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Monday, July 15, 2013

Interview with Thorsten Biehl of Biehl Parfumkunstwerke & Giveaway of 10 Biehl Deluxe Perfume Sets

Listening to the deep baritone of Thorsten Biehl’s voice confirms what I suspected from wearing his perfumes: he does not take fools gladly, instead he takes his niche brand quite seriously, as he should. [and to find out for yourself, 10 deluxe atomisers in a draw for Perfume Shrine readers, more info at the bottom of the post!].
In an age of corporate marketing and conglomerates there’s something comforting about expressing one’s individuality via lifestyle choices. You can buy small batch organic produce at your local market or at the flick of the mouse. People on social media have lively discussions about unusual whiskeys or triple-milled soap coming from one specific village in the south of France. And you can try to smell smart and adventurous, instead of a “me too” clone, by opting for niche perfume brands such as Biehl Parfumkunstwerke. Based in Berlin, Germany, Biehl is no stranger to the best kept secrets of the fragrance industry, nor to the artistic temperament itself.



Thorsten Biehl had been working for German perfume giant Symrise (formerly H&R) for 17 years, inspired by his father, perfumer Henning Biehl, a man with the pensive profile of Herman Hesse and the first non-French perfumer to win a prestigious award for most innovative fragrance by the French Perfumer Association in 1987. It was this perfume which, reworked anew, became HB01 in the Biehl Parfumkunstwerke line and gave rise to the whole concept: an “art gallery” where artists (perfumers, artists for the nose) could exhibit their personal projects which would be curated by a decisive art director, Thorsten Biehl himself, to show off their different sides. The emphasis is placed on German-trained perfumers, who Thorsten has worked with over the years at Symrise, to showcase the singularity of their members compared to others from a different background, e.g. French-, Italian- or American-trained perfumers. “The first fragrance was the key driving factor for the creative process” says Biehl. “Who would buy the perfume that my father had created? It was prestigious but it lacked the exposure it needed. So I decided to launch it as a separate entity and from it sprang the idea of the Biehl line”. Kunst means “art” in German and “werke” means “works”, so in short “perfume artworks” is what Biehl stands for.

The official launch of Biehl Parfumkunstwerke came in the summer of 2007, but the backstage work was evidently going on for years before. Biehl has gathered a diverse mix of artists to begin with: Arturo Landi, Egon Oelkers, Geza Schön, Mark Buxton, Patricia Choux and his own father Henning.

Niche perfumery historically began as a legitimate approach to the problem of the mainstream, older houses degenerating into “pure commercial machines” as Thorsten puts it in no uncertain terms. “They are constantly putting things out, new things all the time, which has unavoidably brought the quality down dramatically in the last 30 years. Perfumeries themselves have become retail businesses, like super-markets, a location where you only go to buy, not experience. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that they do not know what they’re selling, most of the time!”  He references a popular fragrance (which shall remain unnamed) which is “just a trite eau de Cologne formula with some vanilla thrown in for good measure and it’s selling like it’s so novel!” In contrast, Biehl Parfumkunstwerke targets the discerning 10% of the population who want to find something special, something which sticks to a certain level of commitment and personal involvement from the creators’ side.
These more unusual scents were a welcome solace for the customer who wanted out of a rut. Niche perfumery is consequently experiencing a high level of attention at the moment, as people share their experiences online, go to perfume exhibitions, read and compare, whereas 10 years ago this was not possible; it took naked women and semi-naked men to create the image of a new fragrance to entice the consumer to pay enough attention. But no good deed goes unpunished, just as no good business idea is not fraught with pitfalls. The pitfall for niche came in forgetting its purpose, wanting to branch out beyond its scope, creating brands based on marketing findings alone (findings stating that high end niche is the only growing sector in the fragrance market), something which Biehl vehemently contravenes.

“Perfume can stand for big money in business terms. So there are some former niche brands which are becoming increasingly present in mass-market stores, such as Douglas or Sephora, retail giants, who focus on the commercial angles of perfumery. In a way it’s good for the niche, because they’re out. In another, it’s a dilution of the original idea of niche, and that’s bullshit.” Gotta love a man who isn’t scared to speak his mind!



Striving to appear a certain way, a few unscrupulous companies claim a work address in the Champs Élysées which turns out to be just an answering machine! This localized, specifically Frenchified end of the business is ripe for what the French themselves call a “bouleversement”; a dislocation, an upheaval. Brazil with its strong local market is a good example of the future ahead for the perfume business. “Sao Paolo is an emerging location for fragrance companies, as the production is now conducted within the country and answers to local needs”, clarifies Biehl.

Taking account of the local needs and context of a specific market goes a long way indeed, as in an anecdote that Thorsten Biehl revealed to me: “In the 1990s there was a huge trend on vanilla arising in the United States. On the heels of that knowledge, one of the leading multinational companies, Coty Inc., had launched Vanilla Fields, a fragrance heavily built on vanilla, also distributed in Mexico. But they were selling so little there that it became a laughing matter and a mystery at the same time. Turns out that the cheap Mexican taxis, small VW Beetles, are confined, with those cheap air freshener “trees” dangling from the rearview mirror, which were  -oh coincidence of coincidences- aromatized with fake vanilla! So the reference, the association, was a deterrent, you see. One always needs to take nuances into account.”
 Sometimes the damage is done in reporting instead. You have journalists incessantly repeating the PR drivel of fragrance copy writing, such as “the most expensive fragrance in the world” for a well known ware, which technically it is not. The bottle adorned with a crystal of 100% pure carbon provides all the bling-bling that the juice lacks and makes for the staggering asking price. But the tag line sticks; and sticks like a sore thumb at that, in a world where the customer is not required to be proficient in the makeup of a perfume formula to judge its legitimacy. Why the illusion?

 Biehl differentiated himself and his perfume brand, Biehl Parfumkunstwerke, from faux hauteur early on, insisting on producing quality packaged in no nonsense vessels; he sends his fragrances on a journey to the ends of people’s hearts, rather than the depths of their pocketbooks. This is why when I ask him where he sees himself in 10 years’ time he confides he has no concrete plans. “I don’t think about the future too much; not in that sense anyway. Perhaps it’s due to bad past experiences, but I don’t see myself a certain way, nor do I envision 50 perfumes in my brand’s portfolio. It is a nice topic to discuss over a glass of wine with good company, but it doesn’t really have an effect in my day to day existence”, laughs Thorsten. “I live well, but I do not plan ahead”. 


It’s all very well not to dwell on the future too much, but what about the past? To trace a man’s dedication to perfumery one needs to ask for experiences in his formative years, so this is what I did. Thorsten admitted to a soft spot for Paco Rabanne pour Homme, one of his first fragrant gifts from his father, a masculine cologne which was huge in the 1970s and 1980s. “I still think of it as special, I just don’t use it anymore”. In the 1990s Thorsten fell under the spell of Chanel’s Antaeus, a herbal fragrance with an evocation of a worn-leather-jacket that is somewhat of a contradicting enigma; pure sex id in a total class package. I can see what he means, my eyes all sparkle up when I catch a whiff of it myself. Thorsten is also taken with a fragrance by his good colleague, the olfactory artist Geza Schön, who composed GS02; spicy intrigue and warm sweetness infused with piquant essences evocative of absinth liquor and Campari bitters, it makes for an intoxicating cocktail for modern day poets maudits.  Clearly Thorsten Biehl and his Biehl Parfumkunstwerke are far removed from the fate of accursed poets, but they have the talent, the forward thinking and the fertile imagination to ignite Rimbaldian epiphanies in each and any one of us; and that’s what artistic perfumery stands for, really. 


Finally, for our European Union and USA readers, a giveaway: 10 sets of the Young Savages samples in the Biehl Parfumkunstwerke line, this includes 8 different fragrance deluxe sample atomisers, as shown above: from Geza Schoen GS01,02,03; from Mark Buxton MB 01,02,03 and from Patricia Choux PC01,02. To be eligible, please leave a comment below the post.


137 comments:

  1. Anonymous09:15

    Would love to try the beautifully described world of Thorten Biel...
    Stephanie

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  2. Cherie G.09:24

    Oh, wow. I'd love to have a chance at this. Thank you!

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  3. I guess I don't qualify for the draw since I'm in Canada, but I still wanted to say that I agree with everything he has to say about the current depressing state of perfumery: a pure commercial machine indeed, new scents launched by the hundreds every month without a thought to quality or art. I doubt that 10% of the population is discerning enough to want better than what they can buy in any department store: but surely 1% is.

    I really ought to get some samples of the Biehl line and see what he's doing. Somehow I've managed to never try even one of them and now I'm curious.

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  4. Ohh, it would be my pleasure to get these, many thanks!

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  5. I've not tried this line but I thoroughly enjoyed this article! The no nonsense aesthetic is very appealing. Thanks to all for the draw.

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  6. Anonymous12:37

    I'd like to try!!

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  7. Anonymous12:42

    I would love to try this line. Thanks for the interesting interview and the draw.
    Debby

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  8. Mmmm, Antaeus...
    This line is intriguing, and I must find this GS02 at once.

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  9. I wish the rest of the world was included...

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  10. Thank you for the article and giveaway! I am only familiar with PC02, so I would love to try these samples.

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  11. What a wonderful interview! I'm intrigued, and would love to be entered in the draw.

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  12. please enter me in the draw. I have to admitI have never sniffed any of these and a sample set would be such a great place to start. Thanks to you and Biehl for your generosity.

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  13. I would love to try these fragrances!

    Laura

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  14. i would LOVE to try these perfumes! i'm intrigued; he seems to care about quality & distinctiveness, not profit & popularity...

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  15. Commercialism & the poor economy has tainted the perfume industry as well as so many others. I like the way the German thinks.

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  16. Elia15:21

    I tried one of these once and was quite impressed, I think it was al02, but I can;t remember. I'd love to try out more of the line.

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  17. I'd love to be entered in the draw. Mitsouko and Patou's Ma Collection are gone, and my favourite Carons are all disappearing, I need to find something modern to love!

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  18. Mimi G15:45

    Thanks Elena - please count me in for this giveaway.
    Love always

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  19. Would love to be entered in the giveaway and now that I think of it I don't think I know much about the German perfumer oeuvre.

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  20. Very interesting article, makes me want to test these fragrances! Thank you for the draw!

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  21. Leslie B17:12

    Oh wow! I have been dying to try some of these, and the interview only makes me more enthusiastic. :)

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  22. Thanks for the draw and even more for this interesting article. The cross currents of culture, art and commerce are fascinating.

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  23. Throwing in my hat. :)

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  24. Well, that was a refreshing read :D I don't think I've even heard of Biehl before, so would love to try!

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  25. "nor do I envision 50 perfumes in my brand's portfolio..." How refreshing! Would love to sniff these.

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  26. ElizabethC18:01

    Would very much like to try this brand :)

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  27. I think I like trying new perfumes than wearing ones I already know I like. Something about the hunt and the novelty just do it for me.

    Thank you for the generous sampling offer.

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  28. Heather F18:10

    What a fascinating interview. Thanks as ever for the draw--I would love to try these!

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  29. I am a fan of Geza Schoen, in particular of his work with Ormonde Jayne. I would absolutely love to try this sample set. Thanks for this luxurious giveaway!

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  30. I've never tried this line and not read a great deal about it either, but I would really like to try!

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  31. I love excellent quality and no nonsense. Biehl sounds like my cup of tea. Thanks for this wonderful draw.

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  32. Ingeborg18:56

    I do not qualify to be entered in the draw, but hope someone will add their impressions of the perfumes. Hoping to sample these in Berlin in October.

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  33. Ingeborg18:58

    I do not qualify to be entered in the draw, but hope someone will add their impressions of the perfumes. Hoping to sample these in Berlin in October.

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  34. Would love a chance to try these!

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  35. Anonymous19:15

    I have not sampled any german perfume house yet
    I would be very happy if I could have a chance with this niche line
    Please count me for the draw_
    Many thanks
    Phanie

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  36. I've long wanted to try this line, and I so enjoyed reading such a candid interview with a perfumer and brand owner - such a rare occurrence!

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  37. Anonymous19:43

    I don't believe I qualify either, since I am in Canada, but for those of us who live here, where can we find these fragrances?

    Eau de Neutrogena sunscreen-it's about 30 degrees here, and it's killing us!


    Carole

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  38. I would like to be part of this! thank you...

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  39. This is a brand I haven't tested much. But the interview is really interesting and intriguing, so I definitely need to sample more.

    As for local needs, a certain frag, which will remain unnamed, smells like the cleaners used in local hospitals. Yet it appears to be extremely successful. Perhaps these are the local needs.

    cacio

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  40. I would love to try these perfumes. Consider me entered in the drawing.

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  41. This sounds very interesting.I'd love to win these samples.

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  42. Anonymous21:41

    I haven't had a chance to try the Biehl line yet, but am very intrigued after reading the interview. Thank you for allowing a draw - please count me in.
    sandy l

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  43. It would be nice to have your review on one or more of these perfumes Ms Vosnaki!
    Sometime in the future maybe..?
    For me it would pretty much like smelling them. :-)

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  44. Anonymous00:47

    i like this thinking.

    please enter me for a chance to win one of his sets. he sounds interesting, and i'd like to "see" if it translates into scent.

    cheers and thanks for the drawing & article,

    minette

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  45. Stephan01:09

    Thanks for the interesting article. I wonder why your draw is limited to EU and US readers only.

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  46. leathermountain03:33

    Boulversement, I love it! I've heard that word before, and I thought I understood it mostly from context, but this is a lovely example and well-explained. Please enter me; I am in the US. Thank you.

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  47. Anonymous03:36

    I would love to try this. Is it too late to enter?

    Isabella

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  48. What an honest (and refreshing) take on the current fragrance industry. I would love to be included in the draw. And thank you for the great article.

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  49. I would love to smell these for myself! Thank you!

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  50. kelly cross04:43

    As an artist it's inspiring to read about someone working in the field of fragrance with such a fine sense of integrity and authenticity. Thank you.

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  51. spankysparkle05:00

    “perfume artworks” That is indeed the definition of a beautiful niche perfume. Nice article and honest interview.

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  52. Anonymous06:25

    Something of the interview reminded me of what I appreciate most of Ellena's creations for Hermes; what I perceive to be a desire to create a beautiful fragrance without excess, simpler and purer. More straightforward, as I prefer to be, an idea of the perfumer that speaks to me. Would very much like to experience these fragrances. Thank you for the opportunity.

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  53. What a fabulous giveaway! I've been wanting to try this line for a while.

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  54. Tippet1807:38

    From London...yes, please...I'd love the opportunity to try these!

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  55. I really hope to win my first ever taste of german perfumery!

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  56. Wow, what a generouse giveaway! :)

    Thank you for the interview, it's always interesting to read about perfumery from an insider's perspective, especially when I agree with everything read.
    What can I say, I like to think I'm right in my opinions. ;)

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  57. @Stephan,


    the draw is open to US and EU readers only because these are the shipping specifications by the provider of the sampler sets; it has to do with shipping regulations & courier options, nothing more.

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  58. Not sure I agree with him on the state of the perfume market but that doesn't mean I wouldn't love to try his perfumes.

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  59. i'm a huge fan of the entire biehl line and particularly geza schoen. this would be an amazing opportunity to get to try almost the entire line. thank you.
    ps great interview by the way.

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  60. Great interview, thanks.
    Would love to discover this line.

    Karyna

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  61. Thanx for the in depth interview. And too funny about the vanilla in Mexican cabs :)

    Would love to sample this line.

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  62. How delicious! I would love to be entered into this draw. Thank you!,,

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  63. Peggy13:03

    Oh lala!I would love to try some samples...Please include me to the draw!!!

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  64. Interesting interview! I would absolutely love to be included in the draw - thank you!

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  65. Nice review. I want to try the Geza fragrances.

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  66. If only women would try indie and niche perfumes instead of following the mass media and the hype thrown at them, they would be in another world of fragrance, wouldn't they? I'd love to sample these wonderful scents!

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  67. I am itching to know which cologne with added vanilla he talked about.

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  68. I love the Biehl line- I have a couple of the scents and they are wonderful. I specially love the ones by PC, forget her name, but her scents have a sense of fun and humor. Love them. And the Egon Elkers scents are beautiful as well.

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  69. Thanks for the very interesting article! I have not known Thorsten Biehl yet, I must admit. Would be great to have the opportunity to try the smells because I cannot decide whether I am "mature enough" for niche perfumes :-)

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  70. Debbie14:35

    The Biehl line is truly in a league of its own !
    Thank you for the fascinating read, and the opportunity to winvthecsamples:))
    Debbie

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  71. The few that I have tried in the Biehl line have become instant favorites and now I think I love them more for reading this interview and finding out more about the man behind all of the artists. My current favorite in this warm weather is EO03. Please include me in the draw!

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  72. Anonymous14:44

    Good Morning!!! Thank you for this opportunity !!! I would love to win this set..!!!!!! Sincerely, Teresa

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  73. Great post! Very interesting to read an inside perspective.

    And very generous giveaway!

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  74. Barbara14:54

    Have never tried any German perfumes. Thank you for the draw.

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  75. Would be a dream to win and be able to try this collection! Wonderful interview!

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  76. What an interesting man, it must have been a fun interview!

    Thanks for the draw!

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  77. Ariadne15:04

    A first hand conversation with an artist is always invaluable! Wonderful give-away and I am crossing my fingers for a lucky draw.

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  78. Great article! Would love to experience these scents myself!

    Erika

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  79. Anonymous15:24

    Sounds like a mysterious line. I'm intrigued.

    Marsi
    manon729 at yahoo dot com

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  80. Really interesting article and good pictures...makes me want to visit Germany!

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  81. Would love to throw my name in the hat to explore a new line (for me).

    Thanks!

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  82. Mary K15:40

    I have a bottle of al02 and it's fabulous. Thank you for the interesting article and for this drawing!

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  83. MariaA15:54

    Loved the article and the draw is fantastic!! Thank you!

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  84. Oh, please let me have a chance at this! I've never tried any of these. Exciting!

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  85. Cheryl16:11

    'he sends his fragrances on a journey to the ends of people’s hearts, rather than the depths of their pocketbooks.'

    I think I'm in love.

    Thank you for a delightful post, and for the opportunity.

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  86. Tatiana16:14

    I wish more perfume lines paid as much attention to the quality of their perfumes as this line. Thanks for posting the interview and the generous drawing.

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  87. That's a such generous giveaway!
    Thank you for the draw.

    Keeping fingers crossed for everyone

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  88. Great interview! Please enter me in the draw for the sample set.

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  89. Anonymous16:32

    Why not include Canada in this give- away???? Believe it or not we here wear perfume too!

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  90. LRyan16:34

    i've been intrigued by this house for a while now. would love to try...

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  91. Martin16:40

    What a great read. Thank you for introducing Thorsten Biehl and his "perfume artworks". I would certainly be grateful to be able to try his samples.

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  92. Ellen16:43

    What a wonderful opportunity to get to know an authentic niche perfumer. Thank you for the drawing. Loved the interview.

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  93. Anonymous16:46

    Hi, what an interesting man! Please count me in! :-))

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  94. I'd love to sample some "perfume artworks"! Thank you!!

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  95. Anonymous17:08

    I love that guy!!! I wonder if he has a place in Berlin that people can go to 'experience' before they buy? Please enter me in the draw. Thanks so much. Isobel

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  96. I would love to try this!!

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  97. Maureen17:41

    Wonderful, interesting article. I would love to experience his fragrances, and I would love to meet him, he seems so romantic! ...what a great conversation that would be. Please enter me in the draw. i am in the USA.

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  98. Holly F.17:56

    I enjoyed reading this and would love the chance to win a set. Thanks for the opportunity! I am located in the U.S.

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  99. Eric18:31

    I have had little chance to try the Biehl's line and this would be a great way.

    Thanks!

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  100. I love to hear insight and opinions from niche perfumeurs like Mr. Biehl. Thank you for sharing this interview and I would love to be in the draw!

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  101. Abyss19:20

    Lovely interview and a great draw! Thank you and please enter me in the draw!

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  102. Susan W20:07

    Thank you for the wonderful interview and insights. Please enter me in the drawing.

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  103. So far I've tried just one perfume from the line so I'd be curious to try more.

    Thank you for the chance :)

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  104. Madalina21:02

    I'd absolutely love to be included in the draw! Thank you!

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  105. Missionista21:44

    What a fascinating personality. And the line of perfumes sounds great--I'd love a chance to sample them!

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  106. I totally agree about Anteus, it's a raunch of a fume, a magnet for attention. I'd love to win a sample set from a man who appreciates Anteus!
    x

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  107. Mary P.23:04

    I've not had a chance to try anything in the Biehl line, but I would love to. Thanks for the opportunity!

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  108. Thanks for the draw! I am in the USA and would like to be entered. I haven't tried any of the Biehl line yet, but I am certainly intrigued.

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  109. Adonna23:30

    Wonderful article!
    I'd love to be a winner of these samples.
    A~~x

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  110. What a great article and a great vision for unique house. I have always been a Buxton fan and MB02 and MB03 are favorites from the line. I live in the US and would love to be a lucky winner. Thanks!

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  111. Very interesting article. I would love to have a chance to try these. Please include me in the draw, thanks.

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  112. Spiker00:45

    I very much enjoyed the article. Please enter me in the drawing.

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  113. Laurels01:19

    I don't believe I've ever tried any perfumes from German companies. It would be interesting to see how they might differ in character from French and American perfume lines. Brazilian perfumes may be quite interesting also. Thanks to Perfume Shrine and Biehl for the article and the giveaway.

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  114. This is a line I've been dying to try for a while now. I was so bummed when I lost out on the sample draw on Fragrantica, so here's hoping my second chance turns out better!!

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  115. What an interesting interview, especially the colorful language that Thorsten uses. LOL Thanks for the giveaway. I'm in the USA

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  116. Thanks so much for the interview. I've been interested in the Biehl line for quite some time. I've tried many, but would love to be entered in the drawing. I have a partial bottle of PC02 that I got from a seller on Basenotes, and it's a wonderfully honeyed, sweet and warm scent. I highly recommend it to lovers of gourmands or those that embrace some well-done sweetness. I'd love to spend more time with the rest of the line. Thorsten seems like an ideal curator for a niche brand.

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  117. Anonymous05:22

    Yum! I would love to try it! Karin

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  118. Can the perfume be that good? Like wine, once I wax lyrical I think the wine couldn't possibly be as good I remember it.... Would love to sniff these!

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  119. I've sniffed a couple from this line years ago but only briefly, I'd love to try these properly! I'm especially interested in Geza Schön's trio. Thanks for the great draw!

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  120. Gisela07:16

    Thank you for a great read! Now I want to try these - though "un-meaningful" frag names with numbers do nothing for me... ;-)

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  121. Anonymous09:10

    Sounds lovley. E., I really enjoy reading your articles and admire the depth of expertise mixed with beautiful writing. Biehl Parfuemkunstwerke -- here I come ;-)
    Dr.Nini

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  122. belle de sud19:38

    How refreshing to hear of a scion of a perfumer to be working on entirely novel efforts - I would love to try these scents! Thanks for a great article.

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  123. Anonymous20:59

    Great scents.
    I don't know what to think about the number/names though...

    quimerula at hotmail dot com

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  124. My birthday is coming up in August and a new set of perfumes from this lovely blog and from this lively perfumist would be a treat!

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  125. Thank you for showcasing this line and the chance to try some of the perfumes.

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  126. Nice article! Thought the portion about vanilla scents not working in Mexico was great. I'd like to try the scents!

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  127. I'd be honored to sniff & spend time with the Young Savages samples in the Biehl Parfumkunstwerke line in order to write about them on my blog.

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  128. Thank you for so many great opportunities to expand our horizons. I would like to be considered for the Biehl Parfumkunstwerke giveaway.

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  129. Lili Bitmore19:46

    Perfume = art, I'm in with the creative juices flowing. Thank you for intriguing reading. Lili Bitmore

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  130. I have only smelled a couple of these but would love to smell more. Thank you so much for the great post and for the kind giveaway!

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  131. I haven't had the privilege of trying these yet but I would sure enjoy it. Thanks for the draw!

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  132. I'd love to win and try the line, thanks for the cool draw! A really good read for all of us perfume nuts.

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  133. I've always been interested in this line but have never gotten my hands on a sample. Would love to try it. Thank you for hosting this fabulous draw!

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  134. Anonymous04:51

    What an intriguing article- I would love to
    Have a chance at this drawing! Thank you
    For the opportunity.

    ---Tati 99

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  135. OH PLEASE oh PLEASE send me one of these awesome prizes!!!!!

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  136. Thank you everyone for your participation in this draw.
    The draw is now closed and the winners are announced on the Home page of the blog. Please check whether your name is in there, I wouldn't want people missing their chance at getting these. :-)

    ReplyDelete

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