Anyone who's a fan of the output of Etat Libre D'Orange owes a debt of gratitude to Antoine Maisondieu: working either on his own or with Antoine Lie, he has been responsible for some of the brand's most admired creations, including Jasmin Et Cigarette, Vierges Et Toreros and Eau De Protection. Despite his niche leanings, he's more than capable of putting together unashamedly mainstream creations (Gucci Rush For Men; Burberry Brit For Men; Armani Code Ultimate) which may explain why he was selected to compose a few of the scents in Van Cleef & Arpels' Collection Extraordinaire.
The latest of these, California Rêverie, was released earlier this year. A white floral - with a translucent, jasmine bent - it appears to want to achieve a tricky balance between exclusivity and commercial accessibility. So when I had a brief chat with Maisondieu - across a dodgy phone line to Paris - I started by asking him how he approaches a subject as familiar as a white floral without falling into cliches.
Antoine Maisondieu: I have a very simple way. Maybe it sounds stupid, but it's what I do. I don't look at what's been done before. I don't think about it. I just think I have to make my own jasmine. And I think that if I don't look at anything that's been done before, then my jasmine is going to be different for sure. It's like washing perfume history off yourself.
Persolaise: So would you say that originality is important to you?
AM: Yes. There's always a link with something that has come before, with something that has inspired you. But I don't make copies, even though, when I'm working for a very commercial brand, my aim is to be very commercial.
P: So now that California Rêverie has been released and you have some distance from the project, are you able to say what makes it different from other, similar scents?
AM: Yes, of course. Two things. First, there was a very specific idea from Philippe Benacin of InterParfums. He spoke to me about the jasmine you can buy in Saint Germain Des Pres, so I wanted to re-create that jasmine, not any other jasmine. And before that I went on a trip to Seville, where I could smell the bitter orange trees, together with the smell of jasmine at night. I thought those two smells were beautiful together; it was like a beautiful dance they were doing together. So I made an accord of bitter orange and jasmine, and I think that's the signature of California Rêverie.
P: Several years ago, you made another jasmine: Jasmin Et Cigarette for Etat Libre D'Orange. The jasmine note in that composition is so very specific and distinctive: it manages to be both soft and extremely clear at the same time. How did you achieve that effect?
AM: Well, for California Rêverie, I really got inspired by the flower. But for Jasmin Et Cigarette I was much more inspired by what stays in the car of an elegant woman who has been wearing a jasmine perfume and has been smoking. So it wasn't the flower; it was more about the smell that remains, in a car or on clothes.
P: How did you achieve the cigarette note?
AM: This was something very personal. My first love used to wear a jasmine perfume, La Nuit from Paco Rabanne. I was crazy in love with her. At that time I smoked Chesterfields, which had tobacco with an apricot smell. And I used to keep my cigarettes in a box, but I perfumed the box, and I didn't realise that the cigarettes would get the smell of the perfume. So I rebuilt that memory of the cigarette box. I used cedar, I used galbanum... I don't remember what else I used, it was a long time ago. But of course I used apricot.
P: We've talked about the challenge of trying to come up with an original jasmine scent. You've just made Wonderoud for Comme Des Garçons, but there are tons of oud fragrances around right now. How did you make your oud different from the rest?
AM: Christian Austuguevieille develops all the perfumes of Comme Des Garçons and when the idea came to make an oud, he said, 'No, Comme Des Garçons cannot make an oud after everyone else. That's not possible. Comme Des Garçons is a brand that does everything first.' So we tried not to make an oud. But then, after that, the company really wanted to go with an oud, so we said, 'Okay, in 90% per cent of all these oud perfumes, there is no oud. So let's use some natural oud.' Also, we decided not to build an oud perfume like in oriental perfumery. We built a woody perfume and then we added oud to it. It's very Comme Des Garçons, because it's still very contemporary.
P: You've often made perfumes in teams, for instance, Bottega Veneta Pour Homme was with Daniela Andrier and you've also just made Tom Ford Velvet Orchid with Yann Vasnier, Calice Becker and your wife, Shyamala Maisondieu. How does that work?
AM: Ah... I think, most of the time, it doesn't work! I think for it to work you need people without too much ego. If everyone has a huge ego, it can't work. Then you have to have a common language, but I'm not sure how to explain that. When you have two people, I think that's okay. It can be good. Generally, I prefer to work on my own, or in a pair, but more than two, I don't like. Sometimes it's forced.
P: What's the most personal perfume you've ever made?
AM: I would say it's Eau De Jade from Armani Privé, because bergamot is my favourite smell, and it's full of bergamot. But everything is personal, because I really make my perfumes with my gut.