Berlin-based perfumer and renowned nose Geza Schoen redefined the industry in 2006 with the introduction of Escentric Molecules 01, the beginning of a range of astonishing molecular scents that pushed the traditional boundaries of fragrance. Realising the velvety molecule Iso E was the common denominator in a number of his favourite scents, Schoen had the idea to use it in unprecedented amounts, to create purist, minimal fragrances that he believed would appeal “to only the artists, the freaks [and] the outsiders”. On the contrary, Escentric Molecules became an instant global success, and has been followed by a host of successive launches, including The Beautiful Mind series, where Schoen collaborated with outstanding women in various fields to create fragrances dedicated to “the power of the female mind”.
Kirstie Clements: The Iso E Super molecule. I was stunned to discover it was highly present in so many great fragrances and some of my personal favourites: Dior Fahrenheit, Declaration by Cartier, Shiseido’s Feminite de Bois. What gave you the initial idea to use it in greater volume?
Geza Schoen: When I smelled Iso E Super for the first time I noticed why I had preferences for certain fragrances, they all contained a big chunk of it! I gave it to a friend of mine to wear in October 1990, and we went to this bar and it took maybe 10 minutes for a woman to show up asking who smelled so nice. They both liked Fahrenheit and Tresor, two very different perfumes but with, yet again, respectively 20% Iso E Super in the overall recipe! So it was obvious to leave it there and not add anything to it.
KC: When you had this idea, were you working on a fragrance for another house or was this an independent exercise?
GS: This was totally independent from anything else. It was the sheer beauty of it which grabbed me. Very subtle, woody, velvety, elegant, modern and sexy all at the same time. In 1994 I nearly lost the idea when I gave Iso E Super to our sales guy while working on the first Diesel fragrance. But he thought that it would be a bit farfetched, even for them!
KC: At what age did you decide to go into perfume? Do you have any childhood memories of smells that motivated and inspired you?
GS: I started collecting samples of men’s perfumes when I was 13, it all took off from there. I guess perfume was the most abstract to me and had something mesmerising and fascinating about it. There are lots of childhood memories. My grandparents had a huge garden with everything you can possibly plant, plus animals. Those kinds of smells mean a lot to a child, especially as our olfactory paradigm is fairly empty and we smell naively (in a good way) to explore our surroundings.
KC: What fragrance would make you get out of an elevator? Or entice you in?
GS: [Laughs] Good one. Womanity by Thierry Mugler is one of the worst fragrances of the past 10 years. It is sweet and fishy, fruity and sticky with a strong hazelnut note in it, bizarre. I am not a fan of all these gourmand or airy, watery notes in general.
KC: Do you have a personal favourite from the fragrances you have developed?
GS: Right now I wear my version of a fragrance I created for our new brand Renegades, a brand I created with my buddies Mark Buxton and Bertrand Duchaufour. My fragrance has a fresh and spicy top note around shinus molle, the Peruvian pepper tree. Then it has this enormously balsamic and woody dry down—very sexy I reckon!
KC: My husband chased a woman down the street recently to ask what she was wearing and it was Narciso Rodriguez For Her (the second one). He now wears it. Will the idea of men’s and women’s fragrance eventually disappear?
GS: I hope so! I mean it should just be down to what someone likes. This whole ‘for man’ or ‘for woman’ is unnecessary guidance from past times.
KC: Synthetic versus natural ingredients; Is one or the other preferable, or is it all in the mix? Is there a natural ingredient that cannot be synthetically captured?
GS: None of the natural scents can be entirely captured with chemicals and that’s great because both categories give you enormous possibilities. There are not a lot of aroma chemicals you could offer on their own to be worn on skin, I think the three we launched under our Escentric Molecules series are, for me, among maybe six or seven in total which would make sense.
KC: Please tell me more about paying homage to ‘smart’ women in The Beautiful Mind Series.
GS: I came across an interview with Christiane Stenger, a memory sports champion. She uses very simple techniques, so called mnemonic techniques, which enable her to memorise as much as she likes. I thought that’s really cool, very playful and sweet. [The result was Volume 1: Intelligence & Fantasy. Volume 2: Precision & Grace was inspired by classical ballet dancer Polina Semionova. Both worked in partnership with Schoen, creating the formulas with him]
KC: If you looked at the top 10 list of fragrance bestsellers over the years, it would always be dominated by the big multinational houses like Estée Lauder or Elizabeth Arden. Now you will find scents from Escentric Molecules and Creed. What’s changing?
GS: The client has been bored to tears over the last 10-15 years. Some of the really big brands used to make great fragrances in the past, take Gucci for example. Until Gucci Guilty was launched, they had a range of gutsy scents out there. Then the perfume license wandered to Procter and Gamble and the originality of the scents was instantly lost. Multinational companies owning the licenses of these mostly fashion houses are the death of creativity. They need a quick return and don’t care about the history of these brands. Therefore only twisted or modified ideas of existing and traditionally good selling fragrances will get launched, as in: lets smell safely! People who are looking for more individual fragrance solutions will look for alternatives that will inevitably feed the niche market.