Issey Miyake Is Back With A (New) Scent
For fragrance fanatics, the nineties were an exciting time. Designer perfumes were in their prime, and iconic flacons by some of the most influential talents of the day began to arrive in stores, each carrying with it the scent of social demarcation. Europhiles bathed in Jean Paul Gaultier’s Le Male; arty, ambiguous types chose Calvin Klein’s CK One; and the more upward-bound members of the style set spritzed on Thierry Mugler’s Angel. But Issey Miyake’s L’Eau d’Issey, in its highly recognizable conical bottle, offered a point of difference. It was clean, fresh—and devoid of that Mugler-esque ability to leave a waft of patchouli in its wake. With the return of nineties fashion come additional olfactory offerings from these brands. This month, Miyake finally joins the revival. His first women’s fragrance in 16 years recently hit shelves, and as a “tribute to simplicity,” it is aptly called A Scent. We sat down with Firmenich perfumer Daphné Bugey to talk about her experience working with the reclusive design legend, how she formulated a “new kind of freshness,” and the rise of the female nose.
So, how did you even begin to approach the daunting task of devising a follow-up to Miyake’s tremendously successful L’Eau d’Issey?
It was a very big challenge mostly because we don’t discover new chemicals or natural notes every year. Since in the recent past there have been so many fruity, praline, gourmand scents, I thought working more directly with the greener, woodsy accords could be particularly refreshing in this arena. I think we need something like this right now.
Did Mr. Miyake say anything specific to lead you in this direction?
Well, he kind of wanted to have a concentrate of nature. He said something to me at the beginning which was really interesting: The greatest perfumer in the world is nature. And when I asked him what was essential for him as an end point for this particular perfume, his response was, “air that smells nice.” So taking that into consideration and analyzing the olfactory territory of his brand, I decided that it was important to express freshness with signature.
Freshness with signature. What exactly does that mean?
Basically, I realized I needed to create a new kind of freshness. Mr. Miyake gave me this image of roots in the earth and branches with flowers up to the sky, so I had this picture of green and brown colors in my head. But I wanted something deeper and richer, which is when I remembered a forgotten ingredient.
Intriguing. Go on.
Galbanum. It’s a resin from the roots of a tree that was used a long time ago in traditional perfumery in the fifties and sixties that has a pine-y, earthy effect. We were lucky enough to profit from new technology that enables a different extraction method using carbon dioxide as a solvent, which allows us to operate with low pressure and low temperatures so we don’t degrade the natural ingredient. I thought this would be a very interesting way to express the green in the fragrance, almost creating a new green. It’s also somehow resonant of the way Mr. Miyake works, a kind of innovation that fuses the traditional with the latest technology.
What did you mix with the green, woodsy element to add that hint of femininity?
Hyacinth. I wanted to prolong the effect of the green note, but there is no absolute of hyacinth. The flower is too fragile to extract so we can only use a reconstitution of it. When I first started with it, though, I didn’t like it. There was this honey, animalic note in it. So I decided to smell every facet and ultimately used only a single part of it, the crisp floral part. Then I chose two different qualities of jasmine because I felt it was important to have some opulence to the fragrance.
Why combine opulence with the freshness you had already worked so hard to achieve?
Because that’s the signature. I used the floral absolute and jasmine sambac, which is a different concentration of the note that is exclusive to Firmenich. It’s also achieved using a new, different extraction process, but it’s a manufacturing secret, so I can’t tell you! The idea, however, is only to enhance a certain part of the flower through a special co-distillation method. It makes it greener than a traditional jasmine, more transparent.
I think it’s interesting that this is Miyake’s first feminine fragrance in nearly two decades and it also happens to have been created by a woman, which is rare in the fragrance industry. Can you speak to that at all?
It’s true, there are a lot of male perfumers and they are of the older generation and typically sons of other perfumers. So if you don’t have any relatives in that field, you have to study chemistry and go to school in Grasse and work your way up. But the industry is changing. There are more female noses now, even though you still have a macho attitude sometimes. I’ve been fortunate, though. I’ve wanted to do this since I was ten years old, when I used to collect miniatures and chase after women on the street to ask them what fragrance they were wearing. When I discovered the job of perfumer, it was magical.
And of the industry in general, and its role as a purveyor of luxury at a time of economic decline? How do you see its fate?
I think fragrance is something people won’t give up on. Somehow, there’s something vital about smell, something extremely powerful that we are not even conscious of. It brings up memories and strong emotions. People might not buy a number of different bottles like a number of different bags, but if they have one that they love and the bottle is empty, they’ll refill it.