Pick a blotter... read the question... give a short, snappy answer!
His name may not be as familiar as that of, say, Bertrand Duchaufour or Francis Kurkdjian, but there's no doubt that Paris-based, half-German, half-English Mark Buxton has a fervent following amongst scentusiasts. Over the course of the last few decades, he has put together several well-regarded olfactory creations - including 2 Man and Ouarzazate for Comme Des Garçons, Vetiver 46 for Le Labo and Unifaith (aka Moslbuddjewchristhindao) for Elternhaus - so it came as little surprise when he announced the creation of his own line in 2008. A few weeks ago, he was in London to promote the revamped incarnation of Mark Buxton Perfumes - and to draw attention to the latest addition to his line, the vetivert-focussed Emotional Rescue - and I'm pleased to say that he agreed to being subjected to the demands of my Twenty Blotters...
In the beginning
Can you remember who introduced you to perfume?
Nobody introduced me to perfume. It was a sheer coincidence. I was studying geology in Germany, which I didn't want to do. And with a friend I went into Douglas, the perfumery, for Christmas. We smelt a few of the things which were out, and I said, 'I've got a good idea. Let's write to this TV programme called Wetten, Dass...? and we'll make a bet that we can recognise all the perfumes in the world.' So we wrote to them and five days later, they said, 'You're on the next TV show.' So we had exactly six weeks to gather all the perfumes which we could get our hands on, and smell them and try to recognise them. And I noticed that I have a very good olfactive memory. After the show, I got a call from the biggest German perfume producer, Haarmann & Reimer, and they offered me a job. And that's how I got started.
What are some of your most memorable, smell-related, childhood experiences?
Chanel No 5! My father always used to buy my mother Chanel No 5 every Christmas. He was not a very inventive guy, my Dad. He always used to buy the same present. And my mother used to keep it in the bathroom, in a cabinet over the sink. Nobody could touch it. It was so intriguing in its little square bottle, and I really wanted to smell it. So one day, when I was five, I got on a stool and tried to reach it, but it slipped out of my hand and fell into the sink and smashed. The whole bathroom was perfumed with Chanel No 5 for years. Of course, I got my arm smacked, but it was worth it.
Who were your role models when you were growing up?
I never really had one.
At what age did you realise that you would enter the perfume industry?
What was the first perfume you ever bought for yourself?
Jil Sander Man Pure. The black, square bottle. It was a woody leather, and it had this very floral, fruity aspect to it. A very original fragrance. By coincidence, I had to reformulate it, when it stopped being IFRA compliant. The formula was gorgeous. Full of naturals. Very expensive.
Complete the following sentences
Modern perfumery is... overdose.
The perfume industry needs to... go back to its roots. They have to believe more in perfumers, in their work, in their creativity. We have to look at it as an art and not just a money-making industry. Nowadays you're judged just by your turnover. Nobody gives a s*** about creativity. It's been going down the drain for ten years and it's getting worse and worse. There's no lobby in perfumery. It's a pity, really.
When I walk into the perfume section of a department store, I feel... sad. I think the best example is Sephora. They have a Top 20. It's like they're selling CDs. What the f***! A Top 20! A Top 20 of what? It's pathetic.
One perfume which I particularly admire is... Féminité Du Bois. And Comme Des Garçons 2 Man. [laughs]
The hardest thing about perfumery... is fighting against legislation. All these s****y rules we have to keep to. It's bulls***.
Which of these do you prefer?
The past or the future?
Mozart or Madonna?
Mozart. The guy was a genius.
Main course or dessert?
An early start or a late night?
London or Paris?
What would you say to someone who doesn't consider perfumery to be an art?
I would accept his opinion. I don't really see perfumery as an art, either.
But a few minutes ago, you said perfumery ought to be seen as an art?
No. If I said that, I didn't mean it like that. No, I don't see us as artists and I don't see perfumery as an art. It's craftsmanship for me. Of course, you need talent, and a lot of it is about creativity.
Yes, they are! I think it's pathetic.
What's the best thing the Internet has done for the perfume industry?
To spread the word. But I must tell you, I'm not a highly sophisticated computer guy. I still write my formulas by hand.
Does the term niche perfumery have any meaning?
Yes. Well, at least it used to. I think 'niche' is getting so big now that we're losing the meaning of it. Everybody who has a name, or thinks he has a name, wants to bring out a fragrance. We're watering it down a lot. And I've noticed that we're starting to copy each other in the niche area. Somebody brings out an oud, so now everybody has an oud. Come on, let's be inventive, let's do something else. Before, 'niche' was about brands which dared a lot. They put their money into the fragrance, not necessarily the packaging and the bottle. Now, 'niche' has become rather big in the Middle East and countries like Russia, where they like bling bling. So now, 'niche' is putting a lot more money into the bottle, so that it looks flashy and they can sell it in the Middle East. When I get approached by a brand, I always say, 'I don't work to a price. Don't tell me you can't spend more than €100 on the concentrate.'
Does perfume have the power to change the world?
No. It makes us smile.