Sunday, October 30, 2016

Intimate, sensual, intense: An interview with Francesca Bianchi

My friendship with Francesca Bianchi began before I even know she makes perfumes. She shared some samples of her own collection with me which I still keep them in my collection. But the true connection began when she sent me her first set of samples which where unfiltered perfume oils in vials tagged with numbers like No 25, No 12, etc. They were dense and oriental with special ancient spirit. Today with her three official perfumes, I can strongly declare her path through her olfactory discovery is loyally maintained on the same air. Francesca Bianchi has a personal point of view into perfumery, into ambrosial and oriental composition, which is defined by density, carnality and artistic ancient ambiance.

Finally she and I found an opportunity to make a short interview about her career and I greatly appreciate her for giving me the chance to share her ideas with you here...

Hello Francesca. First of all thank you for this interview. For the beginning, tell us about yourself and your career.

Francesca: It all started when I was 28, when a family friend gave me a book of natural perfumery and a handful of essential oils. 
At the same time I started reading books on alchemy, but only long time after I understood the similarity of the process with perfume making.
In my ordinary life, I have always worked in art publishing since I graduated in Art History in Florence. I traveled hectically through Europe for several years, then I decided to slow down and devote more time to perfumery. Also, I started buying materials from professional suppliers, especially from the region of Grasse. That was truly a turning point.

What does perfume mean to you?

Francesca: As a frag fanatic, I have always spent more money on perfumes than other things, as the good aura of some scents overwhelmed me and were able to put me in such a great state of mind, much more than any book, movie or beautiful shoes. Yeah, more or less like chocolate does. 
I appreciated the refined composition of a scent, but that was not why I bought it, but for the emotional effect it had on me. As a perfumer, the reason why I create scents is challenging and intellectual, as I want to conjure an experience or a complexity of emotions, not simply to spread a good vibe.

How did you come up with the idea of creating perfumes?

Francesca: I have always loved perfumes, since I was a teenager, and for a long period I knew just mainstream brands. As I mentioned, at 28 a friend suggested me to get away from mass market products and encouraged me to make my own scents with natural ingredients.

What is your first scent memory?

Francesca: I have many fragrant memories from my childhood, but my very first crucial encounter with a fragrance is the first perfume I bought for myself with my pocket money. I was 14 and I bought Poison by Dior. Nowadays I could wear it only after a long and painful torture. In my defense, as for all my childhood I looked like a boy, I think I simply wanted to state my femininity by wearing this very loud perfume.

Is there a perfume you always desired to make?

Francesca: So many that I admire! Well, Timbuktu of L'Artisan Parfumeur. Dzongkha too. Vol de Nuit and L'Heure Bleue by Guerlain. The list is infinite.

Guerlain L'Heure Bleu

But your main attitude in perfumery goes to a different path from what you admire.

Francesca: It's true, but I like the oriental side of Timbuktu and Dzongkha, and the elegance of Guerlain. None of these perfumes inspired directly my creation, but I admire their elegance and construction.

Who has been your first influence?

Francesca: I would say, instead of a perfumer, a city: Marrakesh - which I visited the first time when I was 28, the year I started experimenting. I still have some old cheap crappy stuff from local producers, of awful quality. But a couple of these materials still works as a powerful emotional trigger to me. For instance, I have a 5 ml vial of authentically fake agarwood, one of the most exquisite illusory anything-but-oud I have ever smelled. I also tried to recreate it myself with good natural materials, and I included this base in Dark Side formula. 

Which nose you admire the most?

Francesca: Bertrand Duchaufour. And - sorry to be so obvious - Jacques Guerlain.

What in their works makes you admire them?

Francesca: The answer here is on the same page of the previous topic, as BD and JG are the creators of the perfumes I admire most. So elegant compositions.

You have a special pronounce of amber accord and oriental compositions in your creations and études. Tell us what in these smells do you find impressive?

Francesca: I probably got impressed by the strong odors of Morocco and Turkey, especially in their countryside’s. Besides dead goats hanging at the butcher and nauseating poultry of local markets, you find an herboristerie with perfumed oils, dried plants, incense, myrrh, benzoin and other resins to burn. I am desperately passionate about Styrax, Tolu Balsam, Benzoin, Cistus, Tonka Beans... The first time I heard the word "benzoin" I was 17 and was reading Les correspondences by Baudelaire: I thought it must have been something so decadent, mysterious and sinful. 

The titles. They are evocative and moving, what is the story behind names?

Francesca: Angel's Dust: the name conveys the idea of innocence and corruption - a lethal seductive mixture, in my opinion. The setting here is an old dusty woody boudoir where the seduction tools - face-powder, lipstick, lace and silky lingerie - are on display. 
Sex and the Sea: as the name suggests, I conjure up a sensual encounter at the beach. It vaguely smells of pineapple and a creamy coconut lotion mixed to sweaty salty skin, combined with a peculiar selection of ambers and civet which makes the scent a bit dirty. 
The Dark Side: I liked to create my personal woody oriental scent. I used lots of different ingredients in tiny amounts to make the final effect very smooth. Like a sfumato in painting. So it's still a comfortable scent thou being so intense and strong.

Angel's Dust, Dark Side, Sex and the Sea fragrances

Has perfume carnal dimensions?

Francesca: I guess all my three scents do have it; and also the ones I am working on. I cannot simply think of making a formula which doesn't have a certain kind of human intimacy.

How do you describe your perfumes in three words?

Francesca: Intimate, sensual, intense.

Where this underlying on carnality in perfumes comes from?

Francesca: I don't know. There's no conscious intention in doing so. For sure, I cannot create any 'fresh' or 'ozonic' or 'citrus' scent, which I consider the contrary of carnality. Maybe, this research in sensuality in perfume has an unconscious correspondence with a personal investigation in my sensuality.

I fell in love with peculiarity of "Sex and the Sea" more than others, could you speak about the concept and composition? What drives you to create it?

Francesca: The real story behind this scent is an experiment. I was obsessed by the smell of my skin at seaside. The same cozy smell I've known year after year since I was a child when I spent my holidays at seaside. Then the imagination took over and I created a scenario of a sensual encounter at beach, but the starting point is my sun-burnt, salty, sweaty skin.

A part of perfume world goes with crazy artistic and innovative ideas like swallowable perfumes, or scent of blood, etc. Yours look like a flashback to several centuries ago, specially considering density of your perfumes and their ancient-inclined smells. How do you describe it?

Francesca: In principle, I don't like fashion. If occasionally I care about it, it's to make sure I am walking far from it. My position is not based on snobbism but common sense. First, there are so many nice perfumes on the market, why should I do a similar one. Then, I believe in working on one's own inspiration, but first you have to be sure of it. It's difficult to focus on what you really want, like, think and not being confused or influenced from the outside. It's even more difficult than actually making something. As for this ancient-inclined smell, it's probably due to the concentration of natural materials, or an unwanted influence of some old books I studied. 

Have you ever thought about a crazy idea in your framework?

Francesca: In my opinion crazy ideas work better if hidden in the background, than shouted out loud. A very unusual combination of material excites me more than a marketing gimmick. I don't like doing things just pour épater le bourgeois, I find it unauthentic and quite boring.

During our long-time communication you have sent me several samples of your sketches and you only have introduced three of them. Do you have a plan to launch them in the future?

Francesca: They are all in my heart, including their names. I hope to get back to them, but other new funny ideas are popping up and dragging me to other directions.

Apart from Marrakesh which you mentioned above, where on the world impresses you the most? A place you think you get olfactory ideas for your creations?

Francesca: Apart from Marrakesh, I would add a fictional place like Moghul and Persian miniatures. Getting back to the West, Florence is such an amazing inspirational place. The solemn grandiose Renaissance churches smelling of stone and incense and wax, the San Marco monastery cells decorated by Angelico, smelling of purity and simplicity, or the gorgeous frescos of Pietro da Cortona in Palazzo Pitti, they smell of abundance and carnality, or the passionate, intellectual smell of Pontormo in Santa Felicita. Imagination plays a crucial role both in creating and in smelling a perfume.

You studied art history in Florence. Does your major improve your imagination in encountering smells and link environment to perfume? The point I'm trying to reach is "how much arts can be reflected in olfactory arts?"

Francesca: I think another form of art can give a general, emotional kind of inspiration, but not a specific one. Each kind of art is a form of communication and the meaning of the message is strictly related to the tools which are specific solely to that form of art. So what you actually say with a painting cannot be said with a perfume. On the other hand, studying art has helped me a lot with memorizing individual raw materials. I did a big effort in learning how to recognize the specific style of many artists: that 'touch' is not explicable in words or concept, you just have to create your own way to recognize it. Same with the great variety of raw materials available: you have to make your own way to distinguish one from the other, opening daily vials without reading the label trying to guess what it's inside, and being open to smell something new in the same material every time.

Thank you again for the time you speared for this interview.

Carpe Odor!

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