September 29, 2015

Interview with founder and owner of PUREDISTANCE Jan Ewoud Vos.

September was nearing, and 1907 was preparing to open its new perfumery in Bratislava on Hviezdoslavo námestie in the passage of the Carlton Hotel. It was opened on the 3d of September in great style, with a news conference and gala opening in the hotels representative halls. Important guests from the niche perfume world where invited to present to the Slovak public the unknown, exceptional exclusive and independent perfume universe.

Between the invited guests could not be absent the charismatic founder, owner and visionary of Puredistance Jan Ewoud Vos. For the tall simpatico guy from the Netherlands, we prepared from the beginning a small surprise. Our plan from the beginning was to get a real Aston Martin in the halls of the hotel, as this car is linked to one of his creations, but about that latter. Technical problems arised, so on the way to Bratislava, Evka Škovranová had an alternative idea. We will bring him a smaller version of Aston Martin with a remote control. So my first meeting with Jan Ewoud Vos was with the remote control in my hand, the small car on the floor that rushed from behind the wall to the legs of Mr. Vos who was waiting at the reception.

His childlike enjoyment was clear when he took from me the remote control. I was awaiting for a guy that is reserved and lets you feel his achievements. To my surprise he was unbelievably human, congenial and friendly. We sat down to a table, Jan order Jasmin tea, and the interview can start. Mr. Vos is able to speak so engagingly with a depth, that you can listen to him for hours. To publish all the content of my interview with him may come to a small book, so I am choosing the parts that best describes Puredistance and the personality of Jan Ewoud Vos.

1. Why the name Puredistance, why specifically perfumes as the object of your interest, and why specifically niche?

J.E. Vos: Ok, so you want to write a book (laughing). Those are three questions. Lets start with the first. I woke up in the morning, still napping, it was sometime before the new millennium, when the world was still bathing in luxury. The crisis was not here yet, speculative bobbles where rising, simply there was too much money. Everywhere gold, diamonds…..all this produced a group of showy new rich people (mainly in China and Russia) without taste and mannerism of style. That morning I had a dream, that I was at a party where this type of persons where displaying themselves. It was in Amsterdam, in an “inn” club, everyone was drunk, loud, keys from Ferraris, each of them wearing clothes with world renowned logos, sniffing cocaine, in fact typical new money behavior – We are rich!  All of a sudden, a woman entered the premises. She was like Grace Kelly. Wearing only white clothes, no jewelry, no logos, nothing mega….she was stunningly beautiful, because she was so natural, clean, and simple. She entered the premises and everybody went quite, froze, and went rigid. Why? Because she created a distance through her cleanliness, her purity:    Pure Distance.

I was thinking that it is great name for the brand, because I dont like the showy substantiation of my position, logos and all those things. Who I am is about what I say, what I think…..the same with the products of Puredistance. Yes, they are expensive, but money is pumped in the product. They have excellent quality. This is the way we try to serve our clients, be candid, and never lie – that is also purity. I dont want to be a hollow glamour & glitter brand, everywhere golden things….we are simple and frugal, the packaging and everything around it, but with style as Grace Kelly. That is the reason that I think it is a great name for the brand. And then people are saying: “ooo perfume should not create distance”…and I say no, think deeper, feel the concept of the word, it is the philosophy, the way to be. And that is the story behind the name Puredistance.

2. And why just perfumes?

J.E. Vos: It is not because as many people say: “I was 2 years old and fell in love with perfume…” No. It was not my case. I used Antaeus from Chanel, just normally, perfume was not my obsession, but during my life, I developed a passion for beauty and elegance. As a photographer, designer and in my private life I am fond of architecture, I love beauty. When I sold my company and my photo business, I asked myself “what next”? Then I read a book about Coco Chanel, her biography and it was fascinating for me. She created before more than a hundred years Chanel No. 5 and still after more than a hundred years No. 5 is a miracle. People love it and if you would of change it, people would be unhappy, similar as Coca Cola is not changing his recipes. I thought that perfume may be the perfect tool to express myself, because around perfume you need to dream about beauty, you need photography, you need design, you need to develop a brand, you need to establish distribution, etc. and all those things are things that I like and done them before. I like to travel, like to know people, like to create beauty, like to make people happy. With perfumes I can do all this at the same time. Except one thing, I am not able to create a perfume. Thats why I tried to create the best possible concept and searched the best perfumers. If I were to choose another product, probably I would have had to change it with time as in fashion. There it is change, change, change….but perfume if its good its timeless, there is no need to change it. Thats why I see in perfumes the opportunity to build something permanent. That is why it had to be perfume.

Technically I don’t know a lot about perfumes, thats why I am asking journalists not to ask me about the ingredients, those are known to my perfumers, I am the one that offers the vision that creates the concept, and the perfumers are transforming it to its liquid form. Then I intuitively feel if their creations match my concept -  I don’t want to analyze, even I am not asking them what ingredients they used…it is similar as with a book: aha, there is M and N a E, those letters are not saying anything about the story.

3. Then why just niche?

J.E. Vos: The answer is simple. My belief is: “what is small is beautiful, and less is more”. I don’t like big companies, mass production. I think for many people Ikea is a great store with great products, but some people prefer a small furniture shops that make something specific and unique.

4. What is your view about exclusivity? In what way is your philosophy your direction different? Several other major brands with mass produced perfumes, frequently are using the word exclusive, quality. In what is the difference?

J.E. Vos: I see the main issue in the quantity. If we produce 5000 units, world renowned big companies are making 5 million. We have 70 point of sales worldwide in 35 countries. Big companies have 7000 or more. We develop yearly only one perfume, big companies swamp one after the other. Everything we do manually, packaging, filling and supply directly without distributors, except one exception. It means we have control over every aspect of the quality. We are personally acquainted with the people that sell our perfumes. In such a way, we open a direct line between us and the clients, which creates a real exclusivity compared to the big companies.

5. In your perfumes, you have the highest concentration of oils in the market, between 25 up to 38% of perfume oils. What was the reason?

J.E. Vos: When I started the road in the perfume world, I wanted to create the best of the best. I started to research, started to read and order daily from eBay old perfume classics. I learned that real perfume not only lasts longer on the skin, which is a plus, but the longer it remains on the skin, the greater the opportunity for its development. Its like a pilgrimage, a road (voyage) when the fragrance is changing. The second reason is, that the higher the amount of perfume oils the better blends with your skin. Then it is markedly richer, more complex and longer lasting experience.

6. Based on what you choose where to place your perfumes, meaning in which perfumery you will sell your perfumes, and in which not?

J.E. Vos: Our perfumes may be sold in whatever country in the world, because everywhere in the world there are people that are able to appreciate our perfumes, but we are searching for places, where our perfumes get the attention that they merit. People that are selling our perfumes must have the knowledge about our perfumes, must really like our brand, if they dont like it, it will be difficult to sincerely offer them and if it is only for money, then I dont want such people. They should be able to present our perfumes visually as well. We are a visually rich company. We have several visual accessories to present our perfumes, which helps to present the DNA of our brand. As when you buy a ring from Cartier. It is not only a ring. You see all the world of Cartier. Those are all the colors, the design of the accessories. Simply those that want to sell us, have to understand our philosophy.

7. Puredistance as brand, revealed to the world its first perfume in 2008. What changed from the time you started and if you would of start today, what you would do differently?

J.E. Vos: We make mistakes. If I would had to start again, I would like to make them all again in the same order. Because we are learning from our mistakes. We are a successful company with happy employees. People selling us are happy, our clients are happy. The feeling that it could been better is not hunting me. We made a lot of mistakes, but those mistakes made us original. When I started, I knew nothing about perfumes. I made a perfume with 17,5 ml in the bottle, which at the time nobody had on the market. Why? Because I didn’t know better. Look now. How many already offer small quantities and higher percentage of perfume.… What may look as a mistake, may develop totally differently. People often say dont do that, dont do this and I say them: “I will still do it because its authentic because I believe in it”. So I would repeat all the “mistakes”.

8. In your portfolio you have six unique perfumes. Each inspired by something else. Opardu – inspired by a painting of flower bouquet from Kees van Dangen, M- perfume inspired by the leather interior of Aston Martin, the car of James Bond, the newest White as a white and golden dream, instant happiness, escape from reality….Tell us what inspires you, how comes the decision: “yes, that I want to put in a perfume”?

J.E. Vos: I think that each of us is formed by the DNA from our mother, father, grandmother, grandfather…the longer you at your family lineage, you say: aha I am a bit as my grandfather, aha I am a bit as my father…one of my grandfathers was an inventor, while the other was a preacher pastor. He was preaching to people and saying dont do this and dont do that. I am not so religious, but I think that I have something from him. I have the need to tell things to the people. To relay them a message. Something that I think may make the life of people nicer, better…

as I wanted to say in Puredistance “I” to people not to squander their money on logos and brands and all that. It is totally ok to buy something expensive, but it needs to have heart in it.  That was the legacy in Puredistance I. Sometimes simple things are better than things that are already over the crest.

Regarding Puredistance “M” I always was fascinated by the world of James Bond. Because life can be boring and that was an escape from it. I like the concept of excitement. The color of the 17,5ml bottle of “M” is gray, the same shade as the as the original Aston Martin DB6 of James Bond, there is the letter “M” which is the boss of James Bond, and the flacon looks like a flying bullet.  In the perfume you sense leather that represents a kind of excitement that he experienced on the journeys in his car which traveled a lot of kilometers, you may feel a bit of oriental tones that represents the smell of far away and adventure, because James Bond traveled a lot. In the perfume you feel heat, because James Bond in the films was frequently presented with beautiful woman near a fireplace…there more and more messages….so the legacy is to enjoy life.

With Puredistance Black it was a more profound message. For years it irritated me to see how the young generation share and shows everything. On Facebook, twitter, Instagram…simply showing everything, their bodies, what they do, each and every detail, and I think this is not wise. We need to have some secrets. Also, rationality overcomes intuition. We rationalize and analyze everything. Look at the newspapers. We see stupid statistics which say nothing. When you give people a perfume, they start to investigate about the individual components. Puredistance Black is my delegacy that the things that are hidden and ‘in the dark’ can be more interesting. So lets not analyze everything, close our eyes, it becomes dark and then we can “feel” much better. (To Puredistance Black the ingredients where not published – NW remark).

And the last one, Puredistance White. So many people around me are using antidepressives, or alcohol that temporarily helps them, but at the end of the day comes the side effects, drunkenness…antidepressives makes your behavior flat, and so you lose the bad and the nice emotions.  I wanted to launch a perfume that makes people really happy. Of course in the Puredistance tradition. Quality ingredients, timeless beauty, but really bringing enjoyment. It was very difficult to develop it, because after almost an year of development we stopped the work. It became a sweet Cocos – beach and I said stop.

We started all over again, from scratch, and I was pleasantly surprised of the results. We received incredible positive reactions. Some people where sceptic about the story of the fragrance, but when they smelled it, they said yes, and started to smile. They understood that its not marketing, but something that really works. So the concept of Puredistance White is something that helps but without the side effects. It is better than Prozac, then alcohol, then gambling. It is a legal evasion from the cruel life, because life can be cruel.

9. For a moment I want to return to “M”, I know that we spoke about it, but why “M”?

J.E. Vos: I am from the Netherland. We are quite open. Here you can be gay, have a different religion, whatever “handicap”, it is ok. But in some of the other countries, people like to “box” things. Then there comes questions like: is this for men, is this for women? And I say it does not matter. That who likes it, should wear it. By example an apple, it is for men or women? I dont care. But today, the big companies are manufacturing shampoos for women, shampoos for men, shampoos for….This is only to sell more! In 20 years, you will buy a laptop which is designed for a 15 years old girl with red hair who wears glasses and likes rabbits. (laughing).  When you turn the letter “M” upside down as a man you will get “W” as a woman. Its about that.

10. In your mind there is already the next perfume, or you are waiting for the right inspiration?

J.E. Vos: Yes, I am working on two perfumes with two perfumers, but I think that it will take some time. I have nowhere to hurry. One of them has a very interesting concept that I like very much. I think that it will be very, very interesting….it is….it is….I don’t want to divulge it (great laugh).

11. Do you wear one of your perfumes, or you have a personal perfume?

J.E. Vos: If I have to be honest, I am still wearing Chanel Anteus, because it is 30 years of my history, my life, closed in a flacon. For me it is like a long relationship. The longer we are together, it is stronger. Why? Because I have with it so much memories. No perfume can override 30 years of memories. Occasionally I wear “M” and a few times during the month “Black”.  “M” when I want to stand out more, “Black” when I want to remain more in the background, behind the curtains.

12. Your most favorite fragrant memoir?

 J.E. Vos: When I had 14-15-16 years and attending gymnasium in the Netherlands. I was lucky, I was born with a high discipline and a good brain, it was a quite liberal school, so I could jump over some classes, not officially, not “aloud” (lough) and in the spring, summer, instead school, I went to the park, lie down on the grass, and feel its smell. For me the smell of grass is absolute freedom. Why? Everyone is in the school, I am not. I have no feelings of distress, spring is pleasant, fresh. I dont like winter so much. So the smell of grass is for me the most intensive fragrant memoir.

13. If you would have to create in Puredistance a perfume named “morning after a “white” night” how would it smell?

J.E. Vos: On one side it will depend on the perfumer how he would materialize my concept, on the other hand it would depend on my vision. I always try to find beauty and also in this concept….I think I would try to communicate to the perfumer the idea of leaving things to flow, surrender of control over others, the idea of a certain form irresponsibility. Because after a white night, you may arrive to a point when everything is indifferent for you. You may not give a shit about the world, about your turn-coat wife, about your nonfunctioning car…simply you can leave everything as it is. And if you really leave things as they are, things will start to improve. We are obsessed with having everything under control, but things that we really care about we are unable to have them under control. Health, relationships….it is only an illusion. If we learn to simply say “dont give a shit about it” it is like a big release. So my concept for this theme would be that fantastic feel, when we stop trying to have absolutely everything under control. And if we will really do this, things will start to really improve themselves automatically.

14. How Puredistance influenced your view about perfumes? Do you perceive them differently than before when you had no idea that once you will professionally work in the perfume world?

J.E. Vos: It teaches me that there are huge differences in quality. Before I started with perfumes, I did not realize the fact, that the average manufacturing price of the big worldwide brands is disproportionately lower than the selling price. I found that most of the money you pay for mass perfumes goes to marketing and advertising. But in the niche world of Perfumes I found very passionate people and companies that spend every euro they earn on creating the best possible perfumes. And few companies in the niche world advertise, there is no money for this, since all goes into the products. So I discovered the big difference in quality between most mass marketed perfumes and true niche perfumes.

15. If you would of have the power to fundamentally change something in the world of perfumes, what it would be?

J.E. Vos: If I really could, I would snap my fingers, and at once all those in the perfume industry to who it concerns would stop to lye, saying trash, and would invest in their work more ardor and would create products that bear legacy and heritage.

16. What do you buy most likely? With what you make yourself happy?

J.E. Vos: I like it when I really feel like a child, behave like a child. It is demanding to be like a child when you are a grown up and know how things are, how it works. I think it is magic to achieve again the feeling that all the world is a great adventure. I spent the summer with my wife at Ibiza. We went to see in small dinghy, and suddenly I cried to my wife: look look…there where about 50 fishes jumping out of the water. I heard before about flying fishes, but it got me, and I was shouting: they fly, they are flying like birds, look, and look. I was so fascinated because never in my life before have I seen anything like this….I love experiences. To feel that again I can be delighted as a child. 

When you invited me, we spoke about an Aston Martin displayed inside the hotel as a symbol related to Puredistance perfume “M”. And you did not forget to suggest to bring with myself the James Bond suit. I joked, but I did remember I once purchased a blue - James Bond like - tuxedo, because I dont like to do things that everyone is doing, everyone is having a black tuxedo. But normally I wear jeans and t-shirts.  Sometimes I wear a suit, but never a necktie. So I never wore this blue tuxedo. So for this occasions I had my blue smoking prepared. But then I said to myself no. I dont want to copy Daniel Craig in a in a way that is not me. Yes, I look nice in it, but it’s not me. So I started to google around James Bonds clothing, and to my surprise there are many webpages dedicated only to James Bond clothing. Companies that make copies of his clothing, collectors, you tube videos, etc. Then I noticed that in the next film he wears a turtleneck from a London based company, N. Peal, a small, private, existing from 1936, with one flagship store, making gorgeous things, expensive, but with quality. I said to myself: Thats funny. In the winter, I always wear turtlenecks. Thats me. So I ordered it. They had one in gray, and one in blue. I was leaving at four a clock today, and at three the courier arrived with the package. And look what I am wearing. The same turtleneck that Daniel Craig in the new Bond. I am very satisfied. It sits well on me, and it is very enjoyable. It is cashmere. So I came dressed like James Bond, but remained authentic, remained myself. And that was the last thing that with which I made myself happy.

17. City or the country?

J.E. Vos: I was born in September, so I am a Libra. I need and search for balance. I love the city because of inspiration, but I love the country as well for its calmness, quiet and nature. I need both of them. I have a house on an island, I planted around it a forest of 30 000 m2 and that is for me isolation from the surrounding world. There is a beach there as well, where I go to admire nature. But I gladly go to Paris, New York for 4-5 days to absorb inspiration from people.

18. Coffee or tea?
Jasmin tea.

Black or White?

Morning bird, or night owl?
Night owl.

Paris, London or New York?
Hmmm…Paris, because deep inside I am a hopeless romantic. 

19. Can perfume change the world?

J.E. Vos: In a very small way yes. There is no one thing that can totally change the world. Except a meteorite (lough). Therefore the question is, in what way can perfume change the world to become a better place? So as I said before, less lies in perfumes and more originality, authenticity and real heritage. All that changes the clients, and drives them to think that to buy something that has no substance based on advertising is foolish and does not make us better. I think that the biggest problem of humanity is that so many people are not thinking, just heedlessly follows. Follows the media, celebrities, politicians….We are increasingly more intelligent, but that doesn’t mean we get WISER…. Maybe we should give more attention to our EQ and our intuition instead of our IQ.

Thank you for the interview, it was very interesting and stimulating. I am glad that I had the opportunity to meet you in person, and inhale more the philosophy of Puredistance, the philosophy of Jan Ewoud Vos.

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