Interview with Perfumer Ramon Monegal
Ramon Monegal is a Spanish perfumer who started his own company in 2009 after working for almost 35 years in de perfume industry. He made perfumes like Azahar for Adolfo Dominquez and Alada for Myrurgia. Ramon Monegal is the fourth generation of the family who founded the Spanish company Myrurgia. In 2012 he published his first novel La Perfumista. At this point the book is only published in Spanish but it might be published in English in the future.
The book La Perfumista was the starting point for the interview with Ramon Monegal.
La Perfumista is about a woman from a famous perfume family who decides to become an architect. After a career as a successful architect she decides to work as a perfumer and start a beautiful project in the French city of Grasse to preserve original jasmines. This project is sabotaged and at the end the main character Laura Nogues starts a journey on the African Coast to find the Fifth Sense perfume, Quintaesencia. Some elements of the book are inspired by Ramon Monegal’s own life. The perfume Quintaesencia was created by him and can only be scented in his boutique in Barcelona.
In the book you mention the importance of choosing a perfume which really suits us personally which matches our personal style. How should we choose our own perfume?
It is very important for people to be aware of what they communicate to the outside world by wearing a perfume. A perfume should be like an accessory you choose with your clothing. It should complement your style, mood and the time of day. Your perfume should be a good match, a marriage you might call it.
After you have chosen a perfume you can change it a bit by layering it with another perfume. It is like cooking a dish. You can start carefully by adding the spice sweet pepper. The pepper is added slowly, little by little. You can do the same with your perfume. Another perfume can be added bit by bit to your regular perfume to adjust it to the time of day or your style. In the morning you can add light cologne to give yourself a little boost. Customize your own perfume and create your own bespoke perfume!
For example if you use my perfume Cuirelle, you can use a citrus or more fruity perfume with it in the morning. Add brilliance to it with an orange blossom. In the evening you can add a beautiful chypre perfume to it. You have to use your intuition with this. The perfume Cuirelle is like suede smooth leather, sweet with cedar wood, vanilla, very elegant. By layering it with another perfume you can create your very personal and own perfume. The most important thing is to lose your fear.
Personally I discovered layering perfumes while staying in Paris when I was young. In those days you only had a few perfumes women were wearing and you could distinguish them very easily on the street. Once I smelled a perfume on the street from a lady and I did not know what it was. I asked her and she told me that she had layered one perfume with another one. It was very chic in those days to do this.
How do people choose their perfume when they come to you boutique in Barcelona?
We look at what they wear, their personal style. They smell many of my perfumes. You really have to get acquainted with them and experiment with them. Our spoken and written language is very difficult and limited when you have to describe scents. You have to experiment with perfumes and play with them to find your own signature scent. You can become older or younger by wearing a certain perfume as well. I notice people increasingly wish to have a more personal, original perfume.
I always tell people that buying a new perfume is like buying new shoes. At first people might not feel very comfortable when wearing their new shoes but after a while the shoes feel comfortable and fit your feet beautifully. It is the same with a new perfume.
At the end of your book you introduce a list of perfume ingredients to help people to choose their own perfume. Could you tell us more about the list you included?
The ingredients are the language a perfumer uses to compose his perfumes. Normally this is not something perfumers talk about publicly. In general perfumers are very much hidden behind a celebrity scent. It is not even known that they made the perfume. Fortunately this is beginning to change. With my book I wanted to introduce the public to the work and language of a perfumer.
Each ingredient of a perfume transmits a special quality. For example rose transmits love and cedar wood transmits strength. It is important for people to be aware of these qualities when they choose a perfume. Are the qualities of the perfume in harmony with their own personality? With my book I wanted to explain this by using some examples of celebrities like the actress Audrey Hepburn, actress Ava Gardner, dancer Isadora Duncan and Princes Diana of Wales.
I associated Ava Gardner with the perfume Opium by Yves Saint Laurent although she did not wear it. Ava Gardner was a very passionate woman. She had love affairs with famous Spanish bull fighters while staying in Spain. Like Opium, she had the strength and vigour of pepper and the energy of blossoming oranges.
You have developed your own perfume line and have a boutique in Barcelona as well. What was the reason for opening your boutique?
I chose to do this for several reasons. The way we smell is not very well developed. We easily get distracted by other senses, light and noise. Some places where perfumes are sold can be quite aggressive with their light and noise. So I wanted to create a special place for my perfumes where people could choose while in a comfortable place, suited for scenting perfumes. I designed the interior as well, as interior design is another passion of mine. The perfume bottle is also my design. In the 19th century it was very common for perfume houses to have their own place. When the fashion designers started introducing perfumes this disappeared.
Are perfumes craft products, are they works of art or both?
Some perfumes are works of art like Dior Diorella, Nina Ricci L´air du temps, Chanel No 5 or Coty Chypre, Guerlain L´Heure Bleue. Yves Saint Laurent Opium can be seen as a work of art as well although the quality of the ingredients was lacking. The modern perfumes are more works of design. Perfumers do not have freedom to create what they want. For me it is not easy to have my own freedom as a perfumer.
If Spain would be a perfume what would it smell like?
It would smell like orange blossom, azahar. I still have the idea of developing a perfume, Made in Spain. Spain would smell like Southern Spain with incense, labdanum cistus, orange, azahar, maybe some jasmine, melon or other fruits.
In my experience it was very difficult to find an orange blossom or azahar perfume in Spain. Could you tell me the reason for this?
In Spain, orange blossom or azahar is very much associated with only one part of Spain- the South. Azahar is a very Arabic scent. Normally orange blossom is used in perfumes with jasmine or tuberose. Personally I find that orange blossom brings brilliance and optimism to a perfume and I like to use it.
How do you work as a perfumer? What is your personal style?
A perfume should stand on its own and be enough as it is. I do not like this whole trend of creating flankers of existing perfume. It is like asking the composer Beethoven to make another version of his Fifth Symphony.
The book La Perfumista is available on line on Amazon in Spanish. More information about the perfumes of Ramon Monegal can be found on his official website.
Photographs of showroom and Ramon Monegal are published with courtesy of Ramon Monegal Projects. The Rose photograph was made by me, the Orange Blossom Tree is freestock.
I would like to thank Henriette Hackenberg for her help with this text and Ramon Monegal for giving this interview.
This interview was originally published June 30, 2012 and updated February 2, 2016