Ram￼ón Monegal Masó is the perfumer and driving force behind prominent niche perfumes firm Ramón Monegal from Barcelona, Spain. Certainly among the best discoveries of 2012 and a collection with something for everyone, the line attracts attention for two main reasons: Ramón Monegal at once continues an honored craftsmanship tradition, that of Spanish brand Myrurgia (of the erstwhile Maja) ~where he tenured as Creative Director and later Vice President~ and preempts trends and ideas of the future in his own independent line. Personally I was very impressed by several of the creations, so naturally I sought to question the author himself. Here is an interview he kindly granted me, highlighting some of his inspirations and the thinking behind the new line.
Elena Vosnaki: It is rather astounding these days to find a niche line that offers such quality, quantity and diversity within their portfolio. Fourteen scents seem almost too many for any line, yet you have produced several within it that are bound to become cult favorites (I'm just mentioning in passing Mon Patchouly, Mon Cuir, Impossible Iris, Cuirelle, Umbra...). How did the vision for the RM line begin and how did it expand into what it contains now?
Ram￼ón Monegal: My current collection is the consequence of a career that never had freedom of expression. Nowadays my perfumes are the result of my own experiences and my bigger desires that never saw the light and has been my “raison d’être”. Those experiences and desires plus my current freedom have made my first collection possible. How will my collection evolve? This is very difficult to answer because once I have seen the success of my perfumes I can affirm that I will go on through a path of the excellence and trying to get closer to art, which is my main goal.
EV: How does it feel getting out of the traditional, family-owned Myrurgia (now under Puig) into a separate sector that would be more personalized?
RM: I feel a great responsibility to all those who gave part of their life to teach me, I feel proud to be the fourth generation of a family dedicated to perfumery, I am encouraged and excited to be able to show my work, and a great satisfaction to be able to train my children to give continuity to the family tradition.
EV: Do you feel that the Spanish perfume tradition has more to offer to the international scene than what is currently recognized as "prestige"? I'm asking because many perfume fans are aware of the French-school, the US-school, maybe the British or Italian "school" of perfume tradition, but not the Spanish; they relegate it solely to the Eau de Cologne type of scents and the classic Maja (of course!). What do you have to say to that?
RM: That’s true! We should make them change their minds. Some years ago nobody thought of Spain when talking about haute cuisine. However nowadays Spain is ranked first in the field of haute cuisine! It was possible by imagination, risk-taking and the talent of a chef, Ferran Adria, who with his Restaurant “El Bulli” obtained worldwide recognition with his creations. I think today Spanish perfumery is second-rate and in order to leave mediocrity behind, we should go back to it true origin, approach the art with passion, imagination, talent, freedom, courage and good education. We need to look and find the true origins again.￼
EV: Is entering the niche field the only way of growing a reputable brand without the back-up of big conglomerates these days? Does it offer other competitive advantages?
RM: I think the big groups restrict freedom with too many filters, and therefore the resources diminish in favor of Marketing. I sincerely believe that a small company like ours is more agile and able to adapt better and faster to new technologies. In a company like ours we hear the opinions of our direct customers and respect them, we are able to spend more on the development of the perfume, the perfumer is the true author and thus the values are authentic, the atmosphere is exciting and everyone feels they are participants, therefore perfumes are better. If we add the experience I think the benefits are huge compared to the disadvantages, especially the economic ones we suffer for not belonging to a large group.
EV: The RM line is full of interesting and novel takes on raw materials that are reference points for niche perfumes and for perfume aficionados. Was it a conscious choice (offer a new "spin" on old beloveds) or was it a process of going with the vision of a composition for each perfume which resulted in that effect?
RM: The language of perfume is the language of ingredients and also of the perfumer. In my case I was lucky that my experience was not only in laboratories. Throughout my career I have had the responsibility to locate and evaluate materials purchased worldwide, which has forced me to be up to date, and given me additional knowledge of its nuances and values. When working on a budget you lose the freedom to use certain materials and certain proportions, but when you make a personal perfume, when part of your soul is within the perfume, you regain the right to use whatever you want and become duty to get rid of trade obligations and approach to art. Today we have fantastic pure natural materials as well as synthetic molecules with an extraordinary quality. In my opinion the author of the 21st century should be able to use them all, regardless of price, or provenance. All that matters is the quality and the fine nuances.
EV: I noticed that you carry three "musk" types in the line: White Cotton, Agar Musk and Cherry Musk, each very different from the other. What was the rationale behind those?
RM: Actually in my Barcelona’s shop I have up to 5, but for my international collection I have selected only 3. The perfume personality defines and at the same time attracts the environment. Musk molecules attract me and I'm addicted to them. They have the virtue of resembling human pheromones but are still noticeable, exciting, pure, delicate, gentle, and are an excellent base to combine with all kinds of chords and olfactory images, and was something I always wanted to play in my previous stage but they never let me do.
EV: The packaging of the series is exquisite and very classy. Who do we have to thank for? How did the inkwell idea came about?
RM: My initial training was architecture, which I left to train as a perfumer, and my training has always defined the basic structures of my perfumes and base plates. More recently another of my concerns, the literary, led me to write the novel "Perfumer" [ed.note: in Spanish], that I wrote in my period of reflection and I discovered the value of an inkwell: the container of a material, the ink, that in the hands of the writer can turn into any kind of story. When I thought of drawing my perfume container, in a volume that it could define and indentify to myself, the idea of the inkwell came to mind: it could be a good container for any olfactory history and it could have an strong architectural volume, and that is how I drew my iconic flacon. Then I had to adjust the proportions to incorporate a valve to make it rechargeable, and I chose high-quality materials as the semiautomatic glass, zamack to the hinge (a metal alloy of zinc, aluminum, magnesium and copper) and bakelite for the lid and for the packaging.
EV: What are some of your favorite things: Favorite city, favorite food, favorite perfume note, favorite fabric, favorite color...?
RM: My favorite city is Barcelona because it is on a human scale, bright, artistic, Mediterranean, intellectual and inspiring. I love the new gastronomy Ferran Adria deconstructed ingredients based on first order, also the Japanese-style raw fish, with young & fruity white wine. I like the flowers tuberose and jasmine, galbanum incense and resins, iris root and vetiver, cedar and sandalwood, the molecules of musk and amber. My favorite spices are pink pepper and nutmeg. My favorite fabrics are linen, silk and leather. And my colors, black and yellow together.
EV: Where can one find your perfumes in Europe and in the US? Do you have plans of expanding to other markets as well?
RM: In the U.S. we are available at Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and in a selection of the best independent stores such as Luckyscent. In Europe we are already in Spain, Germany, Italy and coming soon in Romania, Berlin, Vienna and Brussels. We have begun the expansion less than a year ago and our plans are going step by step, selecting only the best places all over the world. ￼ ￼
EV: Is there a special fragrance that has marked you while growing up or one which you admire a lot from another perfumer? Why?
RM: The smells of childhood marked me a lot, especially those from the sea; also the pitch (tar and leather) used by a master in the art of caulk caulking boats, in a small fishing village located on the Costa Brava where I spent my summer vacation, the tanning from the leather bags of my mom and the leather smell from the Aston Martin’s seats of my father. I love the smell of incense in liturgical celebrations ... Later, and in my training period as a perfumer, I found that the smell of humid earth comes from its roots and fell in love with ginger and vetiver root, especially the unclassifiable iris from Fiorence, which I chose to create my first customized fragrance for the was going to be my wife, María, for the day of our wedding, 36 years ago.There are classics that I have studied thoroughly and I am still admiring nowadays perhaps more than ever, as for example the true Jacques Guerlain's Shalimar, the incomparable iris of Chanel No.19 by Henri Robert, the Cuir de Russie by Ernest Beaux, the extracts of East woods by Lucien Maisonier in Myrurgia, besides other and obviously not forgetting perfumers as Artur J. Pey, Pierre Bourdon or Marcel Carles .
You can discover the perfumes on the official site.
Reviews of Impossible Iris and Mon Patchouly on these links.