(Cross-posted at 3008Docklands)
There’s a scene in the movie Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (an adaptation of the novel by Patrick Suskind) in which a retiring perfumer discovers a fragrance created by a young olfactory genius. The scent transports him to a lush, mystical world in his mind. Surrounded by luscious flowers, a beautiful woman leans in and kisses him on the cheek and whispers in his ear. When he opens his eyes again, the change in him is visible – the scent has moved him, altered him in some way.
This is what Emma Leah believes fragrances should do. Working out of a cosy, beautifully decorated atelier on Park St in South Melbourne, Leah creates natural perfumes that she hopes will transport customers in a similar way. “Perfume is something that’s intimate, something that’s on the skin when you’ve got nothing else there. This is something that’s mixing with your body,” she says. “We want to go back to the lost art of perfumery, for people who feel passionate about fragrance and can’t find the rich perfumes that used to exist.”
Leah and Robert Luxford opened Fleurage Perfume Atelier in 2007 to fulfil their vision of bringing back the sensuality, romance and authenticity that they felt was lacking in the mainstream contemporary perfume industry.
“Whenever you talk to people about perfumes, they talk about the classics – perfumes that were made close to 100 years ago now,” Leah says. “That’s not to say there aren’t any good modern fragrances out there, because there are. But the actual style of perfumery that that makes us think of perfume, the romantic, ancient French art, people sitting there with beakers and droppers and making beautiful things – that’s been lost.”
With Leah’s many years of experience working with natural essences and oils and Luxford’s background in design, the pair saw a real opportunity to revive this lost art, to provide people with something special and intimate. “There was a space there for us to do something really gorgeous, beautiful and important to the art,” Luxford says. “It’s an extremely rare discipline, and we researched and collated and collected all sorts of materials and historical documents that give us the genuine confidence that we are doing what was done 70 or 80 years ago.”
Classic, luxury perfumery is all about botanical essences, not synthetics – taking what’s already beautiful from nature and blending it to create something that reminds us of love, happiness, comfort or sensuality. Wearing a beautiful scent should make you feel special and invigorated, Leah and Luxford believe, and so should the experience of selecting a fragrance. “You don’t go into a discount undie warehouse and find the lingerie that makes you feel special and wonderful and that you’re going to share with your intimate partner,” Leah says. “It should be something beautiful, and you should be treated well.”
People often struggle to describe or even fully understand what it is they are looking for in a fragrance, which is where the perfumer can play an important role. “As a perfumer, you’re dealing with people’s innermost, most secret lives,” Luxford says. “Simply by asking a few really well thought-out, innocent questions, you can get people to reveal all sorts of fabulous things about themselves. Then Emma can take that to create something that really matches what they’re looking for. It’s really almost like magic.”
It’s a kind of magic that Leah and Luxford want to pass on. Fleurage Perfume Atelier runs workshops and short courses to teach the art of perfumery and keep the tradition alive. “We have no doubt there are many talented perfumers out there – but where can they get the information from? Where can they find the raw ingredients and the knowledge to be able to put these things together?” Luxford says.
“It’s not an industry that has a university qualification,” Leah adds. “It doesn’t have a standardised set of learning – it doesn’t even have a standardised set of information. It’s tightly held and very secretive, and it can be very difficult to find mentors in the industry. But we have access to all the knowledge and information, and we want to share that.”
Image from Fleurage Perfume Atelier