From CK One To Penhaligon’s Iris Ballet – An Interview With Alberto Morillas

It’s a shame that Alberto Morillas’ English isn’t entirely fluent. It’s certainly streets ahead of my French and Spanish – although that’s not saying much – but it isn’t strong enough for him to convey the nuances of the thoughts in his mind as he discusses one of his latest creations, Iris Prima for Penhaligon’s. That said, he has no trouble expressing the pleasure he feels when I reveal a detail about my perfumed past. I wore his CK One, I tell him, throughout my years at University, so his work has now become the key to unlocking my memories of that particular period of my life. He lets out a deep chuckle, his lined face creases into a smile and his blue eyes twinkle. “Ah, all your seductions, yes?” he says, nodding sagely. Eager to chat about this highly influential release from 1994, he lets me know that he considers it to be one of his most personal pieces of work: its intense freshness was inspired by the atmosphere of his home town, Seville. “I think everybody knows somebody who wore CK One,” he claims, “and I think it still smells very modern.”As he’s been responsible for putting together several scented blockbusters, I wonder what he makes of the fact that the memories of thousands of people are forever linked to his creative output. “I never think about this,” he says, laughing again. “I think about creating the perfumes. I like to enjoy creating them. But afterwards, I don’t think about it. I never look behind me.”No doubt Penhaligon’s hope he’s worked some of his customer-friendly magic on Iris Prima. For this new release, the 19th century perfume house sought inspiration from the English National Ballet. They were allowed access to rehearsals and private events; they were permitted to explore the hidden corners of the ENB’s South Kensington studios; and they developed a relationship with two dancers, Nathan Young and Lauretta Summerscales, in order to gain a deeper understanding of the intensely physical world of ballet. At the same time, they brought Morillas on board, as they’d hoped for a while that he would make a perfume for them. So after everyone involved had peered behind the ENB’s curtain and seen the time and discipline that go into making a dance performance seem effortless, what made them decide that the star of this new scent should be iris?”Because when I looked at the whole Penhaligon’s catalogue,” says Morillas, “I thought, ‘Oh, we don’t have an iris.’ So we found one from Florence, a very good one. And we mixed it with bergamot. And that was the beginning.”He found the process of working with the Penhaligon’s team extremely enjoyable. “For me, this one was very creative, because I didn’t have marketing, I didn’t have a real brief. Just the whole story of the ballet. It was open. Now, everything on the market smells the same. Fruity, fruity, fruity. But Iris Prima is very different, because you have the iris with the bergamot, but also the leather effect – you know, the ballet shoes. And you also have the musk, Paradisone – it’s more light, it’s different. And you also have a good price. Iris Prima is very expensive. Now, nobody wants to pay too much money for perfume.”Morillas is, of course, well known for his use of synthetic musks: he believes they give his perfumes “personality”. So is he willing to disclose what percentage of this new creation is composed of his favourite wonder molecules?”I never look at the percentages in my formulae. I use my intuition, I use my feeling. I learned instinctively and alone. I’m an autodidact, so I created my own style.”

How does his formula for Iris Prima compare to those of his other scents?”All my formulae are short,” he says, “about 50 ingredients. Sometimes the formulae are much, much more complicated. This one has a lot of naturals. When you use naturals, you don’t need to have so many ingredients. When you have the signature of the iris, there are a lot of other things you don’t need to make or do. When you smell the jasmine sambac, it’s sunny, it’s fresh, it’s sexy, so you don’t need anything else. There’s also cypriol, which gives a patchouli effect.”And what did he use to create the leather note?”The leather effect is a little bit of oud.”Unable to conceal my surprise at the thought of a Penhaligon’s scent containing oud, I ask him if it’s natural or synthetic.”No, it’s a special oud,” he says, laughing. “It smells more like leather than oud.”And looking ahead to the future, does he worry about the proposed anti-allergen legislation that might be passed by the EU?An expression of absolute shock crosses his face. “I don’t think about this! Personally, I don’t think it will become reality. If it happens, we’ll need to change everything, and I don’t know if it’s possible to change everything. I don’t think about this. I hope it won’t happen.”I tell him that some perfumers I’ve spoken to believe the new laws wouldn’t pose any problems.”Ah, I don’t agree with that. It’s like if you need to paint something, and you don’t have any more colours. It’s like painting only with black and red. You are very limited. But also the other thing that would be difficult is knowing what to do with all the classic perfumes.” He shakes his head and takes a deep breath, clearly wishing to add weight to his final words before he has to rush off. “That will be a real drama.”[Iris Prima is available now.]

About the Author

  • Persolaise

    Dariush Alavi (aka 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 Suddeutsche Zeitung. He has written for Sunday Times Style, Grazia, Glass, The Scented Letter and Now Smell This, amongst others.

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