Interviews Gunpowder and Flowers: Spyros Drosopoulos of Baruti Perfumes, Part 1 of 2

Gunpowder and Flowers: Spyros Drosopoulos of Baruti Perfumes, Part 1 of 2

05/28/16 08:31:54 (3 comments)

by: John Biebel

An important stop on my recent travels in Amsterdam was going to meet Mr. Spyros Drosopoulos of Baruti Perfumes. His name had been ringing in my ears for a while, mostly due to the splash his work created at the Esxence Showcase in Milan at the beginning of April. A number of Fragrantica writers had singled out his perfume Tindrer as a gem amongst numerous perfumes there. None other than Luca Turin, renowned biophysicist, scent scientist and author, has also praised his work. What I’d expected to be an interesting interview with a perfumer in a foreign land turned into much more: a hours-long conversation over many bottles and jars, sharing stories about a life that led down an unusual path to perfuming, and a fascinating peer into the evolution of an artist-scientist. Spyros is a man of infectious curiosity. He approaches perfuming with the same kind of fascination that a young architect would have with an Erector Set. I use the metaphor purposefully because he embodies joyful engagement in his work. He’s the kind of guy who would rather get up and demonstrate an idea than just explain it to you. And this energy is (by design) extremely youthful. Spyros is an adult, of course, but he embodies the unbridled zest of the uninhibited child.

I took the bus out to his particular neck of the woods in Amsterdam, admiring the wider open spaces, and slowly walked to the address. Quite suddenly I was in front of a bright red and white brick building with characteristic windows – it reminded me of something – didn’t it have the proportions of the primary school I attended as a child? I rang the bell and Spyros greeted me and led me up to his workspace on the second floor, and explained “This used to be a school” and I thought “Of course!” You could see it in those windows, the wide linoleum hallways, the concrete and tile. It is the perfect place for someone like Spyros, who approaches his work with a distinct openness about creation and experimentation.

I studied his work before meeting him, and I was reminded of the serendipity of my visit to the Netherlands so far. One of his perfumes is called Melkmeisje, and I had my first opportunity to see this painting (“The Milkmaid”) in the flesh earlier in the week at the Rijksmuseum. My mother used to have a reproduction of this famous Vermeer work near her desk when I was a child, and so the triangulation of this memory with the actual work, and now with the creator of a perfume inspired by the piece was a gentle harmonic with rather sweet reverberations. There is a kind of blue light in Vermeer’s painting that permeates all of his colors, a blueness of lilac and violet, the spring-hued blues, and Spyros told a fascinating tale about the creation of Melkmeisje:

“This perfume was at first a very literal interpretation of the painting,” and was in fact, he says, a request by the Rijksmuseum to create a perfume that used the work as inspiration. And so he constructed a very beautiful perfume that did just that – an olfactory image of rising bread, milk, with references to spring, wheat, grasses. In this regard, it is extremely successful and I smelled this first and very lovely version of the perfume. Yet upon further reflection, he felt that it didn’t go far enough.

Johannes Vermeer, "Melkmeisje" (The Milkmaid) Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam,

18 x 16 inches (45.75 x 40.5 cm) 1657-58

He said that it needed to smell like the woman. “Look at her neck, and then smell again.” His final version of the perfume is an open field where the sense of spring peers through the clouds and fills the air. Linden blossoms, lilac, green, flowery nuances mix with the nourishment of lactone and butterfat and starched cotton. It’s an interpretation with clarity, aspiration, and calm. The outdoors has crept into the quiet world of the Milkmaid.

Spyros is an interesting creature – from Dutch and Greek parents, having lived in Greece, Germany, and Netherlands. This has given him something of a cultural advantage, having been exposed to very different sides of the European experience.  He was born in the Netherlands, grew up in Athens and then moved to Amsterdam at 17 to study. At 26, he moved to Luebeck, Germany for his Ph.D. and returned to Amsterdam when that was complete. He explains some of his cultural perceptions like this: “I think the Greek side of me sees this: Greeks have a kind of anarchy of ideas, but are not so organized – a lot of these ideas don’t take off. The Dutch can be very organized but a little neurotic. I have both sides in me,” he smiles, but adds that “Athens is very exciting at the moment,” and that despite the economic crisis, there is a resurgence in many creative ventures there. He is planning to relocate to Berlin by the end of 2016, so clearly Spyros is a man who likes to move around.

Spyros Drosopoulos at his lab in Amsterdam

He studied psychology, and got his Ph.D. in Neuropsychology, engaging in intense studies about sleep and its effect on memory. What he found in his work is that sleep has a way of organizing certain kinds of memory depending on the depth of one’s sleep experience. It was proved through his research that sleep had benefits for declarative memory, under certain conditions. The research also showed that fatigue exacts a cost on memory (it reduces it.) “This kind of memory [which can be improved by sleep] is called declarative memory,” In one test, subjects were given word sets to memorize – ones that contained meaningfully unrelated words, so that they wouldn’t rely on meaning to make an association. One example is strawberries & lamp. “The reason why we use an unrelated word pair is so that we test the semantic memory for the word pair and not some situational learning (which could be the case if we would use related words, as the association is not new, only the context in which it is presented). In general my studies have shown that sleep can enforce the consolidation of memories by reversing the interference from conflicting information. This effect is the strongest for declarative memory under explicit recall conditions (as opposed to implicit memory testing) and for information that has been moderately well encoded. So, for poor encoding or overlearning, sleep does not seem to have any benefit over wakefulness.” Knowing how intrinsic the connection between scent and memory is, I listened to the conclusions of his research with rapt attention.

After his work in Berlin, he was teaching, but also recognized that he’d always had an appreciation for fragrance. But he was more interested in the idea of perceptions and scent together, and how scent could be changed, and change others’ perceptions. For instance, like changing your shoes or shirt, changing a scent was also something that you controlled, and could affect one’s sex appeal or one’s attractive power.  “In some ways I felt that I was always the same guy, but the idea that I could change the fragrance of this guy [myself], this was something I found very interesting.”

It was the dawning of niche perfumes that made things shift for Spyros. It was about 2007; there were real “game changer” perfumers on the market, like Nasomatto, Tauer; and the idea of creating perfumes appealed more and more to him. He said “Maybe I can do this…” At the time he was still teaching, and slowly he began to split his time between grading papers at night and spending time blending oils and molecules. Soon, he began to look forward more and more to the time he could spend with his bottles and mixing. “I was not interested in recreating the work of others, this is not why I entered the field. It was 2009, it was still a hobby for me, I was still teaching, but I had more and more satisfaction from what I was doing at home, and I’d say to myself "I want to rush home to my molecules!’”

He worked and studied as much as possible, day and night, but the pull between his full time job and this new adventure was getting difficult to balance. He worried that he might not see the notion of perfuming come to fruition if he didn’t follow through completely. “There was so much to learn, but I also thought ‘you might regret it if you don’t do it,’ but I also knew I would learn faster if I could work as a professional at this.” So, he made the bold step of leaving his academic work, and committing himself full time to perfume.

Three years later in 2011, he was ready with his first three fragrances. Indigo, Tindrer, and Untitled #2 (which eventually became his perfume called Chai.) These were released under his first perfume company Magnetic Scent. And things seemed to be off to a great start, but soon a problem occurred. “I had researched the name of my company, because I didn’t want to use a name that someone was already using,” yet unfortunately someone had, a while back, laid claim to the name Magnetic Scent. It was held by one of the larger personal items companies in the market. Spyros’ reaction was explosive, to say the least. He’d received a cease and desist letter, and he felt something akin to rage building up. He’d put so much work in to his project so far. Yet in his anger, the seed for a new name was germinating.

“I’d heard from attorneys, and I didn’t take it very well. And that’s when I heard the word in my head, ‘Baruti'.” He goes on to explain that this word roughly translates from Greek to English as gunpowder or explosion, specifically like someone exploding or going crazy, and he makes a “POW” gesture with his hand, fingers extended. By interesting coincidence, the word also has a finer, subtler shade of meaning, referring to a characteristic of wine: having an intense flavor, but distinct and “not for everybody”, something slightly similar to the English phrase “acquired taste”. So from this event he was inspired by a saying that is similar in both Dutch and Greek, “There is no evil without good.”

Friends offered advice, “Why not just put stickers with the new company name on your bottles?” but he knew this wouldn’t sit right with himself, that he really needed to redesign everything: New name, new products, new packages, everything. And even though he had yet another set back later when a bottle manufacturer in China pulled out at the last minute and couldn’t produce his bottles for him, he still pressed forward.

It’s important to note that as Spyros and I are speaking, there is beautiful spring light coming into his workspace, and his lab is a fascinating area of bottles neatly organized on shelves against walls, in large metal cabinets against the back, in huge casks, and at turns everywhere there are more and more bottles, but fastidiously organized. He seems to keep track of nearly everything. Flower accords from 3 and 4 years ago he’ll pull out and discuss and dissect, followed by another and another. His knowledge is vast and infectious. You are not in the presence of an aloof expert, but rather someone who is guiding you along in his world, hoping you’ll take away even just a hint of his enthusiasm. The walls have framed butterflies, and an enormous painting of a figure and a dog. It’s an elegantly functional space. We move from specific perfumes, to technique, to storytelling, to philosophical observations, but they’re all wrapped together in an arc of exploration. You see that his creative process is one of adaptation and evolution.

The story continues! Look for Part 2 HERE.

Baruti perfumes are available at Indiescents, the Baruti website, and shops worldwide.


 

John Biebel
Writer
John Biebel (johngreenink) is a painter, musician, writer and software designer currently living and working in Boston, MA. He is a graduate of the Cooper Union in New York City where he studied fine art, and he currently works as a software and web interaction designer specializing in human factors. He is a student of the scent sciences and takes particular interest in the history and chemistry of perfumes, and created his first perfume in 2015 under the name January Scent Project.

[email protected]

 



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NebraskaLovesScent
NebraskaLovesScent

Have heard such good things about these scents, and I love that Spyros used the setback with the brand name as creative energy for a fresh start. Looking forward to Part 2, John!

May
29
2016
alexandra13
alexandra13

Thank you John for a great read with Part 1 on Baruti! As a Greek Dane, I can totally recognize and relate to Spyros as you´ve described him, vivid and real! The company name and the story that goes with it made me chuckle, I saw before me how Spyros might have said: "Έγινα ΜΠΑΡΟΥΤΙ!!!" (meaning "I filled up with anger/rage!") and then turned around and made a label out of it! I´ve got to get my hands on a bottle of one of his creations one day!

May
29
2016
ComfyCat
ComfyCat

Thank you for the great read, John! Looking forward to part 2, as Baruti is still a blank space for me.

May
28
2016

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