“If I have onions, I will die,” master perfumer Alberto Morillas says with a wink to the head waiter over at the Hotel Martinez. He’s lying, of course — really the results would be far more dramatic. The lady to my left leans in for a conspiratorial whisper: “onions change the odour of your skin, and you must always test a fragrance on your skin,” she says, with genuine feeling. “For Alberto, it would mean disaster!”
We’re having lunch to celebrate the release of Chopard’s new haute perfumerie collection – Gardens of the Kings – down at the Festival de Cannes, and each and every steak hache comes to the table sans oignons, thank God. With a creation this refined, it pays to be extra careful.
Earlier, Morillas and Patrizio Stella, the CEO of Chopard parfums, had taken me through the Gardens of the Kings. It’s made up of four masculine fragrances centred around oud: the dark, mysterious, aromatic oil gleaned — completely sustainably — from the highly prized agarwood tree.
“When I smell oud, I return to a dream!” Morillas begins. “It’s an emotion. Right away, you can see Japan, you can see China, you can see India.”
You can see further even than that. The collection is a truly international in its influences. Agar Royal is inspired by the splendour of the Maharajahs of India; Aigle Imperial recalls the sophistication and mystery of the Far East; Nuit des Rois is filled with the glittering magnificence of the Princes of Arabia; Or de Calambac conjures up the seducers of Latin America.
I ask Stella if he has a favourite. “No — It’s like choosing your favourite kid!” he laughs. “But the Or de Calambac is really interesting to me — the mix of the oud on one side, and the sparkling light and colours of South America on the other.”
“It is the most fascinating thing to watch a fragrance like that develop, over all the stages,” says Stella. “Alberto is always developing new versions, you can’t keep up! But that’s what happens when he’s truly inspired by something. He has this excitement — he’s not at work, he truly loves it.”
“We go through more than 100 versions of each fragrance,” Morillas tells me. “Some of them have over 1000 versions before we’re finished — I can’t remember! It’s the same as creating a story, each word at a time.”
It’s important to get these things right, of course. In the Middle Eastern tradition — where oud has its deep, dark roots — fragrance is by far the most important element of a man’s dress.
“Alberto has introduced me to this amazing idea that fragrances have to be opulent and powerful because they have to announce you before you enter the room,” Stella tells me. “It says something about you even when you aren’t there — and that’s inspiring.” Later, at lunch, I plump for a plain, grilled sea bass fillet. I don’t want those onions talking behind my back.
Chopard Gardens of the Kings
Want to know more about Gardens of the Kings? Step inside the launch event at the Festival de Cannes…