ALESSANDRO BRUN: SETTING THE STAGE FOR FRAGRANCE CREATION
2022 . 10 . 20 |
On rare occasions we come across someone who amazes us with their out of the box thinking, their creativity and their courage to do something far from the mainstream. The artisan perfumery world is gifted to have many such individuals, and it was with great delight that I recently interviewed Alessandro Brun. His path to fragrance brand founder is unique. Alessandro granted me an exclusive interview in which he shared his philosophy and his vision with me, as well as a sneak peek at one of his future projects.
On luxury brands
“I’ve been teaching luxury management for many years at the Politecnico di Milano technical university in Milan. I often discussed with students case studies on the mistakes made by luxury brands: diluting the value of the brand, cutting corners on the quality of materials, being overdistributed. And at the time, there was no such a thing as the “golden standard” luxury strategy for a fragrance brand because scientific studies and textbooks on the topic were quite scarce. Twenty years ago, even a brand like Hermes was still sending out briefs: they didn’t have an in-house perfumer until they brought in Jean-Claude Ellena. I resolved that if one day I had my own brand, I would not repeat theses errors. I had many conversations with one of my students, Riccardo Tedeschi, and, long story short, we decided to work together.” Together, they co-founded MASQUE MILANO, launched in 2010, followed by MILANO FRAGRANZE, which came in 2020.
On MASQUE MILANO’S connection with opera and theater
“There are many cultural connections that we wanted to bring together. We tried to find a concept that could guide us through the development, and the opera has elements that are quintessentially Italian. Not only is there the storytelling, but there is the theater, the architecture, the opera house, the gilded seats, the curtain and balcony, all in the colors of luxury, in my opinion: gold, black and red. The libretto uses Italian words such as piano, forte, and adagio. MASQUE MILANO takes inspiration from the opera, but it’s the opera of life. And in this case, I am like the playwright, who may not be able to sing or to act, but for that, you have the actors who are the perfumers. I am not a perfumer, but I think I can direct a perfumer to create what I want them to create. We put the perfumer on stage, we give them the words and we let them interpret.” As Alessandro explains this concept I am reminded of William Shakespeare’s famous quote: “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances…”
On the noses
“We decided to work with extremely young perfumers who, at the time, weren’t known yet. We started working with Cecile Zarokian in 2013, and with Luca Maffei even before. These noses were not prominent at the time and it was a bet for us and for them. If you create with the usual suspects, yes, you will certainly get successful creations, in line with their previously successful launches, but we wanted to face a risk, being more groundbreaking, in order to aim for a larger reward. We studied every nose and did a sort of casting. Not having an in-house perfumer gives me the luxury to work with every perfumer in the world, with the condition that they are the actor on stage, I wrote the script – the actor is the interpreter.
We wanted to give full recognition to the real interpreter of the fragrance, the nose. So we decided to write their name crystal clear on the box and the bottle. Frederic Malle did it before us, but not many other brands are doing this. This is a teamwork and they need to be correctly acknowledged.”
On the MASQUE MILANO collection
“We have 16 fragrances which I feel is the right size for a collection. There are four acts and four scenes in each act, and the acts become increasingly complex.” Here below, Alessandro speaks about a few of the fragrances from each act.
“We begin with the Experiences of Life inspired by places we have been to or to a landscape that is very familiar. Bruno Jovanovich did Times Square for us but it’s not the Times Square of now…it goes back to the lurid street life of the early 90’s before the Giuliani cleanup where smells come from prostitution, a traffic jam, street food and a teenager’s fascination for the Big Apple. We needed to find a nose that had nothing to lose to create with us. We had great fun and we’re extremely happy with the resulting fragrance. For Russian Tea, we remember drinking the darkest, leathery Russian tea, and to sweeten it we were given raspberry jam. Nobody did that in perfumery before! Julien Rasquinet, the nose, now loves raspberry notes in perfumery – we were the ones who asked him to put that note in this fragrance.
The next act is Interior Monologues which plays more on incense and resins. Take Kintsugi for example, which was inspired by the Japanese art of repairing ceramic with gold when it’s broken. We wanted to repair an old formula – a chypre – that is broken and forgotten (because of IFRA, because the taste is changing and so on). It has a gorgeous magnolia in the heart.
Then there is the act of Sentimental Relationships. We thought about floral fragrances which start soft with iris and finish super strong and sensual. It begins with L’Attesa by Luca Maffei. We describe waiting for your lover to come: you put some flowers in a vase, you uncork a bottle of champagne, and there is this very yeasty taste of champagne that Luca has done so well which then mixes with Iris galore. We close this act with Tango by Cecile Zarokian, who we consider to be the queen of ambers. The fragrance is a sensual dance of passion and the contact of the skins.
The final act is the most difficult because it’s the act of Dreams. Dreams don’t have a smell, so recreating the smell of a dream took us much longer. But with dreams you have the liberty of crossing the boundary of conventional olfactive families. One of the dreams features Alice in Wonderland where she is having a tea party with the Mad Hatter. The fragrance, Lost Alice, created by the incredibly talented Mackenzie Reilly, opens with a vibrant bergamot note from earl grey tea that mingles with the smells from the pastries, carrot cake and scones. You have the yummy smells from the pastry and also a milk accord, which is a childhood smell but kind of addictive. The last fragrance was inspired by the never ending human quest. We close at sea chasing the White Whale, Moby Dick, where you can smell the wood of the ship, the ropes, the salt of the sea, the breeze. There is a note of violet because in the novel the author mentions that as you get close to the whale you smell violet in the air.
Does it make any sense? Does it matter?” (Laughs)
It all made a lot more sense to me than it did in the beginning, and it allowed me to see the imaginative genius that is behind the brand.
On the link between the masque and fragrance
“The name masque or masquerade is an homage to the Italian heritage and culture. The masquerade, or le bal masqué, developed in Venice as a form of royal courtly entertainment. Why not link entertainment with the mask and then link with fragrance. We believe you can wear a mask because you have a certain mood or because you want to have fun. It changes. And why not change your fragrance? You don’t wear the same clothing or eat the same food every day. Every day we decide what we want to wear and who we want to be. So we want to have the fragrance of your day to make your day depending on your mood, that’s why the fragrances are so different, made by different noses.”
On taking risks
“We don’t mind if people love or hate our fragrances but we love to read the comment “I’ve never smelled anything like this!” We want to do something new and creative because the mainstream perfumery has the curse of the winner. When you have something that succeeds and dominates the market, you are forced to do something that is similar, because if you do something very different and it doesn’t’ sell you will lose your job. So you are forced not to take risks to keep your job! We find that the fragrances that sell the least are the ones that are talked about the most because people are excited by something very weird and very different. And so we are getting popular for fragrances we hardly sell, and we are ok with that because the beginning of the journey was really not to make money but to challenge the status quo of the industry. It's so rare to find brands that dare to be different, to be non-conformist and take risks. There are a few and we love them, like Etat Libre d’Orange, and the advantage is when we start we have nothing to lose. Now we are developing a portfolio of brands because we want to be the ambassador of artistic Italian perfumery in the world.”
Which leads me to the next topic!
On the brand MILANO FRAGRANZE and other projects
“This collection is dedicated to places and feelings that come when you are in Milan. It’s my city so there are so many places that I love but there are also so many hidden places. There is a spirit of the place, the Genius Loci, where you see something that has a soul, a spirit, an environment that has collected many vibrations. The fragrances are olfactory versions of places in Milan that inspire or bring back memories. There are currently eleven fragrances but we will go on like Bond N°9 because I think there is enough material to keep creating for a long time.
I also have a project to create the Archive of Milanese Olfactory Memories. The idea is very simple: I want to collect suggestions, facts, inspirations – from Milanese and tourists alike - and discover and see how it develops. I let people tell me the story and the scent of an unknown place. The purpose is not not to sell them; imagine you have an archive for these places and then a scent linked to the place.
Then we have another project! We bought a brand, Migone, which was established in Milan in 1778. It went bankrupt in the 1950’s, and we are buying all the objects and bottles from this collection. We are buying up all the old stuff we can find, even unopened fragrances and powder which we have GC’d.* I bought many catalogs from the early 1900’s and we have the list of the fragrances in their collection. Then we bought some books that have the traditional recipes from the 1850’s. We reweighted all the original formulas. We are recreating the bottles and we are going to relaunch the brand of Migone.”
On what Made in Italy means
“Of course it is the place you find the materials, it is the place you do the fragrance but it is more than that. There are many connections between Italy and France and many differences. France has a grandeur, a self -awareness of what they make. Made in Italy is not advertising or marketing – it is about knowing the artisanal skills, working with them. The execution, the brain is Italian, even if ingredients and noses come from elsewhere.”
This last sentence is a statement that my Italian grandmother would have loved because she always talked about Italian ingenuity.
On the best part of the creative process
“We like to go to the root of what we do. When we start working with the nose, we like to visit the fields, smell the fragrance in the right place, see the production, harvest narcissus by hand in Aubrac in France, visit rose fields for Kintsugi, that’s the adventure of developing a fragrance. Every time it’s a new story. The creative process can be quite lengthy; from concept to final product can take several years. We want to make masterpieces and not go too fast. We never rush the process.”
We will wait patiently for the next masterpiece! Thank you Alessandro!
*GC: Using a gas chromatograph, technicians can work backwards to determine ingredients in a fragrance formula. The process may be referred to as GC’ing.
(1) Live interview with Alessandro Brun, Masque Milano, on Persolaise Love At First Scent ep 181 - YouTube
All photos courtesy of MASQUE MILANO and MILANO FRAGRANZE.