An Interview with Antonio Gardoni of Bogue Profumo

Alfarom interviews Antonio Gardoni, the founder and perfumer of Bogue Profumo. Gardoni is the creator of two of the most talked about fragrances on the forums of the last year or so: MAAI and Cologne Reloaded.


Your brand is pretty new but it took just two fragrances (MAAI and Cologne Reloaded) to gain everyone's attention pretty rapidly. This means that besides investing on big advertisements, you can still get people's attention by running things on a small scale. What's your take on this?

Advertising, marketing, strategic planning are words and concepts that don't belong to the way I think and work when it's down to perfumery. Three years ago, when I started to experiment with finished fragrances I never really thought about the possibility to actually sell them, it was more a process based on the need for feedback from people who think, sniff and write about this fragrant universe with love and passion. I have never been a big follower of specialized blogs and websites and still now it's very difficult for me to get hooked in conversations about perfumes, I was lucky enough to catch the attention of some interesting people that are considered relevant voices in this world.

I can only imagine myself working on very small scale projects for many different reasons, it's like working with bonsai plants, their scale really help in creating a very intimate and close relationship with the small tree, the control you develop around every single project is complex and absolute and I have no idea how it would be possible to work in a different way. There are practical reasons as well, I own only two 5 litres juniper wood barrels and I use them to age my perfumes for a period of 8 to 10 months before I consider them ready, somehow I believe that possible new or larger barrels will not work in the same way.

When I start a perfume I don't really know how much of it I will produce and considering the sort of raw materials I use it's a wise idea to keep the investments under control, I prefer to invest in amazing small quantity of raw materials than large amount of stuff. One last reason is the fact that I like to blend and mix the same perfume again and again, the materials are the same, the recipe doesn't change but it's always like the first time and I believe that repeating the same action over and over is an act of creativity as much as a way to be one thing with the process. To me the process is the result and I blend myself into it while I do it, all the rest are just tools to deliver the idea. It's a bit like when you are a kid and you like to repeat the same game for hours and every single time you surprise yourself, or maybe it's like certain Japanese ceramic masters that create the same vase for their entire life, they become the vase in a never ending exercise toward a possible idea of perfection.

Probably the short answer to this question is that I don't really know why I received such attention, there is something mysterious and difficult to understand for me, it's the Bogue effect, something that I can't control 100%, and I'm extremely grateful to all the people that believed and supported my little experiments.

When it comes to perfumery, what's your training?

I have no specific training in this field, I'm a self-taught player that spent many years experimenting with extraction of raw materials from natural elements, using a small distiller and exploring infusions. My real objective at one point was to catalogue all the plants I encountered and to create a sort of a library of smells stolen from the nature that crossed my life. I started to think about perfumes because I was running out of space and I decided to decrease the number of bottles in my lab by mixing some of the materials together, something happened then and I have been studying organic chemistry to understand better what I was doing.

You're an architect. Did this influence your approach to fragrance?

I don't really know if there is any connection between my profession as an Architect and my experimenting with fragrances, I don't know if there is a connection between the way I cook and the books I read, or the way I see things and the colour of my eyes. I guess that probably if there is something in common should be curiosity and the awareness about space, I think that perfume or smell it's something that helps us in visualizing the air in between things and this is a sort of spatial way of reading reality, probably.

I know for sure that sometimes it's not easy to balance the two activities and that's why perfumery for me become a nocturnal activity, maybe not for poetic reasons but because during the day time I have draw and chose different materials. My main profession gives me the possibility to think about perfumery as something completely gratuitous, a beautiful activity that I love but that I don't have to worry about. This is really my luxury in this field, the possibility to create small amounts of perfume, the long time I take to create them, the freedom from the urge of commerce and the feeling of doing something absolutely not necessary.


You also create bespoke fragrances. How does the whole process work?

I started working mainly with bespoke fragrances and it's still an activity I really enjoy. It's a long process that can take around eight months to complete and it's a great opportunity to build up relationships with extremely different people. On top of that is a fantastic exercise that allows me to experiment on an even smaller scale and using materials that I generally can't use due to their rarity or restriction.

In order to be able to provide this service to people that don't live close by I created a starting kit called “nove vie” built around nine different fragrances that really help at the beginning stage to understand the client taste and wishes on top of providing a small library of Bogue's style approaches to perfume composition. I have been creating bespoke fragrances for people around the world without ever meeting them through an intensive swap of samples and raw materials and making very transparent and understandable the process in order to share every single step and making the whole experience as exciting as the final product. The client can customize every aspect of the project including the bottle/s, packaging and graphics and his formula will never be shared or used for any other purpose, the minimum amount I do to create a proper blended bespoke fragrance is 500 ml and the client can re-order it requesting it 3–4 months in advance.

Your latest release MAAI has gained important endorsements amongst fragrance aficionados all around the world and it's a solid candidate to become one of the best fragrances of 2014 for many. On the other hand, you always produce fragrances in very limited batches that will hardly cover all the potential interest you're getting right now. What's behind this policy?

There is no policy behind this and I'm not a big fan of exclusive, luxury, hard to find marketing strategies at all. Actually there is no solid policy behind any of my production in perfumery. I want to try my best to remain loyal to my freedom, I think that this is something that other people can recognize and that's probably one of the reasons why Maai gained such an attention recently. The way I do things doesn't really follow any logic beside my very own personal interests in that moment and a deeply obsessive attention in trying to blend something that will make me happy before going to bed. I don't try to push my products and I have been always very happy in trying to build relationship with the people interested in the small world of Bogue, there is something almost completely free in the way I try to do this and this very fragile and delicate mechanism will last until it's time to change and maybe even abandon perfumery activities.

MAAI smells so complex and what immediately comes to mind is how crazy it must have been to go through its composition. - What are your composition methods?

I don't know if spending almost two years creating a formula for a perfume makes the perfume itself complex, I know for sure that sometimes extremely small experiments and variations might look crazy. I like to play with final fragrances based on a sum of shadows and almost invisible layers, It's not only a matter of the amount of different ingredients (even if with under 80 different raw materials in one formula I'm rarely happy) it's also probably a way of thinking by leaving space between the different parts, it's a chemical magic that requires attention and perseverance.

I don't think I have a composition method and sometimes I work for addition, sometimes for subtractions, strangely enough a lot of times I start thinking about only one material and I promise myself: now I will do a perfume based on roses. Then along the process while I explore the complexity of the rose I discover what I call the rose's friends and enemies and I start playing with their relationship and the rose is not lost but merged in an idea of rose that maybe doesn't obviously smell like it. When I started Maai I wanted to do an oriental incense perfume with a lot of smoke and sandalwood sawdust, parallel to that I was trying to grow a better relationship between me and what I always considered a difficult flower, the tuberose.

That's how Maai was born and that's how it got lost in the path. One last little secret is the fact that sometimes I go back to the distiller while I'm finishing a formula and make unorthodox experiments distilling completed fragrances and then some very unpredictable events happen…

What kind of ingredients do you use? Are they all in-house produced or you also get stuff from bigger companies?

I tend to use as many natural ingredients as possible. They are the ones I know better and that was the way I started few years ago, I will never be able to start thinking about a perfume if I can't like my nose to some plants, roots, flowers, leaves that I can actually touch and interact with. Saying this, my library of ingredients has been growing a lot recently and I'm happy to introduce some amazing chemicals or the most recent Co2 extraction methods to my formulas. Some of the natural ingredients are produced in-house and some are becoming absolutely unavoidable when I compose a fragrance, I'm so familiar with them that I can challenge them in some extreme ways sometimes. I have been lucky enough to be able to built some very important relationships with what I consider serious companies through the time and I'm able to seduce them in selling me even small quantities of precious juices, on the other side I have a solid group of small companies providing amazing organic materials that include real animal notes and my last source comes from my trips to the far east where I found some little gems. It's a never ending process to test raw materials from as many as possible sources and it's a great privilege to have access to certain companies even if maybe some of their products will end in a small bespoke project. Even for this subject I end up mixing very different suppliers in the same bottle to make life just a bit more complex.

When it comes to fragrance, what have been your influences?

It's very difficult to know what influences me when I deal with fragrances, nature is a great inspiration but more as a phenomenon to contemplate than something to replicate, I would say that probably my greatest influence come from imagination, stories, books, daydreaming, fantasies. It's like having a mental trip where you mix reality and possible reality, images and smells, ideas and visions, it's like dreaming influenced by the story of your life all condensed in one moment without being able to completely understand it. I guess it's life, life can be a great influence.

I hear you're a martial-arts lover. How this reflects in your perfumery style?

I have been practising Kendo for the past 8 years of my life and it's an activity that has helped immensely in getting me closer to the way I think and the way I interact with objects nature and people around me. I don't think that there is a direct reflection of this in my perfume style it's more linked to a general awareness and balance that I might find in kendo, the aspect I really think it's important for me and probably I transmit that in my perfumes as well is the calm-tension phenomenon that might occur between molecules as in between opponents. The name Maai comes from this world and it's the Japanese-kendo way to describe the relationship between time and space that happens ideally between two opponents, it's the perfect moment/distance in a very fragile balance and it's the perfect celebration of all the in-between theory. It's a state of mind, a matter of life and death, a feeling, a tangible absence and an invisible presence, it's getting lost in who is in front of you to become two in one. And now it's a perfume, something as well that fill the air, the space and the time in-between.

Any new projects you would like to talk about?

At the moment I'm working on a couple of bespoke fragrances for some very interesting and challenging private clients, I'm almost ready to re-launch Eau d'E, my first ever perfume with a reinforced formula and hopefully I will finish soon a new fragrance that occupied my last year, I wanted to do a vetiver perfume but as usual during the process things changed quite a lot even if it will be full of a very interesting organic vetiver, I really don't know how to describe the result I'm getting at the moment but it makes me smile and it makes me sleep well, it will be challenging to match the expectations that have been built around me recently but I'm doing my best in getting lost in a vetiver cloud appearing from a timber box full of spices and flowers.

I want to work more on space related projects like the one I presented in Beijing in 2013 during the design festival and the more recent one about rose and tomato developed with Francesca Gotti for a gallery in Milano. I'm extremely intrigued about the different possibilities to create smell related installations and how many different and surprising ways are available to experience scents without having to hold a piece of wet paper!
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