martedì 11 febbraio 2014

The Golden Years of Perfumery: an Interview.

"Triage des Fleurs"

When we are chatting about perfumes, it's enough to say: "Italian Wave" to evoke a sort of Golden Age. 
In fact, it was an Era lasting about twenty years, during the '80s and '90s.  A time span long enough to remember extraordinary years, live by many perfume enthusiasts, though quite a few of them live those times in a truly conscious way.

The '80s and '90s were times when the world found itself invaded by what some called "The Italian Perfumery". But others called it "The Italian-Cheapies Age", in a sort of dispregiative way.
In this period  almost every designer, stylist and "brand" felt compelled to launch on the market at least a perfume under his own name. 
The factor not taken in consideration is that this flood of perfumes arrived in a magnificent and unrepeatable age; an age that the magazine "FMR" - the cultural benchmark in those years- did not hesitate to define "the New Italian Renaissance" .
The "Italian Wave" of perfumery (and fashion, too...) was a phenomenon that exploded in 1982 (although began quietly a few years earlier), in which, during  a few years, the market was hit by a staggering amount of new products, all "Made in Italy" or with reference to Italian designers and stylists. This flood seemed to have no end, and began to show signs of fatigue during the second half of the Nineties, ending around the Millennium.
In this twenty-years-span some dozens, if not hundreds of perfumes, arrived on the market. Someone even calculated at least fifty different names, each one giving rise to a variety of different scents. Yes, it was an unstoppable flood. 
This "wave" had some consequences, which may appear paradoxical. One of these consequences was that the public got tired of all these scents on the shelves, poured all over in a continuous stream. Once the momentum ended, all the unsold perfumes were thrown into baskets of discounted offerings, and sold at ridiculous prices. 
I remember vividly the surplus of fragrances offered for "dirty cheap", arriving at grotesque: "Three scents = 10 euros".
Again, until a few years ago it was not impossible to find bottles of precious "Gianni Versace pour femme", year 1982, hidden behind dusty shelves, at very low prices. 
This perfume selling at bargain prices had deleterious consequences: "Look at these perfumes, launched with great fanfare, and now? Check it, sold at ridiculous prices, now! Great fragrances? Are you kidding? Cheapies, that's all!"

And this is the paradox : a big amount of "Made in Italy" perfumes produced during '80s and '90s were of astonishing quality, especially if compared to today's standards. 
Real Oakmoss without spare. Authentic castoreum. Iris of the highest quality. Fabulous Aldehydes, purposedly selected and prepared. Real rose "absolutes", used without any restriction. 
Lavender and jasmine from Grasse crops. No cheapies, and all first-grade ingredients. Briefly: a quality standards of "Excellence". 

Someone affirmed: "The worst perfume prepared during the '80s shines like a gem, today". 
Someone else, however, talks in a more rude manner: "Those talking so much about today's creative perfumery, niche fragrances, and "artistic" perfumes, well, they should take a look at perfumes produced thirty years ago". 
How can you blame them? 

Actually, all things happened thanks to a lot of money available   (by the producers), a willing to buy perfumes (by customers), a tolerant legislation, free-restrictions materials, and, finally, an historical period particularly favorable for luxury and cosmetics.

What remained of that Era? Very little. 
Luckily, a few people experienced this Golden Age, and they were witnesses of that time.
Roberto Garavaglia is among them. 
One of the actors during the Eighties and Nineties, having a role of R&D at "Diana de Silva", one of the greatest Italian cosmetics industries. 

Roberto Garavaglia, R&D, "Diana de Silva", 1988-2004

And it was a blessing for me having a chat with him. 
The biggest gripe of this interview is that it lasted only a few minutes: Roberto Garavaglia could speak for hours and hours, in a passionate way, about old-time perfumery.  

One of the most appreciated perfumes
produced by Diana de Silva:
tha acclaimed "Ferre for Men" (1986)

AM: Good morning, mr. Garavaglia !
RG: Good morning to you!

AM: Today fans and aficionados all over the Net are chatting about " ... those magnificent Italian perfumes, many, many years ago...." You should know this mood, having been a protagonist, shouldn't you? Would you have the pleasure to remember it, for a few minutes?
RG: Of course, and with great pleasure, too. It was a time that I remember very well. Magnificent years! Unrepeatable ones!
Today, when we are told, "Oh, these beautiful perfumes that were once... " we smile. Because it's the best acknowledgment for work we did many years ago.

AM: Well, you worked at "Diana de Silva", one of the greatest Italian cosmetic factories, and you was a responsible in many sectors, including perfumes. I'd like if you could explain us, generally speaking, the creation of a perfume. One of those great fragrances still admired and appreciated today, after so many years.
RG: Yes. What I remember most, retrospectively, is the incredibly high standard of quality and excellence we were dealing with. Huge, futuristic laboratories. Extraordinary quality ingredients. An incredible work, where the final product was the main goal. 
We knew to do the best, and in best way. 

AM: But, in detail, how did you "create" a perfume ? 
People think that "Armani" or "Versace" perfumes, for example, were created by Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace in person! 
In other words, Giorgio and Gianni stopped away -for a moment-  from their fashion duties, and were delighted smelling flowers and working with test tubes, in an attempt to create magical scents .... A very romantic scenario, but quite unrealistic, huh ?
RB : Indeed. The creation of a perfume followed a very different way. The first thing to do was to obtain licenses. It means that the cosmetic factory, in our case "Diana de Silva", had to buy the licenses for cosmetic products (creams, perfumes) directly from the famous stylist or designer; then we asked the scent factories to "create" a fragrance; then, we had to choose the fragrance, and finally we marketed the perfume. 
It was the scent factory to "create" the perfume, not the designer himself, although he was involved during all stages of the production.

AM: let's make an example in detail. For example, let's talk about one of your most famous and well-known scents: Gianfranco Ferrè. 
What about the creation of a Ferrè perfume?
RG: Well, first of all, you have to buy the license, if you want to produce something with the brand "Ferrè" on the box. So, we bought permissions from Ferrè. Then you had to contact the scent factories. In these times there were a lot of different scent factories. However, we contacted only four or five factories, and "asked" them for the scent .

AM: What exactly "asking for a scent" mean? And what factories you asked for ?
RG: We asked mainly to Givaudan, IFF, Firmenich, and Robertet. After we bought the license, we had several meetings with the stylist/designer, to ask his opinion. We had to make a certain type of perfume for men (or women), and we had to decide the notes. It's better a "citrusy" or a "fruity" one? A "chypre" or a "fougere" ? Dry or sweet ? For Men, Women, or unisex ? 
We listened at him, then we tried to follow his general guidelines. 
After that, we contacted scent factories (i.e. Givaudan, IFF, Robertet, etc.), and told them we wanted a scent realized "in this way". 
They listened to our desires, and after a long time (a few months, at least!), they brought us a number of "samples" to choose from.

AM : ... and how many samples did the factories bring to you?
RG : It depends. For less demanding scents we had to choose between ten samples; for the most important perfumes we had to choose between at least thirty different samples. 
And we had to pick only one. One out of thirty different scents!

AM: And what about the selection process ?
RG: Remember we are speaking about the Golden Age (later things became different...). Let's suppose we got thirty different samples. They were all in a "Perfume" concentration, so we diluted samples in alcohol, to obtain the "Eau de toilette" concentration, and we "macerated" all samples at refrigerator temperatures (5 Celsius degrees) for a month. 
Then we filtered to remove residues and...

AM: Uh, "residues" ? This means perfumes were produced with some natural substances, not entirely synthetic ones ...
RG : Of course. Although chemistry was predominant, natural substances were widely used in those times.  
I said, once filtered the EdT , we divided it into 30 ml spray vials,  and submitted it to a few employees, for evaluation. A "democratic" choice, we could say. 
The Artistical Direction had the final word about the choice, of course, but they let us evaluate samples, to know our opinion. Basically, we were trying all the samples sent to us by scent factories; and we had to judge all samples giving our opinion: "Sirs, according to me, this is the best sample". "No, it's this". "No, I do not like it, I prefer this other. "Ok, this is nice, but it will not have success, because it is too strange" , and so on....
The Direction evaluated our opinions, and finally chose the final sample, using its own experience.

AM: .. such a system it could be inconceivable now .....
RG : Absolutely. There was no rush to launch a fragrance,  no short times, no hurries, and we were able to work in a calm, relaxed way. We had to avoid to launch a low-quality perfume on the market, because we could have big economic damages. We put a lot of attention in "choosing" samples. The "chosen scent" had - in those times- a very good chance of success, both in quality and sales.

AM:  Those were Golden Years! Anyway, apart these considerations, it was essentially you to choose the scent, and the famous stylist/designer had nothing to say.
RG: Well, once we chose the fragrance, we presented it to the stylist/designer who, usually, had no complaints whatsoever. Why? Because he knew that we were highly-esteemed professionals; he knew that scent factories had high quality products. So he quietly accepted our work.

AM. Let's say it: fragrances were so good, so great... Virtually no one could honestly say, "Oh no, it is an horrible scent !"
RG: Well, in some rare case the scent was chosen by a famous nose, without going through the "employees evaluation". It happened for example with "Byblos" for women, the blue-bottle perfume with a "Rose of the Desert" cast on the cap. 
And, for example, Gianfranco Ferrè was very demanding, and was present during all stages of the project, from the packaging to the scent. Once it happened, I remember, a big problem. It was with the scent "Gieffeffe": he was greatly unpleased with the spray pump. according to him it was too visible, and vetoed the marketing. In fact, he wanted a transparent, invisible spray mechanism. What a problem! We had to change the pump immediately, worried for this, because we did not test the stability of plastics. Luckily it ended up all right.

AM:  Uh? What is the "test of stability" of plastics ?
RG: Oh ! I would have to say we put every perfume or cosmetic in contact with the plastic of the bottle and the spray,  to verify if the scent was "corrosive" to the materials. In this case it would have turn in a disaster. The scent slowly melted plastics and became smelly. The danger was that the customer would have sprayed a residue of plastic mixed with perfume. Nothing dangerous, but commercially it would have been a disaster.

AM : It was a really accurate job ...
RG: I'll tell you another thing:  it was really amazing, even for us, the use of "environmental" instruments. I mean, at "Diana de Silva" we had certain tools reproducing different climatic conditions on the planet Earth: dry, wet, polar, continental ... in order to study how perfumes could react in all weather conditions possible.

AM : ... and all this was happening during the golden age, and after this Era?
RG: Oh, great times pass and fade away... Economic conditions worsened, laws became more stringent, people got less money for cosmetics...At a certain point glass-bottles suppliers, to reduce expenses, adopted the same type of bottles.

AM : A question : tell me some differences between yesterday and today.
RG: Twenty years ago, every cosmetic line had twenty different products : EdT , EdP , extract, lotion, soap, after-shaves, creams, and so on. Today, two products are enough! 
If you ask for a perfume to scent factories now, you probably will have no samples to choose from, because scent factories will produce directly your perfume. 
However, quality is still present, but you have to face with a lot of difficulties: stringent laws, rising costs...

AM: A curiosity since time is running out : fans wonder sometimes how many bottles of a perfume have been produced. In 2013 it was declared that "Fame" by Lady Gaga, reached the milestone of six million bottles sold, in just a few months ....
RG: Our figures were certainly lower than that! For a single scent we could prepare ten thousand (10.000) bottles at launch. Then, if success arrived, we increased the production.

AM: A personal curiosity. I am a big fan of "Bugatti" (or "Ettore Bugatti"), a scent named by fans -with some reasons- "Shalimar pour homme", produced by Diana de Silva in 1992, the one with the amber juice and car radiator-shaped bottle. I've always found a stunningly scent, out of this world, with its "citrus - vanilla - animalic notes" triple accord. Never seen anything similar. Could you tell me something about it?
RG: Of course, the old "Bugatti"! I remember it very well, because I personally took charge of the cosmetic line. "Bugatti" played around a contrasting set of different citrus notes mixed with vanilla, ending with a triumph of castoreum. It began in a typical mood, then evolved in another one, and finally ended in a third different mood.  
A true evolution on male skin: those were times....

"Ettore Bugatti", first edition (1992-1999)
Namely "Shalimar pour Homme",
Contrasting citrusy notes mixing with dry vanilla,
ending in a lavish Castoreum drydown 

AM : One last question. Put it frankly: among scents you produced in those years, could be anything called a truly "Extraordinary Scent" ? If yes, which one?
RG: Notwithstanding many of the scents discarded during the process of sample choice were really amazing - and what a pity that they never went into production! - well, I remember three scents that could be considered "the Magnificent ones".
The first was "Genny", made by Firmenich; we launched it in 1987. The least I can say, is when you smelled it, you remained ...speechless. Please note I'm referring to the original one, the first, not the reformulated versions.

"Genny", 1987.
"A speechless scent"
(note: this in picture is the original. Other versions,
with different boxes and cylindrical bottle,
are different, heavy reformulated perfumes)

The second was a gem that was never recognized as such: we called it, in a friendly way, "The Hand Grenade". 
It was "FerreByFerre" for women; it had an amazing bottle in the shape of a hand grenade, black, covered with a kind of female stockings. This was an exceptional fragrance, capable of annihilating any modern niche fragrance. 
I remember, one day, a technical journal reported that "FerreByFerre" was a so revolutionary scent, that you could not even catalogue it. It was beyond any description.
If you happen to smell it, pay attention: the aldehydes opening burst is unique, but really unique.

The Hand Grenade.  ("Ferre by Ferre", for women)
It was so extraordinary that specialized press affirmed:
"it is beyond any description". 

And the third fragrance, well, it was the most extraordinary of all ..... and, unfortunately, almost no one smelled it. IFF produced only an hundred bottles, actually sculptures, made in real Murano glass, for Roberto de Silva's exclusive use. He was the head of the company. It was called "Divine" ( not to be confused with the eponymous scent that was launched in the market with the same name; it has a different composition). Divine...what a name!
I've never smelled such a perfume, and maybe I will not smell again nothing similar. I remember, one day, we tried it at the office, then we came back home. In the evening, on returning home, people would stop me in the middle of the street, and asked "what is this smell? It seems to come out straight from Heaven!". 
I repeat, these people stopped me in the middle of the street: never happened before! 
Probably you know the story of J.B. Grenouille , the protagonist of the novel " Perfume " by Patrick Suskind. Do you remember the final scene? When he stands in front of people wearing a perfume no one can remain insensible at?
Here, it seemed the same thing. Perhaps, it was the most amazing scent that had ever been created.

AM: Thank you, Roberto!
RG: See you! 


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