Article by Guy Lesser, 2014
In France, perhaps more than any other country, perfume – like great wine, haute cuisine and couture– is regarded as a major art. Something as essential to the idea of civilization as poetry, painting, theater or cinema.
Accordingly, it is easy to understand how Olivia Bransbourg's own passionate interest in the subject of scent would have first been awakened when her grandmother gave her a collection of close to fifty miniature bottles of classic French fragrances for her eighth birthday.
Being somewhat studious and methodical, even as a child, Olivia explains she wanted to know and understand everything about each and every one. First, memorizing their exotic names and making what sense she could of their fanciful bottles. Later, by constantly challenging herself to recognize each one individually by scent alone, and mentally classifying them by families or styles. And then ultimately, imperiously deciding which she liked and why, which she loved, or alternatively which ones left her cold.
Given this precocious love for perfume, at least in retrospect, she says, if she had shown any early talent for chemistry, she might have happily gone on to one of France's legendary schools of perfumery. But a growing interest in other fine arts, and of culture more generally, led her to the Sorbonne to study art history. And from there, she took a series of gallery and museum jobs with the idea of pursuing a career in the emerging world of cultural management.
"I DID NOT OF COURSE LOSE MY PASSION FOR PERFUME OVER THE YEARS. THOUGH SOME MIGHT ARGUE THERE WERE A FEW STEPS ALONG THE WAY THAT ARE BEST FORGOTTEN."
For instance, a brief period as a teenager full of rebellion and infatuated with all things foreign, when she tried to reject everything understated, correct and traditionally Parisian, in favor of smelling American and modern.
But then, in 2006, after a decade in the art world, when she decided to launch her small magazine ICONOfly (as much a vehicle for exploring contemporary taste, as it was a means for her to obsess about her particular object of desire of the moment) it seemed logical that if she wanted to give creative voice to what it was, for example, that made a traveling bag special, or a wrist watch magical, she should seek contributions from perfumers along with poets, sculptors, filmmakers and musicians.
"THUS, WITH ICONOFLY'S FIRST ISSUE I DECIDED TO SEEK OUT JEAN-CLAUDE ELLENA, WHO HAD BEEN APPOINTED THE HEAD PERFUMER OF HERMES TWO YEARS EARLIER, AND DISCUSS THE WELL WORN, DARK OCHRE CALFSKIN BRIEFCASE HE RECEIVED FROM HIS FATHER AS A COMING OF AGE PRESENT, AND ITS SOFT SMELL– BOTH TENDER AND ROUGH."
A far more fateful meeting was to come, however, with ICONOfly's second issue, when she would meet Christine Nagel. Because Christine had grown up in Geneva, Olivia thought she would be the perfect perfumer to discuss ideas about time and watches. And she says she was struck most of all by Christine's radiant intelligence. "Time", Christine explained being Swiss, was something she found "soothing." This perhaps in part because she came from a country where "punctuality" was regarded as a form of politeness– like saying hello, thank you, and goodbye."
Watches, of course, begged the question of bracelets. And for ICONOfly's Issue 5-- which Olivia began working on late in 2008-- the idea of a bracelet that was also a flask emerged in her conversation with the endlessly creative glass sculptor Serge Mansau. Serge, Olivia discovered, was a revered figure in the perfume industry, with over 250 bottle designs to his credit, including many of her own lifelong favorites.
"AND SO, ALMOST WITHOUT MY REALIZING QUITE WHERE ALL THIS MIGHT BE HEADING, I THOUGHT, WHAT APERFECT OCCASION TO ENLIST THE AID ONCE MORE OF CHRISTINE NAGEL, AND CREATE A PERFUME TO FILL MANSAU'S EDITION OF EIGHT UNIQUE GLASS WORKS, BLOWN BY HAND AND DECORATED IN GOLD LEAF."
Christine Nagel was game, and suggested her talented colleague Benoist Lapouza as an ideal collaborator, and before Olivia had much time to consider it, she found herself following in the footsteps of those who'd invented French fashion by working hand in glove with a great perfumer -among them Coco Chanel, Christian Dior and Yves St Laurent - for whom scent would became an absolutely essential part of both the allure of their brand and the extraordinary success of their business. As for "the brief" of Attache-Moi, Bransbourg says she told Nagel it needed to be mysterious and "addictive."
Although the edition of eight bracelets filled with an original new perfume would prove to be the highlight and focus of ICONOfly #5 (and a month long exhibition to be held at the Bon Marché Rive Gauche), the economies of scale of making perfume dictated that Olivia also produce a more affordable version.
Olivia says while everyone involved in the bracelet issue was pleased with it– and that she was thrilled to have sold three of Mansau's beautiful bracelets– both she and Bon Marché were absolutely astonished when the perfume became a word-of-mouth hit and near instant sell-out at the store. "Everyone," she was told, was asking about this new perfume, "Attache-Moi." And "when was I going to launch a new production?"
"Soon," she assured them– without mentioning that she was in the process of relocating to New York with her husband and children, and that all their worldly possessions were already in a container aboard a freighter making slow passage across the Atlantic.
"BARNEYS NEW YORK WAS EAGER TO SELL IT IN THE UNITED STATES. THE AMERICAN PRESS WERE KIND. PERFUME PROFESSIONALS, INCLUDING THE CRITICS WERE ENCOURAGING, AND MANY WERE EVEN ENTHUSIASTIC. BUT EVENTUALLY THEY ALL GOT ROUND TO ASKING, "SO, WHAT WHEN WILL YOUR NEXT FRAGRANCE BE COMING OUT?"
During the next two years, Olivia, the new New Yorker, found herself running a newly formed perfume business as a sole proprietor, and working more or less full time– promoting and marketing Attache-Moi as well as overseeing its production, packaging, distribution and all else.
This proved to be something to which she brought savoir faire, sangfroid, an ineluctable je ne sais quoi, and her own inimitable French flair. And the Japanese fragrance house Takasago eventually approached her to become the creative director of their New York office. A great opportunity to be sure, but did Olivia want to work nine-to-five for a big global company? Ultimately, she received an offer she couldn't refuse.
"They were," she says, "in every way supportive of me continuing my commitments to both publishing ICONOfly and developing PARFUMS ATTACHE-MOI. But part of what made this a dream job was their promise of a rigorous program oftraining– in many ways similar to what their new staff chemists and perfumers received– that would start immediately."
"AND SO, ON A CHILL JANUARY MORNING, I BEGAN THE YEAR 2012 WITH A DAILY COMMUTE TO THE TAKASAGO OFFICES JUST OFF MADISON AVENUE ON 55TH STREET, AND BEGAN WORKING WITH ONE OF THEIR MOST TALENTED SENIOR PERFUMERS, PATRICIA CHOUX. WE QUICKLY BONDED – AS FRENCH PEOPLE IN NEW YORK WHO LOVED GREAT ART AND FINE WINE."
Within a few weeks, she says, she knew Patricia would be the perfect partner to work with in creating a second scent. And moreover, that the opportunity the two woman would have to do so was remarkable, since Takasago had very generously given their blessing to the project. There would be no deadline, no budget restrictions on raw materials (only the very best would do), and since they would be working only a few doors away from one another in the Takasago offices, the creative give and take at each step would be "on a virtually daily basis."
In fact, over the course of the followingmonths, there would be over a hundred trials. And every few days, Olivia says, when she went home, her right forearm would be marked with tiny colored sticker dots, to map where she'd sprayed the current contenders she felt worthy of "further consideration or second opinions."
"BY NOVEMBER, I KNEW WE WERE GETTING THERE."
The new perfume, Olivia decided, was going to be about capturing the vibrant, vital magic of 55th Street, and midtown Manhattan's distinctively urban chiaroscuro light– where sometimes the dazzling bright sunlight reflected from tall glass office blocks can be blinding, but a moment later you're walking in the shadow of the skyscraper next door.
On one occasion, she wrote to Patricia that their current draft had been a perfect companion at the opera, and equally welcome in bed when she'd woken the next morning. They were both excited about the potential of osmanthus (also known as tea olive, an evergreen shrub at once sweet, fruity and floral). Olivia felt they'd captured the essence of the moment that she entered the revolving door of the office building lobby each morning. But what about the rest of the street, and other times of day?
"SHOULD WE TRY VETIVER? FENNEL? LEMON?"
And so the creative work patiently continued, until the long sought after Eureka! and Voila!– which is now Attache-Moi 55. It was, Olivia says, "a wonderful way to work."
Our heartfelt thanks to all the friends and persons who helped us build and expand Parfums ATTACHE-MOI since 2009:
Serge Mansau - Arnaud Roche - Christine Nagel - Benoist Lapouza - Hanane Q'Chiblat - Guido Brancher - Isabelle Toutain - Sandrine Goncalves - Mélanie Jean-Naudin - Toan Vu-Huu - André Baldinger - Raphaël Choyé - Budes Hilaire de la Roche - Steven Guyot - Eleonore Boccara - Clémentine Duhamel - Ginevra Boralevi - Frédéric Bodenes - Marie-Françoise Stouls - Adeline Amiel-Donat - Henrik Jessen - Géraldine Martin - Alexandra Fain - Mauro Grimaldi - Patrice Forest - Vanita Sabnani - Marc Balet - Bonnie Pressman - Atique Majrouh - Denise Capozzalo - Bettina O'Neill - Chandler Burr - Sabrina Maerki - Angélique Klein - Guy Lesser - Christina Kruse - Uli Holz - Laura Trumpp - Sophie Lambert - Diane Pernet - Robin Meason - Joyce Bidouzo-Coudray - Renata Faizutdinova - Melissa Ceria - Jane Larkworthy - Philip Hillege - Patricia Choux - Frédéric Jacques - Maia Lernout - Erinn Springer - Mallory Brennan - Joseph DeCino - Darryl Do - Nicolas Cloutier - Carlos Quintero - Felicitas Kofler - Flora Chou - Helder Suffenplan - Davina Semo - Frédéric Lenoir and obviously each of you -- already or about to be -- addicted to our Parfums ATTACHE-MOI.