2 aprile 2013

Thomas Fontaine and the House of Patou (2/2)

(this post originates here)
For this interview I met Thomas Fontaine twice, and both times I was literally mesmerized by his icy-cold blue eyes: a letal weapon he's very well aware of!

Thomas, tell me about your role at Patou!
"My role at Patou is to... create perfumes! Obviously this involves monitoring the historical heritage, but that does not mean we're not thinking about any new fragrances. But... more about that later!"

How is it working for a brand so rich in history?
"Great, I've always wanted to work for Patou! At Isipca my patronage was by Patou!" well, nothing seem to happen by chance...

"However, from day one I have always been clear that Patou fragrances have no need to be modernized: they have literally made history and have transcended it, what is the benefit in transforming them? My job is to restore their dignity in compliance with IFRA rules. Moreover, the passage from P&G to Designer Parfums allowed Patou to relocate production in France, and that meant having to rethink all over again".

Where did you start from?
"From what characterizes Patou perfumes: the "Patounade", the famous rose/jasmine accord, that in "Joy" reached unparalleled balance: the two notes melt into each other like a game of anamorphosis. You know when a computerized face changes into the face of someone else? Patou still owns fields of precious Rose de Mai and Grasse Jasmine (that "Jasmin Pays" costing 80 thousand euro per kg) which ensure a sufficient supply for the production of Joy. I also asked Jean Kerlèo (still active at the Osmothèque) for help and he was very generous with advice and help, both philosophical and technical. For example I was able to restore some raw materials so that they come close to those used 50 years ago, while others have been recreated thanks to the formulas Kerlèo kindly handed down, which is not something that everyone would do!"

I understand that Thomas is fascinated by visual arts: fashion, painting and design, as he tells me "Perfumery, as well as painting, is a matter of culture, technique, creativity and raw materials. These four aspects are all equally important and you cannot do without any of them: without culture there is no creativity, without the right raw materials or without proper technique you can't express certain creative concepts, and creativity without the other three aspects would be useless..."

I ask him what does he do as a leisure activity: he sings "I love baroque music, I am part of a choir. And it's strange, because in all other aspects of my life, and even in perfumery, I prefer linearity." (An artfully designed linearity, though: both times I meet him, he's impeccably dressed with designer dresses that would look great on Mad Men's Don Draper!)

What do you like Patou as a tailor? Is there any correspondence between his couture and perfumes he launched?
"Patou was extraordinary: he was able to transform the decorative wealth of Art Nouveau into the linear forms of Art Deco, creating a sophisticated and essential couture that wins me over. In the end, I myself, too, always prefer linearity. I'm not sure whether it's about being a zen spirit or simply a lazy chap, in any case I love working with short formulas of maximum 30 notes. They're more straightforward, simpler to understand. 
And, you have to smell all raw materials one by one. What is the point of introducing fine materials in a formula, and let them go unnoticed? Every ingredient has to have its own place and time to express. In a fragrance there's only a certain number of available places, and all of them have to be assigned; then, there's no more room for anything else. Creation, is a work of subtraction".

As for the reissue of historical scents,  Joy, Sublime and 1000 will come out soon, while Chaldee is expected in 2014
Moreover, Thomas is working on a new fragrance. "A new Patou!" I exclaim, thrilling "Yes but I can't tell you anything yet!" he answers smiling "We have no proper schedule; in Patou things are done differently, without haste. The scent will come out only when we know it is ready."

Thomas, heartfelt thanks for the time you spent with me: I look forward to smelling the new Patou's wonders!!!!

Pic: thanks to Basenotes

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