Interviews Antoine Lie: the Subversive Perfumer

Antoine Lie: the Subversive Perfumer

10/22/13 04:46:51 (12 comments)

by: Miguel Matos

There are few creators who can balance between the needs of the perfume industry and the genius of an independent work of art. Subversive perfumer Antoine Lie is surely one of them. This man is very well known for stepping in two apparently opposite worlds—the mainstream giant brands and the most obscure niche ones. His creations go from the hugely commercial success that was Armani Code to the punk/conceptual and oh-so-feared scent Secretions Magnifiques for Etat Libre d'Orange. Knowing that he had a new perfume coming out, Cyber Garden, for Costume National, I just had to try it, already thinking about the name and what on earth would this smell like. Finally I got in touch with Antoine, who promptly sent me a sample before we had our conversation.

Here's my impression the new fragrance: Well, this appears to be a very fresh green chypre-ish, composed with transgenic materials. I get mostly a mojito-like smell in the opening. Maybe a mojito made with ether, because you can really feel that extra zing of the hospital smell I actually love. This is a very pleasant and refreshing opening, frozen cold, minty and herbal. There's a touch of sweetness hiding in the back that, with time, becomes that clear note of plastic glasses. However, don't expect something too strange or shocking from these plastic/vinyl notes. In fact, despite all the descriptions of the fragrance and even the name itself, this is not a very extreme scent. It's as green as can be, cold as liquid nitrogen and with a twist of synthetic notes that turn it into an interesting smell. It's mostly very peppery, slightly sweet and absolutely grassy. It tingles my nose a bit, actually. This garden of the future is a well-kept greenhouse made of plastic membrane which captures the warmth of the sun and provides moisture to green plants. Maybe from time to time someone comes in and sprays it with pesticides just to prevent plagues. And this is the cyber garden: really pleasant and just strange enough to get people thinking. It represents a very nice balance between a classic theme and a contemporary/futuristic approach. I actually tested it with a very conservative friend of mine and she loved it.

Miguel Matos: I was very excited to smell your new creation for Costume National, Cyber Garden, and that's why I asked you to answer some questions. Thank you for sending me a sample. I was convinced from the first spray. It is so fresh and surprising. Can you tell me more about this concept?


Antoine Lie: Basically, the idea from Costume National was to change the way we think about fragrances and their usual structure. They wanted to make a fragrance based on synthetics and so they proposed me to work on the idea of a Cyber Garden: like if you were walking into a garden that takes place in 50 or 100 years from now. It's basically a combination of the nature aspects combined with some elements of technology to diffuse a different smell from the natural garden that we can have now. So what would it smell like? Could we put something herbal in it and make it masculine/unisex?

For me it was a very interesting concept, I love this kind of thing. It's futuristic and avant-garde and for me this was a pretext to use ingredients and accords that are more niche and try to blend them with something that is going to be wearable. I tried to establish a new kind of freshness on a masculine woody, slightly ambery and spicy structure. Then I added some new facets to that structure in order to make it different, to change and twist this burst of freshness which is not made from the usual citrus, greens and fresh spices, but more with a combination of synthetics: aldehydes, accords like iron, plastic and vynil, things like that. I'm happy that you find it wearable because Costume National is not a brand like Etat Libre d'Orange. It was about trying to find the right combination between the freshness and the warmth in the background. I just wanted to find this balance and create something that you've never seen on the market.
 

Miguel Matos: Cyber Garden has really great longevity. I've been wearing it and sometimes it endures all day long, even after having a shower. Besides, it is really intriguing. It has this familiar greeness that I just can't put my finger on exactly what it is. Where does it come from?


Antoine Lie: Well, you have a touch of violet that's not even listed. You are right, it's green and leafy on top. But you are supposed to be in a garden, so it's green and fresh, but also indescribable. It's like leaves: technological leaves, metal leaves, vinyl leaves. After this introduction you go more into the spicy ambery woods, like vetiver, patchouli, cedar. Nothing really new, but the combination of the odors make it special. It's a fusion between natural and synthetic accords. More like a fusion of nature and technology.
 

Miguel Matos: You have a very interesting and peculiar career with lots of variegated creations. What is, in your opinion, a good fragrance?


Antoine Lie: It depends. If you ask me what is a good fragrance in terms of commerciality, it's different from my vision. In my definition, in order to make a good perfume you've got to have a great idea and you have to be convinced that this is going to be interesting. You have to try to combine it with things that are going to give a big personality, and then blend it with things that are going to make it more acceptable without losing the initial idea that you had in mind. You have to be daring and not listen only to all the consumer tests because that's not what is going to garantee you success. You can see that in the history of perfumery. A lot of perfumes that stay in the top 10 are usually the ones that weren't tested.

For example, when Thierry Mugler's Angel came out noboby was really liking it. It was very different from everything we were used to smell. The sales result of the first three years were horrible. But they kept pushing it and now it's the top 5 worldwide. It's a very important question and a difficult one because the way I see it you have to be daring and you don't really have to listen to the trends( ... ). This is what I think in terms of inspiration. Also, something more technical is important: your fragrance has to diffuse a lot. It needs to be tenacious, it needs to project. I don't believe in intimate fragrances. The fragrance needs to be noticed. If you have a very good idea but it doesn't fly off your skin, it's going to die. People are buying fragrances, first of all because they enjoy it, but also to impress others.
 

Miguel Matos: Cyber Garden is not available yet, but there are a lot of people already interested in it, judging for the things I've been reading on the internet.


Antoine Lie: Even though Cyber Garden is not supposed to become a huge commercial blockbuster, at least I know that the bloggers will find it interesting and surprising. I hope the real connoisseurs that like to know new ways to wear fragrances are going to be really happy about this one.
 

Miguel Matos: For a niche brand, do you think that the internet, the bloggers and online reviewers are important for the communication of a fragrance?


Antoine Lie: Yes, because they really have knowledge about fragrances and are always looking for something different. I want to be a part of this from the beginning. The online perfume community is something that's growing and growing and who knows if this gets even bigger in five years ... Sécretions Magnifiques, for example, is one of the most commented fragrances on the net. And even though 80% of the people hate it and say it's horrible, there's 20% who like it. But I'm sure we will get back to this later on in this conversation.
 

Miguel Matos: Yes, we must talk about it, but first I have this question in my head: looking at the list of the fragrances you've made so far, there's a duality. You have worked for very commercial brands like Armani, Guess and Davidoff, for example, as well as small and alternative niche houses like Nu Be, Comme des Garçons or Blood Concept. How do you divide yourself and what's the difference between working for commercial and niche brands?


Antoine Lie: Well, that's because now I have enough experience to be able to switch from one product to another and when I'm working for big brands I know basically the territory where I can work. This means I'm not going to use the same ingredients and the same structure because I know that in the end it is going to be tested and it needs to pass. There is a kind of recipe for that. You know what you have to put together in order to have a safe structure and then you can add some little tweaks and facets.

That's how I usually work, I know how to do that, its not a problem. I enjoy much more working for niche but sometimes I love trying to be safe and at the same time being able to get something interesting. Even though I'm switching, sometimes I take some accords that I'm working on with niche fragrances and put them in some more classical or traditional projects. I can do a lot of things and the versatility of my work is also very important to me.
 

Miguel Matos: That's also how some ideas from contemporary art get into pop culture ...


Antoine Lie: It is basically the same.
 

Miguel Matos: Sometimes it happens that a very daring fragrance becomes a commercial hit, like the one you mentioned, Angel. But this is more difficult to predict.


Antoine Lie: It depends. For example, maybe the way we are developing niche fragrances by now is going to be adopted by bigger brands. We don't know.
 

Miguel Matos: There's one of your creations that was made for the mass market and it was actually a very unusual fragrance for men at that time, influencing some later male releases. I'm talking about Armani Code.


Antoine Lie: Absolutely. There are some “Code-inspired” fragrances on the market. The funny thing about Code is that at the beginning it was supposed to be a flanker of Mania for men. When you are doing a flanker, it's not a big launch. They didn't plan to put a lot of money behind it, so there was less pressure and this means that we had more freedom. Armani Code is very powerful and very long-lasting but I think that the reason for its success is the right balance and contrast between clean freshness and a new sensuality. So, even though this was made for a major brand, the process was different from the one that is usually done for a big launch. It’s a story that generates some reflection on the process of development of fragrances.
 

Miguel Matos: Now for something we really need to talk about: Sécretions Magnifiques. I don't even know how to begin ... This just had me feeling nauseous at the first sniff. Tell me about this shocking fragrance you did for Etat Libre d'Orange. What were you thinking?


Antoine Lie: Basically this was the beginning of Etat Libre d'Orange, when I met the owner, Etienne de Swardt. He wanted to make a statement about this industry, he tried to be very provocative.
 

Miguel Matos: To me it's a punk/dada scent ...


Antoine Lie: Yes, exactly. It could be a dada piece from the 1920s. It's a reaction from the very conceptualized and safe universe of fragrances. For me it's not a fragrance per se. It's more an olfactive construction, trying to push the limits to the point where we say that it's not possible to go further than that. And the purpose was creating something that would trigger a lot of conversation about why did we make this. And even though for you it's horrible and you cannot wear it (it's ok, I understand), we've found some people that are completely addicted to it.
 

Miguel Matos: I know, I witnessed that. I showed it to two friends of mine and they actually liked it. One of them just couldn't stop smelling it. How could you create such a polarizing scent, disgusting to most people, but also addictive for some?


Antoine Lie: It is intriguing. I have read horrible things about people feeling revolted because of it. But this makes me happy bacause at least it's a reaction from those safe fragrances that are just nice. With this, people are going to comment, people are going to really react on it. Nobody is going to be indifferent. People that actually find it addictive are the ones that are getting more the milky part, instead of the aquatic, salty and very animalic side. It's very interesting and even if we find people that like it, that's still ok because that's what we wanted in the beginning. I say that this is in the limit because there are still people who love it. To create something that is going out of the limit would be if everybody said it's not good, like rotten eggs or things like that. That's not the right accord for this concept because it would be unanimous.
 

Miguel Matos: What was the original idea behind Sécretions Magnifiques?


Antoine Lie: The concept was what is happening inside your body when you're getting an emotion, when you are with a woman or a man and you are desiring her or him. The mechanism of the fluids, what would it smell like if it were outside your body? When you get an emotion, your blood runs faster and you get more adrenaline, you sweat because you are excited ... The transition of this emotion into a fragrance, what would it smell like? But it's the truth, it's not made from floral or vanilla accords because it's not really what's inside you. It's very conceptual, but for me it's more like an olfactive statement, I dare to say it's a piece of art. For this, you have to be in a special mindset and you have to know the story before you smell it.
 

Miguel Matos: Well I knew the concept in advance but I have to tell you: This immediately reminded me of the time when my family used to get together to kill a pig for dinner. To me this smells just like the hot blood and the insides of the animal when you open its body right after killing it ... It seems I can still hear the pig screaming when I smell this.


Antoine Lie: It's ok, you know what? That's a good comment for me. I'm not going to be shocked because at least you got this impression. And the pig, in terms of skin, is the closest animal to humans. So it proves that I'm not lying. But also what is helping it is the milk. Without it, it would be horrible, even for me. I can stand it and I like it because it is very surprising. I'm not horrified by it because otherwise I couldn't have done it. I've made some modifications on this before, when you had not the milk and it was more sperm-like. It was horrible. And even the owner of Etat Libre d'Orange wanted to have it instead of the one that is on the market now, I really pushed and said I didn't want that. It's already very daring as it is. The other one would be too much for me.
 

Miguel Matos: Well, I must say I'm very curious to know what it smelled like initially.


Antoine Lie: You don't want to do that. It was too much.
 

Miguel Matos: You also have other perfumes with the blood accord, like the one you've made for Blood Concept, +MA as well as Eau de Protection for Etat Libre d'Orange. Is this becoming a trend?


Antoine Lie: Blood became this ingredient that is used in some fragrances but for me it was a reaction. You know, the old animalic notes are forbidden. So, what would it be to create a new animalic note? And why not blood? Blood is very intriguing and metallic. Some people hate it, others love it. But it's like civet, some people think it's fecal, others love it. Blood is not a traditionally animalic note, it's not fecal, skatolic or fenolic. It is animalic but it doesn't smell like animals.

I try to use new ingredients with a story—blood is vital, without it there's no life. So I put it in Sécretions Magnifiques, in Eau de Protection and more as a statement in Blood Concept +MA, which is the concept of blood and milk. It's a very simple fragrance, only two accords. You had part of this in Sécretions Magnifiques, but now without the adrenaline and the sweat. I love the contrast of the two accords, because one is very fresh, metallic and pungent, and the other is very creamy, sensual and addictive, slightly gourmand. I love this concept. The two things, milk and blood, are very important for life. One is red and the other is white—but combined they give you something pink, which is a very successful color to sell fragrances. You see a lot of pink packaging because is safer and it sells more.
 

Miguel Matos: You are being very subversive with what you've said!


Antoine Lie: Besides Sécretions Magnifiques, I always try to be daring, to make things that are unique and signature, but also wearable to a certain point.
 

Miguel Matos is a Portuguese journalist obsessed with art and perfume. He is the editor of the art section at Time Out Lisbon, directs his own cultural magazine, Umbigo, and has a perfume blog, besides contributing with texts for museums and art galleries. He collects perfume and is especially fond of vintages. He is a Fragrantica writer, translator and editor of Fragrantica.com.br

 



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migueldematos
migueldematos

Thank you all for the nice words. Antoine Lie is really someone we must respect, even though we might not always enjoy his creations. He has solid ideas, but at the same time he is well grounded. He knows that, besides being an artist, he works for an industry. And happily he can work for both worlds, art and industry. There are few examples like this one. I actually reserched a lot for this interview, smelling and reading. This was a very interesting article for me to write. I always learn a lot from this.

Oct
26
2013
Na0
Na0

This man is a crazy genius <3

Oct
24
2013
scribs
scribs

wonderful loved the interview.

Oct
23
2013
snowtree
snowtree

Articles and interviews like these are what separate Fragrantica from EVERYONE else! Kudos. And Antoine Lie, you are an amazing versatile perfumer. You can be avant-garde AND you can be mainstream, but always with a unique twist. I applaud your creations and your brilliant mind! My only wish is that there would be a giveaway for Cyber Garden instead of Katy Perry or Avon, no offense guys.

Oct
23
2013
hermyonee
hermyonee

one of my fav fragrances, signature scent for summer, is crystal noir by versace, created by Antoine Lie

Oct
23
2013
hermyonee
hermyonee

great interview, thanks Miguel! ;)

Oct
23
2013
amelie
amelie

Thanx Miguel!

Oct
23
2013
smauricius
smauricius

Great interview Miguel! You can always amaze us with wonderful articles! I've smelled Secretion and it was revolting, a true "piss" of art! :D

Oct
22
2013
mariotgomez
mariotgomez

Thank you for a wonderful interview. I'll be re-visiting many of those mentioned.

Oct
22
2013
Lindaloo
Lindaloo

Excellent interview. Good questions and I really appreciate how Lie elaborated on the processes for creating mass market vs. niche scents. Interesting point on how flankers are often less constrained as they will be riding on the coattails of the successful initial release. I've been reading many reviews lately that comment on how much more interesting a particular flanker is compared to the original. Also it would be wonderful if more companies stood behind a scent until it grabbed the market a la Angel. I think this is necessary if a company wants to launch a game-changer or new category/style of fragrance -- giving time for the tastes of the broad market to adapt to the unfamiliar.

Oct
22
2013
Nicolas V
Nicolas V

This was a fascinating interview with a real artist. Bravo!

Oct
22
2013
fqjcior
fqjcior

Great interview! More of this kind, please!

Oct
22
2013

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