March 21, 2017

Cynthia Altoriso: Why is perfume important?

Alexander Vreeland: Perfume is a dream. When we put it on, we get transcended by it.

CA: As executor of your grandmother Diana Vreeland’s estate, you were charged with promoting her legend. Were you close with her?

Very. I was 34 when she died, but in creating Diana Vreeland Perfume I found one of my biggest inspirations. My grandmother inspires a dream: People who worked with her spoke about how she helped them discover and live the dream they always had inside. As a fragrance company, we want to respect that.

CA: To be adventurous and…

…courageous. The theme of our collection is “Why Don’t You?” which was the name of her 1936 column for Harper’s Bazaar, which was one of the first things she did in fashion. The message is still relevant: the spirit of, “Why don’t you lead your life fully?”

CA: What was your first memorable scent?

My father was a diplomat and we moved a lot; my first olfactive memories are of arriving in Morocco – jasmine bushes in the parks, orange blossom around our home, wood fires, eucalyptus trees along the roads, the tanneries dyeing leather, fruits in the marketplaces, fresh bread baking.

CA: How did you come up with the perfume ideas?

It took four years of work with perfumers and with Fabien Baron on packaging and design. We started with a classic French bottle and wanted to play with colors; each bottle is a different color with a contrasting tassel. We also created an elongated magnetic closure which represents my grandmother’s love for extremes. The two pillars were her love of color and words. The names are based on her quotes and sayings. She loved bold colors; her living room was red and her dining room was striped.

CA: What qualities of Diana do you have?

A good work ethic; I think I’m very disciplined. She had a routine. When you run a magazine like Vogue and have fourteen issues a year, you stay organized. You don’t run around throwing out ideas and then disappear. You follow through.

CA: What was her typical day?

She’d have breakfast in bed, get on the phone to her office and dictate memos; between bed and the bathroom, she’d be on the phone for four hours. Once she put her clothes on, she was out of the house in a couple of minutes. She’d go to the office, be in meetings, then go to a dinner party. She would often come home late and sit in front of her light box and approve images.

CA: She loved dancing?

She said she learned everything from dance; she had amazing posture and always reminded me to stand straight – “Up, up, up, your back!” The fragrance Full Gallop is an ode to her love of dance. It’s a heliotrope with a powerful floral accord and an amazing musky-amber drydown.

CA: What scent do you connect with your grandmother?

She had a canister of the finest sandalwood oil on her makeup table and would dab some behind her ear before leaving the house, so we created a beautiful Indian sandalwood and rose fragrance called Absolutely Vital.

CA: Is it true that she would inject scent into pillows with a hypodermic?

It is. During a power shortage when she was Editor in Chief of Vogue, she discouraged her team from heading home by giving them each a scented candle to work by – that’s how many candles she had in her office.

CA: As director of the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute, she piped in scents to the exhibits.

She selected a different scent for each; she could not imagine doing a major exhibit without all the tools to illustrate what she was showing.

CA: What was your favorite of her photoshoots?

She created a series of Vogue December issues filled with inspirational imagery. The Irving Penn flowers were the all-time standout – especially the peonies. They were magnificent.

CA: She loved men’s fragrance on women. Are the DV fragrances unisex?

When she made that statement 60 years ago, it was revolutionary. Our collection was created as fragrances she would wear if she were a young, modern woman today. They’re directed towards women, but luxury fragrances smell so differently on different people that we do have male customers. We created a little collection of Parfums Absolu which we named Diana Vreeland Outrageous. Daringly Different is my favorite – warm, bold and sensual.

CA: How long does it take for a new smell to hit stores?

Between eight months to a couple of years. We meet with perfumers at IFF, and they adapt, fine-tune, improve and find solutions to different problems. Like writing a book, sometimes it does not evolve: you have a great beginning and a good plot but can’t figure out how to tie it together.
We were so fortunate to be able to work with the Master Perfumer, Carlos Benhaim on Full Gallop. He brings a lifetime of olfactive experience with him. My wife Lisa and I told him stories about my grandmother. We have created a wonderful and dynamic partnership with him. He feels free to express his vision, and we give him feedback to fine tune the fragrance.

CA: Which scents evoke the notion of a dream?

We created the entire collection from my grandmother’s dreamlike vision. She has this wonderful quote: “I believe you see in the dream. We only live through our dreams and imagination. That’s the only reality we really ever know.”