Meet ROJA DOVE, one of the most famous noses in the world.
Born 1957 in Southeast England, his career in perfumery began in 1981 when he joined the French perfume house Guerlain, working there for 20 years before leaving to set up his own companies RDPR and then Roja Parfums.
Dove, the fragrance connoisseur’s connoisseur, is probably the world’s most quoted perfume expert and was the first person to use the term HAUTE PARFUMERIE, when he opened in 2004 the Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie on the fifth floor of Harrods. Within one year, Cartier, Caron, Jean Patou, and Guerlain followed.
I was very honoured to meet Roja Dove personally at the beautiful La Boutique du Palace in Lausanne, Switzerland (which belongs to the Lausanne Palce & Spa hotel), the location of the newly opened second Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie. The collaboration was born from a dream and a passionate encounter between Emeline Gauer (see photo on top) and Roja himself, offering a selection of pure and rare fragrances, among them, of course, Roja Parfums.
When you enter the boutique, you enter a world of pure luxury, a one of a kind, sumptuous and exuberant experience of the best of the very best in the world of scent. Set amongst beautiful vintage furnishings, mirrors, silk and crystal, you can immerse yourself in the sensory heaven of fragrance as it should be: lavish, luxurious, sensual, decadent and daring.
Enjoy the photos and the interview with Roja Dove in which you will learn a lot about the world of perfumery, what makes you truly sexy and the creative process behind it.
Roja, how did you start Roja Parfums? What is your idea behind the brand?
I had dinner with a very close friend. We were talking about different brands. She was laughing and said: “You always get the essence of a brand”, and she continued, “It is a shame that you don’t do it with your own.” I asked her what she meant by that. “Everywhere in the world, I see your name in articles written on perfume. But as a consumer how do I buy into your world if I don’t want to spend £25.000 on a bespoke scent?” That was the catalyst to launch Roja Parfums.
I called a group of friends that all work in business but not in perfumery. They came up in a think tank of what is Roja Dove, what is the perception, the reality and what should Roja Dove be. What came out of it was everything that people perceived of me: Uncompromising, quality, the nose, authenticity and theatre.
We decided that those were the pillars that the brand should be about and we started on it. Regarding the packaging, I liked the idea of the white. It is the most decadent and luxurious thing in the world, that doesn’t look decadent and violet is my favourite colour. Inside you get the idea of understated luxury, with a surprise, the little theatre-like curtains. I wanted to be different and reach a fine level of aesthetics.
Roja Dove it is not a brand for everybody, not that I wanted it to be. It is a truly luxury product. Every single aspect is made by hand, like the boxes and the carrier bags. The liquid is filled into the bottles by hand in England, even the labels are applied manually.
How can I imagine the process to create a perfume ?
The way I trained is old-fashioned and I still think that this is the proper way to do it.
Let me get you started on the opposite, the gas chromatography. Anything that smells can be put in a mashine that breaks down the oils or the perfume. Like this, the chemist can see analyze the formula. But you can only do it succesfully with a scent that has a lot of synthetic materials.
The reason why is the complexity of the natural components. Let’s take jasmine for example which has approximately 900 different molecules in it to make the one scent that is jasmine. Behind the 900 main molecules, there are smaller ones that nobody has analyzed yet. We don’t know what they are. They are the subtlety of nature. Nevertheless, the chemists can isolate some of the big molecules. From jasmine alone, there are 300 isolates which are extracted. Many of which are used in the perfumery. But there are still 600 left to be discovered. All the subtlety behind that we have no idea what it is.
Interesting to know is that the discovery of natural isolates in 1882 among others allowed modern perfumery to begin. It gave us new materials from a natural source to use. The natural isolates were the world’s first synthetics, because synthetic just means to make things from something else. They gave us new fantasy notes, which, when you smelled them, were absolutely new, providing us with originality.
Gas chromatography allows us to analyze a fragrance formula. If you take for example a perfume like Escape by Calvin Klein, that has a material in it which is called calone made by Pfizer. It is a molecule with one single structure without any subtelty. It doesn’t have 500 or whatever components; it is one thing. The same material you will find in L’Eau d’Issey. The more synthetic a perfume, the easier for the chemists to look into the structure on the gas chromatograph and to analyze the formula.
The most perfumes made come from a handful of small houses, such as IFF, Givaudain and Firmenich. The reality is that often they don’t need to perform the gas chromatography, because they do most of the formulas.
The way I work is before gas chromatography. I always start very unusually, with the name for the perfume. I am sitting in the garden drinking tea with my partner Peter and we both will write down names we can come up with. Then, we go to the trademark lawyer to check on their availabilty. Once we have the name, I begin the next step. The way my palette of fragrance is made, I think, nobody has ever looked at perfumes before.
I believe very strongly that each of us tends to like fragrances from one family and not the others. The problem with marketing is that people hear the brand name or see the imaginary and believe that two perfumes are different which they are not. Let’s look at Gucci Envy, monochrome, urban, the advertising is about a very passionate couple. In contrary, Estée Lauder’s Pleasures shows a woman in a field with poppies. Because of the imaginery and the opposite brands, the customer thinks that one is sexy and one is romantic. But those two scents are actually not even similiar, they are nearly identical.
How I approach my perfume collection is that I try to make a very balanced palette. I don’t think anybody has ever done that with smell before. We have just launched the range in July 2011, the palette isn’t a balanced one yet, so this year we will have a lot of launches to complete it in the end of the year. Whatever we add to it, is just an addition.
We have three floral sents. Scandal, a white floral, heavy, powderising. Innuendo, a powdery floral. Reckless, an aldehydic floral.
I knew that I needed a fresh floral and created Mischief, which is a fabulous word. Mischievous – You know that you are up to no good and hope that you are not caught but it is just a flower.
After the name, I have to work on a structure. How should this perfume be? Something a little bit naughty and simultaneously a freshness with it. This is my creative process.
Generally you find freshness in perfumery through three or four main roots. You either take the citrus materials, the aromatic materials like herbs (often combined), certain flowers that are fresh like lily of the valley or hyacinth, or you get freshness in the base of a perfume through galbanum and violet leaf.
I didn’t want it to be that typical green, not a citrus perfume. Quite unusually, I put the freshness in every area of the structure and I also used a natural isolate, which comes from jasmine, called dihydrojasmonate, very citrusy smelling that lasts and lasts. In general a freshness diasappears very easily, with Mischief it stays on. The animalic notes are hidden, that is the mischief in the perfume, it has a little sexiness there without being intrusive.
Danger was created, when I was working on the oriental facette. I wanted to make a very particular type of oriental. I didn’t want a typically avowedly vanillic, I didn’t want a perfume that smelled like Shalimar, Dior Addict, the big vanilla perfumes. Most people’s idea of oriental perfumes is that they are enormous. I wanted an oriental perfume, that had a loft of finesse and all the softness, that wasn’t a clicheé. The name was chosen because it is not dangerous for the person wearing it, it is dangerous for the person smellling it on the wearer. They wouldn’t realise that the vanilla is a aphrodisiac and this jasmine contains indole.
Indole is a natural occuring molecule, a natural isolate, found in all scented white flowers. Interesting to know is that we actually don’t smell with our nose, we smell with the primitive part of our brain. The rational part will think that it is jasmine. The subconscious part picks up on a different message. You have to bear in mind that the sense of smell is the oldest sense in living organisms. It is developped to fulfill three functions, to escape danger, to pick up food and to find a mate. The indolic note will make you think of one thing and one thing only, sex! The human race produces indole. It comes out on the skin and is collected by the root of the hair chaft. Therefore hairy men seem to be more virile. When you smell Danger on a woman, your brain picks up the aphrodisiac vanilla and the indolic note of jasmine. Can you see how dangerous the perfume is now?!
The reason for the name Scandal is because of the white flowers. The jasmine of Grasse is so expensive, it has the highest proportion of indole in it. If the customer knew what was going on in his brain, it might cause a scandal.
Do you have some signature ingredients that you love and always use? Which one is the most expensive material?
In every perfume, I use a little vanilla and a little jasmine, always bergamot, either neroli or orange blossom, always rose de Mai, jasmine from Grasse, it is my signature. Ambergris costs £100.000 a kilo, I use a little in all of my work, it is my favourite raw material.
Your own favourite scent?
I am most proud of Diaghilev and Vetiver that will hopefully endure through history.
Enslaved is probably one of the most complicated formulas which makes the perfume uncommercial. Customers appreciate its level of sophisctication that can hardly be found anywhere else.
Which one is your bestselling product?
The Aoud is the number one bestselling product since July 2nd in Harrods. We have the third largest brand in Harrods. All my products sell for the best reason in the world: People love the smell!
Have you ever thought of launching body products matching your perfumes?
The problem is that we could never make them commercially. Most companies will never use the same formula for the body product as they use for their fragrances. Therefore most body products never smell like the original perfume. I think the idea of matching body prodcus is amazing but hard to achieve on my level of quality.
And what about your scented candles?
I spent two and a half years doing the candles. They were the most difficult thing I every made in my life. When the patchouli candle was launched, I had the same in my house. It didn’t burn properly and I took them all of the market immediately.
To make jasmine oil, you have to take the flower which is picked by hand. You need 5mio flowers to make a kilo of oil, 200 hours of labour. People don’t realise the work behind this and natural oils are rarely used for scented candles. In my candles, the oil you smell is the same as you smell in my perfumes. I use at least 10% of rose de Mai which is so rare. I don’t knwo anybody who does it. Even the people in my company sometimes think that I am mad.
You were with Guerlain for 20 years. Why did you leave?
In Guerlain, it is very important to say, the perfumes are always a work of the Guerlain family. During my time there, it was sold to LVMH in 1994 which was fine, I like change. But I didn’t like a lot of things personally what happened to the firm, they were outsourcing perfumes which made me leave.
Now Guerlain is back in safe hands because Thierry Wasser is a great perfumer. It went through a phase that I didn’t like, but I had a marvellous time there and wouldn’t change a scrap of it.
Where can you buy Roja Dove in the world?
At the minute, you can only buy Roja Parfums in Harrods, Lausanne Palace Boutique and Tsum in Moskow. We will open in Saint Petersburg, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and later in the year in Hong Kong. The perfumes have a cult status, we supply 2/3 of the royal family in the Middle East already.
Personally speaking, I could have talked forever with Roja. He is so captivating and eloquent. His perfumes are amazing. Enslaved is my absolute favourite. He gave me a piece of advice for life that has absolutely impressed me because I had never thought of it like this before:
“Smell makes everyone equal, no matter the age, weight, height or race. Perfume will always remain loyal to you!”
If I whetted your appetite, I recommend visiting this jewel in Lausanne or to contact the shop directly via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: © Sandra Bauknecht