lundi 31 août 2009

Céline Ellena speaks of Oriental Lounge, her new fragrance for The Different Company

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)

25 commentaires:

  1. Very nice interview, Denyse. Thank you for that.

    Ms. Ellena comes across as engaging and intellectually curious -- I like how she's always looking for the road less traveled when she tackles a genre. I have yet to embrace a TDC fragrance, but I can certainly appreciate the vigorous mind behind it.

  2. Denyse, what a coup for you! I really like the TDC scents I have tried so far, and Oriental Lounge promises to be worthy of the line. I am especially intrigued by the use of the Caloupile' leaf, since I have smelled that in its natural state.

  3. This has been highly informative. I like many of the TDC scents and the new addition sounds like a worthy addition to the lot. Can't wait to try it. :)

  4. She certainly IS her 'father's daughter'-
    In her intellectual curiosity.
    I like that.

    I am certainly looking forward to this release !

    Thank you for another skillful and elegant interview, ma soeur ;-)

  5. Nathan: Ms Ellena has a very interesting and refreshing approach, doesn't she? It's great to hear a perfumer talk about her art in those terms.

  6. Flora, didn't seem like much of a coup: the questions just naturally followed on online conversation... And Céline was already a GdM reader. Still, it's great to be able to share this type of exchange with readers.

  7. Chaya, yes indeed, there's no doubt who brought her up! But she *is* developing her own style.

  8. Ines, Oriental Lounge veers off in a very different direction to the other ones, but I suspect you could love Oriental Lounge if you love Jasmin de Nuit (which I do).

  9. Ah -- wonderful interview! It's so nice to hear Ms. Ellena thinking about her materials, and so lovely to have you there, prompting her for us.

    I am now wildly curious about her blog (when am I going to get that intensive French course in?). I don't suppose you'd consider an occasional, translated guest feature?

  10. ::thud::

    All right, wonderful interview, I definitely want to have coffee with this woman and listen to her speak about fragrance but first and foremost: How do I get my hands on some of this juice??? That sounds like something I would really love, and JdN is one of my very favorites. Thanks so much for sharing, D.

  11. Thanks to both you and Ms. Ellena for the interesting interview! I always appreciate a view into the creative process. In this case, I found myself particularly engaged by both the discussion of the notes for Oriental Lounge AND the explanation of the rationale behind the synthetic/natural blend.

    As for the perfume itself, so many things to pull me in closer--this caloupile note, the choice of tonka over vanilla (I often find vanilla just too much), and a general curiosity to see Ms. Ellena's overall creation. I just gifted the spouse with Sel et Vetiver (one of those joys of partnership...a gift which can bring happiness to the giver as well as the recipient)...and enjoy my own Charmes et Feuilles and Jamin de Nuit as well. I can understand why she is reluctant to categorize her style as of yet...that would be difficult for any young artist.

  12. oh what bliss, thank you so much for this. I think she is an absolute genius, I adore her approach and love her work- possibly even more than her Father's, of whom I am also a great admirer.

  13. Alyssa, that wouldn't be a bad idea... At the risk of fanning the flames, it's a lovely blog and Céline Ellena has a flair for writing.

  14. Amy, the fragrance isn't sold online yet as far as I know. And, yes, it's fascinating to hear the straightforward and imaginative way Céline talks about her art, isn't it?

  15. ScentScelf, I see you're already quite a Céline Ellena fan! I think this one may interest you as well, though it's very different from the three you own.

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