Interview with Francesco van Eerd — the owner and perfumer at Fragrifert Parfumeur
The story behind New Zealand perfume brand Fragrifert is as fantastic as the country itself. When reading about it on the Fragrifert website for the first time I was indeed captured by its detective touch. It’s about Gustave Alfonse Fragrifert (1880-1911) who was a french perfumer and lived a short tragic life. Somehow he did’t sell his beautiful perfumes inter vivos, more than that — he coded the formulas! He had moved to Kiwi Land which became his last shelter. Many years after Gustave’s death the coded formulas fell into the hands of Francesco van Eerd — who was able to decode them so they have come to life and that’s how the new brand called Fragrifert was founded.
Anastasia: Thank you so much, Francesco, for taking the time to talk! My first question is about the Story of Gustave — you’ve revealed that it’s a fiction, correct? What caused that? (Some of my perfume friends still believe it is true). So, in the end, are you the actual author of the story?
Francesco: Well, I could go on about this for hours but really what it boils down to is that my absolute most favourite thing in life is being creative. Making perfumes, obviously, but also sculpting, acting, singing, playwriting, songwriting, writing lyrics, designing, (set design, interior design, product design), 3D modelling, 3D animation, and a few more I can’t think of right now. So when I decided to start my own business I resolved to use it as an opportunity to create my ideal lifestyle with creativity in as many fields as possible. After all, why just make good perfumes when you can create entertainment at the same time, involving story telling, music, lyrics, 2D and 3D graphics, singing, acting, sculpting ? But I also wanted to ‘play fair’ with the audience, so they would be aware all along that they were being entertained rather than deceived. When you go to the movies, you know it’s not true, but does that diminish the enjoyment? Of course not. It’s called ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ and if you can do that you will have a lot more fun in your life than if you insist on ‘things having to be true’.
Anastasia: So true! I’m guessing you coded the formulas?
Francesco: Since Gustave is a figment of my imagination who else to create the perfumes and code them but me again? And you know what? The coded formula for Automne shown on my website is totally legit, both in code and formulation! If anyone cares to decode it (using the hints given on the same page) they can find out exactly what’s in Automne! But as far as I can tell, nobody has tried yet… Maybe a fitting challenge for some of your readers?
Anastasia: That’s a real detective story! I am wondering what’s in this perfume. For all of our readers who can’t come visit the Show in Wellington which is announced on your site — would you mind sharing some facts about the Show? Are you a part of it? How did it all begin?
Francesco: When I did my ‘business validation’ exercise two years ago, the show started out as an all-singing, all-acting fifteen minute long live performance. I contracted Robbie van Dijk, a very talented young New Zealand actor and singer to join me as my co-story teller and together we performed the live show ‘The Story of Gustave’ many times every Saturday in the Craft Market where I was ‘trying out’ my fledgling business.
The show was performed in the Fragrifert Theatrette, adjacent to Victorian Perfume Shop, both of which me and a friend custom-built in an underground car park every Saturday morning between 6am and 10am. We’d bring in a trailer full of building materials, build the shop and theatrette for four hours, start the market at 10am, perform multiple times in between selling my (then) only range ‘The Seasons’, and then at 4pm we’d dismantle the whole construction again for another two hours. Looking back on it I can see why some of my friends shook their heads in disbelief, but Hey! It was brilliant fun and people loved it.
However, as I had to pay for three salaries (Robbie, builder friend and another person to stand in the shop while we sang and performed behind the curtain) I couldn’t afford to continue in this way. So for the time being the show has now been turned into a self-running movie (featuring two original songs) that runs on request in the NEW Fragrifert Theatrette in my shop! Not as much fun, I agree, but don’t despair! My master plan is to return to the full, live performance when I finally will be able to do it properly during phase 3 of my business development plan. Give me a couple more years…
The new Fragrifert shop
Anastasia: My wish is that you have success with your new shop! In Russia we are not familiar with New Zealand perfume names that much. When I started reviewing Fragrifert fragrances it turned out to be totally new to my perfumista friends. What are the other local perfume brands?
Francesco: There are two other perfumers in New Zealand that I am aware of. The longest established ones are the Crouch family in Auckland (yes, a whole family of perfumers!) who run Flairoma (www.flairoma.net). They have been perfuming and producing fragrant products for three generations which for a relatively young country like New Zealand is an absolute amazing feat! And down here in Wellington there is one other perfumer, and guess what she’s called? Would you believe it: FrancescA! What are the chances of that? She is the creator of the Pacific Perfumes range of solid perfumes amongst others. Go and have a look at http://pacificperfumes.co.nz/
Anastasia: Great — there’s already three of you! Francesco, you’re also teaching perfume classes at your place. Who is in your class? Is there a cohesive perfume community in Wellington or New Zealand as a whole?
Francesco: Yes, my fourth perfumery course took place last week, in my new shop, Atelier Fragrifert (at the top of the famous Wellington Cable Car). I have once again brought out the brilliant Steve Dowthwaite and Ryan Chadwick from Perfumersworld to inspire this year’s eager attendees and initiate them into the magic and mystery of perfumes. In this way I am adding to/helping to create the New Zealand perfume community (of which there was none, at least not that I am aware of). In addition to these intensive, week-long professional training courses I am also about to start day courses (which I will teach myself) for enthusiasts or those who for whatever reason can not afford to take a whole week out of their busy lives.
Anastasia: Are you an all natural perfumer? That’s just how your scents smell to me — very natural and smooth.
Francesco: While I use a much higher percentage of natural perfume ingredients than the run of the mill industrially produced offerings, I can’t (and don’t) claim to be all-natural. For instance, I use high quality man-made alternatives instead of natural animal materials as I don’t support cruelty to animals. Also I use some materials for which there are no natural equivalents, to widen the perfumer’s palette if you will. But for the purists: I have already started work on an all-natural range.
Anastasia: What are your favorite ingredients and why?
Francesco: Oakmoss (Evernia Prunastri), beatifully smoky and rich, especially the New Zealand varieties; Acorus Calamus (Sweetflag), because of its wonderful but weird natural accord reminiscent of Dill, Cassia and Corn Mint, and because it has such a brilliant classic history behind it dating back to the Egyptians. And one stunningly wonderful material from a New Zealand native flower that I can’t mention because I want to keep it secret. Sorry!
Francesco cleaning up the oakmoss
Anastasia: Who tend to be your suppliers?
Francesco: The expert growers and native collectors/harvesters. The rural Maori Iwi (tribes) and Hapu (subtribes) around New Zealand in particular are very knowledgeable in this field and are always very helpful to join in exciting and promising business ventures like this.
Anastasia: Did you have any luck with extracting Pohutukawa flowers you were talking about when we were discussing your town’s smells?
Francesco: Sadly, not yet! They’re still sitting in hibernation, properly dried, and waiting for a time when I am not too busy. But one of my first-priority next projects is an all-New Zealand range of perfumes, so they shouldn’t need to wait that much longer.
Anastasia: Thrilled to hear that! Tell us about your stills, please. I know you’ve just bought a new mobile one.
Francesco: Yes, ‘Alouette’ is the new big sister to Lambiekske, my trusty 20 litre Portuguese alembic. And a real beauty she is too! 80 litres, with pressurised ‘Au Bain Mary’ outer kettle and wheels for easy moving around in the field. For the next six months she’ll be standing in the shop as I learn to use her, but after that Alouette and I are going to hit the road and travel the highways and byways of New Zealand in search of elusive New Zealand fragrances, both existing and novel ! Watch this space…
Anastasia: Isn’t it amazing?! Wishing you best luck with your future travels and with creating new perfumes and new stories!
You can find more information about the Fragrifert fragrances on their website. There are alcohol-based and oil-based samples as well as perfumed sample cards available for purchase. Worth a try!