When I manage to turn the attention back on her, I start our conversation by asking her to tell me about her contribution to the Aedes portfolio.
Nathalie Feisthauer: Pelargonium is the Latin name for geranium. It has a rosy part and a minty part, and also an incense part. For me it’s not a floral note and this perfume isn’t floral.
Persolaise: Did Karl Bradl and Robert Gerstner of Aedes insist that you include an incense note in the composition?
P: Because you’d already included one?
NF: Yes, because I’m not stupid. But in this one, for me, it’s not only the incense note that is the Aedes signature. It could be vetivert, or a spice, but done in a way that is not rounded, but is still elegant.
P: It doesn’t sound like it’s going to be similar to Malle’s Geranium Pour Monsieur.
NF: No! Frederic Malle went very, very far into the minty part of geranium. For me it’s almost borderline toothpaste. I feel like I’m in a bathroom. Here, in Pelargonium, the suggestion of the greenness comes from the geranium and from some spice also. Elemi gives a peppery feeling, vetivert, a lot of cedar. I would say it’s the comfort zone of the tastes of Robert and Karl.
P: You’ve just made this perfume for a brand which has so far enjoyed a fair amount of success on the independent or semi-independent scene. Do you have a view on the fact that several larger brands have been buying independent perfume houses?
NF: For me the fact that Estée Lauder and all the big brands are buying niche brands means they’re admitting that they’ve failed. The way they work – which I know very well – is that they talk about creativity, but their goal is to make something that someone would like in Manila and Buenos Aires and everywhere. They have to make money. But they waste so much time saying they have to be unique or whatever. And at the end of the day they make something that smells like La Vie Est Belle or Invictus or Fierce. They make something that they think is creative, but actually it’s not. For me, niche is about having an identity and telling a special story. The big brands buy creative brands because with their processes they cannot do that sort of work.
P: So will the bought brands suffer?
NF: That’s my concern. I really wonder what’s going to happen. They say that the brands have all the creative freedom, but at the end of the day, those brands are in the system. I don’t know. We’ll see.
P: You’re the first female perfumer who’s made a fine fragrance for Aedes, if we don’t count Olivia Giacobetti‘s candle. Do you think you can smell whether a scent has been made by a man or a woman?
NF: No. But yes, maybe, for some. Like, for example, for me Christine Nagel is a seductress. She’s very feminine. And her perfumery is like her.
P: But do you recognise it as the work of Nagel or as the work of a woman?
NF: You know, 20 years ago I was working in New York and Sophia Grojsman was the biggest perfumer. She’s one of the most talented perfumers in the world, but she’s very short, wears boots up to here, leather, orange hair, black eyes. She played on the witch look. She didn’t fit into the blond, corporate American image. And she’s made the most beautiful, feminine perfumes like Paris, Eternity, White Linen and all those. And once she said something to me: “As a woman who is older or fat or whatever, maybe I know more than other women about what it takes to seduce somebody.” I thought that was very interesting.
P: Which perfume do you most wish you’d made?
Eau des Merveilles
P: So finally, speaking of classics, when you were working on Eau Des Merveilles with Ralf Schwieger, did you know it was going to be a hit?
NF: Truly, not at all. I was in Paris and Ralf was at Givaudan in New York. And we started with an ambergris accord. At that time, Miracle from Lancôme was a bestseller – a fruity, sparkling bay rose – so I kept trying to put some of those notes into the mods for Hermès. And one day, (Creative Director) Veronique Gautier said to me, “If you keep doing that, I’m going to kick you off the project.” And I said, “Yes, but you always say you want something creative and at the end of the day you launch a stupid fruity-floral musky scent. I’m fed up of hearing this pitch about creativity.” And one day Veronique said, “Oh by the way, you’ve won the project.” I was so happy. But I would not have guessed that it would be so successful. It echoed with a lot of people who wore it. And you’re happy when something like that happens once in your life. When people compliment me on it, I always say that I’m just a reflection of my client. Veronique was the one who pressed the button to launch something without fruity or floral notes.
Pelargonium by Aedes de Venustas is available now