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July 26 2014

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Diane Pernet Talks About Fantasy, Fragrance, and When She Used to Wear Pink

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Diane Pernet defines herself as “founder of ASVOFF [A Shaded View on Fashion Film] among many other things” on Twitter, and by “other things” she means former designer, journalist, blogger, “La Sorcière” of the seventh arrondissement in Paris (according to local children), and now perfumer. The big reveal of her fragrances comes courtesy of the Unscent exhibition on display at Excelsior in Milan—where you can get a sneak peek…er…whiff by sticking your nose into a glass orb (seen here). Pernet spoke with Style.com exclusively about the three olfactory brews (out officially in September) she’s dreamed up—To Be Honest, Desired, and In Pursuit of Magic—and how she’s venturing under the sea (much like Sofia Coppola) for her next concoction.

What inspired you to enter the fragrance world?

It’s funny because I used to be a designer, and it was a fantasy of mine at that time in the eighties to make my own fragrance. But I never got it together, and a couple of years ago I was talking with a friend of mine, Cristiano Seganfreddo [art director of Unscent], and he said, “You have to make a perfume, and I know just the perfect person for you to meet.” So he introduced me to Celso Fadelli, he owns a company called Intertrade [Europe], and we started talking because it’s something I’ve always fantasized about doing. People always talk about me and they mention [my] fragrance, so I might as well make my own.

What fragrance did you wear that was so notable?

I used to wear Comme de Garçons Avignon—I wore that for three years—and Comme de Garçons Hinoki. Before that I wore Vetiver by Guerlain for men.

I love Guerlain Vetiver, too.

But they kind of changed the ingredients. I was talking to someone about that today, because I remember I wore it for decades. Every time I tried to switch to something else, I’d always go back to it—it was just like my fragrance. But then I started creating my own fragrance. It’s a real journey and it’s been great fun, and kind of like alchemy. I started out working with three noses…but I was only liking one particular nose, so then I met her. She lives in Grasse and it’s been magic, because I’m pretty hard on [the people I work with]—it’s my American side, I say exactly what I think. Celso says I’m never going to lose that [quality]. I can be [living in Europe] twenty-three years and will never lose it, but people find it a bit harsh.

What exactly were you looking for when creating your own fragrance?

So many perfumes make you sick to your stomach and give you a headache. I really like something that’s without gender because I always used to wear men’s fragrances, or any of the Comme des Garçons’ fragrances, because they’re just as good on a man as they are on a woman. I like that, and I just like something that’s going to take you somewhere, and it’s kind of serene, in a way. At the moment, there are three different fragrances, and we’re working on the fourth one, but that one still has a ways to go.

What do you have in mind for number four?

The fourth one is a seaweed kind of fragrance.

That’s interesting. I don’t think I’ve heard that note mentioned before.

Yes, something that’s never really been found before, I think. At least I haven’t [found it] in a fragrance. I like something new and interesting, but that’s still in the process.

What were your inspirations for the three that are launching in the fall?

Well, I think memory and fantasy mixed together. I like a fragrance that’s going to make you feel something. The first once, for instance, To Be Honest, is like walking through a forest. I like woodsy fragrances—like the cedar aspect of it. There’s something really cool and refreshing, but then also sensual and woodsy. I like to combine that with the idea of myrrh in a church. It’s not at all [Comme des Garçons] Avignon, but there’s that one ingredient from Avignon. I don’t want it to smell like anything I’ve ever smelled before, because then that wouldn’t be very much fun.

The second one, Desired, it’s a little more carnal, but it’s also woodsy. There’s no myrrh in it and there’s no church. It’s a little bit more oriental, like an oriental garden.

And then the third one, In Pursuit of Magic, that’s totally different. It’s very citrus but based on lime. It’s totally intoxicating, if I do [say so myself], because that’s the one I finished most recently. I love it and I need more of it. Of course, I’ve been wearing the other two for the past six months because you have to wear it and you have to love it, and I think with a perfume you can’t feel middle-of-the-road about it. And that’s what’s so great about Celso, because he said, “It’s a journey and it takes however long it takes, but you have to love it.” I’m not somebody who just wants to get into the packaging and the juice is horrible, which is the case with so many perfumes. The next step is working on the packaging, but that’s not done yet. I’m going to work with [photographer] Miguel Villalobos on it.

What are you thinking of in terms of the bottle?

It’s all kind of mystic because we have to see where it’s going, but kind of an abstract head for the bottle cap that Miguel comes up with. And then maybe the bottle would be more sleek because you can’t have too much going on at the same time…And then I think we’re going to make a couple very special [versions], kind of like a collector’s item.

Where do you apply fragrance?

I like classic [spots], like behind your ears, on your wrists, and also on the inside of your elbow. I also like a little on my veil.

I love that you mist it on your veil.

On material it stays a bit longer.

Yes, and I read in an interview with T that you don’t love the American idea of a hug, so this way you can project your perfume without allowing people to get too close.

Yeah, made me sound pretty cold, no?

It was hysterical, and to be honest, I don’t I love the “American hug,” either.

Oh, good. I’m glad to hear that. It kills me.

What can I say? Personal space is important.

Yes, I know. Sometimes I’ve just gotten up the steps to my place and somebody comes in later and they say, “Ah, I could smell you were here,” and that’s nice, because they get excited by it. And that’s what fragrance is—it’s memory, isn’t it? Like you remember the fragrance of your boyfriend, or girlfriend, whatever. It taps into emotions, and I think that’s what perfumes have to do.

Speaking of that, what are your first fragrance memories?

My first fragrance—God—it’s something that I would never wear now! I think I used to love to wear Shalimar, something so sweet. And I used to like White Shoulders. And also I liked Joy perfume because I loved the idea of all those rose petals—I think that was my fantasy. They were all kind of floral, sweet, and…sickening.

So your olfactory tastes have changed since then?

Yes, definitely, but when I was a little girl, I used to always wear pink, so times change.

Somehow, I just can’t imagine you wearing pink.

Believe me, I always wore pink. My room was pink, my bed was pink, everything was pink! So yes, I guess it went along with those fragrances [I no longer wear].

Sometimes the past is best kept in the past.

To read more about Diane Pernet, her views on fashion films and Zoolander, head over to Style File.

Photo: Alberto Sinigaglia

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