In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
In a Station of the Metro
Re:Mix, Real:Mix, Reel:Mix
A gulping blackhole towards a shiny blackbody
Only fourteen ingredients, top, bottom, no-body,
Two dark ones,
Twelve others dancing on top, not blending with these ones,
Easier said than done
Like a dozen feux-follets dancing on a gravestone.
Cocoa for somber complication, and Jabuticaba for golden honey supplication
As only natural inspiration.
The rest: gloomy mineral foundations
Clashing with twelve myriads of apologetic-looking perspirations.
for Heather Ettlinger's project, 2008
Because of his outspoken personality and ceaseless experimentation, Christophe Laudamiel has been described as an "envelope-pusher" and the "enfant terrible" of contemporary perfumery. A world-class chemist who has taught at Harvard and MIT, he holds multiple patents and has been a fine fragrance perfumer at International Flavors & Fragrances since 2000. Christophe is the "nose" behind such huge successes as Clinique Happy Heart, Michael Kors Island (with Loc Dong), Estee Lauder Youth Dew Amber Nude, Ralph Lauren Polo Blue for Men (with Carlos Benaim), Theo Fennel for Women, and many others.
Not only is he a highly-regarded "industry insider," he is also an artist and has collaborated with fellow artists and perfumers on concepts such as the "Iconosms" installation with Christoph Hornetz (together they are known as "Les Christophs"); the coffret of scents inspired by the Patrick Süskind book and movie Perfume for Thierry Mugler (again with Christoph Hornetz); and several collaborations with artist Nobi Shioya (Sacre Nobi) for the Shaping Room / S-Perfume concept, including S-Ex, S-Perfume remix, and 7 (Avarice).
I came to know Christophe Laudamiel through a mutual friend, fragrance consultant and writer Michelle Krell Kydd, whose discussion of the Perfume cinematic scent coffret and interview with Christophe were featured in the January 2007 newsletter and March 2007 issue of Perfumer & Flavorist Magazine. Just as I was beginning to put together an article about la fee verte absinthe in literature and perfume, Michelle introduced me to Christophe's gorgeous, enchanting creation for Harry Slatkin, Black Fig & Absinthe, and recommended that I talk to him about his literary interests and unique approach to perfumery. With characteristic candor, energy, and charm, Christophe welcomed my questions and even shared his favorite poem with me. On April 6, we'll feature this poem (hint: it's Rimbaud!) and his thoughts on literature, perfumery, and the creative process. One area of our discussion is perfectly timed for inclusion in this post on Easter Sunday:
Heather: "I recently watched an interview with Jean-Paul Guerlain in which he recounted an early scent memory of a tarte aux fraises that his mother bought him for his birthday during a particularly tumultuous time in his childhood. What are some of your early scent memories? In what way do your scent memories influence your work as a perfumer?"
Christophe: "I am fascinating by the scent of tulips. First you will notice that many people, even in the perfume industry, will say "tulips don't smell." Well, yes they do and you cannot miss it. Or they will say "tulips just smell green." Yes, but not only green.
"I find the scent of tulips fabulous because each time I smell tulips, I cannot remove from my eyes pictures of colorful Easter eggs. For me, tulips smell of Easter eggs, even though Easter eggs do not smell (in the shell) or at best, smell of chocolate. It is a weird association, I know. But in this case, I cannot detach myself from the association that "tulips smell of Easter eggs" although Easter eggs don't actually smell. The imprint on the mind is extremely strong.
"Explanation: as children, we would always look for Easter eggs in the garden, and it was always the time of a big family reunion, and the time when tulips were blooming in the garden where the eggs had fallen from the sky, and also my grandfather--a tulip freak, I don't know why--would always bring home a huge bouquet of tulips for Easter family lunch.
"As a perfumer, scent memories allow you to be creative, allow you to create retro fragrances or to play with nostalgia, which is always a feel-good experience for you or your customers. Scent memories, usually associated with nature or with some fabulous scent, provide you with quality references and create challenges for you, allowing you to reach for greater things.
"Also note that one also has to be aware of his or her own scent memories because they condition you in appreciating or depreciating a new creation. One has to learn how to smell independently from his or her own personal emotions when it is necessary to provide a non-biased critique about a fragrance."
When Christophe sent me his contribution to the Perfume in a Poem project, he finished his email with two playfully poetic lines:
"My English is not my mother tongue,
let alone in a poetic way, but would that be ok?"
I told him it was perfect, and suggested that readers would want to know a lot more about those fourteen mysterious notes, including twelve intriguing feux-follets ("ghostly lights" or "will o' the wisps") such as the Brazilian fruit tree Jabuticaba. (Click here for some extraordinary pictures of the Jabuticaba tree.) His answer was a good-natured tease:
"One day when I have time (or if they give me money), I'll create the fragrance and will explain all the why's inside this poem. There are a lot of concepts and notes packed inside this poem. Some are perfumistic, some are literary, some are aesthetic, some are winks, etc... I could write a whole essay about it."
A sample of Christophe's marvelous and hard-to-find Black Fig & Absinthe eau de parfum (also known simply as Absinthe), created for the Slatkin & Co. line (and a favorite "secret weapon" scent for Harry Slatkin himself), will be included in our fabulous March 31 giveaway package. Other products such as the the Black Fig & Absinthe candle and body product line are available at Nieman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, and Amazon.
- Photo of Christophe Laudamiel provided by the artist and used with his permission.
- "Tulpen foto" by Elke Klefisch, Norbert Schikowski of KUSTeam Fotodesign.
Comments are encouraged! Please read the initial post in this series for the details on our extraordinary giveaway which will take place on March 31.