Last Wednesday evening London niche perfumerie Les Senteurs held another wonderful ‘Meet The Perfumers’ event . This was a chance to hear from Jeroen Oude Sogtoen and Fredrik Dalman from Mona di Orio, Margaret Mangan and Meabh McCurtin from Cloon Keen Atelier and Sylvaine Delacourte of Sylvaine Delacourte Paris.
I was looking forward to hearing more about Mona di Orio because it’s a house I admire and have followed for a long time. I still remember the stir the release of their oud caused in 2011. Jeroen mentioned that it is still his personal favourite from the line. He started the house in 2004 with Mona and has ensured its output has retained its luxury quality and unique approach to familiar materials.
My favourite from Mona di Orio is the last release Santal Nabataea (you can read my review here) so it was great to hear Swedish perfumer Fredrik Dalman tell us the story behind it. He said that although there have been many sandalwood fragrances over the years, they have often taken a similar path and many feature a kind of figgy top note. He decided to base his in the ancient city of Petra which is a magical place to him. He took inspiration from the effect the sun creates when it hits the sandstone. He used a crackle of black pepper in the top to add to the mineral facet and coffee for the base to give it a dusty texture.
It’s an outstanding piece of work.
Personally, what I love most about Santal Nabataea is the presence of olibanum that pervades the whole composition. It’s a must-try for incense fans and is in my top three.
There was a discussion about the state of the perfume industry and what lay ahead. Jeroen told us that when he goes to perfume fairs these days he’s amazed when there’s another huge crop of new niche brands. People tell him niche is over but he feels that it’s really just begun. It has made him want to show what niche really is; something to “blow your hair off”. He was questioned about what this meant – perhaps something more extreme? He replied that it was more about originality than going to extremes. Sylvaine made the point that perfumes still have to be something you’d want to wear. As one of the attendees commented “No-one wants to smell like a concept”.
There was a general feeling that the story of the perfume was getting lost in large retail outlets like department stores or niche chain stores. Jeroen did say he was looking at scaling down the number of places their perfumes would be sold in the future so that connection can be restored. His has a new ‘linear’ collection but isn’t ready to share it with the world just yet.
Cloon Keen is an Irish house co-founded by Margaret Mangan nearly 20 years ago. Their fragrances are very much a reflection of Ireland’s rich history, traditions and landscape. Based in Galway, the fragrances feel as if they’ve been infused with the clean, fresh air of the Atlantic coast.
We tried their latest release La Bealtaine which is named after the Irish May Day festival. Margaret told us that it mean a lot to her to be able to work with an Irish perfumer, Meabh McCurtin of IFF in Paris. La Bealtaine is a bright and innocent blossom-laden composition with a sheer feel. It features notes of bergamot, mandarin, neroli, pink pepper, angelica, jasmine, rose, tuberose, cedarwood, patchouli, amber, musk and cashmeran.
Margaret said she’d like to create a fragrance inspired by an Aran sweater one day. While we found this amusing, James Craven said they’ve had requests for something similar at Les Senteurs.
Sylvaine Delacourte was Perfume Creative Director at Guerlain for 15 years. She created over 70 fragrances including Insolance, L’Instant, Oriental Brulant and Gourmand Coquin. She recalled how La Petite Robe Noire caused a little controversy at the time of its release because Chanel had always been known for the ‘Little Black Dress’.
Her time at Guerlain taught her the importance of quality materials and that a scent doesn’t need to be perfect; in fact it should have flaws. She also learnt that a perfume needs to possess a strong identity, noting that while people may like or dislike Insolence, it is recognisable in moments.
However the marketing regime at Guerlain got her down in the end, with the relentless churning out of flanker after flanker after flanker.
Her favourites from other lines include Lipstick Rose and Musc Ravageur from Frederic Malle (the latter partly because it was done by her friend, Maurice Roucel, the perfumer for Insolence). She’s also a fan of Prada’s Infusion d’Iris and has long loved Guerlain’s classic L’Heure Bleue.
Sylvaine launched her own brand in 2017 which currently includes two collections based around a particular raw material.
The Vanilla Collection features natural Madagascan vanilla interpreted in five different ways: spicy – Vangelis, sunny – Vanori, fresh – Valkyrie, aromatic – Virgile and floral – Vahina.
I love the use of coloured yarn to convey the mood and drydown of the fragrances.
If you’d like to win a sample set of the Vanilla Collection by Sylvaine Delacourte Paris please let me know in the comments and I’ll do a draw on Friday and announce the winner next Monday.
Have you tried any of the fragrances from these brands? Any stand-outs for you?
What do you think of the current state and future prospects of niche?