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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

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

Tomorrow, please come back for the review of The Unicorn Spell.


Blogger tmp00 said...

I'm really looking forward to sniffing these- I signed up at Basenotes to get samples. I'm hoping they erase the memories of the "other Nez"

11:55 PM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Two more different "Nezes" have never existed. :-) I don't know how L'Animatiere will behave on your skin, but I predict with like at least 80% certainty that you'd like Let Me Play The Lion.

11:59 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the most enjoyable interview I've read in some time. Every word counted, and it gives me a glimpse of the style of the perfumes. Very exciting, M.

6:09 AM EDT  
Blogger chayaruchama said...

What an interesting and delightful man. I like his candor.

I've delayed sending for these- not sure why [ohhh..yes I am...has to do w/ excess !].

Sounds like you two enjoyed the dialogue...

Thanks , my friend.

7:06 AM EDT  
Blogger lilybp said...

Wonderful, informative interview! Really curious how you like the perfumes. I thought they were all very interesting! (too exhausted from sniffa to write more).

8:05 AM EDT  
Blogger elle said...

Brilliant interview! Absolutely fascinating. I haven't tried these scents yet, but am extremely predisposed to love them because I admire the desire to create something other than "elevator music for the nose" so much. I'm very glad that his focus is on what is inside the bottle. I hope that that excellent sense of priorities leads to him having enormous success w/ this line.

8:28 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Thank you so much. It is an incredible compliment, coming from you!!

8:32 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Delay no more...and then let me know which one(s) you liked! :-)

8:33 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Thank you! I'd love to hear what new loves you might have discovered at the Sniffa!

I like The Unicorn Spell and Let Me Play The Lion very much. I am still trying to get to know L'Animatiere, it's...elusive on me, strange scent, can't figure it out.

8:34 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Thank you so much! I am wishing LesNez all the success too. And i think they will be successfull. I haven't seen a single negative review yet.

8:36 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I can't wait even more to get my samples...What a great review, and what an interesting guy! (PS...Aren't the limited edition bottles too cool? I'm not packaging nut, but these really impressed me. If the juice matches the exterior, count me in!)

8:44 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Thank you, Sybil!
The limited edition bottles are truly the works of art.

8:50 AM EDT  
Blogger Caitlin Shortell said...

Great interview. It has been really interesting to see a different style for Doyen with LesNez perfumes.

12:30 PM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Thank you!
L'Animatiere especially, I think, is something completely different from what we saw from Doeyn earlier. Fascinating.

12:32 PM EDT  
Blogger marchlion said...

Confession -- I almost never read the fragrance interviews. This one was fascinating. I can't help but wonder at the fact that his approach, from such a practical, non-fragance-based perspective, came up with such beautiful things. I am very much looking forward to smelling them.

1:30 PM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

I am so glad you made an exception this time :-) How is your relationship with violets? If it is friendly then I think you will love The Unicorn Spell. I have almost no doubt that you will like Let Me Play The Lion. Not sure about L'Animatiere. It's a tricky one :-)

1:34 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great interview...I find your blog very inspiring. I ordered the sample set and received it in two days, and after test runs have just ordered a full bottle of L'Antimatiere. Brilliant and very abstract, to me, especially with no top notes. I love it! I also loved Let me Play the Lion. I look forward to your reviews of these great scents.

3:10 PM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Thank you very much for your kind words!
I am envious that L'Animatiere works so well on you! I keep trying it and it is just so elusive, a strange, strange smell, can't figure it out. I definitely wnat bottles of the other two scents.

3:12 PM EDT  
Blogger Kelley said...

I can't wait for my samples of these! I signed up for them on Basenotes (like Tom) but am still waiting. Great interview. I love the "mission statement" of this company and I hope that they become a huge success like Malle. It's almost always a good thing to let an artist do what they do best without too many limits.

8:59 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent interview! I'm smitten with Let Me Play The Lion. I tried it on my huband today, and on him it smells like his skin but better, if that makes any sense. *Adore* it. Very impressed with the line and hope to see more scents in the future!

9:05 PM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

I would love to hear what you think about the scents when you receive them...we all would...*hint, hint* :-)

9:54 PM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

What do you think about The Unicorn? You are more comfortable with violets than I am, I think, so you have got to like this one. Even I loved it :-)

9:55 PM EDT  
Blogger marchlion said...

Oh, I love violets. In fact, I think they all three look like potential Great Loves. The only reason I haven't ordered samples yet is I'm trying to get caught up on what I have, and those samples give me something to look forward to in a moment of desperation.

7:57 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Well, when you do order...I'd love to read the reviews!

8:57 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow...I think Let Me Play The Lion is just intoxicating! I can hardly stop myself from smelling the crooks of my arms where I usually put single sprays. Hint: inside-ankle sprays will have everyone around sniffing and looking for the source of that incredible scent that keeps wafting upwards. This one is so very nice I have yet to try the others, but then there is always this weekend..

6:59 PM EST  

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