Wednesday, 3 September 2014

"We Get What We Ask For" - An Interview With Andy Tauer (part 2)

image: Andy Tauer

In today's instalment of this exclusive interview with Andy Tauer, the focus is firmly on the brand new fragrance, Sotto La Luna Gardenia. For part 1, please click here.

Persolaise: Without comparing it to any other flower in any way, how would you describe the smell of a real gardenia, being as precise as possible?

Andy Tauer: I have a gardenia plant, blooming on the balcony. I smell it more or less on a daily basis. I also have tuberose growing downstairs, and I hope for flowers. Last year the tuberose was late and I had to bring them into the house when they started blooming, together with the jasmine. White flower overkill, even for me. The blooming gardenia comes with an odd fragrance, really. I think it develops very much over the days. From a pronounced freshness to a scent that is a bit off. There are spicy components (think: methyl benzoate, linalool). Maybe it is this spiciness, combined with a woody underline that makes this flower 'unisex' (I know: calling a flower unisex does not really makes sense). There is definitely an intense creaminess (think: lactones). It is very powdery (think: salicylates). It comes with interesting side notes: there is definitely an elegant mushroom aspect (think: tiglates). But it is not the perfume of a stinky mushroom, but more the mushroom fragrance of rich, moist, forest soil. I also feel that there are notes of freshly ground coffee, of balsamic woods (this aspect of the gardenia reminds me of high quality sandalwood from Mysore). I can also sense dry wood, thinking of saw mill scents. But this is delicate.

P: If flowers could be placed on some sort of spectrum according to their smell (you decide how this spectrum should be defined: maybe lily of the valley at one end and tuberose at the other) where would you place gardenia and why?

AT: Let's do a very quick sketch that sort of explains it (see below; click on the image to enlarge it). It is one way of looking at things. There are other parameters that you could use. And I am not sure about iris. Interesting how I ended up putting rose in the middle of the parameter system. Gardenia, however, is close to tuberose in this system.

image: Andy Tauer

P: That's where I thought you'd place it, as that's how you've depicted the flower in your Gardenia perfume. Would you agree that when a so-called gardenia note appears in mainstream perfumes, it would seem to locate the flower in a very different place in the spectrum: maybe closer to lily and lilac? Why do you think this is? Why do you think mainstream perfumery tries to convince us that a gardenia is so different from what it really is?

AT: We get what we ask for. There are exceptions, like in IT, when Apple launched the first iPad. A lot of people had not asked for this particular product beforehand, yet it was what the world was waiting for. It was the genius of Steve Jobs and his team realizing what people might want, without people knowing that they wanted it. Why was the world given Bleu De Chanel? Because many of us wanted it. And it was one of the most successful perfume launches since perfume launches began. We are not given a real patchouli these days because we got used to an idea of patchouli that we want to see repeated. I guess this is what 'real' niche and good designer fragrances are all about: filling this void space, surrounded by surrogates, codes of patchouli, gardenia, you name it. We work outside of the restrictions that apply when you have a multimillion dollar launch budget. But the bottom line is: yoghurt is sweetened because we want it that way, even if I personally feel that a blunt, natural yoghurt made from fat milk, without any sugar and fruit surrogates is the best. But that's me. I am seriously considering buying a yoghurt machine.

P: Your diagram seems to suggest that, in Tauerville, all roads lead to rose. Would you agree with this?

AT: Yes, I agree, a bit. These days (I don´t really know where I found the time for this) I've been mostly painting roses, using a bunch of roses as 'models'. I enjoy looking at them, as much as I enjoy working with them in bottles and formulas. But there, they are more rewarding. Transferring them to paper, capturing their spirit is difficult. In many of my scents, you find rose absolute, or steam distilled oil. Le Maroc Pour Elle, Gardenia, Lonestar Memories, Noontide Petals, Reverie Au Jardin, Cologne Du Maghreb, all the Collectibles, all the perfumes with 'rose' in their name, but... not in L'Air Du Desert Marocain. What does this tell us? L'Air Du Desert Marocain is the best selling fragrance in my line; for a while it was PHI - Une Rose De Kandahar. What does this tell us? I guess, yes, most roads in Tauerville are covered with rose petals. But not all. But sure, I love my roses. I do not know how to transmit the feeling of pouring thick, dark orange rose absolute in a can when mixing a fragrance. It still feels very special.

P: Is your Gardenia a soliflore?

AT: I was asked the same question this morning by mail by Michael Edwards and his team from Fragrances Of The World ®. Here´s what I said. "Yes, and no. It is a soliflore as the main theme is gardenia, yet it is not your average gardenia. Thus, I would rather call it a complex spicy floral with woody undertones. But that´s me: I have a hard time classifying what I am doing. You will do much better!" On second thought, maybe the way I construct fragrances does not allow for soliflores in the strict sense. You know, when it comes to perfume creation, I am a fossil. And I am proud of that.

P: A fossil? Why?

AT: Because... I sometimes feel very lonely the way I do things. And because I feel that my kind is dying out. I am almost 100% vertically integrated, which means I produce, I pack, I ship, I send emails, I communicate, I pay the bills. Another reason why I sometimes feel like a fossil: the way I compose. When I follow some 'industry insider' talk that trickles down to Facebook, and I learn about the frightening details of some perfumes being created with a pressure on price that makes it virtually impossible to create something outstanding, I often find myself baffled. It is beyond my event horizon. But here's the thing. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am not a fossil. But rather a mammal, a little furry thing running around the big dinosaurs, waiting for the meteorite.

Finally, let me say this straight: I admire deeply - very deeply - every perfumer who manages to emerge from a '$75 per kilo' brief and create something nice-smelling. I am very privileged.

P: Tell me a bit more about tiglates. What are they like to work with? Had you used them before?

AT: The esters of tiglic acid are a molecule group that you find in the headspace of gardenia, among other components. The dominant one, cis-3-hexenyl tiglate, is what you find at a concentration of about 3%. Thus, it is actually a minor component, but it is responsible for the mushroom aspect that comes with green and spicy facets. It is actually delicate to use as you want only traces of mushroom in your perfume. Natural gardenia contains this note, and you want to have it in there. It is the first time I used this particular molecule, that occurs naturally. But it was fun adding a new molecule to my palette. It always is: a new toy!

I told you I have this gardenia plant sitting in Zurich, blooming from time to time. I remember my neighbour smelling it, and going, “Ooh wow. This is so pretty. And so different to any other flower that I know. But ... tell me: Do I smell mushroom there? How odd!" This note is what makes gardenia special. And maybe this is why we love gardenia

P: Were you worried about whether the mushroom note might make the perfume less 'pretty', in a conventional sense?

AT: Actually, I think it adds a twist. The mushroom note, the way I integrated it, is very gentle, and many probably won’t realize it at all. But it is important to have it in there. It compares - maybe - with animalic notes used in minute amounts in perfumery. When used very, very gently they add a mysterious element, an element of surprise. You can't pinpoint it, but it is there. In the Gardenia, the tiglate adds exactly this: a mysterious, surprising, naturalistic effect. Yet, it is very gentle and you do not have to worry that wearing Sotto La Luna Gardenia is a field trip to mushroom gardens. Far from that.

P: The opening of Gardenia is an intriguing blend of smells and contrasts.I thought I could detect a buttery, coconut note and hazelnuts and coffee and the mushroom note, of course, but also a melon sweetness and a hint of cherries and possibly something like sugared cinnamon. How did you put together the top section? What were you trying to achieve with the scent's opening?

AT: You know, there's a lot I can say about top notes, aka head notes. They are always a big challenge. On the one hand, the top notes ‘sell’ a fragrance, in the sense that they must be right, pleasing, exciting enough on paper to keep the perfume lover interested in what's happening next. And they must introduce what follows next. They must be translucent, allowing us to see ‘through’ them, through into the heart, down to the bottom of the scent. At least to some extent. It is like standing on the banks of a river; you see the water, the reflections of the light, the waves that play on the water's surface, but you can see through this mirror, down to the ground. The ground may not be clear, but you see it.

Having said this: yes, when you get blinks of something buttery, coffee, hazelnut, mushroom and more - sugared cinnamon, melon (your nose decides!) - then all these impressions are an interplay between the head notes and the heart and body of the perfume. Although - for simplification and as a model to describe a perfume - we use top notes to describe a scent, these notes do not show themselves in an isolated way really. You find an interplay, with what happens later, further down the road.

I sometimes use the idea of building bridges. I want top notes to introduce themes that you find later again. The bridges link various themes within a scent, linking top, heart and body notes. And a cinnamon bark oil, for instance, is perfect to build a bridge from a spicy line in the head notes to a vibrant woody note in the base.

P: How close is the final version of Gardenia to the first mod, the original sketch, which you made?

AT: The first and the last mod are actually very, very different. When working on a new theme, often, but not always, I kind of wander the territory. Trying a couple of different ideas, iterations that span a large area. It usually takes a while until I find an iteration that feels sort of ok and that seems worth exploring further. I usually have two or three of these that I follow closer, hoping that one will bring me there where I want to go.

P: You’ve written that Gardenia shows you becoming “gentler” or softer in your creative expression. Could you expand on that?

AT: Actually, I used this term because I was told so. But maybe ‘softer’ is the wrong word here and maybe ‘balanced’ is better. Who told me this? Business partners who know all my scents and who work with me. With them, I have a very open communication, and I welcome any input from their side. I did not realize it myself, but when I was told that my creations become more balanced, I figured that they might be right.

P: Does this mean we’re never again to see any more of the ‘shocking’ Tauers like Le Maroc and Lonestar Memories?

AT: So you think Le Maroc is shocking? Hmm… yes, there is shockingly much jasmine absolute in there (hence the dark red color). Too much for IFRA, which is why I had to go down a tiny bit with the jasmine over the years. The formula is frozen since a few batches, though. Anyhow, you know, we are entering slippery territory. On the one hand, some associate ‘shocking’ with ‘less tuned to fit the markets’. Hence, by going less shocking, one might say that I adjust to the markets. On the other hand, MY market maybe is/was the shocking side of Tauer, hence going softer, more balanced might be looked at as proof that I do not adjust to MY market. Confusing, right? Let's answer this way: Lonestar Memories could also be called An Ode To Birch Tar, because there is shockingly much of smoky, animalic birch tar in there. But it is in there not to be shocking but to fit with the image I had in mind: the cowboy, the campfire, the leather...

Finally, you might be amazed: I have clients asking me to make Lonestar Memories as an eau de parfum, STRONGER! So there you go. Shocking is not strong enough for some courageous perfume lovers.

For part of this interview, please click here.



  1. I've enjoyed reading both these interview posts - my inner market researcher particularly appreciated the graph! I will put my hand up and say that I am definitely the demographic for Tauer Perfumes' current 'softer' phase, and am in fact limbering up to a purchase of PHI Rose de Kandahar when it comes back into production (rose is also a perennial favourite in this corner).

    I have had occasion to smell the JAR gardenia scent without knowing what it was - it is of course the protocol in store to sample their line under carefully orchestrated conditions. I said it smelled like blue cheese, which the gentleman said was interesting for a Brit. Some time later Freddie of Smellythoughts gave me a smidge of the JAR gardenia scent to try, and the floral note did emerge as the perfume wore on - pretty spectacular as I recall. But this is all to say that when I catch up with Sotto La Luna I am expecting a bit of a 'werr' factor, on account of the shapeshifting nature of the flower itself, and also because Andy typically gives his compositions a bit of a twist to boot.

    1. Vanessa, thanks for stopping by. Do let me know what you make of Andy's Gardenia when/if you try it :-)

  2. Is Bleu de Chanel really that successful?

    1. Ramon, it has been a huge hit for Chanel.

    2. Is there somewhere I can read more about it?

    3. Ramon, sorry, no, I don't know of any specific articles. Perhaps a Google search might yield something.


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