A Scent Designer : His Words and Art
Interview By Aliona Madjar
"I design fragrances using sensations, emotions and experiences to create liquid emotion. Always, my challenge is to find the intrinsic beauty that surrounds us everyday. To always dig deeper than the surface. To take you on a sensorial journey to what we see, touch and feel from within." - Raymond Matts
Raymond Matts is a well-known perfume designer with more than 30 years of professional experience in the fragrance industry. He worked with such leading fragrance houses as Firmenich, IFF, Elizabeth Arden, and Estée Lauder and was behind the creation of several milestone fragrances of the last century.
I was excited when Raymond kindly agreed to meet with me for a cup of coffee and take me through his perfume line. I eagerly awaited this meeting as it's not every day that you have an opportunity to speak with a person with such a strong background in the big fragrance business, who dared to launch his own independent brand. I am impressed by people who embark on such a creative endeavor purely on their own initiative, as it takes a great amount of creative discipline and responsibility to develop a brand when there are no creative briefs, supported by previous research, and no opportunity to have consumer testing feedback. However, as explained by Raymond, it wasn't a problem for him, as even in commercial fragrance production, consumer testing does not always allow for the detection of a truly successful fragrance, and sometimes its verdict is quite the opposite of what the market shows after the product’s launch. Even in a top-level well-organized business framework you still have to follow your personal experience and intuition. Moreover, it seems that his background working at the big perfume makers helped Raymond to stay away from many stereotypical views and ideas of the niche fragrance business. The concept of Aura de Parfum is based on the innovative approach towards creating a formula of the juice itself, for the so-called “structure of perfume”, which Raymond explains as the concept of the domination of the top and body. Unlike the classic perfume concentrations, Aura de Parfum scents unfold from top notes to the base in a non-traditional way. Do you remember that feeling, when a wonderful, subtle, barely perceptible sillage seems more pleasant than the same perfume, sniffed from our own skin? And the magic of the first minutes after applying it, which disappears over time with no trace? We often chalk these transformations up to the "skin chemistry". In fact, as explained by Raymond, this effect does exist, but not to such an extent as we might assume. The distance from the object of the perfume application, different volatility of the notes in space, different ability to capture the top notes and many other chemo-physical factors have a much stronger effect on its perception. In Aura de Parfum, the elusive projection of the top notes is brought to the level of a stable substance, which envelops you in a thick, but light cocoon, like an aura, helping you mark your presence in space on an olfactory-emotional level. As a matter of fact, I was always confused by the obtrusive comparison of perfumery with music, excessive use of the orchestral terms in perfume slang, and the ubiquitous attempts to assess the quality of the perfume by its ability to “play on your skin”. Why do we all by default expect a perfume to significantly change/evolve on the skin over time? There are many other things besides the perfume to provide such entertaining experience if it is needed. And if you treat perfume not as a self-sufficient art object, but as something personalized and intended to support the impression you make on others, then its consistency has even more value. But to be consistent doesn't mean to be simple. When you get bored with perfume over time - maybe it's just because it's too prominent and "mono". Plain perfume is like a dinner consisting of a purely salty dish and not compensated by the sweetness of drink or neutrality of bread. Raymond starts to immerse me into his scents and I get the same feeling as you get when tasting oriental cuisine, where you feel all of the tastes - salty, sweet, sour, bitter - at the same time. I can sense all these tastes in these scents. Raymond’s works are very synesthetic in general; not only do you feel the taste in smell, but you also see colors and feel a certain mood in sounds (his scent names are often unusual sets of sounds).
ALIONA- Raymond, you speak a lot about the tactile properties of the perfume. It seems that you don't put your concepts ahead of the juice itself. So... first of all, perfume has to be agreeable and bring pleasure, not only represent the conceptual art, which can be interesting and attractive in theory but not wearable?
RAYMON- Exactly. To bring pleasure on a physical level is the main function of perfume. But this doesn't mean it can't be intellectual at the same time. It can be pleasant, but creative, creative, but not weird.
A-But what is it to be creative?
R- I'm glad you touched on this topic. Actually, I have always had a feeling that contemporary niche perfumery is not as creative as it wants to seem. A huge amount of works are focused on the same themes/accords. I want to move away from the glorification of ingredients and focus more on transmitting the sensations and emotions with the help of smells, when the inspiration, the idea is based not on the notes themselves and not on the perfume genre.
"A very authentic transmission of a reckless image of the artistic city that New York is."-
A-I agree. I have a feeling that modern perfumers are trying to appeal to all segments of the potential audience much as television writers juggle with different types of heroes in popular tv shows. Many established niche brands, especially those on the conservative side, have too similar approach to product line filling: they always have at least one fresh citrus, one sensual oriental oud or rose scent, one masculine vetiver and one intelligent fig fragrance, which makes their products more understandable to consumers, but at the same time more predictable. What is your approach to line development?
R- I settled upon 7 scents, 7 different moods, conditions if you want. My first collection was to work around 7 floral themes that are surrounded by different nuances. Quite honestly, I wanted to bring a different choice to the consumer an alternative. Fragrance is so subjective so it was an amazing experience to look at fragrance a little differently.Raymond lays out the scents in a certain order: Maiaday, Sunah, Tsiling, Pashay, Tulile, Kaiwe, Jarro. The line represents a kaleidoscope of states, unfolding between two poles - from more innocent, clean and “politically correct” to more sensual, even “dirty” if you are not scared of this word. As aura can be different – it can be strong and delicate, innocent and provocative – depends on a type of person you are. If the last ones are 'too much' for you - you stop at the first ones – depends on how far you can go. Maiaday is the lightest and most subtle one. It’s a smell of wet petals – fresh, but in most tender way. The next one, Sunah, is still soft, but already more sensual. Tsiling is playful, but already in a more modern, pop-art interpretation. It’s a flower, but a plastic flower with an underlying creaminess.
A- Raymond, I noticed you don’t like it when I call your brand niche.
R- In reality I’m a small brand, however, the term Niche means one appeals to a small select audience. I want to appeal to anyone who loves fragrances and may not have found their signature. Whether they are lovers of Niche brands or a mass brand user who wants to experience something new. I would say I prefer to be known as a contemporary New York brand. This urban, artistic image is pursued in the next scent – Pashay – an elegant, but already a little bit provocative, avant-garde scent. The seventh scent – Jarro (my personal favorite) is a full-blown, over-ripe scent, a seductive elegance with a slightly trashy smack.
A- But how do you usually get an idea for a new fragrance?
R- Every time it's different. Sometimes I want to convey a certain feeling – very intimate and very strong at the same time - like it was with Sunah. This is a scent of purity, of a shiny morning, gentle bedsheets, soft skin, cuddles… Kaiwe is a preserved memory of a sensation of wet cleanness that you get after a morning shower and the feeling of comfort as you start your day. At times it is looking at a typical structure based on a fragrance family and saying to myself let me take a different approach as with Tulile. This was my way to do a modern interpretation of an Eau De Cologne. A complex citrus nuance, using muguet instead of neroli, and soft alluring woods. I’m loving seeing both men and women loving the brightness and the smile it brings. Sometimes these are spontaneous associations and my desire to convey them like it was with Pashay. I was inspired by the image of a black woman, that I’d seen once – the beauty of her flawless skin had me thinking of skin, whether black, tanned or olive toned. We started from Kalamata Olives for the tone and saltiness of. This scent recreates the taste of her skin how you imagine from looking at her – alluring, a little bit salty, tactile and definitely mysterious. I intentionally don’t disclose all the notes and steer away from using the notes in the name of a perfume. I don’t want people to perceive it as a set of notes, but rather as feelings, emotions, a story, an image. Besides, Pashay has over 102 – they are important, but not on their own.
We spend some more time discussing the scents and the creative background that lies behind the ideas of Raymond’s perfumes. I really admire Raymond’s sincerity and how lovingly he describes the details of his work. Aura de Parfum definitely captures Raymond’s extremely emotional past, his feelings, and most vivid memories. But not only this: it’s also a very authentic transmission of a reckless image of the artistic city that New York is.
Interview By Aliona Madjar