michel in Paris, how do you achieve such amazing scent synergy?
DR: I always meet first with whomever I work with, because I need to explain the idea, and to see their reaction. I want to be sure that the concept excites them. With Michel, because the first three perfumes were so influenced by San Francisco, he also came here and we talked and walked. I showed him some of the places I love, so he could really understand. Along with my trips to France, FedEx and email it all works very well.
MC: The names of your fragrances seem to be spot on to each scent. Which comes first the 'emotion/fragrance name ' or the fragrance itself?
DR: I name all of my children! It is very important to me that the name reflect the personality of the perfume and help tell the story. I decide on the name for the perfume at the very beginning when I am conceptualizing the fragrance.
DR: Well, you never know what will happen. Bois was difficult to fine-tune. It took quite a while until I felt the balance - rose, wood, spice, gourmand - was right. I was particularly focused that it not be too sweet, not too woody. Bois de Paradis has a very sensual personality, and so it "shows" very well. I am thrilled so many people love it.
MC: Your latest fragrance ‘Emotionnelle’ is so very different from anything you have created. Already the blogs are hypothesizing and guessing why 'melon' was chosen as a central ingredient. Why melon? Tell us the story of Emotionnelle and the woman you created this scent for.
DR: I was going through an old journal that I had kept while staying in Paris and noted many of the things I enjoyed eating, smelling. This was an important trip for me, I was a bit adrift and that's when I fell in love with Paris, and began to feel at home. It was an emotional trip, and represented a big shift for me personally. I began to wonder if I could make a perfume reflecting this feeling of possibility, expansiveness. What would that smell like?
And so I proposed this idea to Michel, together with the name, my list of ingredients and the olfactive profile. The melon note was added towards the end of the development. I very much wanted to create something unusual and beautiful. I love Charentais melons (with port poured in the center it is divine!), so the melon note was quite interesting to me. The melon adds transparency, freshness, and a certain mouthwatering quality, plus it enhances some of the other notes, especially the violet. I don't think of it as the center of the perfume, but it does introduce the "cast of characters" in a very compelling and interesting way. I think this perfume will appeal to women who are sensual, creative and sophisticated.
Michel Roudnitska: Emotionelle was the result of a close collaboration between DelRae and me. She had quite a precise idea of what she wanted to express through this fragrance, it was related to memories of her trip to Paris 25 years ago. A very emotional trip which changed her life, as it is for many people. Paris became my “idealized” place, where the drama and poignant beauty of life seemed filled with endless possibilities. Dreams seemed to be within reach, and everyday was filled with excitement and revelations.
After DelRae mentioned some ingredients she would like to be in this fragrance as bergamot, cardamoms, plum, violet, jasmin, angelic, amber, vanilla, tonka beans, musk, I began working on this new concept with no preconceived idea, just starting from zero. After a few months and several tests, the fragrance was well balanced but lacking of personality, so I proposed to add some new notes on which I have been working for 20 years and that could fit with this accord. It was a personal composition based on melon, violet leaf and some spicy leather notes.
DelRae liked this new approach and even encouraged me to increase this specific melon note combined with the jasmine note. This gave to the fragrance a more sparkling, "gourmand" and addictive aspect that was in complete harmony with my own taste.
I really love this fragrance: it's the fusion of DelRae's dream and mine, an "accord" quite difficult to achieve because of the violent and unusual aspects of some green top notes, but when you have accepted to go through this first reaction, you become completely addicted to this fragrance.
- Michelyn Camen
Camen is the New York City based global fragrance expert and the owner of FifthSense N.Y.C. where she consults for luxury perfumers and fragrance companies, and provides personalized fragrance consultations based on body chemistry, psychology, fashion, and lifestyle. She is a Senior Contributor for http://Fragrantica.com In addition, she is the Fragrance Columnist for http://www.uptownsocial.net, the former Senior Contributing Writer for Sniffapalooza Magazine, New in Niche Columnist for Basenotes and Editorial Director/Fragrance Editor for Beauty News NYC & LA. Email her at Michelyn AT Fashiontribes DOT com.
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