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Friday, February 4, 2011

Francois Demachy: Perfumer at Parfums Dior & elsewhere (and footnotes on La Collection Couturier Parfumeur)

I was flatteringly asked by an industry magazine to comment on the work of François Demachy, perfumer and artistic director of Parfums Dior, in view of the 2010 re-issue of Diorama for US distribution and the introduction of "La Collection Couturier Parfumeur" this past autumn. The information was conductive to an interview with the perfumer himself, which appeared in this winter's edition of fashion magazine Industrie. In the interest of our readers who do not have access, I'm sharing some of the points discussed in relation to how Demachy's work has evolved at Dior and LVMH over the years, as well as my views on his personal aesthetics, supplemented by short reviews on some of the newer exclusive scents in "La Collection Couturier Parfumeur".
I welcome your own comments and views on the subject!


The first question involved the possibility or not of a clear-cut "signature" in the work of Demachy. Some perfumers who have attained almost a guru status among perfume enthusiasts (I'm thinking Jean Claude Ellena, Christopher Sheldrake et al) have a very specific style which they express through their every project.

Elena Vosnaki: It would be very difficult to ascribe a clear-cut "signature style" to any artist when they're bound by commissions or commercial briefs. The artist has to follow the patron's demands to some degree; also their specifications and range of options in regards to the media available (the budget for ingredients, growers' and labs' options as availability allows, specific range of concept or focus groups etc.). Perfumers who act as art directors naturally have a greater artistic control over the projects they oversee, but it's not 100% free either. While Jean-Claude Ellena enjoys a sort of what seems like unprecedented artistic freedom at Hermès, probably due to his already documented manifesto and Hermès’s lesser financial dependency on the turnover of their perfumes, Dior and Demachy present a different case: Dior Parfums cater for a huge chunk of the LVMH portfolio and therefore there are several considerations when launching a new fragrance.
Having said that, the latest Escale series for Dior as well as a few flankers for Dior’s best-sellers (Miss Dior Chérie L’Eau, J’Adore Eau de Cologne Florale, Dior Homme Cologne, Farhenheit 32) bring on a new clarity to the range which cannot be attributed to anyone else but Demachy. It’s hindsight in a way, as both perfumers see Edmond Roudnitska as their mentor and have been influenced by his restrained style; an observation worth keeping in mind when reviewing all the latest Eaux in the Dior range. So I think that Demachy will crystallize his vision in the coming years, especially if his desire for a more “hand-crafted” feel is (hopefully) sanctioned by LVMH. The increased quality ~amped with more precious naturals~ in J’Adore L’Absolu, as well as the re-issue of ultra-classic Diorama seem to be positive steps in the right direction, which is further honed with his output in La Collection Couturier Parfumeur; especially in New Look 1947, a gorgeous floral with silky aldehydic sprinkling; and Mitzah, a sexy amber focused on the Ambre83 base that flanks resins with labdanum and castoreum, feeling like provocative underpinnings under a structured dress.

Next the discussion touched on Diorama, the re-issue for the American market as contrasted to the former versions.

EV: Diorama is of course one of the “parfums-phares” of Dior and stands among Roudnitska’s work as the summation of his course from the “patisserie” style of Rochas Femme to the more vibrant offerings that followed (Diorella, Dior-Dior etc). It’s absolutely stunning in its vintage form, the fruitiness taking on a burnished, tawny quality half-way between garbage and mouth-watering delicacy, which makes it compelling. The till recently circulating edition in the Paris boutique was very good, but a bit attenuated compared with my vintage specimens. I would be thrilled to have it reconstituted it in its original form, although I’m fearful that first the hawks at Brussels are watching with a stern eye (IFRA restrictions are something that Demachy himself bemoans and admits as being a major obstacle for the old guard) and secondly, it’s not going to be tremendously popular with the general public; but that’s all right, it’s a connoisseur’s fragrance anyway.
[I have reviewed the former exclusive edition on this link and my thoughts on the 2010 Diorama re-release are posted here].


In what has to do with his work at LVMH, Demachy applies some interesting aspects and ingredients to bring on fragrances that will feel contemporary but also quite sensual.

EV: I think Demachy's old-school Grassois romanticism (he was born in Cannes in 1949) coupled with a very clear, a little savage but at the same time “translucent” technique make for this interesting synergy of modern and classic. For instance, his Escale à Portofino is a perfect mélange of a tried & true concept and a contemporary-feeling formula. It smells bright and fresh without evoking a stuffy, obsolete sensibility of “splashing citrusy tonic after shaving”. There’s sensuality and elegance in Portofino, if one looks carefully. The citron essence, specially treated for Dior (they also have 2 varieties of petit-grain reserved for them), is also of interest and I think it constitutes a trend we’ll be seeing more of.
He's quoted to say: “I believe in the virtues of aromacology: a fresh cologne, with Mediterranean accents of citrus fruit and aromatic scents immediately creates a good mood.” It was on that axiom that the exclusive Cologne Royale was built for Dior. On that train of thought, I would love to see him expand and fine-tune his vision of the great “Eau” (If not surpassing the gigantic Eau Sauvage, then offer the feminine suggestion to speak to young women of today); possibly beyond the established Cruise collection of the Escale scents, into a stand-alone major feminine new launch perhaps! Not only a “parenthesis in the world of perfumes” ~as he described his entry for Escale à Portofino~ and certainly a major step beyond the nostalgic Eau de Grasse Impériale composed at his father's apothecary.
And of course, now I have sampled his all too recent work for La Collection Couturier Parfumeur, I can see that the line is clearly destined to include some classics-to-be: Leather Oud is already shaping up to be a cult favourite, exploiting the multiple nuances of agarwood alongside a rough note (leather) that is making a come-back most forcefully along the industry. His pastoral theme of a certain rustic roughness in Granville (also in the Collection Couturier Parfumeur ), as expressed through the use of provencial herbs ~rosemary, thyme, basil~ shows vigour!


Last but not least, Demachy oversees projects ourside Dior as well: The question is whether he infuses them with a personality that is uniquely his own and how does this happen from an aesthetic viewpoint.

EV: I happen to feel that he has an endearing old-fashioned love for the traditional role women designate perfume for: romance! This was also highlighted in some of his work at Chanel where he collaborated since 1977 (albeit a phase shrouded in a little mystery till recently). I will bring a personal experience to illustrate my point: I recall how I was gifted with Diva by Ungaro when I was merely 18 years old by my beau who liked perfumes. Iliterally grew up with chypres, being of Mediterranean descent, so it was a natural for me, but the expansive, rosy-mossy embrace that engulfed me was almost too emotional: I felt that the perfume was speaking words of love, not only because it was offered me by a loved one, but because it was so very romantic and expressive in itself, a little "hit you on the head with sentiment!". When Demachy collaborated at Ungaro with Jacques Polge (officially head perfumer of Chanel for the last 3 decades) for it, they must have dreamt up of a fiesty Italian heroine such as the one in Visconti’s “Il Gatopardo”. Demachy, I feel, likes the gesticulating, expressive style of the Italians and the sunnier disposition of the insular Roman palazzi to the gloom and reserve of steel-skyed Versailles and its plottings.
His Italian predeliction (he is especially simpatico to the Mediterranean climate and loves the cities of Syracuse and Siena) is also showing in some other creations: Aqua di Parma Colonia Intensa, for instance or the reworking of Pucci’s Vivara (2007). It was sad to see the entire Fendi line disappear into thin air nevertheless, his being Palazzo, although certainly no fault of Demachy himself!

Christian Dior La Collection Couturier Parfumer fragrances are circulating in the following sizes in Europe: 150 euros for 125 ml, 225 euros for 250 ml et 330 euros for 450 ml and ONLY in 250ml bottles for the time being in the US.

photos via Dior, punmiris and estheticrfactory.fr

3 comments:

  1. Appreciate your overview on Demachy; thanks.

    So he is the one who redid Vivara? I'd like to ask him about that...must admit that I am a fan of the old version, so I'd like to hear about the whys and wherefores of the clearly different direction.

    ReplyDelete
  2. S,

    you're welcome.

    I think he has not been given the free reign that others have, what with the complications of having to work at a giant corporation and with the latest restrictions which -as he admits- tie his hands.

    Re: Vivara, I think this is a decision made by the parent company, not Demachy himself. The brief was decidedly different to begin with which is reflected as you note in the scent. Many of the older scents have a retro feel about them (I'm thinking of some of the 30s Patous) which wouldn't guarantee a solid presence in the market nowadays, even with niche audiences, which is of course a double-edged sword with companies that re-enter the field, like Pucci. It would be much easier for an already established player to bring back an archive-d fragrance, I think. Don't you?

    ReplyDelete
  3. S,

    you're welcome.

    I think he has not been given the free reign that others have, what with the complications of having to work at a giant corporation and with the latest restrictions which -as he admits- tie his hands.

    Re: Vivara, I think this is a decision made by the parent company, not Demachy himself. The brief was decidedly different to begin with which is reflected as you note in the scent. Many of the older scents have a retro feel about them (I'm thinking of some of the 30s Patous) which wouldn't guarantee a solid presence in the market nowadays, even with niche audiences, which is of course a double-edged sword with companies that re-enter the field, like Pucci. It would be much easier for an already established player to bring back an archive-d fragrance, I think. Don't you?

    ReplyDelete

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