Once in a while, perfume aficionados are afforded the giddy pleasure of the discovery of something new and extraordinary. Something that, when we look at it head-on, we can recognize in it something of ourselves. Perhaps there's just a little more glamour, seductive prowess or decisiveness, but you're in there. That's precisely how I felt when I began to hungrily explore Barcelona native Ramon Monegal's perfume line.
There are 14 fragrances in all for the initial US launch next month (check the end of this post for locations). After spending some quality time together, I have come to know these fragrances almost as facets of myself, and I've got several favorites which I will be reviewing individually very soon. I've been very much looking forward to conducting this interview to gain insight into the 35-year industry veteran's way of thinking as he strikes out on his own for the first time, what his creative process is like, and what his hopes are for expansion into the US market. I am so pleased to have been granted the very first US interview with Mr. Monegal.
[showroom storefront in Barcelona]
CM: Even people who are serious about perfume will occasionally miss hearing about a brand because they are based in another country, or perhaps just by chance. I am definitely one of those people. What is the single most important thing you wish people to know about your brand, your perfumes, or yourself?
RM: I really think that now is the time for Master Perfumers to regain their prominence like it was in the past, when they introduced their creations in person, without intermediaries, when they worked in their own ateliers, and when they were able to communicate their own olfactory language directly. I have created my own brand to regain the freedom of the Author, to work again with mythical raw materials, forgotten since the extracts disappeared, and to work with the exclusivity that comes from true luxury: scarcity. Barcelona, the city where I was born, (that is why I included it in my brand's name) is a cradle of great artists, where several different Mediterranean cultures converge and flourish. Cosmopolitan, open and Mediterranean, Barcelona has really influenced the development of my personality as well as my olfactory language, and therefore my brand. My store is placed in the core of Barcelona; it is a warm and intimate place where you can enjoy the experience of discovering my creations, and I can see and learn from the customer’s impressions and comments in person.
I create from absolute freedom, trying to communicate values and attitudes through my compositions, always made by the Mediterranean light and vitality. I make my creations by hand, with the knowledge from my teachers but also using the latest technology. I do everything in my own factory, where we ourselves do the entire manufacturing cycle. From the essence mixtures and the macerations, until the fill and bottling. We also do the logistics. I come from a perfumer family, and I combine the creative direction of my new company with teaching my children in the craft, the fifth generation.
[Ramon Monegal at work]
CM: While working my way through your line of 14 fragrances, I found more than a few surprises. I find that the pendulum swings wildly from one fragrance to the next, and it’s rather thrilling! Who is your intended customer? What is he or she like?
RM: My target is a high level customer, perfume lover, with perfumery knowledge, with an olfactory image well defined, and highly demanding but appreciative of the quality of the raw materials that they find in my fragrances. No matter their age or nationality. The most important is their desire to communicate their attitude and values with the indicated scent. That is why I am introducing a complete range of fragrances, where you will find very different values and attitudes.
[L'eau de Rose: dry, substantial, voluptuous and uncomplicated]
CM: I find it to be an appropriately modern practice not to specify gender in fragrance. Why does it matter to you that your fragrance line expresses this quality?
RM: The gender of a perfume is a creation of the commercial industry of the past century, which decided that women wear florals and men, woods. This has led to an erroneous stereotype, partisan and with male chauvinist influence. In my opinion, a smell, a sum of smells, or a perfume, defines an olfactory image anyone can identify with. I think you must be able to try a perfume without influences, focusing your attention on discovering if that scent fits with your olfactory image, your values, your attitudes and what you want to show. I think a man can feel he is as attractive as a rose, and a woman, as strong as wood. Carrie, how do you feel? I also think you don’t have to be afraid to mix different smells, as well as you mix your meal or your clothes. Do not be afraid to try!. Let your imagination fly and follow your intuition and feelings. I love the freedom. Do you?
CM: Yes! You just reminded me of something else I wanted to mention-- that I have been experimenting with layering the perfumes in your collection, creating new scents from existing ones. It wasn't until I had played around with them that I finally could clearly see the thread running through the entire collection... it's like that saying "Can't see the forest for the trees"-- now, I can see both! I have often been drawn to fragrances in which the gender identity is neutral, and sometimes even masculine. I feel that this is a good time to be a perfume lover, because our options are much broader than, say, 30 years ago. Tell me, what is the most valuable thing you learned early in your studies of perfumery that you still employ?
RM: When I was in Geneva, learning from my teacher, the Master Perfumer Arturo Jordi Pey (Firmenich), we used to discuss a lot about our different points of view, because I was young and he was very strict, elegant, highly demanding and classic, with a strong personality but very paternal. One day, we were talking and suddenly he told me “Ramón, shut up, listen and learn, but despite what they say, be always true to yourself”. That was the best advice that he gave me; the man who was one of the best perfumers around the world. After a long time, I understood that is possible to be true to yourself and apply the strict fundamentals of classic perfumery, but for that, you must find your own olfactory language. Now, I am still improving my language. Due to the never-ending beauty of the raw materials (either essential natural oils or synthetic molecules) or because of my experience and knowledge of how to blend them, I realize that I am still learning and traveling down an endless road of discovery.
[Kiss My Name: seasonless tuberose]
CM: I must bring up the Inkwell bottle. I am not usually someone who is fixated on packaging at all, but I am fascinated by this bottle. In fact, as I write this, I had to pick up my bottle and look at it again. Can you explain what the ideas are behind its design, and what materials did you use to create it?
RM: I am a great lover of the volumes, forms, lines and designs-- almost as much as the perfumes! Carrie, note that I had begun Architecture studies due to my passion for it, but I ended up being a perfumer by familial tradition, and also because my teacher was able to make me a perfume lover.
When I left the commercial industry, I spent one year thinking about my own collection. I wanted to be unique, special and genuine in all fields, so that is why I wanted to create exclusive fragrances, bottled into an exclusive flacon. When I decided to design my own, I just had ended my novel “La Perfumista” (The perfumer), discovering the magic of an Inkwell, an incredible container loaded with a mysterious black fluid that soaks into the paper’s skin, and on the imagined history of its author written by his own hand. It is a great allegory to adapt to my no-gender perfumes. Thinking about it, one day I found an Inkwell of my great-grandfather's (who was also called Ramón Monegal, the first perfumer in the family). Maybe it was by chance; maybe it was destiny… Then, I redesigned it with new proportions and added the unscrewable diffuser, thinking about the best materials such as semiautomatic glass, Zamak (an alloy of Zinc, Aluminum, Magnesium and Copper), the best aluminum for the diffuser, and finally the Bakelite, a thermosetting polymer used in the past by the best perfumery houses, but replaced by injected plastic due to its high cost.
[Mon Cuir: a leather like nothing else in the world- an original]
CM: “Luxury” has got to be the most erroneously used descriptive word used by companies to describe their products. Luxury doesn’t mean what it used to, but I feel that your perfume line holds on to the concept of classic luxury and simultaneously incorporates important modern advantages. Can you please put into words what your idea of true luxury is?
RM: I do not like to talk about luxury, because it encourages talk of what luxury is not, but I am going to make an exception with your smart and well done questionnaire, and am going to tell you something about what luxury is to me:
True luxury is enjoying a unique experience. It is not classified by the price, but the excellence and exclusivity. You cannot buy or sell it; just look and find out! For me, luxury is the freedom to choose exactly the raw materials that I want, with no cost limitations.
When the craft was industrialized, and marketing arrived, everything became banal and fictitious, because now, sales are more important than the essences. A good perfume can be an unforgettable experience able to make you fly and dream. When that happens, we are taking about luxury.
The quality of the raw materials, the handmade processes, the Art of the craft, the personal touches, the knowledge, or the latest technology to improve the old techniques, are some of the ingredients to get to that stage of excellence. But finally, I really think the most important ingredient, and unfortunately currently quite missing, is the honesty.
CM: I know that the quality of the raw materials you use is of the utmost importance to you in the creation of your perfumes. Can you talk a little about these raw materials?
RM: I must admit that when I ended my perfumer training, I came into the Maison Myrurgia, the company of my family. There is where I received formation as “Nose” (“Nez” in French). In perfumery, there are two different roles, the Nose and the Perfumer. The nose is someone who specializes in the search, evaluation and approval of raw materials from around the world, and the Perfumer is someone with a special sense of smell, with specialized training in the mixture of raw materials who can then compose a note. So as you can also note, I am both nose and perfumer.
In Myrugia, we used to work with 1.000 different references, and every year I received at least 15 samples of each reference. I had to try all of them, evaluate them and choose the best and most refined. We had some raw materials only comparable to those of Maison Guerlain, a house very close to us, with whom we were very good friends. (Many years ago, we had an amber infusion with 10 years of maceration. We received a stunning offer for them from Jean Paul Guerlain, who told my father that they were the best infusions he had ever smelled).
Working with the best raw materials is the basis of my work. My laboratory is based in Switzerland, where I work with the best Absolute Sambac Jasmine from its concrete, we fractionate the Cedar, the Oud, the Patchouly or the Vetyver, we get Rose essence and its Absolute of an amazing quality, a unique distillation of Iris over Cedar, as well as we get the best Iris essence and its Absolute (my favorite over all, and the most expensive raw material around the world), an impressive Tuberose and Orange flower extracted in Grasse, as well as the best Spanish and Italian citrus, and so forth. Obviously, and in keeping with my interest to constantly be learning, I work with the best and newest synthetic molecules, such as Cashmeran, Ambroxane, Ambermax or Norlimbanol.
My current palette only includes the most exclusive natural and synthetic molecules. That’s my way to create unique and genuine creations, unmatched by competitors, because they either can't or don't want to go to the trouble of seeking out and buying the very best. Once again, this is also a luxury to me.
[Ramon's cozy perfumer's organ in the RM showroom]
CM: As you prepare to launch your fragrances here in the US, can you tell the readers of this blog what they can expect from Ramon Monegal Parfums, and what sets your fragrances apart from the rest?
RM: Customers will find that our perfumes are made by a true perfumer. As you know, the most well-known current Signature brands are not signed by true perfumers. In my collection, customers will find exclusive fragrances, capable of love, seduction and surprise. Olfactory histories like “Lovely Day”; a watery floral fragrance, radiant and silky, around a bridal bouquet of beautiful roses, or like “Kiss, my Name”; a nectar of Tuberose, Jasmine and Orange blossom, a timeless myth reinterpreted according to a perfume-- outgoing and exuberant. Or, like “Entre Naranjos”; a vital elixir, fresh, sparkling, lively and a sunny interpretation of some verses of the great Andalusian (Spanish) poet Antonio Machado, dedicated to an orange tree, or like “Agar Musk”; a perfume of worship around the Oud agar wood; sober, majestic and elegantly opulent, or like “Mon Patchouly”; the desire for freedom, the revolutionary idea of “flower power”, but from the Spanish island of Ibiza, the smell of Patchouly bathed by the Mediterranean becomes a provocative breeze, and offers a sense of affirmation.
My maxim, besides “Less is more”, is “A good perfume should always add”. The distinguishing features of my work, my perfume, are the passion for what I do, the purity of the aesthetics, the divine proportion, the non-negotiable quality of my raw materials and its mastering, my Mediterranean origin with its contribution of freshness and vitality, the naturalness and originality of my creations, the fusion of the classical basis with our own technological evolution, and finally, my own language based on the projection of values.
[the unique atomizer and Bakelite cap of the satisfyingly heavy Inkwell bottle]
If stories are to be told with perfume, Ramon Monegal certainly has created his own olfactory language to tell them with. It is refined, frequently intangible, sometimes daring and unusual, but always attractive. Finally removed from the shadow of anonymity as a perfumer, he speaks this language in a voice imbued with clarity, purpose and passion... and he's just getting started.
[Starting sometime in August, Ramon Monegal Perfumes will be available exclusively at Bergdorf Goodman in-store and at www.bergdorfgoodman.com, select Neiman Marcus stores and at www.neimanmarcus.com, as well as selected specialty boutiques, including www.luckyscent.com / Scent Bar].
The official website is in the process of being redesigned and will be ready very soon, but in the meantime, below you'll find a list of the names of the 14 fragrances in the collection:
Kiss My Name
Ambra di Luna
L'eau de Rose
All photos courtesy of and copyrighted by Ramon Monegal Perfumes, Barcelona, Spain