Strolling the streets of Zurich well before breakfast on any given day, you might just be fortunate enough to find perfumer Vero Kern walking her adorable jet-black Petit Brabancon Isidor whilst taking in the morning. And if you were to strike up a conversation with her, you would find her warm and obliging. One of four children from a cultured bourgeois family, Vero's parents were very close to nature and instilled in their children a strong "consciousness of being"... a feeling that is intensified whilst she meanders the empty laneways as many still lie in their beds.
For one who might be invited to visit her modest two-room apartment, they would find a space which carries Vero's distinctive fingerprint: a sanctum which communicates her love of interior design, her appreciation of Art Deco objects and furniture, and her eye for the quirky and avant-garde. The walls and ceilings of her abode she has meticulously painted by hand... a shining starscape of Arabic letterforms adorn the ceiling of her corridor, and a dreamy pool of Japanese lotus flowers the ceiling above her bed; one that she can "dive into when I wake up and open my eyes in the morning".
A second room blooms with Rosa Centifolia motifs - a design she applied after completing her studies in Paris and started her life as a parfumeur-créateur.
Whilst a basement room is used chiefly as a showroom, Vero's kitchen serves as the creative epicentre of her work; her kitchen table peppered with aromatic materials and instruments which serve as the building blocks of her craft.
"Creating perfume - the use of aromatic material - to me is similar to cooking".
I ponder for a moment, recognising the kitchen as the heart of the home, and Vero as a master chef. I resolutely believe she has put her heart into every bottle she has blended and manufactured by hand.
Vero's long strawberry-blonde tresses have more recently been cropped into a tidy short do, and she cuts a striking figure in clothes which she hand picks for their eccentricity and/or conventionality.
"I love fashion and especially designers like Martin Margiela, Dries Van Noten and Rick Owen. I also find my dresses in second hand shops and at flea markets".
Her love of travel, reading, cinema and music serve as inspiration for the way she approaches her scents. I pose the following questions to her...
First of all, tell us about the name Vero Profumo.
Vero Profumo is a play on my name, and the Italian word "vero" which means "real / authentic / pure". I was originally inspired by a movie by Dino Risi in the 1970's; the name was "Profumo di Donna" or "Scent of a Woman". The idea that every woman with her individual skin, her sensuality and eroticism, has her own smell fascinated me, and so it all started - to dive deeper into olfactive sensations, to know about perfumes and then finally the decision to become a perfumer and make my own erotic scents.
Is there an underlying philosophy that pervades your work?
I try to create high quality fragrances both artistically and aesthetically speaking, which have to satisfy my high standards as well as those of my clients. I try to go my own way 100% and do not follow any trends. I'm looking for originality, opulence and eroticism in scents. They have to surprise and touch me. I'm not interested in 'clean' scents - I need scents with character both in my creations, and on the wearer. Besides this, I love everything that reminds me of the smell of skin.
How do you challenge yourself when it comes to conceiving and producing a new perfume?
For me, creating is like a drug, a complete passion. So ideas for new creations can arise at any time, and anywhere. I do constantly write down what is inspiring me and later use this as an important creative resource. I am very inspired by most unique raw materials that I discover. Because the extraction of fragrances always become more careful and more efficient, there are more and more wonderful raw materials to be found. Unfortunately however, these are often very expensive and thus remain just something to dream about.
Perhaps your unique selling point are your stunning extraits. Some might consider it a risky decision to debut with a series of pure parfums, but you have been amongst the very first to do so and succeed. What was the thought process behind this? Why extraits over the perhaps more conventional EDT or EDP?
The main reason for this decision was my longing to compose high-quality scents in a classical style, but also to find an exclusive niche. The extraits - which at this time are very rarely manufactured - was, and still are, my niche. They are a relic of classical Haute Parfumerie. For me, it means the most sensual way to be perfumed and I am still fully convinced about this. Another reason was that the extraits allowed me to produce all myself in small amounts in-house. Later, for the eaux de parfum production, this was no longer manageable - neither in quantity nor logistically.
Speaking of the Eaux de parfums, with their release also came a new packaging solution for all your perfumes. What was the reason for this? Where are your beautiful new EDP bottles produced?
The new packaging across the line was necessary for the production of the Eaux de Parfums. The new EDP line is a direct result of multiple requests from different clients of mine. The cultural differences with regard to scenting oneself are numerous. Perfume application by dabbing as I offer it with the extraits, is not something very known in certain countries. A further reason for the EDP production was also the high price for the extraits.
The eaux de parfums are also well crafted, and the selected raw materials and special packaging make the final product no less expensive. Unlike commercial mass production, the costs of the eaux are very high and therefore also as a final product are found in a high price segment. For my bottles I was searching for a long time. Usually there are only a number of large 'mega companies', offering standard bottles in thousands of units. Boring and not affordable. After a long search in 2006, I finally found a small company in French Normandy. Still in the hands of same family for almost a century, they manufacture flacons using ancient styles and methods, in reasonable quantities (from 1000 units), and importantly for me - also in coloured glass. Entirely coloured throughout with pigment - not simply sprayed onto the bottle with paint. I always wanted coloured bottles... they protect better against light and preserve perfectly the fragrance also. To have coloured bottles was also an aesthetic choice. Both bottles - extrait and eaux - come out of the same range and have quite their price. The mould I have chosen is from the 1940s. The way they work with glass, as they have done for almost 100 years seemed to me to be pure alchemy - powerful and archaic.
When you set out to create a new scent, do you think of it in terms of "creating a perfume for evening" or "for winter"? Do you feel fragrances are seasonal or specific to a certain time of day?
I never think in these terms. I understand wearing fragrance as a personal extension of the wearer. My term would be: 'reasonably compatible with one's own body and skin chemistry'.
This can now vary seasonally, for example, by sweating more in summer or by eating different food in winter - it can thus change our skin chemistry. However, olfactory perception is completely subjective and individual and this includes the choice of a fragrance that I can't influence with "seasonal" creations. I can understand that you can have different smell 'likes' and from time to time these can change. This being said, I never did understand why one might change their fragrance three times in one day. For me, it is the absolute highlight of olfactory sensation if the chosen scent connects completely with the person's character and style - like a single form of identity.
On a previous occasion you once divulged to me that you visited L'Osmotheque in Versailles on numerous occasions to study vintage perfumes and reveal their secrets. What have you learned from the classic perfumes you've studied, and how has it influenced the way in which you created your own?
The visit to the Osmotheque for me is a journey through time and the past; a revelation, a highly artistic and unique olfactory dream inspiration. Classical compositions usually contain a relatively high proportion of natural raw materials which together with the synthetic components build up a high degree of complexity and unique erotic aesthetics which I find contemporary perfumery mostly lacks. I try to bring back this idea, this kind of aesthetic in my own creations. Not only do I share a great love for the classic scents, it is also true that I have limited or zero access to some modern materials. At the Osmotheque, I studied the works of Francois Coty, Ernest Beaux, Germaine Cellier, Jean Carles and Jacques Guerlain. I admire all of them for the beauty and unique originality of their compositions.
From your own line, which perfumes speak to you the most on a personal / emotional level? Besides your own, what are some of your favourite scents (either found in nature or commercially produced)?
I love all three of my compositions. Each of the scents is a part of me and for this reason, there aren't any favourites. Because there is a permanent smell in my immediate environment, I do not get very often perfumed. However, if I do, when walking the streets I feel sexy and I float like Sugar Kane in the movie "Some Like it Hot" - 50cm above the ground - missing only the ukulele!
I love fragrance compositions that touch me in some way. Fragrances that bare a secret and affect me erotically. I also like scents with animal notes like honey, castoreum, civet, ambergris, opulent floral scents, rose, tuberose and jasmine.
How has Vero Profumo been received in the international marketplace?
The brand is developing very well and I am happy and grateful for this. Sometimes I think I am dreaming. I never thought I would be, within three or four years, just as far as I am now. Success doesn't usually come overnight. It not only needs good ideas, but also a lot of patience, perseverance and good luck to be able to participate in an international market which is known to be fully saturated.
How important are industry events such as Exsence to you and your business?
The Exsence expo sees itself as a platform for niche products. Here, new brands find potential buyers which will be nicely presented and communicated accordingly to an interested audience. In addition there is a program with themed presentations (for example, about the future development of perfumery and cosmetics) for an interested audience. The press, in turn, are also interested in the presence of perfumers, and particularly with personal presentations and interviews. Their press reviews are creating the needed attention to the product, which is highly appreciated by the distributors of the relevant brand... in my case this is Campomarzio70 in Rome. But I feel that my presence at these events is not always necessary. When I am in attendance, I do give great importance and attention to personal presentations in those stories selling my products.
In terms of marketing your business, have modern technologies (social networking, blogs etc) played a pivotal role?
The blogs were of great help to get my brand known. I was and still am very grateful to their interest and writing about my products. For me, it would have been absolutely impossible to start big advertising campaigns - I simply cannot afford them. The regular press is usually only willing to write editorials in simultaneous large advertisement orders.
In 2007, when I started with my brand, there were just a few blogs - mainly in the USA - who shared this 'passion'. Meanwhile, the number of writing perfume lovers has grown tremendously.
In light of the global economic downturn, have you felt it directly impact your business? If yes, in which ways? What do you feel will be the long-term effect of this crisis on the luxury perfume market?
In the beginning of the economic crisis, my sales broke abruptly. Mainly the online sales to America. Later, the situation recovered again but never went back to the old days. There are countries more affected by the crisis than others. But I think a certain luxury market will always exist. I even think that the top luxury segment could grow even more in the coming years. Sales fluctuate pretty much in the middle segment.
Can you please tell me what is on the cards for the next 12-18 months? Are there any new creations planned?
I'm working on a new creation. A green scent. I got the inspiration from the wonderful garden of the Villa d'Este in Tivoli, Italy, where I spent a holiday in 2009. For me, its a magic place that charmed me completely and ever since I visited, I've had this almost hurting longing to create some green scents. But being a perfectionist it will take some time until I'll be satisfied with the result. The scent should be launched sometime next year though. There are other interesting projects on the table, but at the moment it's still too early to talk about. In addition I am working on special presentation concepts to be announced at a later date.
I feel both humbled and gratified that Vero has taken the time to address my questions about her perfume artistry. Many know that her creations are amongst the very few that I hold truly dear - ones that speak to me on some higher state of cognisance. With a new perfume in development, 2012 proves to be an exciting year for Vero Profumo and lovers of her work. One can only anticipate olfactory influences gleaned from the pillars of classical perfumery, and a deft consciousness of luxuriousness and sensuality. I, for one, cannot wait.