Interviews Exclusive Interview with Ralf Schwieger - Creator of Lipstick Rose and Eau De Merveilles

Exclusive Interview with Ralf Schwieger - Creator of Lipstick Rose and Eau De Merveilles

09/17/09 15:04:38 (19 comments)

by: Michelyn Camen

Ralf Schwieger is a multi-faceted perfumer; a chemist by training, who says he approaches fragrances as if they were "construction toys," something "primary" requiring a highly developed sense of esthetics; his approach is partly intellectual yet always playful. He is the nose behind some of our favorite fragrances--en niche, prestige, celebrity and mainstream. His works include Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle‘s Lipstick Rose, Hermes Eau de Merveilles, Marc Jacobs Men, Yves St. Laurent Baby Doll, Naomi Cambell and Old Spice OS signature.

Where were you born? Please tell us about your childhood…

Ralf Schwieger: I was born in Germany in the rural region of Westphalia one might know from the opening sequence of Voltaire’s Candide… Centuries later it’s the same: nothing really exciting, a region with cold winters and lots of rainfall, although that I love.

I grew up near the forest, surrounded by greenery, perhaps the reason I like mossy, woody and green notes?!

What was your first olfactive memory?

Ralf Schweiger:
Quite a difficult question, scent-wise. I don’t remember anything interesting, I recall flavors better: the red currant in the garden, grilled chicken, creamsicle-like ice cream and all these other crazy sweet things you eat as a child.

But there was the absence of smell: approaching freshly fallen snow on a tree with my nose and mouth trying to smell and feeling the purity and vulnerability of it…

Even your breath destroys the crystals… anyhow, I love when olfactive and tactile sensation are in unison, smelling mimosa is only the real thing when your nose touches the fluffy blossoms!

My mother used to wear Arpège, this I remember well.

At what age did you begin to study perfume and where? What was your first fragrance as a nose?

Ralf Schwieger: I started rather late, thirty years old, at Roure’s perfumery school in Grasse after having finished my chemistry training in Berlin (which was oriented towards fragrance chemistry); so this was my second training: I had to start over again and I felt humbled by the experience.

My first fragrance for an established label (and other than low cost imitations for small markets, the way you normally start as a junior perfumer in a big company) was ‘Golden Moments’ by Priscilla Presley (Muehlens), a flanker for a then successful brand in Germany.



Do you believe that Lipstick Rose from the Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle was a turning point in your career, as before that, your name was not known outside the industry. Since many believe perfumers have a cult following, have you noticed more interest in your work?

Ralf Schwieger: Frederic Malle certainly made my name become public as it is he who started to put the perfumer’s name on a perfume bottle just as the author’s name on a book. But I guess the real difference comes from the blogosphere which gained momentum during the last decade.

Can you tell us about the collaboration between yourself and Fredric Malle?

Ralf Schwieger: Frederic Malle used to work at my former company and he was interested to include one of their perfumers. He really liked the lipstick theme in its boldness. I guess it helped that his wife liked it too… He had a couple of ideas to alter and improve it --the whole collaboration was a very smooth process. He certainly is a good critic and a great editor!

Which raw material has been the most problematic in creating a fragrance? Which fragrance was the most challenging?

Ralf Schwieger: It is not very easy for me to work with vanillin, the synthetic counterpart of vanilla, it remains a challenge to do something new with it. Fruity fougere themes are problematic for me, I really do not enjoy smelling most of them, and I especially dislike the fruity pineapple-like (allylic) top notes which are often used in detergents as well.

Eau des Merveilles by Hermes is a striking scent that many of our readers love. What was its inspiration and please explain the development of its composition from concept to your final achievement?

Ralf Schwieger: This started with an accord I worked with Véronique Gautier before she took over the perfume division of Hermès (and later hired Jean-Claude Ellena). She is one of the last remaining decision makers in the fragrance business who doesn’t rely on consumer testing but rather on their gut feeling and aesthetic ideal… as in the old days.



The main idea behind Eau des Merveilles is ambergris, the fabled ingredient coming from the sea, a complex ambery note with salty aspects.

We focused on:
-  the salty skin sensation, like what is left on your skin after a bath in the ocean
-  diffusion, leaving a trail or "sillage"
-  long-lastingness on skin as well as fabric and fur

One important aspect of Eau des Merveilles is the absence of any traditional floral-rosy note; it is essentially an amber-woody scent with a sparkling start.



Were you surprised that Jean-Claude Ellena created an interpretation of this scent and how does it compare and contrast with your original?

Ralf Schwieger: No, I was aware of that. Jean-Claude Ellena took over as in-house perfumer at Hermes shortly after the launch of Eau des Merveilles, yet we worked together on ‘Parfum des Merveilles’ but for ‘Elixir des Merveilles’ he had settled in and quite naturally took over the whole fragrance creation for the company.

In the parfum the woody-ambery aspect is enhanced. (In order to do a concentrated parfum or extrait version you traditionally would emphasize the floral aspect by adding expensive and long-lasting floral absolutes, in the case of EdM this was impossible because of the lack of floral notes.) His Elixir gave a candied, "sucré-salé", spin to it… interesting challenge, especially for Jean-Claude Ellena who always has a distaste for the sweet and cloying.

What perfume do you wish you had created?

Ralf Schwieger: I recently rediscovered New West Skinscent for Her by Aramis/Lauder, created by Mane perfumer Yves Tanguy. I remember having smelled it around 1990 in Berlin and it was the first time I asked a lady what she was wearing… I was slightly embarrassed.

This really is a unique scent--it might have been too modern for its time. It was an early over dosage of Calone, the marine/ozonic chemical which a little later became popular in scents like L’Eau d’Issey or Kenzo pour homme or Escape for men. But it is not Calone which is the secret to its uniqueness, it is only a facet, there is another ingredient even more important… The fragrance is rich and full of ideas und I would definitely recommend it as a "skinscent for him" as well!



You refer to a ‘dynamic triangle’ that is the foundation of your perfumery. Please explain what this is.

Ralf Schwieger: Although I consider my serious perfumistic exploits "art," I have to sell them within an industrial setting. This is definitely a challenge but sometimes helps overcome indecision and blockage.
 
Modern day commercial perfumery is not a fairytale; it is a highly competitive environment with an outcome that is so mediocre that one might question whether it is worth all the competition.  This industrial setting is the current foundation of perfumery and very much its ruin too.
 
I definitely see some perfumes as works of "art" (as opposed to the "craft" of copying and twisting existing market types) and I guess that’s your opinion too. And this is exactly the problem in modern day perfumery, you aspire to do art but you have to do it in an industrial setting, meaning you have to sell it, it’s an industry which seeks to make a profit.

What aspect of culture has had the most profound effect on your work?

Ralf Schwieger: I have quite a curious and open mind. I like to explore the universe. Anything might have an effect on me…insects… jewelry… contemporary dance…the art of cooking.



Favorite food?

Ralf Schwieger: I am fond of Asian cuisine, especially Japanese… and I am not talking about sushi! I love French and Austrian patisserie. I really like sophisticated vegetarian cuisine which is unfortunately difficult to come by, it is so much easier to get interesting flavor out of animal products (I don’t like easy!). Anyway, I love to eat and cook, I find fragrance creation and cooking closely related.

Favorite artist?

Ralf Schwieger: Pina Bausch just passed away… so sad.

Favorite place to vacation?

Ralf Schwieger: The seaside. This is one of the reasons I like living in New York City!

If you could capture elements of nature in a fragrance what would they be?

Ralf Schwieger: The scent of silk… the effect of rain on hot asphalt… some "illegal" scents… and bad smells!

If you weren't a perfumer, you would be...?

Ralf Schwieger: A scientist, a sculptor, a dancer, a singer, a cook…



You have worked on both high end niche and mainstream fragrances. Is it difficult to switch "hats?
"

Ralf Schwieger: No, not really, especially working in a big company (Mane) you try to please everybody. Their primary goal is to sell successful fragrances.

Perfumers always work on many themes at the same time: accords, sometimes just a couple of raw materials put together with a strong but perhaps not necessarily very refined message; some themes you might never accomplish because they are too difficult, too new or too unusual to be understood (you might have difficulties yourself…).

And then you have the "commercial" themes tested and evaluated by many in order to streamline and polish… Some scents are developed in a couple of days, sometimes it takes years, so you are wearing many different hats each day.

As a perfumer at Mane, we realize your work is highly confidential. Is there a glimpse into a fragrance you are working on now?

Ralf Schwieger: Last week I worked on a biscuit kind of note, with fruit… patisserie again! That was unusual territory for me but fun.

  Images: Ralf Schweiger, Frederic Malle, Hermes, Vandelizer, Toni Frissell


Michelyn Camen is New York City based fragrance writer and specialist. Michelyn is an Editor.  In addition, she is the Fragrance editor for www.fashiontribes.com, a top ten beauty blog, and the Fragrance Columnist/Diversions for http://www.uptownsocial.net. 

Michelyn is the former Senior Contributing Writer for Sniffapalooza Magazine, New in Niche Columnist for Basenotes and Editorial Director/Fragrance Editor for Beauty News NYC & LA 
Ms. Camen is the owner of Fifthsense N.Y.C.  which provides personalized fragrance consultations based on body chemistry, fashion and lifestyle and consults for luxury, media and fragrance companies.
 

 



Previous Interviews Next


memechose
memechose

thank you so much jeca...But the credit goes to the perfumers, who share such amazing personal and professional stories that are seldom read anywhere but on fragrantica....every perfumer I interview has been so articulate and so forthcoming...and such amazing artists. it is such an honor to get to know these marvelous men and women...

Sep
24
2009
jeca
jeca

Thank you Michelyn and Ralf for this interesting interview. Michelyn, you are the treasure ;o)

I believe Ralf is a wonderful person, he has so kind and pleasant face.;o)

Sep
23
2009
gknight
gknight

Great interview once again Michelyn! You always seem to pull something different from each individual perfumer and thanks Ralf for allowing a peek inside your creative world!

Sep
23
2009
perfumista diva
perfumista diva

I am a new member and have been a fan of eau de merveilles for 3 yrs and prefer it to the elixir...

I have followed Michelyn Camen since she wrote for basenotes and think she is one fo the most interesting fragrance writers in the blogosphere.

I also see sommetroville man from basenotes is writing for fragrantica....WOW..

I like all the other editors articles so far as well.

I look forward to spending lots of time on this site. it is the best for research and for great articles and reviews.

Sep
22
2009
tenderblossoms
tenderblossoms

I love Lipstick Rose. It reminds me of a vintage scent...powdery and glamorous like an Hollywood Star from the 40s... I so enjoy all of Michelyn Camen's interviews. They are so enlightening.

Sep
21
2009
CourtrightHer
CourtrightHer

Excellent as usaul Michelyn!
The insight you imaprt in your interview is fantastic. The transition from the business to the personal is fabulous. You certtainly have done your homework and some. I need to get more familiar with his art/craft(and that's what a great interview is suppossed to make you want to do). Bravo!

Sep
20
2009
Kterhark
Kterhark

Michelyn- you asked some good questions that created a very interesting read. Thank you :-)

Sep
20
2009
zoka
zoka

Even if it is declared as a female fragrance I used to ware Eau des Merveilles this September with pleasure. It is big honor to have interview with the creator of that beautiful fragrance.

Michelyn you did great job again!
If Fragrantica continues to grow like this, now it has over 450,000 readers per month, soon perfumers names could promote fragrance better then 'brand names' because people started to recognize names behind great perfumes. I think it is OK. Like movie directors they sometimes sell more tickets then main actors.

Sep
19
2009
gigimeansgood
gigimeansgood

Well this was different. I really am learnng a lot of new information about perfumery. It was very interesting to note thta the scents he chose as outstanding were not necessarily the most expensive. I had no idea either that he was involved in creating some of my favorite scents. And at last I know what the name of the scent in L'Eau d'Issey that I cannot stand. It is calone. Thanks for another probing interview! I cannot wait to see what you wil come up with next.
Gigi

Sep
19
2009
memechose
memechose

Ralf was unlike any other perfumer I have interviewed. he acknowleges the paradox of art and industrial settings.

Sep
19
2009
bluestar
bluestar

I love these interviews Michelyn, great to get to know the creators behind all these lovely perfumes im learning about yet again from you.
Fabulous insight into the life of Ralf Schweiger.

Wendy

Sep
18
2009
cynthia44
cynthia44

I love Lipstick Rose...it is my favorite malle fragrance. A very eloquent and well written interview of a perfumer that is not in the spotllight

Sep
18
2009
Andy Austin
Andy Austin

Great interview...my wife LOVES malles's lipstick rose. . I used to wear Aramis New West skinscent in the 80s. Who knew I had such great taste that a man of Mr. Schweiger's caliber thinks its a fantastic scent. It is also very inexpensive.. quality doesn't mean high price.

Sep
18
2009
Kathryn
Kathryn

Another excellent interview, as always Michelyn. I agree with Dusan that Eau de Merveilles is a work of pure genius. Now I am musing about (and hopefully awaiting) a Ralf Schwieger perfume that will capture "the effect of rain on hot asphalt". It is a true artist who sees the miraculous potential of every day things.

Sep
18
2009
flittersniffer
flittersniffer

Another great "behind the scenes" look at the inspiration for two famous perfumes. I can picture the area where Ralf Schwieger grew up, having been there many times for work. I will see it in a fresh light now, or sniff it with a new nose, perhaps!

Am also curious now about this skin scent he rates - does anyone know it?

Sep
18
2009
Somerville Metro Man
Somerville Metro Man

Beautiful interview Michelyn!
I am struck at how many of the perfumers you have interviewed got a late start on their careers. I wonder if being successful as a perfumer requires a certain maturity and level of experience.
Certainly Ralf Schwieger has married the sceince of perfumery to his artistic vision quite wonderfully.
I'd like to sit down with him over a Shiizakana and talk about the chemistry aspects of his craft.

Sep
17
2009
Dusan
Dusan

Lovely interview, Michelyn! Thank you for giving us a glimpse into the lives of the noses behind our favorite perfumes. Mr Schwieger's Eau des Merveilles is a little genius of a perfume, and the man himself a true gentleman with great taste!

Sep
17
2009
danna
danna

I so enjoyed reading about ralf Schweiger- he doesn't seem to have a big ego , and is someone i would love to meet. I especially enjoyed learning about the collaborations with frederic malle and Jean Claude Ellena. I never knew he created eau Merveilles.... my DH wears that. A brilliant mixture of science and art and another fantastic interview by Michelyn.

Sep
17
2009
mariotgomez
mariotgomez

Michelyn,

Thank you for another Interview. I enjoy following your writtings. Keep them coming.

Mario

Sep
17
2009

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