My dears, I start fulfilling the recklessly made promises ) The first in the list is Roja Dove that I’ve met in Cannes and have already told about it here. He is a person that is unique in all respects. There is no perfumer equal to him. A perfume historian that are really rare too. He is a wealth of knowledge, filled top to bottom, and not just knowledge — irony, cynicism, snobbery, common sense and life experience. A dude that likes rocker wristbands and black shirts.
He is openly gay in the sense that it’s not just he does not hide, but he quite even advertises that. The man who has opened the perfume boutique on the 5th floor of Harrods’ and has created the range of it in a really unaccustomed way – by persuading the great perfume brands not to remove the economically disadvantageous masterpieces from their production but to produce them in small amounts to be sold in this boutique, where there are no regular showcases and everything is hidden in black boxes. Those who know, they’ll find what they need.
Ether misanthrope or philantropist, ether romanticist or cynic, but more likely – all in one.
He is also an author of books about The essence of perfume and Quintessentially Perfume fragrances. Literally, like a perfume drop, they are the source of all the history of perfumery, fragrance flacons, fragrance inspirations, legends, fairy-tales and notes – they can be read either as a manual or as fiction, depending on the circumstances.
And surely he is a creator of his own fragrances. He’d been creating fragrances on request and had most likely provided all the sheiks of Saudi Arabia and himself with them for many years. There are rumors that the formula and production costs had sometimes been up to 25 000 pounds. He keeps up the good work. Just before the meeting me he had a conversation with one Russian that but proved to be very subtle scent in addition to having a large purse. But a couple of years ago he has launched a ready to wear brand – Roja Parfums which is priced more friendly for the ordinary customer – about 300 pounds for 50 ml. His fragrances represent an extremely special “weight class” compared to nearly everything that is on sale nowadays. They’re heavier, denser, thicker, and all the great perfume sensations of the past are trailing in their tail. They are a kind of the oldtimers that you just can’t sell on the run in duty-free or water the passers by with in GUM while saying “you should listen to our new perfume…”.
All in all, they’re like classical music. A lot of people say that they like it, much less people understand it and even less are able to see into it but most of the people can’t even imagine their existence and still thinks that Dima Bilan is our everything. )
And so, these Roja Parfums are going to be sold in our TSUM soon.
That’s why we’ve met with Roja in Carlton in Cannes. As usual, he was all with chains, rings, wristbands, a charming boyfriend that seemed to be also either his secretary or PR man or a bodyguard. Although for a bodyguard his constitution wasn’t very appropriate, really more for a admirer.
And the things he told me are the ones to remember for everyone who wants to see into perfumery instead of listening to the new “Dima Bilan” perfume. As for me, I’ve hardly ever heard such frank and honest (for sure, with a bit of self-advertizing too) remarks about perfumery given for the record.
— There is no perfume that has been sold for more than 10 years without being redrawn by its owners in a new way. Flankers – what do you think of them?
— This is reality. And it didn’t appear at once. I’ve been working for Guerlain for 20 years, I’ve been working with Jean-Paul Guerlain, I’ve seen different times. But there was a moment I stopped to like the things that have been going around. Not only in Guerlain, but everywhere around. They’ve been changing the formulas and perfumes have stopped being unique. I didn’t like it. The industry had been changing rapidly. It has quickly learned to earn money. Creativity has disappeared, marketing has started. Marketing is great but as a result nobody focuses on quality and even customers no longer think about quality, they just buy something in nice bottles and think that they’ve bought a perfume. I’ve been trying to save perfumery at least for those few people that are still able to understand. Harrods was the first who gave me a place for saving the great perfumes.
— Formulas are changed for two reasons. At first, to squeeze every last penny from the perfume that used to be successful once and to reduce production costs. Secondly, it happens because of new regulations being issued that ban ambergris or some other ingridient use. To your mind, which reason is the main one?
— The first one is money. All these perfumes are fast money. Big companies have bought small companies. Then they checked the formulas. Found how to minimize costs – you know, any big company is trying to minimize costs! Distinguished the most expensive ingredients and wondered why can’t they just substitute them? If the brand is well-known the fragrance will be sold anyway, they’ll put money into advertising, they’ll take the journalists out to Tahiti and you’ll write how sensual this perfume is and people will read and some will really decide that the aroma is really “sensual”. And that’s how they endlessly change the formula. They change – people buy – and they say : “Look, they buy it!” and minimize something else – and people buy it again – and finally we have some faded substance under the same name.
99% of fragrances are changed because there is a way to make more money on it. 1% — because of the regulations issued that bans the use of some ingredient. We have very strict laws, I think, the only sphere where the laws are more strict is medicine. If occasionally turns out that somebody is allergic to something this ingredient is immediately banned. Now it’s possible that some sorts of jasmine and rose can be prohibited. It’s crazy! A lot of people ape allergic to peanuts and seafood. But nobody prohibits peanuts. And the use of rose in perfumery can be easily banned.
— Have you ever changed the ingredients in your fragrances because of money?
— Me? I have no idea about the cost of my fragrances in production. I — swear to the mother –don’t even know how much money there is in my account. It can be ether 100 pounds or 100 000. I see the formula of the aroma, not the price of it. Anyway, the day we’d change the aroma formula to make its production cheaper – you should buy me a bouquet of flowers. Because that would mean I’m dead.
— And what do you think about the situation when some brands completely phase out a well-known aroma and give its name to another, completely new aroma? These tricks are done all around. It’s not even a flancer…
— It’s a mockery. It’s like remaking Mona Lisa because she’s not trendy any more. You know, this type…It’s a kind of outdated.. let’s make her look like Natalia Vodyanova! Why not, Natalia Vodyanova can sell anything, it’s an amazing marketing solution!
— Sometimes to prove that their aromas are good some perfumers use the fact that they use «natural ingredients only”. Is that a really strong argument?
— It’s not always so. I use jasmine from Grasse, it is a really rare jasmine it costs several times more then some golden broth but I buy it not to say: “Wow, look, I buy jasmine from Grasse”, but I do this because it smells different compared to any other kind of jasmine. There are some really cheap natural ingredients. There are some synthetic ones that are very expensive. There are no natural fragrances of freesias, gardenias, peonies. They have to be made artificially. The question is what synthetic ingredients to use and how much if them. I like the T-shirt example. Just a casual T-shirt from C&A, right? It can be 100% natural. And you see what it looks like in the end of the day. Or some T-shirt of a good brand. It consists of 99% of cotton and 1% of synthetics but it’ll be in a good shape in the evening. But there is another option – when T-shirt consists of 99% of synthetics. And you just choke wearing it. It’s the same way with perfumes.
— What is the main advantage of quality ingredients use?
— Well, they all have their own depth of disclosure and they sound different on different people. My aromas sound completely different on 10 different people. Plastic aromas are equal on everyone. There are people that want to wear trendy aromas. But they are not my clients. My clients want to smell differently then somebody sitting by the next table in the restaurant. All in all perfume trends…They say in English “If you want to be a sheep you should graze in the herd.” If you don’t want – so don’t graze. If you apply expensive ingredients to the skin you will smell expensive. If you apply cheap ones – you will smell according to it. You convert your money into your smell.
— Do you mean that expensive perfumes are always good and cheap are always bad? And to your opinion can the fragrance be good if it doesn’t cost like a cast-iron bridge?
— Why? I know some very expensive ones and they’re disgusting. Fools and money easily parted, and you can easily find fools that think that the price guarantees the quality. And I also know some not very expensive that are great due to the perfumers talent.
— Can you name them?
— Miss Dior, L’air du Temps, Madame Rochas are classical ones. Chanel N5 is for ever. Tom Ford White Musk from the new ones, actually, all aromas from Private Blend Tom Ford are good. Angel, Lolita Lempicka… Prada Infusion… There is a long list, so you’d better stop me.
— Some of the named are not my favorite ones. Tastes differ.
— I agree. There are people that love my perfumes badly. There are others that hate them. Yes or no. It works for me. Actually, I don’t like the middle, there’s no such word in my vocabulary. Perfumes mustn’t leave somebody untouched, let them not like it, it’s ok. Fragrance must last all day, but shouldn’t be very strong. It must sound for you to hear it and dream.
— A lot of trademarks remove complicated aromas from production because they are sold not as well as simple ones…
— Yes, I know. I have some perfumes that are sold slower then the others too. Some companies stop making them. I don’t. They must exist! They create the balance. They’re weird but there are customers that like them for that weirdness. Exactly for it. And if there is a number of people that like such complicated fragrances they won’t love another, they’ll miss the complexity. If you do good things, sooner or later the customers will appear. Just don’t compromise.
— How many formulas can you make without repeating yourself?
— I don’t know. I hope I’ll never give you an exact number. If I live till I’m 90 all I want is to make perfumes even when I’m 90. That’s the only thing that makes me alive.