Interview with Rene Schifferle, the creator of LesNez
LesNez is an exciting new line from Switzerland, created by René Schifferle, a perfume lover who, after a long hard look at the things on the market, decided that “some really different perfumes were missing”. In fact, when asked his opinion about the perfume industry today, René mentions John Cleese’s famous Dead Parrot sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus. …” It's not pinin', it's passed on! This parrot is no more! It has ceased to be!”… And although he would hate to come across as boastful and bragging, Schifferle believes that the three LesNez perfumes, The Unicorn Spell, Let Me Play The Lion, and L’Animatiere, are going to be “the kiss of life”.
Can you please tell us a little about your background? How did you become interested in perfumery? What made you decide to start your own collection?
I come from furniture and woodwork. This may sound very far from perfumery, but someone who works with wood also works with his nose, this must have been in me from birth. My first encounter with perfumes was in the sixties when my mother had a sensible business idea. The company took part in a trade-show every year. The customers where given a little present to say thank you for the visit. The customary presents were bottles of liquor or chocolates. My mother thought it a nice touch to give the gentlemen something to bring home to their wives: a perfume. We (the kids) where smelling of Nina Ricci L'Air du Temps for weeks and a year later of Cabochard. That was probably the moment when I decided, unconsciously, that there is no "gender" in perfumery. You like it or you don't. It’s a question of personal taste.
The decision to do something in perfumery came in 2003 when we had a problem of odor in the workshop.
We started to treat our wooden tables with linseed oil in order to give our customers an ecological option for the surface treatment. Everybody thought the stuff smelled bad. Someone suggested I try something with perfume (you have hundreds of them can't you think of something?) The operation failed miserably. After experimenting with a lavender cologne and an enfleurage chaude (vanilla and some spices) I gave up. It probably had to do with my enfleurage technique (I cooked the ingredients in the oil) as the whole thing now really stank. I gave up but started to re-explore perfumes (after a pause of almost 15 years). The things on the market where not very interesting. At one point in time I thought that some really different perfumes where missing. Why not do it? From "Niche" to "Avant-garde". Confirmation came in October 2004 when I read comments from the world perfumery Congress in Cannes. The speakers had said things like: "We are making the equivalent of elevator music for the nose - Where's the overdose? - We need a renaissance ". In short, something goes wrong in perfumery. With the birth of the "perfume critic" - as opposed to the "PR-material-cut-and-paster" maybe LesNez could have a chance.
Why “LesNez”? What’s behind the name?
Here is what I found in the French Wikipedia edition on Nez. "Nose": “In perfumery the "nose" is a person who prepares mixtures of essences to create a perfume. It’s a profession. In the kingdom of odors he is king". LesNez means The Noses indicating that the perfumers are king in our house.
With his business idea Mr. Frederic Malle has shown us the way. Let the perfumer create the most interesting and best perfume he can dream up - reduce the number of people involved in the process. Bookkeepers, evaluators, PR and advertisement people, stockholders designers, and everybody who suffers from an overblown ego ... please leave the room. The result may, in our case, look slightly amateurish on the business side - as it’s done on a shoestring budget. But the magic is inside the bottle.
Tell us about your collaboration with Isabelle Doyen, how did it start?
To find an independent perfumer who has creative potential was almost impossible for me. The world of perfumery is small and most perfumers work for the big companies. I wrote to Luca Turin for advice and after a few months of mailing him my outsider’s questions he was probably fed up and rang Isabelle Doyen to ask if she would be interested in working on a small project. We met in Paris in her small laboratoire a week later and she decided that we should give it a go.
As even the most creative perfumer doesn't work in an "Ivory Tower" there has been a constant dialogue, frequent visits to Paris (another love story) and the occasional discussion with an outside expert.
I love the poetic names of LesNez fragrances. What inspired them? What came first, the scents or the names? In other words, did you think, I love how “The Unicorn Spell” sounds; let’s create a scent that smells like that. Or was the scent first created and the way it smelled made you come up with the name?
This is a question which must be answered individually for all three perfumes.
"L'Antimatière" is Isabelle’s from start to finish. The name had somehow grown together with the fragrance and there was no discussion about it.
"Let me play the lion" came from me. It was constructed to be a Perfume more “for men" and I wanted to make fun of our over-masculine behavior, which can vanish in the presence of a beautiful woman. The scene in Midsummer-nights' Dream illustrated this so well that we decided the name is ok. As the name was fixed very early, I suspect Isabelle took the lion as a reason to give the perfume an additional aspect of warmth, which, to my delight, puts it on a collision course to the currently fashionable "Aquatic" perfumes.
"The Unicorn Spell" was very difficult. The decision was taken only two weeks before it was presented. We have discussed many perfectly good names up to that point but couldn't come up with the perfect one. Our Friday telephone calls became progressively more difficult as Isabelle had this Idea of frostiness, violet, moonlight and transparency. Someone had already proposed "La fata turquina", the blue fairy from Pinocchio, and "Tainted Glass". My ideas where more along the "strong girl" side, as this is not a perfume for sweet little girls. "Madame Daemon", a painting by Paul Klee which I had seen in the spring. And many more. But just before the whole of France retires for the annual vacation month (August) Isabelle came up with the "Licorne", a very poetic animal. I thought that the English word "Unicorn" was not as poetic as the French and it was almost dropped. On vacation Isabelle visited a friend who translates books from English to French. That was it.
Are there any notes or smells that you love? Are there any that you dislike?
I have no particular dislikes. Maybe too much patchouli. But scents and perfumes are an important part of my world. Wood, grass, even the smell of cows or burning potato plants is fixed as childhood memory from the time we spent time with the local farmers as kids.
Among the three Les Nez scents, is there one that especially speaks to you?
L'Antimatière has a secret which we have not been able to decode. The reactions are of a great variety and every person brings in new ideas. The latest idea was that it could be used by psychoanalysts to help patients unlock their past as it provoked memories of cuddling up with the parents in bed.
What about perfumes from other lines? Are there any you like and wear? Is there a perfume line or a perfume house that you admire?
Whoever starts out in a venture in perfumery must love perfumes. I love some classic perfumes like Jicky or Tabac Blond by Caron, which, for me, is Sex in a bottle. There are some classic perfumes like Caron Pour Un Homme and English things like the fresh and uplifting idea of Fern you find there. From the modern perfumes I like Bois de Violette which is by Chris Sheldrake, I think, and from last year the new Dior Homme, which is very "Innovateur" for a big company.
What’s in the future for LesNez? Will you be adding new scents to your line? Do I understand it right that you plan on working with other perfumers apart from Doyen? Can you tell us who they might be?
We'll try to take the analogy with a publishing house a little further and add new perfumers to the stable but this is not a priority at the moment. The contacts are there but no perfume project. The business side comes first as it will have to pay for any adventure we could undertake in the future. I think our "indie-concept" can result in a "win-win situation" for perfumers, the companies they work for and ourselves. But I'm getting ahead of myself here, let’s take one step at a time.
LesNez fragrances are available on LesNez.com.
Tomorrow, please come back for the review of The Unicorn Spell.