“I have always been very sensitive to scents,” declares Dominique Ropion as he smoothes out his charcoal-coloured suit and settles into a large leather chair that befits his tall frame. On this occasion – a balmy Wednesday morning in Tokyo’s Grand Hyatt Hotel – the revered French nose is referring to the distinctive smell of freshly ground coffee, which cuts through a lingering aroma of scrambled eggs and fried bacon. “I mean, I love all scents, but there's something about the smell of food and drink,” he confers softly. “It takes me back to my childhood and reminds me of the simple things.”
Ropion is in town to celebrate the launch of L'Eau d'Issey Pure, a fragrance he has concocted for Issey Miyake, upon invitation of the designer. The aim, Ropion explains, was to create a “modern interpretation” of the brand’s iconic L’Eau d’Issey (1992), which atomized the stark minimalism of the era, inspired by the purity of water. “I always had a connection with that first perfume, but not so much so that it swayed the way I felt about making this new one,” he explains. “I was asked to create the smell of water now, in 2016,” he adds brightly. “So that’s what I did.”
Water – which contains no real fragrant properties – is evidently one of the most difficult (albeit conceptual) scents to bottle. “Of course, everybody knows that water has no obvious smell,” he laughs, “but that allows us to use our imagination, because it is so open to personal interpretation and that was so interesting to me.” And so, his starting point was to “be pragmatic” and build a narrative based upon on the olfactive family of aquatic flowers, which are connected to marine life and water itself. “I explored this grouping to build the heart of the fragrance, using crystalline lily-of-the-valley and orange blossom,” he states.
While the original L’Eau d’Issey contained a generous hit of the aqueous molecule Calone, Ropion’s iteration offers the IFF captive Maritima (think, salty ocean spray) and the heady essence of rose Damascena, giving the fragrance a liberating and contemporary steer. “The composition itself is structured, yet floral and fluid, and the use of jasmine absolute adds resistance and volume. The jasmine is pure, but has a sensual sensibility too. Clean but animalistic,” he reveals. “I think it needed to have that emotional depth.”
To house its updated composition, L’Eau d’Issey Pure is distilled in a newly designed flaçon, conceived by contemporary American artist, Todd Bracher. “I wanted L’Eau d’Issey Pure to evoke the genuine simplicity and purity that exists around the idea of water, captured by the most basic image of water, a droplet. The droplet symbolises the fragrance and in turn becomes the bottle,” says Bracher of the perfume's gently conical silhouette, which is grounded by a smooth crystalline ball. “I think it looks and feels modern and unique,” says Ropion. “The scent took just about a year to create, and during that time I felt under quite a lot of pressure, because the first time around it was such a big success,” he adds in a self-effacing manner that belies his impressive track record. After all, this is the man that has conjured up numerous landmark scents, from the deliciously pneumatic Portrait of a Lady by Frederic Malle to Viktor & Rolf’s poptastic hit Flowerbomb and the enigmatic Alien for Thierry Mugler.
“Being a nose is a craft, it’s something that evolves over time. Creating a perfume is actually very good therapy too, because you have to reach far into your memory – thinking about old experiences that you may have forgotten,” he adds. “People have many olfactive references in their head. As a nose, I have to memorise all those raw materials by attaching them to an emotive memory or experience. Rose oil, for example, reminds me of the strawberry cake that my grandmother used to bake when I was a child,” he muses, laughing. “You see, in the end, it always comes back to food.”
L’Eau d’Issey Pure by Issey Miyake is out now.