Interview by Françoise Rapp
Make-up artist, photographer, filmmaker, fashion architect and perfume designer; all your creations have revolutionized our society to open us up to an offbeat and visionary universe. How did perfume creation become obvious to you?
These activities, these “trades” have only been centred around a common axis: the image, particularly that of “Ma Femme” (My Wife). When I say Ma Femme, it is the one who since the age of reason, by a slow impregnation, haunted me. It was also the way to give voice to silence and through it, to take consistency/existence.
Creation is passive but it activates us. From hair to makeup and then to photography, I made from this particular feminine, since the age of 16, my musical instrument. She was my matter, the one I materialized in an ideal form. She was violent but her integrity became an authority.
From 1968 to 1980, I invented and faced the make-up for Dior. My nature as an opponent put me on the sidelines but also brought to light, an assertive behavior, expected as much by the masculine as by the feminine. I did the same with Shiseido but by culminating the expression further.
In the 90s, when the image I proposed was questioned, it was the very matter of my life that was shaken. I was looking for a relay; a link; an outstretched hand; a rope to save me from drowning or otherwise hang me! If I did not want to perish and sink into non-being; I had to face. From this past in flames that my life had become, I could only take away the essential: the fire, and after it the ashes of this story to have it reborn in another form: invention of a language through the essences, a bridge between the image and the words, a long, steep but obligatory path. In the French word “s’écrire” (to write to yourself) there is the anagram “s’écrier” (to cry out).
This new page in my history turns to the one of perfume, which was born with "Féminité du bois" in 1992. It was a success and became the benchmark for almost all the brands that incorporated its construction, in more or less acceptable form, to their palette.
You were seduced by Japan, what was its influence on your creations?
Without declaring itself - it was long before I met it - Japan had already been incubated. This trip in 1971 interested me only by the affirmation of this part of myself. Rigor, control, discipline, minimalism, are coded there. During the same period, I became acquainted with Morocco, its antinomy. His exuberance, his lyricism were the breath of irrepressible sensuality, stemming from my tragic disorder... These two paradoxes are undeniably part of my psyche.
The cult “Nombre Noir” and “Féminité du bois” have completely shaken up the olfactory codes of perfumery. We can say that there is a before and an after these two creations as the artistic bias is daring. What initiated this shift?
It's a long story. When I went to Firmenich for a ten-day study in 1980, “Nombre Noir” was, so to speak, finished. The olfactory construction was then not my subject: by its look, its external appearance, “Nombre Noir” was too, through its matte black on glossy black, determined in angles a new era of luxury in perfumery.
Ten years later, it was with “Féminité du Bois” that I faced composition. At that time, the scent was unidentifiable. The ingredients no longer revealed him but smothered his identity. By dint of reproduction, copies of success, we only felt its qualities through the fear of "not selling".
“Féminité du Bois” was a precise, identifiable perfume. I left the floor to the wood: more than 60%. It who until then was confined to the Adams of marketing: “Wood is for men”! Many were those who told me that with “Féminité du Bois”, they finally had a perfume that suited them!
How do you describe olfactively Morocco, your source of inspiration?
If in 1968, this trip to Morocco had not happened, I would never have approached perfume. The Arab world was not the so-called “oriental” one. To make it enter through "Ambre Sultan", in the sacrosanct of perfumery, it was to send a kick in the anthill, but also to launch a school. It is partly thanks to the disorder of my senses, that an organization of essences and smell, was able to direct me on this congested road that is perfume.
In a few words, can you give us your definition of perfume.
Perfume is giving voice to images; to pass from the mute world to the suggested world, in order to arrive at the one of the written word.
What do you think is the Future of Perfumery?
Knowing that the planet is warming up, that war is at our doorstep, that uncertainty is at its height, the scent of tomorrow would be none other than that envisaged of a form of secret royalty.
The island of Murano, this precious perfume heritage will sink and these famous glassmakers will disappear if we don't act now.
Methane costs are going from a normal bill of around 11,000 euros to 13,000 euros a month to 60,000 euros in October.
Surging methane prices in Italy are putting glassblowing businesses in the line of fire for financial losses, the Associated Press reported.
The price for the methane that powers the glassblowing ovens has skyrocketed five-fold on the global market. The glass blowers of Murano, who have dozens of furnaces on the lagoon island, must use methane to burn around the clock or the costly crucible inside the ovens will break. Murano glass blowers decades ago transitioned from wood ovens, which created uneven results, to methane, which burns at temperatures high enough to create the delicate crystal clarity that makes their creations so highly prized. And it is the only gas that the glassblowers are permitted to use, by law. They are caught in a global commodities Catch-22.
"People are desperate" said Gianni De Checchi, president of Venice's association of artisans.
"If it continues like this, and we don't find solutions to the sudden and abnormal gas prices, the entire Murano glass sector will be in serious danger."
“No machine can do what we do,” said maestro Davide Cimarosti, 56, who has been working as a glassblower for 42 years.
We need to protect Murano's heritage as it is part of the World Perfume Heritage; this is the mission of our organisation.
For now, artisans are hoping the international market calms by the end of the year, although some analysts believe volatility could persist into the spring. If so, damage to the island’s economy and the individual companies could run deep.
The Rome government has offered relief to Italian families confronting high energy prices but so far nothing substantial to the Murano glassblowers, whose small scale and energy intensity make them particularly vulnerable.
Beyond economic losses, the islanders fear losing a tradition that has made their island synonymous with artistic excellence.
Already, the sector has scaled back from an industry with thousands of workers in the 1960s and 1970s to a network of mostly small and medium-sized artisanal enterprises employing some 300 glassblowers and struggling to attract young people to toil in workshops where summertime temperatures can reach 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit).
“The value of this tradition, this history and this culture is priceless. It goes beyond the financial value of the glass industry in Murano,” said Muriel Balensi, a French glass maker in Murano. “Over 1,000 years of culture can’t stop with a gas issue.”
Muriel Balensi will be in Paris for Tous au Parfum, bringing along a magnificent exhibition of art glass creations in provenance of the best Murano Artists. These pieces will be sold in auction during the gala dinner to support Murano's glass makers.
It is not enough! The benefit of Tous au Parfum will be entirely given to the
Murano glass makers!
It is still not enough! We are counting on you to support Murano Glass Makers in joining our event, associating your name, your foundation to protect our precious World Perfume Heritage !