Paris in four years

When I first came across @parisinfourmonths account on Instagram and hit the “follow” button for its envy-inducing photos reflecting a quintessentially Parisian lifestyle (strolls around the city, flowers, fashion and style, of course, included) I had little knowledge of the person behind all of this. Judging from the name, I assumed it was a documentation of somebody’s current venture to Paris for four months. As more and more time passed, I started questioning how long can possibly these four months last until I visited Carin Olsson’s – by then I had already learnt her name – blog and realized that “Paris in four months” wasn’t at all her current state. It was a reference to a very romantic prelude to the seemingly perfect Carin’s life that I was offered a glance at with these meticulously curated square photos.

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photo: Nadia Gric

Step by step, I learnt her story. No matter how reckless and brave her decision to leave a stable job in Sweden and install in Paris may sound, the outcome was (and is) more than rewarding. After more than four years full of difficult beginnings, challenging projects, and new discoveries Carin has earned her respectful name. For now, she has amassed almost one million of following on her Instagram account, to which she explicitly refers as her visual diary which still has the same direction as it had back in the beginning. At the same time, she goes so much further the usual ‘blogger/influencer’ tagline: Carin is also an appreciated photographer and a definite insider in the fashion industry. The names of her clients are not any less impressive: Gucci, Dior, Cartier to cite a few.

However, Carin’s level of modesty and kindness is directly proportional to her achievements. While I was waiting to meet her in the garden of Petit Palais, it was impossible for me not to notice the glances one elderly couple was giving this young Swedish woman when she entered the café and looked around with her big blue eyes and brushed through angelic blond curls. She was dressed in casual clothes: a green bomber, black T-shirt and jeans, the whole ensemble made just a notch edgier by her studded mini Lady Dior bag. Then she found me and greeted with a huge smile, as if we’d been friends for a long time before. Throughout our conversation, she never checked her phone or time, eagerly asked questions about me and willingly answered every question I asked – despite being very sweet, she’s also unashamedly open about the other side of her stellar ascension in social media and doesn’t sugar coat her words while talking about the daily life.

You’ve recently come back from a trip to Sweden to meet your family and friends. Doesn’t it feel strange to come back to your hometown after having spent four years here? Do you consider Paris as your home now?

It does feel very strange! I’d say I have 2 homes. Sweden will always be my home because that’s where I’m from, that’s where I grew up and where my family is, but I’m also very blessed to be able to call Paris my home as well.

So tell me more about that your life-changing decision back in the 2012…

Back in 2012, I was working in ELLE Decoration magazine as an editorial assistant, which was my first real job after finishing high school. I loved that, but I thought that I was missing something in my life, some excitement, perhaps. As I always wanted to live abroad, I told myself ‘let’s try this for a couple of months and see what happens’. To tell the truth, I didn’t think that I’d leave Sweden permanently, it was supposed to be my ‘get-out-of-my-sistem’ and ‘clear-my-head’ move. For beginnings, I decided to leave this job and for that everybody around me thought I was crazy! I moved for 4 months to Paris and when these months had passed, I got back to Sweden. But then I couldn’t forget Paris so in January 2013 I moved back. I don’t like to say ‘permanently’, I came here and I don’t know yet how long I will be staying (laughs).

Tell me, what do you do once this romantic and exciting period of acknowledging the fact that you’ve made such a huge change in your life passes and reality hits you? What kind of steps did you take that led you to the place that you are right now?

I wouldn’t surprise you by saying that it was hard. When I came here, I’d just broken up with my boyfriend after six years of being together, so I was heartbroken and spent much of my time crying. I was really debating whether or not I should stay, if it’s going to be too difficult for me to keep up, all kinds of stuff like this. It wasn’t a very smooth start to my career here, for sure. In the end, I decided to stick with it and try to do my best. I interned here in one showroom during the fashion week, where I sorted clothes, dressed models. It was such kind of job where you don’t earn any money at all, but I just wanted to get inside of the industry and see what it was like. After that, I took a job as an editorial assistant for websites. During all this time I also had my blog and Instagram going but I didn’t look at them as a way to earn money. I did it only for myself and then very slowly people started commenting and more people started getting in contact. I always loved taking photos but I never thought that I could actually do it as my profession; I never really thought, “I want to be a photographer and I want to do social media”, I just sort of did it and everything developed into this… It’s crazy when I think about it!

When did you have your first major career moment here? The one after which you thought ‘Wow, I’m really making it here!’

To be honest, I still don’t feel like that! The first major thing was probably a friendship with Nicole Warne from Gary Pepper Girl. Back in 2013, we started commenting back and forth on each other’s Instagrams and blogs, and when she came to Paris she suggested meeting and hanging out. We did some photo-shoots together, and that was probably the first time that I properly shot a model wearing the clothes instead of photographing only clothes. Later we stayed in contact and she asked me to come to fashion month in September so we did New York, London, Milan and Paris together. That was the best learning experience and it was precisely then that I decided it was something that I wanted to do. I know a lot of girls think that this industry is very glamorous and nice and everybody’s very sweet, which is not the case. It’s actually a very tough industry and you really really really have to love what you do to succeed. I think I got my first very serious project at Gucci and that was the moment when I had to pinch myself. I don’t really remember when exactly it was but later Dior reached out to me and asked me to come to the show and after the show they suggested to collaborate. You see, I never really thought “one day I want to work for Dior or Cartier”, it’s just a result of my love for what I do and I think it shines through. It’s a longer story than that, but it’s basically the most important things (laughs).

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photo: Nadia Gric

What are the most challenging things while working with the globally renowned brands as Dior and others?

The most important thing is to get along with people. I’m very lucky that I’ve had countless opportunities to work with amazing people that now we’re friends with, but, of course, there are always people who aren’t that welcoming. I remember being sad after so many jobs because I really don’t have a thick skin and usually I take things personally. Sometimes it’s just impossible not to pay attention so that can be really tough. Moving on to other challenges, very often people, usually photographers and others working in creative fields, think that they’re going to be able to do whatever they want and express themselves however they want, which is not always true. The main priority is to satisfy the client who has a final say on things. On the other hand, I feel that these are ‘luxurious’ kinds of problem to have at work.

Which project or journey is the most fascinating to date?

In terms of projects, the work I’ve done for Dior is something that I’ll never ever forget. It was so incredible to be a part of that but it was also a huge amount of responsibility and stress – I’d never been so scared of not performing well in my life but that made me push myself so much further. I’m forever grateful for Dior giving me this opportunity. Our collaboration took place a couple of years ago and I think Women’s Wear Daily wrote the first article acknowledging the fact that brands are starting to work with Instagram people to create content and they mentioned me and Dior. When the brand reached out to me it wasn’t so normal to let a person from Instagram take all photos of a world-renowned fashion house and it’s very cool to have been a part of it from the very beginning! Concerning travels, Morocco where I went with Cartier this summer was one of the most – I don’t even know how to describe it – extravagant journey. It was once in a lifetime experience – we were shooting in 46 degrees! (laughs).

You’re one of those people who have risen thanks to a social media. Are you comfortable being placed in the blogger/influencer category that still has negative connotations sometimes?

Absolutely! I think we must stop seeing this as something negative. Let’s be honest, of course there are people who label themselves as influencers and actually do nothing. As in every profession, there are those who do the job very well and also those who do the job very poorly; that doesn’t apply only for bloggers. People have a tendency to look down on us because they think it’s so glamorous to sip coffee and take photos of it. Of course, there are girls who do this this way, everyone does it differently, but for me it’s so much more than just being a blogger. At the end of the day, when you list what you’re doing, you see that you’re doing production, post-editing, retouching, business management, finances, marketing for yourself, branding, if you have an assistant, you’re also managing other people in your business, you’re writing, you’re the creative director of everything…You’re wearing so many hats at the same time. It’s sad that people have so many unjustified prejudices but I feel that they’re starting to change their minds about this – right now, there are many people who are fortunate enough to make a living out of blogging so they must be doing something, I guess (laughs).

Recently I read a very interesting article in Vogue about the influencers and there was this one particular remark that caught my attention: affirmation, shared by this new generation of social-media mavens themselves, that they’re having addiction to their phones, sometimes to such extents they can’t literally live without it. How do you deal with this intensity and obligation to be connected all the time?

I don’t feel this kind of anxiety at all and now I feel so unprofessional for saying this! (Laughs). I’ve always said that I’ll do this job for as long as I find that it gives me pleasure. For me, it’s absolutely essential to be able to disconnect. There are times, for example, fashion weeks when I have to be online all the time because it’s my job, but I also like to spend time with a boyfriend or friends and not look at my phone at all, so I turn off all the notifications and just relax.

Would you agree that it’s highly improbable to maintain relationships while doing a job like this?

Well, I’m not the best person to ask, as I’m not in a relationship anymore (laughs), but I think is that you have to find the right person. I believe that in a relationship you’re supposed to be each other’s biggest cheerleaders. I want to be with someone who supports me 210% and I could do the same to him as well. Not seeing your beloved one for a month or three months can be tough but there are people who support each other so much in their career choices that they learn to navigate it through. I also believe that it’s good to separate your personal and professional life, I don’t know if I’d like to have my boyfriend by my side 24/7, being involved with my blog, taking photos, which is very often the case for other bloggers. I’ve travelled before with boyfriends for work but I like to do my own thing on my own terms. In addition, it’s very hard to find a person who understands your life because it’s a very modern profession, you still need to deal with such questions as ‘so what do you do?’ and it’s hard to explain for those who are not in the industry.

Let’s talk about fashion weeks. Do you love them or do you dread them?

Both, and I think anyone in this industry would understand me. It’s definitely the most exciting time during the year, because there are so many things happening at the same time, but it’s also incredibly stressful. For me, working in fashion weeks means attending shows and presentations, but also meetings with people who are in town. I usually have the shoots scheduled at the same time, often with live delivery, which means that photos have to deliver the same day, which makes things very stressful. Then you want to catch up with friends, also simultaneously organize your projects and schedule things after the fashion week. But then again, it’s a good kind of stress to have. As freelancers, we’re never forced to do anything; we just do it because we love it. Even if I complain to my friends during these busy weeks, they know that deep in my heart I love all of that and wouldn’t be doing it otherwise.

How did you change personally during these four years?

Honestly, I don’t know if it’s because of Paris, my jobs, relationships, friends or it’s just a natural development, but I never felt stronger as a person before as I do today. I mean, bad things and comments still have influence on me, I’m not saying as if I’m made from steel, but there’s so much more. I’ve always had a problem with confidence and not believing in myself, that’s something I’m really working on but it gets better and better.

What do you miss the most about Sweden?

My family, for sure. I’m happy that I have only a few hours on the plane and I can see them. I also love how well organized everything is in Stockholm. Paris can be a little bit tough city with all its bureaucracy, paperwork, and when I go back to my hometown, I’m always shocked to see how smoothly everything goes. But then again, Paris has so many pros… That’s why I’m staying (laughs).

And what do you like the most about Paris?

I love the atmosphere the city has. I love the history, the culture, the fact that people take the time to enjoy their life – what shocked me the most was that people can buy a cake for dessert at Tuesday all for themselves (we don’t spoil ourselves like that in Sweden). That’s kind of mentality I really like. I also find fascinating that people sit and read in parks in the middle of the day. At the same time, I think that this feeling can be created in any place you’re happy in, it’s not only Paris. It’s the new energy this city has given me and the relationships that are the most important. If there was one thing I’d want people to apply for themselves from my story is that anybody can do it as well which doesn’t translate as ‘You can go to Paris’, it means you can change the direction of your life. I just gave up everything what was secure and took a huge leap of faith, and I believe anybody can do that.

So, for anyone who wants to change their life and move to another place – what do you think are the most important things to know before doing that?

It’s not such a big decision as you think it is! It sounds weird, but it really isn’t. There’s something that my mom told me that sort of changed everything: She said ‘Well if you don’t like it, you will just make a new decision’ and that made everything so much simpler. I asked myself why am I here panicking about everything? If I won’t like Paris, I can just change it. It goes with so many things in life; you’re the one making decisions and if you’re in a situation you don’t like, just do something about it. There are so many people who think that if they make a certain decision they’ll never be able to turn around, like THIS IS IT. But it’s not.

Lithuanian readers can find the interview in the newest issue of L’Officiel Mada

H&M Studio S/S 2017: Exclusive interview

Read the first part of the H&M story here.

fotograf Mattias Bardå

 

Pernilla Wohlfahrt:

Love, optimism and positivity – these are the key words of the newest H&M Studio collection for women. Why did you feel it was important to send such a message? Does it have anything to do with some kind of anxiety our world is dealing right now?

For the S/S 2017 Studio collection, we want to send out a global message of love, quite literally. There are a few pieces that carry the word again and again, kind of like a ticker tape or a constant reminder of what is important. It feels like now, more than ever, we all need positive feelings and thoughts in our lives. To not only feel loved, but give love in return, too. And, of course, it’s also a celebration of our love of fashion – it’s at the heart of everything we do.

What references to sport can we find in this collection? Why do you think this trend stays so relevant, season after season?

The H&M Studio collection is planned well in advance and based on extensive research by our dedicated team of in-house designers. We found that sportswear continues to be one of the strongest influences in fashion, probably because it’s ideal to combine with a variety of contrasting trends, such as our story of ballet for this season. It is also a very comfortable and relaxed trend, which we believe appeal to a lot of people. We were very much drawn to the strength, grace and passion of ballet, and the feminine details such as romantic ruffles or pin-tucks are instantly brought up-to-date with sporty touches like drawstrings at the neck, waist and hem or elastic waistbands. There are also pieces such as re-worked anoraks, running shorts and trekking sandals.

Many designers evoke the notion of modernity while describing their works – sometimes it even seems the word has lost its meaning. What does “modern” in fashion mean precisely for you?

I think the word “modern” in fashion means being a reflection of the current times, whether that is socially, culturally or even emotionally. In a funny way, it’s both looking at the past and into the future to come to the present.

There are many discussions about what women of nowadays look like. They’re strong, independent, successful, brave, beautiful… What woman do you have in mind while creating?

Inspirations vary season to season, especially as we always design with our customers in mind and they are very engaged in the fashion world, so it’s often more about a story we want to tell rather than a specific woman. For example, this season’s message of love – with that, we like to think that our woman exudes a combination of strength, gentleness and open-mindedness. She’s self-confident and dedicated, and of course, loves fashion, mainly for its ability to express personal style.

This collection is presented in a see now-buy now format. What do you think this step means for such a fashion giant as H&M?

We have been monitoring this new era for the industry carefully over the past few years. It’s very exciting and the format feels natural to us. It enables us to come even closer to our customer and open up for a broader audience. Closing the gap between the retail calendar and runway calendar by making the H&M Studio collection available straight from the runway will hopefully be appreciated by our customers and we value the direct communication we can have with our customers through a “see now, buy now” runway show. I think anything that brings us closer to our customers and makes fashion even more accessible is very positive and we look forward to testing it out.

PRESS_IMAGE_Andreas-2Andreas Löwenstam:

H&M Studio newest collection for men is all about contrasts. Could you tell more about ideas behind the new designs?

For the S/S 2017 Studio Collection, we were inspired by the contradictions within sports and movement – the strength, precision and elegance, the traditional and the modern. Sheer layers are contrasted with wool or leather, body-hugging knits worn with roomy trousers, graphic black and white punctuated by bright fuchsia. The overall aesthetic is clean and fluid, with classic menswear pieces reborn in lighter wools, nylon and sheer silk, alongside sporty touches such as lacing and drawstrings. The man we had in mind for this collection is, of course, fashion-conscious, but ultimately, he doesn’t want to compromise on comfort or style.

What role, in your opinion, fashion can play in shattering usual gender stereotypes? And more importantly, do you see any really important changes? It seems that you’re also venturing this way, as you evoke the importance of “sensitivity” in this collection, which isn’t the most traditional way to talk about men’s clothes…

I believe fashion can play a big role in shattering traditional gender stereotypes. It’s interesting because in some ways, the basic modern wardrobe has always been genderless – jeans, t-shirts, shirts, blazers, etc. are worn by both men and women – but I welcome all borrowing between what is seen as traditionally “womenswear” and “menswear”. It can only make fashion more interesting and inspiring to the world at large.Today, the male customer has become quite sensitive and brave, but we find that he definitely does not want to compromise on either comfort or style. That is one of the reasons why men are already embarking on a new kind of dress code where they wear suit trousers with trainers and a cashmere jumper, where a long tunic shirt over trousers can look absolutely stunning and stylish. I see this behaviour only getting stronger.

This time collections for men and women are merged and presented together. How do you think this is beneficial for buyers and designers? Do you believe that in future we won’t have distinct fashion weeks for women and men anymore?

In the fashion industry at large – and all around the world on the street – womenswear and menswear already overlap in trends and inspirations, so sharing a runway feels natural. From a design point of view, at H&M we have one large in-house design team that freely shares inspiration with each other so there is even now a lot of cross-pollination of ideas. For the Studio collection, it’s one core dedicated team further divided into womenswear and menswear. And for S/S 2017, they shared the same overall inspiration for the collections. Merging menswear and womenswear in the same fashion show, and indeed the whole “see now, buy now” approach could represent the future. We look forward to testing this approach at our S/S 2017 show.

Where did you look for inspirations?

I travel frequently for work and pleasure, so that’s always a great opportunity to see what people are wearing all around the world. I tend to focus on how different people are putting certain and often the same kind of pieces together – it’s fascinating. Social media, of course, is another great source of inspiration, from the curated accounts that feature only vintage fashion editorials to the latest influencer. But I am also a great lover of music. You can get so much energy from listening to melodies, rhythms and lyrics, so I was also quite happy to collaborate with The Weeknd recently on our “Spring Icons” campaign, for example.

This collection is presented in a see now-buy now format. What do you think this step means for such a fashion giant as H&M?

We view the “see now, buy now” aspect as an opportunity to have direct communication with our customers, which can have a positive impact. The runway show that accompanies “see now, buy now”, previously an industry-only event, is also a great opportunity to engage with customers. Fashion has become truly global now, which is so exciting, but the way it’s also become more inclusive is a positive step forward. As a company, our aim has always been to provide our customers around the world with clothes, shoes and accessories that they will genuinely love and continually wear. Pieces that can effortlessly be mixed with their existing wardrobe and feel like a part of them. Pieces that they feel truly express their personal style and love of fashion.

Lithuanian readers can find this interview in April’s issue of L’Officiel Lithuania

Inga Sempé : designer without myths

Some words for introduction: this interview was published last year in Llamas’ Valley magazine. As some time has passed, I took advantage of the situation to present you a slightly edited version, containing more insights into this woman’s work.  This conversation is very special for me because Inga Sempé is truly someone who perfectly represents French design remaining faithful to her own principles and philosophy at the same time. I consider myself very lucky to have had a chance to enter her studio and talk with her. The photos are from designer’s personal archives and by Nadia Gric – don’t hesitate to check her works on Facebook!

Style: "KERASTASE"
Photo by Sofia Sanchez and Mauro Mongiello

Ever since 2000, when a French designer Inga Sempé started working independently, her works have been appreciated and attributed several significant awards in the design sphere. Sixteen years have passed since her first creative steps (back then she was still doing an internship at Villa Medici academy) and a lot of things have changed during this period of time, such as the needs of society, the perception of design, but Inga’s life and design philosophy remains unchanged. This woman, whose primary concern is to design “simple, but not banal” objects, doesn’t want to draw strict boundaries between her work and private space: Creating is her natural state.

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When I first open the doors of Inga Sempé’s creative space, situated in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, it is easy to get confused trying to decide if details there reveal more about the artist’s creative processes or her daily life. She places fragrant tea on the rough surface table, and opened sketchbooks are comfortably lying nearby, as if they’ve just been looked through. Intuition is whispering that we’re at the place where all designer’s ideas are born. This is the table Inga invites us for a talk. The first impression fixed in my memory is the complete desacralization of the creating process, or, more precisely, the attempt by which Inga seeks to bring creation as close to our daily life as possible. It is proven not only by the attitude of the designer, but also by her surroundings. Once she’s asked what the notion of creativity evokes for her, she muses: “When people are talking about creativity, they often assume some kind of magical things are involved. This is why, in my opinion, creativity is a little bit stupid word, especially in the French language. It’s used too often and too imprecisely. It can create an illusion that the whole world is creative. It’s not like that, one has to work to be creative”.

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The parents’ example has had a huge influence for how Inga’s creative space looks like – she’s a daughter of two illustrators. Having seen what it means to live and work in the same environment from an early age, Inga admits that notion of the office doesn’t exist in her vocabulary. “I remember that at some point in my infancy I was greatly fascinated by one boy, whose father was a director”, Inga laughs and adds that the world of directors and employees is distant to her up until now. Parent’s lessons serve also as the foundation for her aesthetical understanding. “Both of my parents were really strong aesthetes. They belong to the art world, where everything is based on very strict rules of good taste. I used to hear them complaining about such things, which would probably sound unreasonable for others, but they’re very important for me. For example, “This copy is really badly printed” or “this red shade is not as good as the other one, this should be a little bit lighter”. Inga also recalls that she would constantly see her parents drawing, so that naturally encouraged her creative abilities – parents never told her to stop drawing and start doing something else instead.

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Currently Inga is creating mostly for Italian, Swiss and Danish companies. She doesn’t hide her fascination for Italian culture, where she finds more opportunities to express herself. “Jean Cocteau has said that Italians are French people, only in a good mood (laughs). I think that’s true. I love creating for Italy – I couldn’t realize a big part of my commands in France, which meanwhile are perfectly suitable for Italians. The thing I like about Italy the most is that design solutions are more orientated towards daily life, thinking about the constant needs. Meanwhile in France designers are more concerned with the luxury sector.” In her opinion, this direction is a reaction to the needs of Asian and Russian markets, but, talking in her words, it’s a pity that very often real luxury is confused with “caricature-worthy versions of luxury”. “Of course, objects of luxe can reveal impeccable skills of working with a material, indicate the highest level of quality, but very often luxury is just an aesthetical code concerned with classical style. This sounds boring for me”, she adds. Asked about her own aesthetical codes, Inga reveals that in her opinion, the most important thing for a designer is to be practical. “Functionality should be the main priority for a designer. Otherwise he creates objects that do not function and therefore have no utility. The appearance of an object and its characteristics should define in what way and where he’s going to be used. If that’s not the case, it will only serve as a decoration, and that’s the art’s territory.”

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This philosophy is clearly observable in Inga’s designs. While holding one of her designs, Inga insists that lamps are her favorite objects to create. “Cappuccina” model is distinct for its lightness and versatility – the lamp can be tilted in different directions, fixed on the wall or transformed in any other way. In addition, whimsical design attracts the eye – the shade is of sky-blue color with little purple dots. Inga brings this model as a response to the question, which is the work she’s mostly proud of. “I really enjoy designing lamps. It’s completely opposite with the sofas – I’ve designed lots of them, but I just hate drawing them!” she laughs. Sofas and lampas aside, Inga is not afraid to design other kinds of objects. One of the examples is the cutlery collection “Collo-alto”, created for Italians. With this collection, the woman sought to create funny and contrasting cutlery, concentrating all the attention on the shapes. The language of contrasts is evident in the forms that forks, knifes and spoons take. Extremely narrow and long transition part connects untraditionally wide top and bottom parts. Among other productions of Inga, there are rugs (“Meteo” collection is a new interpretation of Persian rugs), boxes, clocks, chairs, beds.

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In one of her previous interviews, Inga expresses her wish for a design to be perceived as a discipline, and not style. When I ask her how the understanding of design has changed during all the years she has worked, she gets lost in thought: “No matter how bizarre this might sound, but when I was a student, nobody knew what was design. There was no explanation of this notion. Now the situation is better, but design is still being confused with decor, architecture. Another thing which creates the mess while talking about design, is that people draw the line between design and no-design judging purely by the quality. All things which are produced belong to the design sphere, even if they look horrible.” She also insists that design is not “criteria of a quality or form, it’s the process of creating a certain object to be used later”. What changes can we expected soon? Inga talks modestly about her expectations, but expresses a wish for French companies to understand that working with designers is a priority. “Very often, especially during the crises, companies come up with strategies which leave designers behind. It’s different in Italy – they’re conscious that the first thing they should do while having financial difficulties is to concentrate on good design”.

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Before finishing our talk, it’s quite interesting for me to ask a very simple, obvious, but intriguing question – why does Inga create? She thinks for a while and then responds that the most important thing for her is to interest herself. “If I’m bored, I can’t do anything. I always have to prove for myself that I’m capable of creating something interesting. I create things that appeal to me, and this is not easy. I do think that every designer is creating for himself, not for others. Even if certain of them would disagree, creation is first and foremost the process, during which you prove to yourself that you can create.”

The incredible world of Valentine Pozzo di Borgo

Just a few weeks ago, during an afternoon like this, I was having a conversation with a well-known perfume creator from a French aristocrat family, Valentine Pozzo di Borgo. Our meeting took place in a café near the headquarters of her company Quintessence Paris. The whole experience already sounding quite surreal, I couldn’t shake off a mysterious feeling that everything in her life was decided by superior powers. Grown up among different generations of perfume creators, she initially chose to study finance until the day she suddenly found herself responsible for a huge project concerning perfumes and cosmetics. Since then, Valentine never returned to finances …

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source: Quintessence archive

Acknowledging the fact that I was going to have an interview with a descendant of a noble family (and even more important – a woman who’s created an incredibly successful business) was exciting and a little bit intimidating at the same time. What could I expect? Was she going to be arrogant (a cliché which is often used to describe the French people – even the French themselves make fun of this!) or unwilling to answer the questions? Just when I was stepping in the office of Quintessence in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, I already knew these questions weren’t relevant. The soothing atmosphere of the boutique immediately made my worries go away and presented a different kind of way to experience the power of aroma. And this is exactly what I did while waiting for Valentine to descend from her office: enjoyed the abundance of luxurious fragrant smells and checked the products by Quintessence Paris. From the very first second, Valentine seemed to be a very sincere, down-to-earth woman. Dressed in a simple, loose sweater with classic jeans and her hair tied in a messy knot, Valentine invited me to talk to a close café where she ordered hot chocolate and offered me a cup of green tea.

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source: Quintessence archive

Before meeting Valentine, I knew the spectacular story of her family. It seems as if the most sumptuous perfumes, and not the blood, circulate in their veins. Valentine’s great-great-grandfather Xavier Givaudan left a significant mark in the history of perfumes: his company is known for having created such iconic smells as “Opium” for Yves Saint Laurent. Next generations were also implied in a fabrication of perfumes, so it’s not surprising Valentine grew up surrounded by their heritage. Asked about the most distinct memories from her childhood, Valentine recalls two particular moments: playing with perfume samples in her grandfather’s laboratory, and spending holidays in Corsica (it’s an island from which the Pozzo di Borgo dynasty originated – the first descendants lived there in the thirteenth century!) “Every year we spend our holidays in Corsica and everytime we are greeted by a very special aroma of maquis. These plants are widely spread and their smell is so specific it left a very significant mark in my memory,” she tells me.

pimentcypres
source: Quintessence archive

“When I was at school, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do later,” Valentine answers if working in a beauty industry wasn’t an obvious career choice. “I felt that I was quite creative but I also enjoyed numbers. At first, I worked in an investment sector and later I got a job in a big Chinese company, which owned a chain of luxurious shops in the airports.  There I worked with multiple projects. But then happened an extraordinary thing. With only several months left until the opening of a new airport, a woman responsible for cosmetics and perfume left the job. There was simply no time to search for somebody, so I took on the job… Then I thought, if it’s not a sign of destiny, I don’t know what it is. I finished this mission, got back to France and decided to create my own brand. This is how Quintessence was born,” she reveals.

myrrhe
source: Quintessence archive
ambre
source: Quintessence archive

At the very beginning, Quintessence specialized in creating “olfactory portraits” for othercompanies. In other words, their mission was to concoct scents that had to embody the DNA of the brand. Based on this concept, Valentine decided to create perfumes inspired by her family members. “This idea came to me very naturally! I lived in this street (Rue de l’Université) with the whole family. There were forty of us.” It’s difficult to believe that different generations could live so peacefully under the same roof – grandfathers, father, mother, aunts, uncles and all the cousins. No intrigues, no mess, no quarrels…? Valentine shakes her head. She calls her family a gang, the most important thing in her life. “Family has an immense value for me and I have very close relations with each member of it,” she confirms. She draws inspiration even from the distant relatives, for example perfume “March 8 1764” is dedicated for her great-great-uncle Carl Andrea Pozzo di Borgo, who was a childhood friend with… Napoleon Bonaparte. When you have such a family, it’s not difficult to create exceptional scents. Valentine recently challenged herself to create an aroma reflecting her inner world, but she couldn’t do it without the help of other professionals. “It was an extremely difficult task. As I’m surrounded by perfumes every day, I don’t use them on myself very often. There are so many aromas that I like but which don’t necessarily reflect who I am. I asked help from two other perfume creators, and both of them suggested iris. This aroma is considered to be very aristocratic, but sometimes it can exude a particular sense of outdatedness. For this reason, the iris were mixed with something quite more modern, the figs. This combination of flowers and fruits appeared very original for me.”

rose
source: Quintessence archive

Quintessence brand offers not only perfumes, but also scented candles. Valentine is assured that aroma is the finishing touch in everyone’s home. “There’s not a single home without an aroma. Maybe a hospital could be an exception, but it also has its own palette of smells, cold and sterile. People choose candles according to the atmosphere that they want to create. I noticed that at home people tend to choose warm aromas which transmit a certain sentiment of security”, Valentine reveals. Are there any parallels between the scents that people choose to wear and those they want to smell at home? “People usually don’t want the same thing on themselves and at home,” is all that she answers.

140_bougieboite_figue
source: Quintessence archive

“What I enjoy the most at working in Quintessence is the possibility to be creative. We work with so many different brands and people; get to know diverse characters. But we have a certain basic rule: never copy others. It happens occasionally that people bring certain products and tell us to create the same, but we always refuse to do that. We search for alternatives and suggest our own vision. It’s the only way to stay relevant and interesting to others,”she shrugs. Valentine also wants to shake off a mysterious aura surrounding her family: “Even if I draw inspiration from distant generations of my family and life in the 7th arrondissement, I’m perfectly conscious that for others this can be an unknown universe. One of Quintessence’s goals is to flourish in a modern environment and to present relevant ideas.”

tubereuse
source: Quintessence archive

Without perfumes, Valentine has another big passion, which… is horse-riding. It’s worth mentioning that she participates in serious competitions, an obvious proof that it’s not just a simple hobby. Is there anything in common between these two different activities? “I could compare horseriding to having a business. Both of these things need extreme dedication, persistance, hunger to improve and an ability to be self-critical,” she responds.

prune
source: Quintessence archive

We finish the conversation by sharing our future ambitions, but let this be our secret. After that, Valentine smiles, finishes her cup of hot chocolate and hurries back to her scented world, leaving a mysterious tray after herself. Such was an impression of a down-to-earth woman I had then met 15 minutes ago. Nonetheless, Valentine is worlds away from ordinary and this impression will persist long after the conversation.

Lithuanian readers can find this article in the newest issue of Lamu Slenis