Colours, shapes and emotions: an interview with Evody's Cérine Vasseur and perfumer Cecile Zarokian

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Evody's Cerine Vasseur (left) with perfumer Cecile Zarokian (right)


Like several other brands operating within the independent sector, the mother-daughter house, Evody, have chosen to release their scents as distinct, grouped sets. For instance, their Collection Premiere was designed to showcase their personal ‘perfumery story' and the subsequent Collection D'Ailleurs was inspired by different global locations. Given today's competitive market - where retailers prefer to give up shelf space in sizeable chunks rather than by the inch - it's a strategy that makes sense. The arrival of three or five new creations, instead of just one, can achieve a more powerful impact and successfully grab the attention of the casual shopper overwhelmed by all the wares on display. 

Sure enough, Evody's latest venture is another set: a trio under the name Collection Galerie, composed single-handedly by Cecile Zarokian. When I met her and brand co-founder Cérine Vasseur - the daughter of the family duo - at London's new Jovoy boutique, I started our conversation by asking if all independent brands absolutely have to release fragrances in groups these days in order to generate healthy sales.

Cérine Vasseur: It doesn't have to be a collection, but we like to work on themes. For this one, we really wanted to work on artistic movements in painting, but there is more than one. We wanted to go very deeply into the subject. So we worked on the illustration of the artistic movement on the bottles and the packaging. 

 

Persolaise: Does this kind of approach help with marketing?

Cérine Vasseur: That's an interesting question. Honestly, I think everything is marketing, but it can be done on purpose, or because the purpose brings the marketing. I like things when they're clear. I think it's important not to have a brand that looks messy. 

 

Persolaise: So, how do your new perfumes reflect artistic movements?

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Couleur Fauve
Cérine Vasseur: The first one is fauvism, with Couleur Fauve. Fauvism was a very short movement, but a very important one, because it was the starting point of an artistic rebellion. It used very broad brush strokes. For this perfume, we worked on a specific painting: Le Bonheur De Vivre, from Henri Matisse. Colours. Naked bodies in nature. Animals. 

Cecile Zarokian: I wanted to express the hot colours. Red, orange, yellow. All the naked bodies. Celebration of joy, pleasure. It's very sensual. In terms of the fragrance, I decided to work on amber and specifically different kinds of labdanum. For me it's a fascinating material, because even if you use the same part of the plant, you get different effects because of different extraction processes. I was able to express many different sides of amber because of using many different labdanum materials, so I was able to play on the balsamic side, but also on the diffusive, very ‘top', uplifting notes. And then I went deeper for the animalic aspects. For me that's what makes this perfume different. I really wanted to focus on and use the amber accord. 

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Le Bonheur De Vivre by Henri Matisse


Persolaise: I guess from its name that the second perfume is based on abstraction.

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Sens Abstrait
Cérine Vasseur: Yes, it's called Sens Abstrait. The idea in this movement is to express emotions with colours and shapes that do not represent anything. It's non-figurative. The idea was to take the same approach with a fragrance. 

Cecile Zarokian: What abstract artists did was to use shapes and colours. I thought that if I had to transpose abstraction into my field, my art, it would be to use my ingredients without representing anything in particular, like a specific flower. So it would be non-figurative. You can't say it's this or that. It's very tricky, actually. Because it's about balance. You focus on the fragrance and the emotions it gives you, without being able to say it's about rose or jasmine. You have an overall impression. I think you could say it's citrusy, or it's floral, or woody or green. But besides that, you can't say which kind of flower or wood or spice is in it. This was the hardest to make. 

 

Persolaise: For this one, was it easier not to use naturals, as they can be more easily identifiable?

Cecile Zarokian: That's the thing. I first thought I should use only synthetics because they can hide more easily. But I thought it would be more interesting to still use some naturals. 

 

Persolaise: And the third perfume?

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Cérine Vasseur: Tubéreuse Manifeste. We wanted to work on a tuberose in a Rene Magritte way. He used to paint very common objects, out of their context. When we started thinking about tuberose, we were thinking of what is the most expected tuberose, for us, and to go to the extreme opposite, to make this tuberose surprising, unexpected, or even shocking.

Cecile Zarokian: Magritte painted everyday life and common objects, but in a different perspective. So you would see them differently, even if they're very common. So we thought that, again, if we transposed and translated, we could work on a classic, like tuberose, and make it different, make it something that you wouldn't expect. I wanted the tuberose to be very narcotic, literally, like something very addictive, with some alcoholic notes, some boozy effects and syrupy notes. For the alcoholic effects, I used some rum extracts, davana and chamomile. Then later on, there's also something leathery and animalic. And again, it's like a painting. You have to have your own experience and see how you feel and how it speaks to you, or not.

 

Persolaise: As we're on the subject of artistic movements, I'm sure you're aware that Chandler Burr believes it's possible to talk about perfumes in terms of styles from the visual arts: impressionism, expressionism etc. Do you think this is helpful or legitimate as a way of thinking about perfumes?

Cecile Zarokian: For me, it's not something that is really accessible to everyone. I saw Chandler Burr's exhibition in New York, and I didn't really get that approach from the exhibition. I know that's what the exhibition was saying, but that's not what I got from it. He uses the vocabulary of art and there are some links with art - like minimalism or brutalism - but I didn't hear or read many other examples from him. Is there a legitimate way to discuss perfume? I think, for me, that's over-thinking the subject. 

 

Persolaise: But would you consider yourself to be an artist?

Cecile Zarokian: I prefer to put it this way: perfumery is an art. Who can say, “I am an artist”? That seems very self-absorbed. 

 

Persolaise: And finally Cérine, if Estée Lauder came knocking on your door one of these days, saying they want to buy your brand, how would you respond?

Cérine Vasseur: To be honest, I would say Yes, because I could then do many, many other things that I love. But of course, I would try to make a deal with them, maybe so I could stay with my brand. 

 

Evody's latest trio is available now at Jovoy London and Paris.
About the author
Persolaise is a four-time Jasmine Award winning writer with a lifelong interest in the world of fine fragrance. His perfume guide, Le Snob: Perfume, is published in English by Hardie Grant and in German by Süddeutsche Zeitung. He has written for Sunday Times Style, Grazia, Glass, The Scented Letter and Now Smell This, amongst others.

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Comments

I have all of Evody's scents and have been waiting for a long time for a new release from these talented female perfumers. Another well done interview highlighting lesser known houses.
 

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