During an exclusive Perfume Lounge event at Münzclub in Berlin last week I met Swiss perfumer Vero Kern. Her creations are a tribute to the classic French art of perfumery. If somebody asked me to describe the scents with three words I would say: timeless meets Zeitgeist. Right to the point. With her wonderful Extraits de Parfums rubj, onda and kiki, Vero Kern has already caused a sensation. Now she launches the Eau de Parfum version of her scents. Those who think that this is just a question of concentration, are wrong. Vero Kern also has adjusted the structure and uses passion fruit instead of animal notes. This gives the scents completely new facets. A review of her perfumes will follow soon. It was a great pleasure for me to do this interview.
Vero, you have chosen to become a perfumer as a second career. Before you had been working as an aromatherapist. Did your experience in aromatherapy influence your work as a perfumer?
I keep these matters separate. The work of an aromatherapist is something that influences the soul; it can even influence the organs, as the case may be. Making perfume is something aesthetic. I think if you wear a perfume you like it will always have a therapeutic effect on you – in the sense of ‘good for me’. That is the effect of perfume, I completely believe in it. Of course this effect will always be a part of the creation, but it has never received priority in making a perfume.
I wanted to create beautiful, aesthetic perfumes, but I admit that I have made this choice because I know the natural fragrances so well. The perfumers of today do not work with so many natural ingredients any more. In my creations you can find 60 to 70 percent natural ingredients in contrast to synthetics. That’s how the natural ingredients ended up in my work.
What was the reason you went into perfume training?
It was an absolute fascination. I made my aromatherapeutic mixtures and noticed that it is something that makes me absolutely happy. It is like a drug, at least for me. I’m getting high. But it was also curiosity, love of life, and the wish to do something, to create something.
Do you think that experience in life makes you a better perfumer?
Yes, absolutely. I have lived a life; there is plenty of experience. The part of our brain that regulates the sense of smell is connected with our experiences and emotions. It shapes the mind. I can imagine that I would have tried to make perfume earlier in life. I have always done what I wanted to do. First I was working for Swissair then as an aromatherapist.
Maybe I would have made perfumes earlier, if it had been possible. But I grew up during a time when this opportunity did not exist. There were no female perfumers back then. Anyway, I think that if I had pursued it, it would have turned out as something completely different. The love for life determines what comes out at the end and how it smells. All these impressions are there and it is a lot of stuff, I have a story to tell.
What is the difference between Extraits de Parfums and Eau de Parfums?
Perfumes have a certain structure – base, heart and top. Then there is the structure of the various components that last in different stages. To make a good mixture of all these components is the art – perfume is the form. These are chemical substances, no matter whether they are natural or synthetic – this is living material.
The extraits are the French way to use perfume, very old school. You could get it from Guerlain, Caron and all the traditional houses. It was the most concentrated form of a perfume. The extrait used to be 15 and 20 percent of pure perfume oil; today they consist of up to 30 percent.
We don’t have a big culture for extraits, although I think that it is a very sensual form of wearing perfume. Of course, you can perfume your hair with Eau de Parfum or the hem of the skirt. Unfortunately nobody does it anymore, but it is great when the perfume evaporates and the smells come up slowly, that’s amazing! Or what they also did was to put scents onto the handkerchief. Mouchoir de Monsieur by Guerlain was one of the most famous perfumes.
My extraits have 20 percent. What is most characteristic of the extraits is that they are very concentrated in the base. You only use drops. The perfume concentration of the heart is similar. You can find green and fresh notes in the top.
The Eau de Parfum rubj has only 10 per cent of perfume oil in contrast to the 20 per cent in the extrait. I added a little bit of cumin and took civet out. That gives a slightly different scent. You noticed it immediately. For me the combination of orange blossom and cumin is wonderful.
Talking about the names of your scents: onda is simple, the wave, kiki the frivolous Parisian girl but rubj? You have explained it to me, rubj is often pronounced in a wrong way. It has to be pronounced “ruby“ – like the color and that’s also the meaning.
I haven’t thought about this. If I had called it “ruby“ I would have gotten into trouble due to trademarks. The name is used very often. rubj has a certain meaning to me. I like the name very much and I associate the colors red and orange, something warm. The scent is very warm and soft too. The name fits and it also has this energy rubj has.
If you would compare your three perfumes to women, who would they be?
That’s funny because we were talking about this yesterday. We said that we must find certain types of personalities who wear our scents. We didn’t only talk about actresses, but also about authors or sculptresses.
We decided that Penelope Cruz would be perfect for rubj – a Latina. rubj can also be worn with leather, it needs contrast. I imagine a slim, tall woman. rubj has a certain presence. It doesn’t have to be an ample woman. I like discontinuities, that’s what makes a good perfume. If you suddenly show a side of you which is usually not visible. It is like combining vintage and designer clothes. It is an art.
kiki represents a very vivid woman, a journalist or an author – this powdery lavender. kiki is also fruity and for me it has a lot energy, but the lavender also calms you down. It suits the author Sybille Berg.
onda is difficult to define. It could be a brunette or a blonde woman. She is wearing a smoking and high heels by Yves Saint Laurent. Charlotte Rampling is perfect for onda!
I think that all three scents are androgynous and anyone can wear them, also men.
Can a perfume create an aura?
A perfume always creates an aura, no matter which perfume you wear. Because the perfume evaporates it creates an aura. But the quality of the perfume is essential. There are some fragrances that are very dominant, they dominate the personality. But perfume should never dominate the personality, this is not authentic. The person should wear the perfume.
I also like it when the scent creates something that you would not expect!
Which perfumes do you wear?
I like animalistic scents like Shocking by Schiaparelli. I wore Jicky by Guerlain for a long time or Vol de nuit by Guerlain, this is really a very special scent. I love perfumes from the 60’s and 70’s, like Nahema or Charmade, both by Guerlain. These scents use very special substances. Also, I like leathery scents, like Tabac blond by Caron. I love tobacco and leather notes! Since I create my own perfumes I don’t buy perfume anymore, except for inspirational purpose.
Djedi by Guerlain from 1927 is a cult in America today. Americans are searching the whole internet for vintage perfumes, that are discontinued. Some products I don’t even know. Some people have found out that onda is similar to Djedi. Djedi was relaunched in 1997 as a limited edition. It was a unique edition with the original vial – for 1,200 Swiss francs. Fantastic. I didn’t know about it when I created onda. But it was a huge benefit. All blogs and panels wrote about it. I received a sample of Djedi by a friend of mine and I noticed that it’s similar, very similar indeed. It was a great pleasure for me. But I also have to admit that onda sometimes frightens people. It is a scent that polarizes a lot. But this is not an issue for me; I think this is good, because it means that the fragrance is not boring. There are also perfumes that become bestsellers, everybody wants to have them and then they fall into oblivion. My perfumes are timeless. The idea is that they remain forever. They are made very lavishly and have a huge complexity and a strong character.
People from creative industries buy my perfumes very often. They are totally delighted and have a completely different perception, like e.g. oenologists who work with natural flavors.
My scents are not so commercial so I probably won’t make big money. But that has never been the motivation, for me it is most important that I can do it. I was very busy with the new packaging. Now I start to outhouse the production and distribution. Everything is produced off-site now. I used to travel a lot, to Paris, to Italy, that took me a lot of time. Now I have started to create perfumes again. I needed to get rid of all the stress. I get bored very quickly; this is why I have to do things. That’s what keeps me alive. To create and design things gives me a lot of energy.
What are your future plans?
I love flower scents and want to develop a rose perfume. I think about a tobacco scent, beautifully light and aldehydic, a special combination with balsamic notes like frankincense and myrrh. Very oriental, very extravagant.
You have made me very curious! Vero, thank your very much for this interview.
Photos: Sara Maroto Hebrero/Campomarzio70