Modern Perfumer Inspired by Scents of the Past: An interview with René Laruelle

René Laruelle talks with our Addicted columnist, Marlen Harrison, about how he became enchanted with fragrance, his experiences as a perfumer, and his own creations, three of which have the distinction of being included in the famous Osmotheque. Name: René Laruelle Current Location: Liège, Belgium Place of birth: Liège, Belgium Current occupation: Engineer (Electro-mechanic) with a diploma from the University of Liège and from the Montefiore Institut Proudest Moment: Three perfumes in the Osmothèque’s catalogue. Eleven books in the catalogue of the Réserve précieuse de la Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique. Fragrance notes that intrigue you (tell me the first that come to mind as of this moment): Oliban, Honeysuckle, Orris-root and Acorus calamus root, fir balsam, paper and ink.

Hi René, thanks for talking with me. I first learned about your expertise in fragrance when I read Luca Turin’s September 4th blog regarding your sumptuous creation “Jardin des Floralies”. I later learned that you are also a professor and well-known writer. Please tell me about how your passion for fragrance was ignited, and how you developed your talents? I’ve been interested in perfumes, flavours and fragrances for a long time. When I was young (A long, long time ago…) I used to have a look in each cooking-pot of my mother. My mother, who is now 87, was a “Cordon bleu” like they say in France. She was cooking marvellous soups as well as delicious cakes. And with her, I learned to use pepper and salt of course but also laurel, basil, and a lot of ingredients that we use in cooking as well as in perfumery (tarragon and thyme, carrot and celery…). It is true: many perfumers are inspired by cooking. Remember that you find the same ingredients in cooking and in some herbaceous and aromatic perfumes and sometimes evenflowers in special cooking. The first professional contact was with candle-making perfumes. At the end of the 70’s, I bought a company which had an old perfumer’s laboratory. I went to Genève to learn perfumery and later to Grasse. I’ve been known in France since a famous TV show “La marche du siècle” (July, 1997). “La marche du siècle” was the most important and serious prime time talk show in France for about 10 years. I was invited along with the vice-president of L’Oréal, Ines Sastre (Lancôme’s model) and Jean-Claude Ellena (“First”, Bulgari and Cartier perfumes) and since that time, really I don’t know why, French people look at me a little bit like a Robin Hood of perfumery. In Genève I learned to pratice my job with men who are now my friends (Georgy Sokoloff and Jean Hadorn). In Grasse, I had the great honor to meet and to have conversations with Mr. Edmond Roudnitska who is the greatest perfumer of the 20 th century, in my opinion. From them I understood that a great perfume is a perfume which “sings”. It is the music which makes a good perfume, like I always say to my students. Your compositions range from original fragrances to reconstructions of historical scents. The ability to bring a long forgotten aroma back to life is a very exciting prospect. Could you tell us about this process? And how have the aromas of history influenced you as a composer of fragrance? I’m for a long time interested by the scents of history – Don’t forget that perfumery started 80,000,000 years ago !!! I have a personal library of 1,800 books specializing in scents, perfumes, flavours and fragrances. I’m particularly intrigued by the antique perfumes and old recipes. I’ve tried a lot of them and sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. For instance, I manufactured an incense-cone inspired by ancient Egyptian female musicians to see if it was possible to sing and dance with such a cone on the head. Try it, if you are successful for more than one second, tell me, I’ll send you two cherries! All the ingredients of these old perfumes have a wonderful smell (sweet, powerful, balsamic tones…) and are especially interesting to me. So I use them any time I can in my own compositions. For example, here are some of my creations inspired by the past : Egyptian perfume : oliban, myrrha, calamus, different spices etc in beef’ grease. Eau de la Reine de Hongrie : distelled rosemary included first in water and secondly included in ethanol. Vinegar : different aromatic “drugs” in white wine vinegar, very complicated work (for instance, warming in “vessels” with the heating of the sun… ! I told you I’m crazy…) Wow, René! I wouldn’t say you were crazy, but rather, inspired! About the incense, this is a very interesting story. Do you continue to use incense in your home or workplace? To tell the truth, I often burn incense in my office (not in my laboratory of course) when I wasn’t writing formulas…for the pleasure to work in a pleasant atmosphere. How do you feel about the current state of affairs in the international fragrance industry? I do not like the trends of the last 25 years perfumery. Money and money are the King and the Queen. You find little or no originality. Everybody wants to sell THE bestseller, and as such, to do the same thing as his neigbour. I think that in the future there will be a place again for little structures as mine. But now, at this time, it is still too soon. Theories of olfactory sensation, as to how we, as sentient creatures actually smell have become a heated debate during the last few decades. What are your thoughts on this issue? Progress in olfactory theory is very interesting (see the recent book [The Emperor of Scent] on Luca’s theory), not only in the perfumery range but also in the different ranges, by example like research in medicine and psychiatry. But certainly it is still a long time to have a complete view on olfactory sensation. René – do you have your own theories? I’m interested by the different modern researches in olfactory but I do not have my own physical theories. How to choose between form and vibration? Maybe they are both right!!! It depends perhaps on the “point of view”. My own search is rather in the ranges of history and “philosophy”. If you could think of one scent that you wished you had created, which would it be and why? The perfumes I find especially well-done (and it is only my opinion, shhhh!): Arpège, Shalimar, Femme, L’air du Temps, Eau Sauvage, Opium, Angel. Why ? Because… What to say about that !? They each have a simple or complex structure, but each is nearly perfect.

Oh, please tell us more! Do you personally use any of the above? Like I said before, a great scent should “sing”! Arpège is a fantastic composition of Mr Fraysse, “uncopiable”. Who now should venture to put 50 gr by kilo of a Grasse jasmin absolute in a composition? I wrote 20 pages on Shalimar in my novel “Le parfum perdu” (“The lost perfume”), difficult to summarize them in three words. Rochas Femme and Eau Sauvage (E. Roudnitska) are perfect, polished like a mirror. And Angel is a rare new-aromatic modern “good-looking” fragance. Perhaps the only one. Your company name is AYREL Perfumes: Please review for us the scents that are available to our readers and how they may be purchased.

• “Le jardin des floralies” is a chypre feminine perfume created on a osmanthus theme, rich in natural fragrances like jasmin, ylang, rose, patchouli, santal, mimosa, tuberose and vanilla. • “Baiser de soie” is a floral, sweet powdery feminine perfume, also rich in natural fragrances like jasmin, ylang, tuberose, rose, galbanum, santal, boronia and a fabulous ambrette. Both of the above are avalaible in a 25 ml bottle sprayer without added gas for 60,00 Euros each. Thank you so much for taking the time to introduce yourself and to discuss your ideas about fragrance. I certainly hope there will be a new scent coming out soon…Wishing you all the best! To contact René : AYREL Editeur de livres et de parfums René LARUELLE 18, avenue des Tilleuls B – 4000 LIEGE, Belgium Renelaruelle [at] gmail.comP.S. – René has told me that he would consider creating a paypal account, or accepting international money orders from those who wish to purchase his fragrances, but ultimately prefers a bank wire transfer.

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