Friday, 23 February 2018

"Your Claims Have To Be Honest" - An Interview With Rodrigo Flores-Roux

With no fewer than 12 Fragrance Foundation Awards under his belt - the first one being for Clinique's Happy - Rodrigo Flores-Roux is unquestionably one of the most successful and acclaimed perfumers working today. He's composed scents for countless high street names. He's used his talents in the somewhat more adventurous world of independent perfumery. And he holds a senior position at the fragrance production company he's called home for many years: Givaudan. In other words, there isn't much he hasn't achieved.

Since the start of the century, he's become associated with the fragrance division of the John Varvatos fashion brand - he has put together all of its scents - and it was in this capacity that he flew into London to discuss his latest piece of work, Artisan Pure. Like all the other entries in the Artisan range, it emphasises the lighter, more citrus-based elements of its construction, so I started my conversation with Flores-Roux by asking how Pure differs from the rest of the collection.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux: This is the fourth chapter of the Artisan story. We worked around the colour white, the texture of cotton, the texture of linen. Sandblasted glass. Glass that had been eroded by the sea and the sand. That kind of thing. And purity. The starting point was precisely an image that I have from my adolescence. We were invited somewhere by a colleague of my Dad. He was part of this very aristocratic family from Veracruz, from the coast of the Gulf Of Mexico. And that area is a very important part of coffee cultivation. We went to their hacienda, which is a coffee plantation. A very elegant, old, beautiful place. And I have a dear memory from there. The room that I was staying in with my brother overlooked a little courtyard which had potted citrus trees. Outside were the groves of coffee trees. The flower of the coffee tree is extremely fragrant. And the fields were in full bloom. So it was just like a cascade of perfume coming into the bedroom. From one side, the scent of the citrus trees, and then this very perfumed atmosphere of the coffee tree blossom.

Persolaise: Is it possible to obtain a perfumery ingredient from the blossoms?

RFR: The flowers can be extracted; we could have coffee tree flower absolute. However, none of the coffee producers want to do that, because if you use the flower to make a perfume ingredient, you lose the bean. So we approached it with headspace technology. We did studies of Brazilian coffee and Mexican coffee. And then I created a little concoction. It also harks a little bit to touches of orange blossom, which for me was important in this perfume, because it’s a continuation of all the citruses in all the other Artisans.

P: In the past, we've spoken about the particular position occupied by the John Varvatos perfume brand: in terms of where it has been stocked, it's unquestionably been mainstream, but it has also tried to embrace more indie aesthetics. Where do you think it lies right now?

RFR: I think the position Varvatos is in is even stronger, in that this is a brand that has to have a broad appeal, but it doesn’t follow an olfactive trend. Here, the perfumes have followed a specific palette, they have a specific language, they are very distinguishable, but they’re not UFOs, unidentified fragrance objects. There are always very high-end ingredients. It’s a little bit like his fashion. He has an edge, but he’s not Yohji Yamamoto. He’s not going to show a man in a mini skirt. And even though the fragrances are complex, they’re not complicated. They’re simple to understand.

P: I imagine you need to wear different thinking caps according to which brand you're working on. Which one do you reach for when you're focussing on a Varvatos scent?

RFR: I want a very clear masculinity. Even if we’re working on the oriental, heavy leathers, freshness is key. This is the guy’s guy. The dude. He has a vintage Triumph motorcycle. He’ll wear a fabulous shirt, but he will swear.

P: You once said that you think the perfume industry would benefit if every single brand agreed not to release anything new for a whole year. Do you still feel this way?

RFR: I still think the rhythm is a little bit unstoppable, and sometimes that’s not good. The word 'flanker' drives me nuts. But I’m a culprit as well, because I have to work on flankers too. I think we should study the whole thing a little bit more. People must see the flankers and think, ‘Oh, another one?’

P: Why do you think people turning away from them?

RFR: There’s an over-saturation. There’s ‘Me too’ all the time. There are a lot of things that smell the same. And also - and this doesn’t have to do with perfume - this thing called the iPhone, people prefer to buy that. I remember one Christmas nobody bought clothes, nobody bought perfumes, everybody bought an iPhone. Sales are better now in perfume. A lot of perfumes are selling very well. But at the same time, I think we have to revise the flankerisation, the summer editions etc.

P: What would you say is the current state of independent perfumery?

RFR: Niche has become a vast and little bit tricky word. What defined niche maybe 20 years ago - which was L’Artisan, Annick Goutal, Serge Lutens - those kinds of brands have become grandes dames of perfumery. And now, everybody can put a perfume on the market. What I find dangerous - and I don’t want this to sound pretentious - but there are a lot of products out there that are not well done. And that’s because the people have made it themselves. Sometimes, you smell it and you think it’s really harsh and strange; modulation is lacking. And sometimes you smell it, and you see it’s so put-together, that you know who made it. And then they deny it. So, honesty is important here.

Another bit of trouble I’m seeing is this quest for everything being natural. There’s a problem there, because there are a couple of successful and visible brands out there that not only make the claim ‘Everything is natural here,’ but they also bad-mouth companies like mine, because we put ‘dangerous’, ‘unsafe’ things in the environment. There’s a brand owned by an important American actress and she was very fastidious about that. She now has three perfumes. I bought the first two and I had them analysed. Well, I could make a manifesto, because there are a lot of synthetic raw materials in those perfumes. And I took it further. I learned with whom she was working; it’s a very well-known perfume house in Florida. I have a very good friend who works there and I bluntly asked him, and he was like, ‘You know I cannot answer that question.’

You look at these products’ ingredients and you see they’ve written, "Water, natural." And, "Alcohol, sugar cane, natural." Well, there’s a problem there already because alcohol in a perfume has to be denatured. We have to add something to the alcohol in order to make it legit for a perfume. And then they put all those botanical names. 'Citrus something-something'. 'Lavandula something-something'. 'Essence, essence, essence'. Yes, but you’re putting in solvents, you’re putting synthetic raw materials, you’re using Galaxolide, which is a musk. We could make a real exposé about it and I would be the first screaming and shouting to put it in the New York Times, because your claims have to be honest. And you do not have the right to attack others.

[Artisan Pure is available now. The see the Now Smell This list of perfumes attributed to Flores-Roux, please click here.]


[This article has been edited since its original publication.]


  1. Carolyn Middleton23 February 2018 at 16:11

    What a very interesting interview!

    1. Carolyn, thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

  2. "There is #Me Too" all the time." Seriously, dude?

    1. Tanguerita, thanks for your comment. My understanding of Rodrigo's comment in this part was not that he was referring to the #MeToo campaign in any way. I believe he was simply saying that many brands feel compelled to jump on the bandwagon of what everybody else is doing, ie releasing flankers, summer editions etc.

  3. Great interview. Love what he has to say about naturals. R

  4. Very inspiring interview thank you Carolyn and Rodrigo, lovely to read about the moodboard for artisan pure. linen, cotton and the sandfrosted glas.. I sell and make naturel perfume in DK...and no you shuouldn't bad mouth the conventional perfumes or sell of your produkts as naturel if they are isn't a black and white world out there. There are shades of grey...would love to smell the Artisan Pure...thanks again Lisbeth

    1. Lisbeth, thanks so much for your comment. And yes, I agree with you on the 'all natural' issue.

  5. I really enjoyed this interview Persolaise. You always make it so professional and relevant yet there is an informal touch that depicts the perfumers as true human beings with their problems and doubts without being pathetic. Thank you and RFR!

    1. Neva, thanks so much for reading and for taking the time to leave a comment.


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