18 Sepember 2011

The fact that perfume means different things to different people is hardly news. For some, it s little more than a fashion accessory. For others, it s a mood enhancer or a form of portable art or even an insight into socio-economic trends. But I daresay it s not often that a fragrance is seen as a useful tool in cross-cultural diplomacy. That s certainly what SymineSalimpour thinks of the contents of her bottles. As the founder and creative director of Hors Là Monde, she s happy to assert that her work in the perfume industry is a manifestation - albeit an unconventional one - of her interest in international relations and human rights issues.

To mark the occasion of her brand s arrival in the UK, I conducted the following interview with her by email and I began by pointing out that, regardless of what she may think of the wider significance of her creations, most consumers will see them as yet another set of releases jostling for attention in what is an increasingly over-saturated market. So what would she say to someone to convince him or her that it s worth trying her fragrances at the expense of other brands? What makes Hors Là Monde different?

SymineSalimpour: It is right to say that the market of perfumery is over-saturated. But I have to add that it is no more saturated than any other market. Dreamers don t think that way. They are always ready to go for a new adventure as long as it touches them. Big brands are going through the media to promote their fragrances and invest tons of money. Take a look at Chanel s No. 5. One is sold every minute in the world and they are still using beautiful and famous actresses to promote it. Hors Là Monde was not created after a business plan or marketing research. It just came as the desire to say something at a certain time.

So how did you create the brand?
SS: I was in born in Nice and studied law there and in Paris. I took the bar exam in Paris before making the decision to travel and put in balance the laws I had studied in schools. While I was working in the Middle East in 2004, at the Hilton Hotel for Hans Stern, the jeweller, I noticed with much happiness that when our conversation was introduced by art, we could talk about anything, even difficult topics such as politics. I thought that I had found the key. I would not go and defend people in court. I would promote bridges between people who think that they dislike each other because they just don t know anything about the other s culture.

I moved to Los Angeles in 2005 and created my own brand that I called Hors Là Monde after the PalaisMaetelinck in Nice, which was also called Orlamonde. I believe it meant "anywhere out of this world" and I spelt it my own way. My idea was to create fragrances in which people could recognise themselves. That  was the challenge.

That s very intriguing. Could you expand a little bit? Can you give any examples of cultures being brought together by scent?
SS: Perfumes go first to the heart and then the head. The heart gets carried away, and little by little the head analyses where we had that feeling before. Each country, community or group has its own codes and omnipresent smells in their every day life. French people, for example, feel comfortable with musk, probably because they have been surrounded by it since childhood, as it exists in washing powder. It seems that in the Orient, people like warm notes as well. If I wanted to create a fragrance that would reunite both customers from Europe and Middle East, I would necessarily put some of these ingredients in the perfume.

We build  fragrances with notes that we believe are important for people from different areas of the world and we put them into balance. People recognise themselves in each other naturally. The defences fall. And anything becomes possible. I think that it is definitely a powerful tool for communication.

So how has your own cultural awareness developed?
SS: In my personal experience, except for being in love with Bruce Lee as a kid, I was not interested in China because of politics, and because of customs that were difficult for me to understand. Through a friend of mine, I discovered contemporary Chinese art, the beautiful paintings and the messages of the artists. The heart of people. I started to discover more and more about their beauty. Years later, I was looking for a trainee to represent Hors Là Monde at the Galeries Lafayette in Paris. Yun Gao showed up. Not only did she train with us, but she became our partner. We learnt from each other and tried to put together the best of each into Hors Là Monde. Today we are focusing on getting in to Chinese people s hearts through Hors LàMonde s fragrances. Each country where Hors Là Monde is represented is a chapter, a love story.

Let s find out a little bit about your own perfume tastes. What was the first fragrance you ever bought for yourself?
SS: La Nuit from Paco Rabanne. I was 13. People were confused. It was not the type of perfume made for a teenager. I had a real addiction to it. Putting it on my hands. I had to stop doing that because people thought that I had a problem with my nose always stuck to my hands. It sounds funny, but it s true!

Which perfumes do you particularly admire?
SS: I have admiration for story tellers and personalities mainly, and I know that it s bad but I don t look carefully at what other perfumery houses do. Creation is of course always inspired by others, but not necessarily perfumes. However, I love Guerlain sL HeureBleue and Shalimar, Hermes Caleche and so many more.  I recently discovered Amouage s Dia. The brand is very beautiful too. Juliette Has A Gun and By Kilian are also brands that I appreciate a lot.

We know that Shiloh was made by Michel Roudnitska. Who created your other perfumes?
SS: FabriceOlivieri was introduced to me by Michel Roudnitska. He is a very talented perfumer. Fabrice is a very sensitive person which makes the communication around the creation of perfumes very interesting and productive. We always start with a story, a feeling about something I saw, heard. We discuss the notes that are matching those emotions and he creates the magic! We know each other well now so the process is easier, but one of our creations took us over a year to make.

Does the term niche perfumery have any meaning for you?
SS: Absolutely, I know it is a big discussion in this industry. To me it does not really matter what you call it. Beside the big names in the industry, there are creative young brands that are offering something different. A story, a special attention to the customer, a very refined fragrance created by a famous name. Perfume lovers are looking for those rare fragrances. They are neither followers nor, as the poet Florian Azoulay would say, esthetes d apres coup , people who love beauty once the majority decides that it s beautiful. They are the ones who make the brand, they are the avantgardistes , the ones that make a niche brand enter a modern department store one day.

Do certain perfumes in your range seem to be particularly popular in certain countries?
SS: It is true that people from different countries don t have the same attitude with perfumes. In Asia, China and India for example, strong perfumes are not popular, which is the main reason we are now working on three eaux de toilette for Shiloh, Lady Shiloh and Shiloh X. Otherwise, our perfumes are well appreciated in many countries.

I see from your site that your perfumes are sold in Iran. Have you visited the shop which stocks them?
SS: That was a very nice thing to happen to us. Seeing Hors Là Monde in a few shops in Teheran was a great joy for me personally since my father is Persian and left Iran over 40 years ago to settle in France. I felt very welcome thanks to KiavashKashani, our distributor in Iran, even though I could not go myself yet. And it seems like our fragrances are growing fast on this market.

What would you say to someone who doesn t consider perfumery to be an art?
SS: I would ask them the meaning of art and what is the art de vivre , in their opinion, and learn from them. I would nevertheless tell them that creating a fragrance is not the easiest thing to do.

What are you able to tell us about upcoming releases from your brand?
At this moment, I would love to be able to tell you all about our new release, but it s still too soon. However, I can tell you that we re working with French designers, OcéaneDelain and Axel Debrayere, on creating a new flacon, and that the new release is a combination of two fragrances created by FabriceOlivieri. But don t expect a male and female one...

And finally, to go back to what we were discussing earlier, do you sincerely believe that perfume has the power to change the world?
SS: I wish! For now, the only thing that comes to my head is some words from a song by Googoosh, the Persian Edith Piaf: "kashki diva kharob she," meaning, "if only the wall would fall apart". Let s believe that we can make a change for the best through perfume. At least let s give it a try!