I'm in the mood for 20 Questions again, and this time, I've turned my spotlight on Zurich-based perfumer Vero Kern, the nose behind Vero Profumo. She was kind enough to exchange queries and responses with me via email... and you'll find the fruits of our little correspondence below. Enjoy.
In the beginning
What are some of your most memorable smell-related childhood experiences?
The smells of my childhood are so various that I can’t list them all. I was brought up in a large family in a big house with a big garden. I was - and I still am - completely blown away by floral scents and odours, such as the lilacs blooming in spring, creating a fluffy, haunting fragrance cloud. But also very mundane scents like the one coming from my father’s daily shaving ritual or the specific household smells of soap, floor wax, and mothballs.
I loved the special scent of new leather shoes. Every time I got a new pair of shoes - and this did not happen very often - I was not only totally delighted to get them but I also loved their particular smell of new leather. I used to put the new shoes beside my bed and I fell asleep with this heavenly, weird fragrance... and many, many years later, I created Onda.
What was the first perfume you ever bought for yourself?
It was not really a perfume but a very famous scented face cream: Secret De Bonne Femme by Guerlain created in 1904 and mixed by hand. It was on sale until about 2000. The smell of this cream was sensational: a powdery violet-rose accord with hints of ambra. Very Guerlain-like. Delicious! Later, my first real perfume was Quelques Fleurs by Houbigant.
If you could go back in time and meet your younger self, what advice would you give her?
Try always to be yourself and authentic. Live and go your own way!
At what age did you realise that you'll become a perfumer?
I never dreamed of becoming a perfumer, simply because perfumers - with a few exceptions - did not exist as 'public persons' and if they did, they were male. Therefore, in my case, they could not serve as role models.
My love for scents began in the context of my work with essential oils. As an aromatherapist and aromalogist, I used to mix special products (such as massage oils) and I found out that I have a certain talent for this work. It started with the strong desire to create 'real' perfumes. I then looked for a special school where I could learn this, and I finally found it in Paris.
In 2007, whilst launching my perfumes, I felt I became a perfumer. And at this time, I was 67 years old.
What would you do to improve the way in which young children are educated about smell?
I think conscious smelling is part of our contemporary cultural life and education. It should be taught in school like drawing or other design disciplines.
Complete the following sentences
Without perfume, my life... would certainly be remarkably different, in the sense of poorer.
The hardest thing about perfumery... is partly, for me, the procurement of certain raw materials that are either not on sale or available only in monstrous quantities. Sometimes I envy perfumers like Jean-Claude Ellena, Bertrand Duchaufour and others who can afford to get the best of the best. On the other hand, a rather limited selection of raw materials can also activate creativity. Another difficulty is that certain chemical components of fragrant materials - whether they are of natural or of synthetic origin - don't always interact as we perfumers imagine or wish them to... which meas that the whole process of choosing, mixing and waiting starts all over again. Another difficulty is caused by the sense of smell, which is highly individual and reacts completely subjectively to odours. The sense of smell knows only GOOD or BAD, nothing in between. Everybody has their own scent profile, which includes the way we individually perceive scents and our own personal body scent. And then there's the matter of cultural preferences… I can't go too deeply into this as it is very complex and would fill many pages.
It is definitely difficult to design products that meet the diverse olfactory expectations of a mixed audience in a completely saturated and aggressive market!
One of my favourite smells in the world is... natural orange blossom, the blooming flowers on the plant. For me, irresistibly erotic.
One perfume which I particularly admire is... Vol De Nuit by Jacques Guerlain.
When I walk into the perfumery section of a modern department store, I feel... mostly confused, uninspired and uninterested by the huge selection of new products. If I go there, it will just be out of curiosity, to smell a specific new scent that everybody's talking about.
Which of these do you prefer?
Mozart or Madonna?
Instead of Mozart I would choose Vivaldi... and Madonna.
A movie or a book?
As I don't watch television, I read a lot and often go to the cinema. Fortunately most of the movies are shown in their original language language here. I also love to be part of the audience, I love the public experience of cinemas. Movies and books inspire me.
Main course or dessert?
Good, slow food is a passion of mine - I need both.
An early start or a late night?
It depends, but probably getting up early...
Coca Cola or Dom Perignon?
Dom Perignon occasionally.
What's the best thing the Internet has done for the perfume industry?
I’m not the industry, but I'm very thankful to the Internet for spreading more knowledge of scents in general, and knowledge of the sense of smell in particular.
What's the worst thing the Internet has done for the perfume industry?
Spreading ignorance, nonsense and lies about scents and the sense of smell. Sometimes I’m struck by how poorly and indifferently perfumes and smell experiences are described by the industry and by individuals.
What would you say to someone who doesn't consider perfumery to be an art?
At the moment, my perfumes are in an art gallery in Italy where different artwork is presented as an interface of art and design. I think the artistic aspect of my perfumes obviously lies in the creation of the formula. The bottle and packaging design also require functional elements, like an electric toothbrush or other beauty products. But I’m also a perfectionist and try to create an “all in one art product” in whatever I’m doing - both in perfumes, and the “Art of Living”.
Does perfume have the power to change the world?
Fragrance and perfume have the power to change moods - usually in a positive way - so in this sense, it should have the power.
When will see the next release from Vero Profumo?
Beside others, I’m working on a very ambitious scent project, which I'll hopefully give birth to in 2012! I'm looking forward to it, very excited!
For my reviews of Vero's three perfumes - which are still not available in the UK - please click here.