What a wonderful man Bertrand Duchaufour is… If he doesn’t have a fan club already I’ll consider starting one. But before I start gushing let’s set the scene…
You will probably have heard of the new L’Artisan Parfumeur limited edition fragrance Séville à l’aube by master perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, which came into being after a conversation with Denyse Beaulieu of perfume blog Grain de Musc. It was inspired by a story Denyse told Bertrand about a sensuous night she spent in Seville under a tree full of orange blossom during Holy Week. The development of the fragrance is chronicled in her book “The Perfume Lover“. Fragrantica lists the perfume’s notes as petit grain, olive blossom, orange blossom, incense, beeswax, tobacco, lavender, benzoin and olibanum.
This week, to coincide with the launch of Séville à l’aube in the UK, Denyse and Bertrand came to L’Artisan Parfumeur’s store in Covent Garden for a series of “discovery sessions”. So I booked my place and showed up just before 6.30 on Tuesday evening. The event was held in the basement of the shop where Bertrand and Denyse sat on stools at one end, in front of an audience of around 15-20 of us.
Denyse started proceedings by explaining that her book sprung from the creation of Séville à l’aube, not the other way around. Her relationship with Bertrand began with conflict when they met on a radio show. This was because Bertrand was unaware that the subject of the show was the price of perfume. Her first impression of him was “grumpy and kvetchy”. However, a friend told him about Denyse’s beautiful review of Al Oudh and so when they met again three weeks later, he greeted her “with open arms” and invited her to his lab to learn more.
Denyse then gave a reading from “The Perfume Lover”, which was a much more literary version of the story she had first told Bertrand and that had inspired the perfume.
“I am in Seville standing under the a bitter orange tree in full bloom in the arms of Román, the black-clad Spanish boy who is not yet my lover… As altar boys swing their censers throat-stinging clouds of sizzling resins – humanity‘s millennia-old message to the gods – cut through the fatty honeyed smell of the penitents beeswax candles”.
At first Bertrand thought that creating this perfume would be “an easy trick” because orange blossom and incense both have a mineral facet to them “they are both going in the same direction”. He then realised this was actually a difficulty because they are so similar. In Denyse’s words “they gobbled each other up”. Bertrand handed around blotters impregnated with the beautiful orange blossom absolute.
He elaborated that both incense and orange blossom absolute have a lot of base to them and that the perfume would be very dark and heavy. Something was needed to “shed light” on these rich notes. Bertrand stressed that contrast is very important in perfumery. Denyse had told Bertrand he had “duende” and read a excerpt from the book about it.
“Duende is the tragic awareness of death in life and when artists are possessed by it, their work resonates in ways that mere skill or artistry can never achieve. Bertrand’s got that, and he manages to express it”.
Bertrand commented that he didn’t know if he possessed Duende but that he focused on it for the creation of the perfume.
Denyse told us that the early version of Séville à l’aube was “Not very pretty”, at which point Bertrand interjected with “Quite awful!”. He had then asked Denyse if she knew what it was that she wanted. This made her feel “disconcerted and angry” because she was not a perfumer. However she thought about it and told him “there are no bodies under the tree”. She brought him her bottle of Habanita by Molinard to illustrate her point (“I brought the physical bottle because he is headstrong and stubborn!”).
This inspired Bertrand to reassemble the composition in a different way and to add the tobacco. However, the crucial new element he introduced was Spanish lavender absolute. Bertrand handed around blotters of this amazing material. Unlike classical distilled lavender, the absolute is deep and complex with a very noticeable facet of cistus labdanum. It is a perfume all in itself.
Bertrand explained that this material worked “vertically” to pull all the elements of the composition together. It fit with the green fougere effect in the top through to the orange blossom, beeswax and incense in the base. Denyse said she was “against the idea of lavender on principle” but took one sniff of the lavender absolute and exclaimed “Yes!”. She knew he had found the answer and it felt totally right. She told us “If that lavender were a man I‘d date it!”.
At this point they thought they had the finished product, however Denyse didn’t receive any compliments on it. So Bertrand “tweaked” the formula. He didn’t add or take away anything but just rebalanced it. He compared this effect to touching one part of a mobile and then watching the whole thing turn. This gave the perfume “amplitude” making it much more diffusive. To use Denyse’s words “It became the belle of the ball”. Bertrand described this as the alchemy of perfume.
He explained that diffusiveness is key to the success of a perfume. This is because good sillage is the best advertising a perfume can get and it is important for him that a perfume is a commercial success. As a result of the adjustment Denyse received lots of rapturous compliments from perfumers (one female even pinched her bottom) as well as random strangers in the street.
Denyse said they agreed that the book would not mention too much about what was in the composition in order to protect the formula. However, Bertrand did talk a little about how he reinforced the orange blossom with jasmine and added a touch of honeysuckle, to which Denyse exclaimed “Honeysuckle?!”. This was obviously news to her.
Bertrand said that he wanted the fragrance to be “sophisticated, easy to wear, easy for people to read (direct, simple) and at the same time be very rich”. Denyse added that he wanted to be faithful to the story but also faithful to his own style and level of quality. Denyse said that although she bore the original story she kept her “nose out of the formula”. Blotters were handed out with the final version of the perfume and Bertrand and Denyse mingled among the audience and we were free to ask questions.
On first trying Séville à l’aube I had felt a disconnect between the fresh, green, citrus-y perfume and the deep and dark scent I had imagined from her story. So I asked Denyse if the fragrance reminded her of that night in Seville. She said that it only brought to mind two things; the time they spent on its development, and the moment she said “Yes!”.
She had realised that “the perfume needed to be what it needed to be” and wasn’t going to be a literal representation of the aromas on that night. This made sense and gave me a new appreciation of the fragrance. She said that she hoped it would connect with people and bring them a story of their own, which is the sign of a good perfume. Denyse emphasised that the perfume was about her story, not herself. However, she later told us that if she didn’t have to try so many perfumes for her work she would wear Séville à l’aube “all the time”. A signature scent?!
Someone asked Bertrand generally about his source of inspiration and he replied that it can come from anywhere but it really “springs from the whole of nature”. I asked if any raw materials particularly inspired him and he said “Of course! Incense, calamus, davana…”. I also asked what it was about Denyse’s story in particular that inspired him and he said that he had wanted to create an orange blossom perfume. That it was a challenge for him.
I then took the opportunity to ask him about a fragrance that is close to Olfactoria’s heart, Frapin’s 1697. This perfume had mysteriously altered over time by a dramatic degree and not for the better. He told me that it was a problem with the rum absolute he had used. It was of a very high quality but it turned out to be unstable and he didn’t realise this until he came across it in a shop. I asked if he had found a solution to this problem and he answered that he was still working on it and it was important to him.
Someone else then asked him if he would ever start his own brand. He said you need a lot of money and a high profile to do so but in any case he enjoyed learning different things from his clients and cited Neela Vermeire as an example. Although he was reluctant to tell us, he also admitted that he can be working on 20 or so perfumes at any one time. In answer to the question “What perfumes do you wear yourself” he replied “I never wear fragrance. I used to wear Dior Homme but now not even that. When I‘m not working, I just want to let my nose breathe freely”.
The session was then wrapping up so I quickly paid for my bottle of Séville à l’aube and asked Bertrand to sign it for me. He wrote “For Tara, we shared a beautiful and scentful ******* Thank you! Bertrand”. The stars are there because I managed to wipe the word off when I got the bottle back in my hot little hands. Who cares though? It was an absolute pleasure to meet the man. I would never have expected someone in his position to be so approachable, open, honest, enthusiastic and happy to answer our questions. He is utterly charming in the very best way.
I pretty much floated home on a cloud of orange blossom.
What an amazing learning experience! Thank you for sharing. I loved hearing about the inspiration for the perfume and the creative process behind its development. So fascinating about the comparison between what you imagined the fragrance would smell like based on the book, and the outcome itself. I am very pleased that you asked the question!
It was an amazing learning experience! It was so great to hear about the creative process from the man himself. I was glad I got to ask a couple of questions that were on mind about the fragrance.
I’m glad too. Thanks again for the beautiful write-up of the night. I really enjoyed reading it. Fascinating!
You are more than welcome! 🙂
Tara – thank you so much for your wonderful write-up, I feel like I have been there with you (I sure wish I really was!). I always thought BD would be a charmer, and your report only hardens my resolve to some day meet him.
I’m thankful you addressed the 1697 issue and very pleased with Bertrand’s answer.
I love having a London correspondent! 😉
It was like you were there with me because I was thinking of you lots! BD is charming and charismatic, just like you thought.
You are blessed to live so close to the action. thanks for filling us in,
Thanks, Portia! It is really handy living in London for perfume shopping and events.
Thank you for sharing with us your “beautiful and scentful **********” 😉
Ha! I should have used dashes as now it looks like a swear word! Oh well.
Aaaah, lucky you! I wish I could have been there myself. 🙂 Thank you for describing it to us in such a detailed manner, I feel like I was there with you. The only problem is I don’t have a bottle to show for it. I wish I did though – I really love that perfume.
Thanks, Ines! I was concerned it was rather too detailed, especially for people who have read the book, but I’m glad you enjoyed it. I hope you get your bottle soon.
How wonderful, and thank you describing it so perfectly! I wish I could have been there, Mr. Duchaufour sounds completely charming. I have only sniffed this once and it wasn’t at all what I was expecting (dustier somehow), I can’t wait to try it again.
Alexandra, try ringing the store, there may be spaces for today’s sessions if you’re luckyand have the time to go. Interesting to read it was also different to what you expected.
Unfortunately work is a little mad at the moment, but I am hoping to get to Thomas’s talk this evening, hope to see you there!
Great! I’ll see you later then.
The million Dollar question is what is your interpretation of what it smells like? There was obviously enough love there for you to buy a bottle though. I am contemplating a blind buy so would love your feedback. (there are not many Dachaufour creations that I don’t love so I am hopeful this will be a good blind buy)
To be honest, I bought a bottle straight away because I wanted a momento of the evening as much as anything. It is very pretty though. Much much more light, green and fresh than than I expected from Denyse’s story which threw me at first, which is why I asked about that. It’s at its best when the orange blossom really comes through. I would say it’s very easy to like, especially if you like orange blossom. Perfect for summer.
Thank you for posting your thoughts on it, I think a lot have found it to be a lot lighter than they were expecting from reading the book. No matter, I have ordered a blind buy of it already although I envy you your signed bottle (from the Demi God who created La Belle Helene IMHO)
Once you get over the fact that it’s not the deep and heady concoction you might expect from Denyse’s story, you can enjoy and appreciate it for what it is. I’d say it was pretty hard to dislike and I’m sure you’ll get lots of wear out of it over the summer.
I’m yet to try La Belle Helene but it’s on my list!
This was a wonderful event to read about–thanks for sharing so thoughtfully. I am becoming a huge fan of M. Duchaufour and it is nice to know that he is a friendly and approachable person. Can’t wait to try Seville a l’Aube!
Thanks, Elizabeth. I did admire BD before the event but really became a fan afterwards, as you can tell! He was very approachable and friendly though no doubt he can have his moments like any artist 🙂
Lucky you !
Hm, does it mean I have to throw away my 1697 ?
And I still haven’t tried Seville a l’aube, I was afraid of doing so – but it’s going to be in my sample pack I expect to arrive soon (I’m rather an orange blossom hater when it’s prominent…)
It does have a green tartness in the opening which you may like and certainly it’s no big white floral, but whether it’s for you once the orange blossom comes in I’m not sure. I’m glad it’s in your sample pack though because it’s worth trying.
Beautiful review and describes this beautiful perfume pretty exactly. DB really lucked out with this gorgeous perfume as an embodiment for her story.
It’s good to hear that you thought my impresssions chimed with yours, Lucy. Denyse is undoubtly extremely pleased with it!
Tara, outstanding!!!! I really loved Denyse’s book — I felt it was illuminating on so many levels (the history of perfume, the influential houses, certain aroma materials themselves, and then, most importantly, her own story of how she came to be the perfume lover that she is and how she and Betrand Duchaufour brought this perfume into existence). It’s thrilling to hear that you got to meet BD in person and that he was so personable. And wow, your photo with him has got to be one of the greatest souvenirs of your evening!!
Thanks, Suzanne! I wrote it up as soon as I got home so I think I was still buzzing 🙂
I’m still reading Denyse’s book and really enjoying it. It covers so much.
I look pretty hot and bothered in the pic (which I was on the hottest day of the year so far) but it was great to meet him and he had a lot of time for us.
I was fortunate to attend a session. Both BD and DB are delightful raconteurs and between them painted a witty and entertaining picture of the protracted birth of Seville a L’ Aube. I too have a signed bottle which I will treasure! The fragrance is simply lovely ( I would have bought it regardless!!) It was a little overpowering in London’s searing heat, but is perfect in my cooler Scottish environment.
I’m glad you got to attend one of the sessions. Katie Puckrik said they come across like an old married couple and I think she’s right! I’m glad you love the fragrance and got a signed bottle. A lot of people seem to find it quite powerful but it’s fairly light on me. Or maybe I’m under applying.
Thank you for your lovely account. It was like being there myself.
I completely agree with Sal’A being a lovely fragrance, and if would have been there, I would definitely have got it as a souvenir too ****** or no*****;-). Although, as Suzanne said, the pic must be the greatest souvenir of them all. I’m not sure I would have dared to ask 🙂
That Denyse is a charismatic personality and highly entertaining, I already knew, but I’ve happy to hear that BD was equally interesting and lovely.
Hi Asali, I’m glad you felt like you were there too, that’s what I wanted for everyone who couldn’t be there in person. I’m not exactly very forward myself but BD had so much time for us all I felt OK about asking for a pic. Denyse is very charismatic and entertaining, while Bertrand is more deadpan – they made a great double act!
How utterly wonderful! What a treat to get to meet them. And I loved your post. You sat me there in the basement of L’Artisan Parfumeur’s. Reading your story I was all eyes, ears, and Nose! LOL. Just wonderful!
Aash, thank you so much! I’m so pleased you felt you were there too. That’s exactly what I hoped. I know it was a very detailed write up but that’s how you feel you’re there too, I think.
It was a treat!
Aaaah! How fun! Thank you for relating the anecdotes in detail for those of us who couldn’t be there and meet Mr. Duchaufour. He certainly sounds delightful, and I have to say he looks very happy to be cozying up to you — and I’m not surprised! 🙂
Ha! Thanks, Natalie. He did put his arm around me which was nice 🙂
It was a really fun event. I’m very glad I went and I’m pleased you enjoyed the write-up.
Fabulous write up Tara!
Thanks, Thomas! Looking forward to your take on it.
Hope I’ll be able to try it soon. You certainly made me more interested in trying it by writing this article.
It shows these events really do work because after hearing so much about its development you really want to wear it! Hope you do get to try it soon.
This sounded like so much fun, Tara! And even though I’ve read many reviews of Seville, this is the post that finally triggered the sample lemming…..
That’s a great compliment, Dionne! It was a lot of fun. I really hope you like it when you get a sample – especially as I triggered another of those pesky lemmings 🙂
Hello Tara! It’s great to read your interpretation of that magical evening. I was also there at the launch and was wondering if you were a journalist or blogger as I saw you taking lots of notes – so I did a little search and came across your article! 🙂 I’m still very much a novice of a perfume enthusiast and I think I’ll enjoy reading your various articles on this site.
Hi Frida, I’m glad you found me! It was indeed a magical evening. I hope you enjoy reading Olfactoria’s Travels and continue to comment.
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I ordered this blind from MiN NY after reading all the glowing reviews, and am counting the days until it arrives in September. I’ll clearly want to wear it right away and wonder if there are any suggestions about what it would layer well with to transition it to a cooler weather fragrance
Seville is such a lovely orange blossom, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
I did not yet try this, but I have been wondering whether Seville wouldn’t layer well with Sweet Redemption (Kilian) or Myrrhiad (Huitieme Art)…
Hey Tara and B… Have just received my bottle ordered trough a friend in Berlin, long way but all so worth it. Love it, love it, love it!
excellent! I’m glad you got your bottle and love it too! It is a lovely perfume indeed.