Haunted by an obsession to capture “essences”, poet Arthur Rimbaud wrote his majestic Illuminations in between fits of fever with his words “ground in wood and flowers”, a prelude to his journey aboard a Dutch battleship to Java. The poet with “the wind at his heels,” who was never to be heard of again following his “escape” to the East Indies, passed into legend as a trader of coffee and spices — the essences that had always inspired his deeper inner world enveloped, professedly, by “scent”.
The culture of perfumery, bound paradoxically within the realms of the sacred and the world of stench, is replete with histories of adventures and misadventures, the expansion of power and capital, the division of status and class, the changing nature of taste and, always, the recurrent narrative of landscapes and journeying.
“I have always believed that perfume is universal. Its real laboratory is culture and travelling. And the story of the perfume is, fundamentally, a human story — if you don’t like humanity, you will never like perfumes,” says Anne-Lise Cremona.
The scion of the Henry Jacques haute parfumerie, renowned the world over for its highly cultivated sensibilities, its innovation and for achieving that fine balance between tradition and the experimental in its acclaimed blends, Cremona speaks in a language that vacillates between the poetic and the existential, interjected with lucid details of the science of aesthetics and the chemistry of scent.
Henry Jacques recently opened its second boutique in Southeast Asia at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur. “Yours is a culture that is very interested in perfumes,” Cremona explains of the choice of location. “Most of the time, we won’t decide on opening a boutique here or there: what leads to the opening is the location opportunity, the right moment and the right people. For us, it is not about figures and marketing — it is about the human story. And Malaysia is a country that is very warm and that comes from the beautiful mix of cultures you find here.”
Some half a decade since its founding as an intimate, family-owned concern dedicated to the firm principles of a bespoke tradition, Henry Jacques continues to display a deep sense of history, a firm hold on tradition and an appreciation of the intimacy of the perfume with its essence that is the earth.
“When we create a perfume, it is done with a lot of passion,” Cremona explains. “We declare our approach to be minimalist, which means we always reach for the essential — it is about choosing the right essence at the right moment, which is the key to enhancing certain parts of a perfume. To achieve that sense of authenticity, we have to go through history since it tells us so much. Perfumes are really about the earth and what the earth has always given us... and our perfumes must reveal this — the novelty of the perfume, which is there in the sacred cultures of all communities. In any religious background, you have perfume — incense, attar — but now, we have a generation for whom the perfume is nothing more than running from your plane and catching the latest product. In this present culture, we have lost the sense of what anything is really for. Rediscovering that sense of purpose is our philosophy.”
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