Image: George Ong
June 04 2010
Lucia van der Post
The very notion of starting a new perfume house would seem to me so daunting a project that anybody who embarks on it must either be delusional or so seriously committed to it that he cannot help himself. One has only to think of the distinguished leaders of the pack – Chanel, Guerlain, Nina Ricci, Christian Dior – to realise what a task it must be. But this is precisely what Jean-François Cabos, a Frenchman who used to be the managing director of Balenciaga until it was bought by Gucci, has decided to do.
“I’d worked on the rebirth of Balenciaga,” he says, “and after it was sold I decided I wanted to bring about the rebirth of perfume. There seemed to me so many perfumes that were all about marketing and not about quality that I decided there was room to create very fine perfumes that were harmonious and beautifully made but were also modern. I didn’t want to go down the trendy or fashionable route. I had no urge to ‘surprise’.”
While he had a strong vision of what he wanted to do, he didn’t have the expertise to bring the perfumes into being, so he asked one of the great “noses”, Jacques Chabert, who had worked for Chanel and Guerlain, to work with him. Chabert was an independent perfumer, so free-spirited that he only ever worked for houses in which he believed. Jacques Chabert, it turned out, believed in Cabos. “I’d known him for years and I knew that any project he was involved in would be stunning, legitimate and of fine quality.”
So now we have the just-launched company Atelier Flou. In the world of haute couture, atelier flou is the part of the house where the craftspeople transform the designer’s drawings into reality, and the parallel is that Chabert’s job was to take Cabos’ drawings, paintings and poems (which was how he communicated his vision) and distil them into fine perfumes. The result is six new scents, three for women and three for men, though like most modern perfumers, Chabert and Cabos reject gender stereotyping and think people should wear what they like.
There’s Shamsin, which is an Oriental floral, with lots of Moroccan rose, Egyptian jasmine and incense. Then there’s Sloane Rose, a sophisticated floral, very feminine and elegant, with jasmine sambac (it takes seven million flowers to make one kilo of oil) and a touch of violet leaf. Paradis Paradis (named after the novel by Jean-Marie Dallet) is a soft floral. As for the ones designated as being masculine, there’s Katana (named after a Japanese sword), which has notes of cypress and juniper berries, Black Purple (nutmeg, vetiver, worked in a sophisticated way) and Eau d’Aviateur, a modern take on a traditional cologne, very fresh with civet and sandalwood.
Smelling these fragrances, one immediately senses that here is serious perfumery. Their elegance, complexity and quality are immediately apparent. All cost £115 for 100ml, with the women’s scents being eau de parfum, while the men’s are eau de toilette.