For nearly five years now, Céline Ellena has been the « exclusive guest » of The Different Company, the house founded by her father Jean-Claude Ellena with Thierry de Baschmakoff and Luc Gabriel. Because of the creative freedom this affords her, she has been growing, and growing up as a perfumer practically under our noses. Working around a specific material – an approach which TDC pretty much pioneered, unless I’m mistaken – with Jasmin de Nuit and Sel de Vétiver. Capturing smellscapes with Parfum d’ailleurs & fleurs, Parfum des sens & bois and Parfum de charmes & feuilles, or with Côte d’Amour for L’Artisan Parfumeur. Tackling and tweaking classic perfume families – this is what Céline Ellena calls her “academic exercises”: chypres last year with Sublime Balkiss, orientals with TDC’s latest launch, Oriental Lounge. But classics reworked through subtraction, while maintaining the signs of the genre. Sublime Balkiss is a chypre without oak moss; Oriental Lounge, an oriental without vanilla. Labdanum paste folded into rose, stretched out with tonka bean, fizzing with bergamot in the top notes before settling in the lushness of a salty amber.
Céline Ellena and I had a few email exchanges after I discovered that she had referenced Grain de Musc in her blog Chroniques Olfactives, a series of olfactory vignettes of Parisian streets. I took the opportunity to ask her a few questions about Oriental Lounge.
Oriental Lounge is quite heavy and creamy. It seems like a departure from the other fragrances by The Different Company, whether your father’s or yours. Why this change of direction?
TDC fragrances don’t necessarily have a common thread. Each has its own story. Also, I’m trying not to confine myself to an identifiable style… it’s still a bit early for that! Between Jasmin de Nuit and Oriental Lounge I’ve been on quite a journey: a discovery, an apprenticeship, a pas de deux with natural and synthetic materials.
Oriental Lounge arose from the need to compose a warm oriental, which was missing from the brand’s line-up. It was also missing for me, because to speak bluntly, orientals aren’t my favorite perfume family. I seized the chance to have a go at a genre I’d been neglecting up to now.
Did you feel you had to conform to certain rules?
When you work on a specific olfactory family you have to deal with a certain form of academism. Both the consumer and the professional must be able to identify specific markers: warm, vanilla-y, spicy, resinous, powdery, sensuous, powdery, heavy… etc. Ah! It’s so hard to veer away from those and take side-roads!
You’d already tackled the chypre family last year with Sublime Balkiss.
It does reference the chypre family, I made no secret of it. But I expressed a kind of disobedience, since I decided to suppress oak moss or Evernyl from the “ideal” chypre recipe to replace it with violet leaf. As a result, you smell a chypre, you recognize a familiar olfactory territory, but the materials are different and hopefully, they renew the genre slightly.
I’ve used the same approach for Oriental Lounge. I tackled an academic form composed of vanillin, labdanum, patchouli (the “Ambre 83” feel which you’ve certainly recognized) and all the more or less useful details corresponding to the commonly accepted idea of oriental perfume, and I tried to find a new angle. I tried to make my materials “speak” in a different yet familiar tone.
Which are the most talkative materials in Oriental Lounge? And which are the toughest to get to speak up?
Caloupilé, the dominant natural material in this perfume (which allowed me to break out of an excessive conformity to the oriental genre) is certainly talkative, but hard to master, because it is unusual. Its smell is powerful, raspy and green, metallic and warm, with a faint whiff of cold petroleum. It is commonly known as the curry leaf, but we avoided using the word because it is too reminiscent of food. Its smell has nothing to do with curry spice mixes! Caloupilé is the epitome of a talkative, generous material.
Labadanum is a magnificent monolith but it has nothing else to say but: amber, amber, amber. It is an indispensable marker in this type of composition, but it is dangerous because it sometimes traps you in a monologue.
Red rose is for the tomboy side: a fragrance for men and women alike. Something sensuous and peppery. No natural red rose but a blend of geranium, pepper and something else! Pure pleasure for a perfumer who finds out that 1 + 1= 3.
Tonka bean is for the pleasure of the texture of skin, a smooth touch without the mawkishness of vanilla-vanillin. The tonka bean creates a pas de deux with the woody notes, embraces the rose and appeases the caloupilé… It isn’t the star, but it is an indispensible supporting role.
“Satinwood” is stated in the listed notes. Is this the plant known as “orange jasmine”, or a synthetic woody material?
Satinwood is a prettier and less hypocritical way of naming a blend of synthetic sandalwood note and a powdery note (I didn’t want to call it sandalwood). TDC’s specificity is the high proportion of natural materials in its perfumes (in this case, a large quantity of caloupilé and labdanum, among other things), but I need synthetic materials to allow the composition to breathe, to give it light and rhythm. Going 100% natural has its limits, which I was recently confronted with…
If Oriental Lounge told a story, what would it be?
A precious box made of an unknown wood hidden in our memory. Each of us entrusts it with what we want, what seems most precious to us, for the pleasure of finding it again later, when the time has come. A treasure box to open gingerly with a mixture of fear and excitement, or a sigh of calm pleasure. I like to imagine that my box is empty. Nothing is left but a few wisps of fragrance, barely identifiable but pleasant, so that new stories can take place.
For the past few months, you have been writing a blog, “Chroniques Olfactives”. What made you want to start writing all of a sudden?
I’ve been carrying this inside me for a long time. Writing stories about smells with words. Probably because I’ve always said that a perfume composer writes stories with smells rather than words. Also, daily life influences my creative approach a lot. I find inspiration for my perfumes in the street. I started writing in my mind about what I smelled all around me, and when I spoke to people, I realized that most of them don’t “look” with their noses, or do it in a negative or tentative way. That’s how I got the idea for the blog. I felt like sharing my outlook, and maybe fostering a new kind of positive and tolerant curiosity towards the smells we live with, at a time where detergents, deodorants and smelling-nice-like-everybody are becoming a bit invasive!
Image: Tom Wesselman, Sunset Nude with Matisse Odalisque (2003)