Fragrant Fancies | Prestige Hong Kong (May 2017)

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The nose behind the reinterpretation of three Bulgari fragrances, Sophie Labbe talks to zaneta cheng about the jewels of scent, floral absolutes and ageless femininity

May marks the season when blooms spring from the soil riotously after a winter of bare branches and brown earth. This time of renewal coincides perfectly with the launch of the Splendida Bulgari Collection, which reinterprets the perfumer-jeweller’s most iconic feminine fragrances: Bulgari pour Femme, reimagined as Iris d’Or; Rose Essentielle, reimagined as Rose Rose; and Jasmin Noir, which retains its original name. The new trio celebrates the world of perfumery in ways that only a jeweller such as Bulgari – which is well acquainted with femininity and opulence – can do. 

The numbers are mind-boggling. It takes six years to grow and dry the rare yellow iris and extract its fragrant rootstock that forms the backbone of Iris d’Or; 40,000 blooms are required to produce one kilogram at a cost of around €100,000. To produce one kilogram of the essential oil that stars in Rose Rose, 4,000 kilograms of rose petals from one of the most coveted roses in the world are harvested. And to top it off, a mere seven million jasmine flowers are needed for one kilogram of the absolute used in Jasmin Noir.

Amid the sort of lavishness that Bulgari siren Sophia Loren would no doubt approve of, we spoke to Sophie Labbe, the distinguished nose behind the Splendida collection, to uncover the story behind the magic.

How did you go about naming each of the three perfumes in the Splendida collection?

Jasmin Noir retained its original name because it is really an icon for Bulgari. We couldn’t find a better way to describe the juxtaposition between this little white flower and the exuberance that it gives, so we kept the name that conveyed the flower’s sensual side. For Iris D’Or, I worked on the idea of preciousness and gold. We chose the yellow iris as opposed to the more commonly found purple iris. The golden brightness of this fragrance lent itself to its name. For Rose Rose, my story was about the roses. It was my personal ode to roses.

Each fragrance name is a flower and a colour. Both parts of the name tell you something about the fragrance. Gold is or in French, so Iris d’Or is golden iris. You really get the metaphor of what the ingredient is and a sense of how precious it is.

These fragrances are couched in the ethos of the Bvlgari diva and femininity. When reinterpreting them, did you try to find ways to add an extra touch of femininity to each one?

They were already very feminine, so I saw it as my task to modernise them. For Iris d’Or, it was all about the powdery quality of the orris [iris root extract], which has this skin feeling, and for the dry down I had a vetiver extraction, which isn’t as smoky as the previous one. There’s sandalwood for creaminess and a touch of tonka bean, because that has an addictive quality that adds to this new femininity for the Iris d’Or. I wanted all the other ingredients in the heart to work as a mural and reflect the diva that is the orris. 

I approached Rose Rose by looking to increase or diminish elements of the original formula, but I couldn’t get it right. So what I did was to forget all about the ingredients and formula and instead ask myself: what is rose in its essence to me? I wanted to capture all the facets of the rose – in the morning dew, in bloom and as bouquet, so I selected the damask rose out of my palette and extracted rose absolute and combined it with rose oil and rosewater. I imagined it as like having a beautiful ruby and I wanted to inlay it in a crown. To add a touch of youthful femininity, I added blackberry to give it this juiciness, and mandarin, which is so sparkling and injects a slight luminosity. 

I just amplified the existing femininity in the original Jasmin Noir – the contradiction between this immaculate flower and the very charismatic, mysterious dry down of patchouli heart and cashmere, which has a woody, musky note. My youngest daughter has worn Jasmin Noir since she was 13. One morning, I was following her as she was wearing it and it smelled so good. I realised that the signature, the personality, was already there. There’s very nice balance between the white and the black. Instead I decided to enhance its generosity and opulence. The top note of Splendida Jasmin Noir is a greens accord, combined with gardenia, which is milky yet crisp. For the heart, I created an almond satin accord, which gives the scent an addictive and delightful quality.

Fragrance layering and personalisation are all the rage at the moment. Would you recommend layering the Splendida collection, and, if so, how?

I think that each of these three perfumes is like wearing a beautiful Bulgari necklace – so can you imagine wearing three Bulgari necklaces at the same time? No. So, I think you can layer but perhaps through the day, not at the same time. Start in the morning with Iris d’Or for sophistication. Freshen up at noon with Rose Rose. Then, if you have a party, wear Jasmin Noir.