03.05.17

Phial and Error
It took 300 trials and a eureka moment to get to Escentric 04. But it was worth the wait, says Geza Schoen.

– Escentric 04 is the anti-Chanel No5. The story with No5 is that someone in the lab accidentally put in ten times too much aldehyde. And suddenly the fragrance clicked. With Escentric 04 it was the opposite. I started out with ten times too much Javanol.

– I did around 100 trials of E04 and couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Then it struck me out of the blue: ‘it’s the Javanol, it’s blocking my fragrance’. I started to reduce it dramatically, experimenting with 50, 40, 30 parts per thousand of the formula. I discovered that 25-30 parts, ie. 3% is the sweet spot for this molecule. With the Javanol at that level, the fragrance started to bloom.

“Most of our molecules are not from planet earth. They are the creation of some mad scientist trying to find the next cool smell.”

– Most of our molecules are not from planet Earth. They are the creation of some mad scientist trying to find the next cool smell. Javanol was born in a lab at Givaudan where they have a particular genius for sandalwood-type molecules. It has all the things about sandalwood that I love, like its creamy radiance, and none of its less attractive aspects, like sweaty notes.

– The Escentric fragrance is always an ode to the molecule in Molecule. It’s that simplicity again. Smell the molecule in Molecule, and it will tell you how to make Escentric. When I smell the 04 molecule, Javanol, I detect a rosy note and a grapefruit note in there. This makes it super-interesting. Most molecules aren’t like this. They are more linear.

– Molecule 04 gave me the structure for Escentric 04. Sandalwood, grapefruit, rose: these three notes define the space in which Escentric 04 grew. So for the base I took the sandalwood aspect and expanded it with Iso E Super, ambroxan, a little vetiver. The rose is not a huge part of E04, but it’s there. The grapefruit is the one I ramped up. And I added things to play with its freshness: pink pepper, juniper, and a molecule that is known for its herbal marijuana aroma.

– The way I smell Javanol is subjective. Other perfumers might have a totally different impression that did not include a grapefruit accent. It’s like colours. We have no idea if the person standing next to us perceives yellow the same way we do.

– Once I figured out the Javanol, I did another 200 trials. Not that that tells you anything. Longer isn’t necessarily better, it just worked out that this one took a while. One year. 32 bases, 300 trials. And a very cool molecule.

Escentric 04 and Molecule 04 are now available in store.

 

13.04.17

Future fresh
“The psychedelic freshness of liquid metallic grapefruit peel” – is how Geza Schoen describes Javanol, the molecule at the heart of his brand-new fragrances, Escentric 04 and Molecule 04.

– I knew right away that Javanol had to be one of our molecules. It’s a molecule that smells close to sandalwood, but sheer and transparent like no sandalwood in nature. What blew me away was its psychedelic freshness. It’s like liquid metallic grapefruit peel. And yet it still has all the endurance and radiance of natural sandalwood.

– Molecule 04 is pure Javanol and nothing else. Here you really get to know and understand the molecule. It’s super-fresh, but it’s also quiet, you want to nestle close to it. It’s as if the metallic liquid grapefruit is poured over a bed of velvety, cream-coloured roses.

– Escentric 04 takes Javanol in a completely original direction. Most sandalwood fragrances are stuffed full of vanillin and sticky candied fruit notes. I don’t like those ultra-sweet notes. And anyway, I don’t want to do the same as everyone else. My challenge for Escentric 04 was to make a sandalwood scent that is radically unlike any of the others. For a long time, this had me scratching my head.

It’s as if metallic liquid grapefruit is poured over a bed of velvety, cream-coloured roses.

– I found the connection when I smelt Javanol first thing in the morning, before I’d had my coffee. At that time your nose is super-sensitive. I cracked open a bottle of Javanol and detected this new side of it – a tiny grapefruit note. That’s when everything clicked. I realised I could conquer the sweetness of sandalwood by playing up Javanol’s grapefruit kick.

– There’s a spaciness and fizz to Escentric 04 that’s down to methyl pamplemousse. It has tons and tons of pink grapefruit, bitter, crisp and fresh. I also used another grapefruit in the fragrance. it’s not a fragrance material, it’s an ingredient normally used in flavouring. It’s fantastically tangy, close to nature. It’s this that makes the fragrance so juicy.

That almost supernatural freshness that lasts and lasts, that is always a dream of mine.

– I wanted to keep the freshness percolating all the way down through Escentric 04. So there’s lime in there, there’s bergamot, and some osmanthus, which has a apricot-peachy note. In the heart, I have made a ‘soft fresh rose’ out of four rose ingredients. One of these ingredients is citronellol, which occurs in natural rose oil. Citronellol is the freshness of the rose. That almost supernatural freshness that lasts and lasts, that is always a dream of mine.

– Javanol is like Iso E Super, the molecule in Escentric Molecules 01, in some ways. Like Iso E Super it comes and goes. You make your mark with it, but you yourself don’t smell it with every breath. I like that relationship with a fragrance, where you are able to forget about it and then have a moment of connection again later on.

Escentric 04 and Molecule 04 will be available in stores from 25th April.

 

10.03.17

21st Century Fashion Scents
She’s brilliant, brainy and she edits The Gentlewoman, the most discerning fashion magazine on the planet. Penny Martin explains why her latest issue calls Escentric Molecules ‘the scent sensation of the twenty-first century’.

– Can you describe The Gentlewoman? It’s a personality-centred woman’s fashion magazine that profiles women of note and purpose through quality journalism and beautifully art-directed photography. We’ve won awards for our design and journalism but I think people like it most because it’s upbeat, ambitious and it rarely repeats itself.

– How did Escentric Molecules first cross your path? Writer Susan Irvine introduced me to Geza before the fragrances launched. I remember Molecule 01 being described to me as a “dark hovering presence” rather than bearing a likeness to a recognisable scent like flowers or amber. That had me intrigued. And then I smelled it. And it felt like the olfactory equivalent of a long drink of red wine. Warm, rich, faintly narcotic.

The uninitiated would invariably ask what on earth was that strange, heavenly smell.

– Did you wear it? I don’t think I wore anything else for a year – during which practically everyone reeked of Escentric Molecules. True converts could barely recognize that they or anyone else were wearing it but the uninitiated smelt us coming and would invariably ask what on earth was that strange, heavenly smell. The most insistent enquirer I ever had was a Sikh taxi driver in New York – he wasn’t unlocking those doors until we told him what my fragrance was and where to get it. I think we wrote it down for him in a blank receipt.

– Have you ever worn other fragrances? Yes. The first one I bought was L’Air du Temps, would you believe, when I was 13. My friend and I went halves on it, so we each got to wear it only every other day. The big one for me was Chanel No. 19. Those irises really remind me of being 18 and wayward.

He wasn’t unlocking those doors until we told him what my fragrance was.

– What is the idea behind ‘oral history’ in The Gentlewoman? ‘Oral History’ is a more ambitious form of Q&A. Our company, which publishes BUTT and Fantastic Man as well as The Gentlewoman, is really good at conversational journalism. Those multiple interviewee conversations are also a good way of dealing with a subject that’s in the past while keeping the context and content feeling contemporary in spirit. I really love it as a form.

– What inspired you to do an ‘oral history’ of Escentric Molecules? The particulars of its launch tell you as much about the fashion industry and culture and those who work in it as the launch of Mitsouko did about the inter-war period. I love the idea of subjecting that recent history to the same scrutiny as one might an event that occurred a hundred years ago.

thegentlewoman.co.uk/home

The Gentlewoman
Spring/summer issue 2017

The Juice
By Richard O’Mahony

Iso E Super was never meant to be a perfume…That was until a novice perfumer, enamoured by this enigmatic ingredient, struck upon the idea to bottle it and sell it as a pair of fragrances in its own right. It would be called Escentric Molecules 01 and it would become the scent sensation of the 21st century.

[Our extract begins in early 2006…]

The Package

Tim Blanks, fashion journalist and partner of Jeff Lounds, EM sales director: A few years earlier I’d met Daniela Rinaldi, the cosmetics queen of Harvey Nichols, at a Jimmy Choo dinner. We both got screaming drunk and had a fantastic time together talking perfume. She said to me that if there’s ever anything I think she ought to know about then to call her. So I set up a meeting for Jeff and Escentric Molecules with her.

Daniela Rinaldi, controller of perfumery and concessions, Harvey Nichols, 1996–2009: I met Tim and Jeff, and to be honest, when they came to present the perfume, my immediate reaction was disappointment. Firstly, it was a stock bottle with no cap. Harvey Nichols sells haute perfumery, so we were used to super luxe, beautifully crafted bottles with etched glass caps. Caps were being engineered so that they had a soft click — you know, like with the doors on luxury cars?

Anna-Marie Solowij, beauty and health director, British Vogue, 2002–8: At the time, it was all about the big-brand fragrance houses, the blockbusters. Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue was one of the biggest-selling fragrances then. Celebrity fragrances were big business: Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Sarah Jessica Parker, among countless others, all released perfumes. Gourmand fragrances like Calvin Klein’s Euphoria or Nina Ricci’s Nina… it was all quite fruity and sweet.

Chandler Burr, perfume critic, The New York Times, 2006–10: By contrast, Escentric Molecules is a direct descendant of the minimalist school of Jean-Claude Ellena’s Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert and Jacques Cavallier’s L’Eau d’Issey, both masterpieces of the form.

Frenzy

Daniela Rinaldi: I left the office that night wearing Escentric 01, taking a black cab to Paddington station, and as I get out of the cab, the driver says to me, “You smell gorgeous, love. What is that?” On the train from Paddington to Reading, the very nice gentleman sitting next to me says the same thing. At Reading station, it happens again. We placed an order for 5,000 units of Escentric 01 and Molecule 01 with Jeff the following morning.

Geza Schoen: Tim was wearing the fragrance everywhere he went — fashion shows, parties, openings — sharing it with all his fabulous friends. And Tim pretty much knows everybody.

Tim Blanks: People were captivated by the fragrance. We gave a bottle to Chris Lowe from the Pet Shop Boys before it was launched at Harvey Nichols. He wore it out one night and told us he’d never been hit on so much in his life…

Daniela Rinaldi: The launch toolkit that would normally be used for fragrance didn’t apply. There was no print or outdoor advertising campaign, no splashy displays across the store windows… we decided to approach it subtly, a bit covert, like it was a club — you had to understand it to be in it. We’d grow market share by word of mouth. We had a private dinner in the restaurant at Harvey Nichols on 29 March 2006 to launch Escentric Molecules, and Jeff and Tim did the guest list.

Tim Blanks: We invited a bunch of our friends: Christopher Bailey, Janet Street-Porter, David Furnish… at one point Siouxsie Sioux, Lulu and Sharleen Spiteri were all chatting together, and I thought, Wow, there’s a girl group.

Geza Schoen: It wasn’t the worst way to launch a new fragrance.

[Read the whole story in the s/s 17 issue of The Gentlewoman … out now]

 

20.02.17

Measuring Molecules
Functional it may be, but this secretive sanctuary on top of a sixties apartment block in Berlin is where fragrance alchemy happens.

– I’d love to paint you a romantic picture of my lab. But that would be all wrong. It’s practically a cell, with no windows, though I do have a milk glass dome in the ceiling that I open to let in fresh air. There’s a table, a chair, my weighing-scales, and bottles and bottles of ingredients. Also a fridge with a nice glass door. Nothing much to see in the fridge,though, no ice-cream or champagne just lots of lemon and mandarin oil.

– I thought of getting an assistant. But then I realised it’s chaos in the lab. There are bottles on the floor, round the desk, above the desk, and on some old metal USM Haller shelves at the back. There’s no logic to what goes where except the logic of what goes with what in my head. An assistant just wouldn’t work.

Nothing much to see in the fridge, no ice-cream or champagne just lots of lemon and mandarin oil.

– Making a fragrance is a bit like writing a novel. A writer goes through several drafts before he clinches the novel, and a perfumer goes through several bases before he clinches the fragrance. This is why it’s good to do everything myself. It gives me an opportunity to be near the aroma-chemicals that are the words in my book, if you like; to be constantly rethinking them. If I let someone else measure out my formulae, I would lose this connection.

– I might go to the lab at 10 in the morning and work till 2 in the morning. That’s when I’m obsessed by something. Other times, I don’t set foot in there for a week. I guess on average I work in there two or three hours a day. That’s the max I can normally work on a fragrance before I hit a wall.

Hey what would happen if I threw in a gram of mimosa?

– Inspiration is elsewhere. I never sit in the lab and write a formula. An idea will come to me when I’m on the street or in the bath, and I’ll stop and scribble it down. What I do in the room is measure out the materials. Even when I’ve made a new trial, I take it out of the lab into my apartment next door to smell it.

– There are around 1,500 ingredients in my palette. Of these, around 80-100 materials are the bedrock ingredients that go to form the basis of most fragrances I work on. Then there are around 300-400 ingredients I’ll use once or twice a year. And there are some things I’ll only touch once every ten years or so – things that have a very specific effect.

– When you feel the fragrance is 99% right, there’s still 1% to play with. At that point you have to stop yourself saying things like ‘hey what would happen if I threw in a gram of mimosa?’ I used to spend a lot of time on that kind of experiment. Now I stop at 99% and think, ‘Nah, it’s done.’ Though as I close the door to the lab a little part of me whispers: ‘now you’ll never know how it would have smelt with the mimosa.’

 

18.01.17

Trend Lab
Fragrance trends have less to do with fashion and more to do with cutting edge chemistry than you might think. Geza Schoen gives you the insider view for 2017.

– Genuine new trends in fragrance don’t come along very often. And when they do, they are not driven by what’s happening on the catwalk. They are driven by new molecules, just as innovation in say, cars, is driven by new technology.

– Smelling ethyl maltol is like mainlining candyfloss. Maltol is a nature-identical molecule that smells sweet and malty. Chemists tinkered with it and invented ethyl maltol which is way more sugary. The fragrance industry rejected it at first, saying this is not French perfumery, we don’t use stuff like this. Then in 1992 Olivier Cresp used it for Thierry Mugler’s Angel. He combined ethyl maltol with patchouli to get a chocolate-y accord. It was a huge, game-changing success. The gourmand fragrance trend was born and is still going strong.

– The molecule calone was so super-powerful it was only used in things like air-fresheners and soaps. No-one ever imagined it could be in a fine fragrance. The first to break the taboo was Claiborne for Men in ‘89. There is only a trace in there, though, so it’s more of an effect, the fragrance doesn’t actually smell of the sea (calone is the ‘aqueous’ molecule). Aramis’ New West for Her in 1990 was the first fragrance to really project that aqueous note. And then came a huge hit, L’Eau d’Issey in ’92 and we’ve been paddling in aquatic fragrances ever since.

– It’s going to be hard for anyone to find a new natural now. In the last few years we have seen the oudh trend, which is based on a wood that had been completely unknown in the West. Before that there was the introduction of tea notes with Bulgari’s Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert, but that never became a big trend. There may be more naturals to discover, but it will be a trickle. Even with synthetic ingredients, it’s hard to see where perfumers can turn for the truly new. Every research lab in the world has already looked into every corner of every possible molecule.

With fractionizing, you snip out the bits you don’t like, a bit like snipping genes out of DNA strands.

– With everything already discovered where do we go from here? There is an answer: refine what we already have. Chemists are doing this already by fractionizing essential oils. Most essential oils are made up of hundreds of different molecules, not all of which might be desirable. With fractionizing, you snip out the bits you don’t like. It’s a bit like snipping genes out of DNA strands.

– Once again it’s chemistry that allows us to move forward creatively. Patchouli oil, for example, has an unpleasant top note of borneol and camphor. Until now, you couldn’t use patchouli in a transparent fragrance because this unpleasant top note would be exposed. You had to throw a lot of sweet or spicy ingredients in to mask that. Now, chemists can just snip the borneol and camphor from the patchouli. What we are left with is a clean and beautiful patchouli and the freedom to use it in completely new ways.