August 30 2014

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Oscar de la Renta On Fragrance and Memory


Oscar de la Renta just celebrated a major milestone: This marks his fiftieth year as a designer. A staggering achievement in itself, all the more so considering that he is as formidable a talent today as ever; in fact, he even continues to diversify his brand (de la Renta’s home collection recently launched). The latest jewel in the designer’s crown? Something Blue, a fragrance with, unsurprisingly, romance in mind. Because, as de la Renta (who, it should be said, is pure elegance in person) tells me: “A fragrance is something that you should fall in love with; it’s always about romance.” The notes doing the wooing in his latest creation include linden blossom, white musk, lychee, and, the heart note and clear star, stephanotis. Also known, fittingly, as the “bridal veil,” the fragrant bloom is such a favorite for de la Renta that he grows it in his own home garden—that’s where Something Blue’s perfumers traveled to pick and capture the flower’s unique essence. Smell is a particularly powerful sense and also, as de la Renta points out, the longest lasting. With that in mind, we asked him to share one of his own personal fragrance memories.

“For my very first fragrance that I created, back in 1977, one of the top notes was ylang-ylang. It’s not a particularly pretty flower, but it’s all about the smell of it…the smell of the flower is really quite extraordinary. When we were working on the creation of the fragrance, the perfumers had presented me with twenty different small bottles derived from a list of smells that I identified as liking…mostly some Orientals and traditional flowers. And I had told them about one particular scent from my childhood…I remember there was a tree, and at night, when that tree was in bloom, you could smell it for blocks and blocks and blocks. And I said, ‘I don’t know what the real name of the tree is, but as children we used to call it ylang-ylang.’ And the perfumers laughed and said that is, in fact, the actual name! I don’t know why that tree was in my neighborhood, because it’s not indigenous to my country, but now there is a lot of ylang-ylang in the Dominican Republic. So when I had all these bottles in front of me, I started to smell each one…until I got to the ylang-ylang, and I knew it immediately. And just because of that smell I started to remember things about my childhood that I had completely forgotten. There is something unbelievably important about a fragrance that has everything to do with memories…the memory that lingers and that souvenir that you leave behind. And the same thing is true for a woman—how wonderful for a man to walk into a room and there is still that smell lingering in that room of the woman you love.”

Something Blue, $115 for a 3.4-ounce eau de parfum, and $65 for a candle, at Bloomingdale’s.

Photo: Courtesy of Oscar de la Renta

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