October 6, 2015

Interview with Spanish perfumer Ramon Monegal.

Ramon Monegal’s brand was a dream. Evka’s dream. It was winter, Christmas of 2014 was approaching.  A package from Barcelona arrived. The package contained a fulfilled dream. A magnificent gift cassette with miniature perfumes of Ramon Monegal, and the agreement that he will enter the Slovak market with 1907 perfumeries. It happened, and his perfumes are between the jewels of 1907’s boutiques in Kosice and Bratislava. At that time, nobody anticipated that we will meet in person Ramon Monegal, his wife Maria, and daughter Laura. On the 2.9.2015 Ramon Monegal arrived because of the opening event of our perfumery in the Carlton Hotel in Bratislava and for three days was just ours. Not to have an interview with such a charming and full of energy person would have been a sin. So here I am bringing you the very pleasant interview with him.

1. First time in Slovakia?

Ramon Monegal: Yes! (very enthusiastic)

2. You are the descendant of a famous perfumers family, who catered to the Spanish royal family. You have behind you a strong basis and tradition. You are the fourth generation and the most significant representative of family. Probably it is not a surprise that you continue with this tradition. Was it clear from your childhood that it will be so, or you dreamed also of other profesions?

Ramon Monegal: At the beginning I studied architecture, but left it to be able to begin with perfumes, and link up with the family business. In fact, it was a master perfumer that encouraged me to change my course and dedicate myself to perfumes. But that master perfumer was not my father, but my father sent me to him. This perfumer was Arturo Jordy-Pey. He formed me in my beginnings. He was a Catalan that worked with Firmenich in Geneva. He had two apprentices. One of them was me, and the other  was Alberto Morillas. I was given the opportunity to create a perfume, and I was successful. I was 26-27 years old. My father did not understand, how at such a young age, without experience, it can happen, and at once he throw at me all the responsibility. That’s how from one day to the other I became a perfumer. And I am a perfumer for about 40 years.
Architecture and design remained my passion. That is the reason that the design of our representative boutique in Barcelona, the bottles of our perfumes are my creation as well.

3. So perfumes won. You are the owner of your own brand, and as perfumer, also the creator of your fragrances. You even designed your flacons for your perfumes, which by the way are splendid as well as your perfumes. From where you take the inspiration?

Ramon Monegal: My great inspiration is nature, in my creation I am motivated by the family tradition, which is influenced by Spanish and Andalusian tradition. On the other hand, my great inspiration is literature in terms of communication. My perfumes speak, communicate. When a perfumer creates a perfume, he creates a story, creates something that represents values. These values are written in the perfume with the help of ingredients. One ingredient = one value, one meaning, one significance. Perfume the same as a literary work, may represent values, ideas, emotions, attitudes….You may compare my work to the work of a writer. That is also the reason why the flacons that I designed have the design of an ink bottle. The same as a writer composes the letter into words, words into sentences, sentences into a story, I am composing each ingredient into each accord, each accord into a whole, into a story that represents something. It is up to the perfumer to create from the ingredients something that is an abstract whole, something that makes sense. There is no good perfume, or bad perfume. There are only perfumes that wears well or not. Meaning there are perfumes that communicate well what they have to say, and perfumes that are not. A perfume should create some imagination when you smell it, a visual idea. Each of us has his own way, dresses in a way, and has his style. When we turn of the lights, what remains is only the olfactory image, the fragrance that we wear. If we compare, that fragrance should represent the same that we want to represent when the lights are on with the help of our clothing, shoes, attitudes….but the average person identify only the fragrance, they don’t know the perfumers language, that’s why is up to the perfumer to transform the individual ingredients to this language.
Often people identify only the result, but don’t know the author. That’s why I want the perfumers to make as their responsibility coming out of their laboratories, coming out of anonymity, the same as chefs are coming out of their kitchens and presents themselves before their guests, and in this way as if they signed their creations.  People are hearing Dolce Gabbana, Chanel…but have no idea who stands behind these perfumes.

4. Was your wife the inspiration for some of your perfumes?

Ramon Monegal: Yes, it was the first personal perfume that I created. I made it for my wife for the day of our wedding. Especially only for this day. Its main ingredient was the iris root – orris. Because it is powdery, floral, earthy, represents equilibrium, balance, security and love….all those values that I wanted to represent in the perfume. I combined orris with rose – the symbol of love. Impossible Iris from my collection is a modern reinterpretation of this perfume. And why Impossible? Because iris, specifically the iris root is one of the best and most expensive ingredient in the world, but its smell has a very short life span. And I discovered something almost impossible, a way how to prolong and conserve it.

5. Your perfume Impossible Iris won the hart of fans as well as of opponents of iris fragrances. How do you explain it?

Ramon Monegal: With iris it’s possible to work in different ways. Usually it has a powdery aspect. I enriched it with fruity and woody tones. The iris I use is the real iris root, not a synthetic alternative. In perfumes, people usually meet with the synthetic version that smell linear and flat. The real iris has depth, it develops, has evolution.

6. How looks a day when you are creating? The surroundings in which you create?

Ramon Monegal: First of all, I want to say that I am much disorganized. I have no system. For the perfumer, when creating, the most important part is the understanding of the intellectual part of what he is creating. It may be compared to writing a book. Before starting the writing itself, you make notes of the synopsis, and make it clear for yourself what and how you want to write. Each perfume is a challenge. Whenever I create a story, I create history, and therefore each entry is important. The most difficult is to choose the right ingredients that will represent the picture that I have in my head, the idea and the values that the perfume will have to represent. In my imagination, I see the “smell” of each ingredient.  By example, I am creating a perfume about seduction: flowers are not smelling just like that. The fact that they smell has its reasons. Flowers with their smell try to attract insects. The insect will land on the flower, pollen will stick to its body, and with it and fly away to another flower, what creating pollination. But each flower smells differently. Each has another hue of attraction. Rose is love. Lily of the valley - romantic. Jazmin is sexual. Carnation - passion…..I can heighten their power with wood, I can add sanctity with balsam, and so one…. To make a concrete formula is the easier part of it. So the hardest thing is to choose the right ingredients one after the other and combine them in right proportion, which will create the wanted olfactory image, story that I want to tell.

7. How long it takes to create a perfume?

Ramon Monegal: Very short time.  As I already said, the hardest part is to exactly clarify what I want to say with the perfume. If I already know, the formula is mixed quickly, because I already know the combinations, the methods, the proportions and everything. But those are years of experience. In my opinion, if a perfumer need a thousands attempts to achieve some result, it means that he does not know what he wants.

8. Do you think that you already created your best perfume, or it is still in the workings?

Ramon Monegal: Basically I am the worst critic of my work. I am never totally satisfied.  It is never totally perfect for me. There is always the feeling that it could have been better. And then there are my daughter, my son, my wife that say stop, don’t do anything, don’t change anything, now it is perfect. But I think that I still did not create my best perfume. I am still starting with the goal that the next one that I create will be even better.

9. Do you use some of your perfumes from your collections, or you created a personal perfume for yourself?

Ramon Monegal: I am gladly mixing my perfumes. Layer them, one over another. But I am gladly trying creations of other perfumers as well. Not as a critic, just trying them and enjoying them. With my daughter we gladly go and smell new things, and searching for curiosities. I simply love perfumes.

10. Which most unconventional, maybe most bizarre fragrance you created?

Ramon Monegal: Bravo, I created Bravo (brave). I am an artist. Thirty years I was working in a company, where my responsibility was to create and sell also for big markets in big amounts. Now that I am independent, free and on my own, I create only what I want, as I want, for a small group of people. I can fully realize myself, take greater risks, and be creative without any restrictions. Bravo is the image of the Spanish toreador, that shows in the struggle with the fierce bull, his power, courage, energy, always standing face to face with the black bull. It is an exclusive perfume, created especially for Harrods in London.

11. What it contains?

Ramon Monegal: Leather, smoke, agarwood (oud), Cypress…

12. If I would ask you to create a fragrance called "morning after sleepless night" what would it contain, how would it smell?

Ramon Monegal:  I would create a perfume, where the central theme would be mint. Because mint is stimulating, full of verve, provocative. It would wake you up. I would add coffee, something sweet that will replenish energy. Chocolate, cocoa. Then I would flavor it with a bit of ginger and juniper. The hardest would be, what flower I should add…hmmm….It would be carnation for its spicy fragrance. Because spice stimulates and maintain agility.

13. You are creating perfumes that are out of the uniformity, not for mases and the konvencional boxes, in what way is your philosophy different, in what are you different?

Ramon Monegal: One of the influences is that I am a Spanish perfumer. Mediterranean.  The other difference is, that I am not for the masses, I can afford to take risks, be more creative, to give to it all the passion. Today’s mass perfumery is generic, all around the same, same, same... with less quality of ingredients. My advantage is my huge knowledge of the ingredients. For a period of 35 years, I was responsible for procuring the ingredients for perfume production from all over the world. That educated me really a lot. So I have the advantage being involved with the whole product, from the total beginning, till the final product. I can choose the best raw materials without regard to the price, I know where to find them. Then I am working with them alone. I am making my own resinates, infusions, extractions, distillations…My production is very limited. The best ingredients will never be found in big quantities, and for the maturation of some ingredients, you have to wait several years to achieve the ultimate quality.

14. Based on what you choose the placement of your perfumes, meaning in which perfumery you will sell your products, and which not?

Ramon Monegal: We are placing our perfumes in specialized niche perfumeries that targets those clients that are searching for something exclusive, something that is different, something with exceptional quality. For me it is very important the people that are selling Ramon Monegal, they have to know the stories, values, background, and the whole idea of everything. Then they have their client’s confidence as well. They are not selling marketing, but something real.  The most important is to understand what the perfumes has to say. To give it time. It is the same as with new leather shoes. The more you wear them, the better they are, more comfortable, more lived in. We are not and will not sell in big quantities, our main attribute is exclusivity. But I consider the ideal and highest form of exclusivity the personal perfume. Perfume that is created to specifically for a concrete person, and nobody else will have it.

15. Each of your perfumes looks like it has the same DNA, same signature, and in spite of that are very diverse, each has its own personality? What is the secret? You embed in them some secret ingredient similar as an artist is signing his painting?

Ramon Monegal: In the world there are an unimaginable amount of perfume ingredients. I am working “only” with 300 ingredients. Similar as a painter develops his palate of color hues, during the years I to developed mine. But 300 is enough. By example, one of my perfume formula includes 30 ingredients, but if you change the proportions of the ingredients, you will get several different perfumes. Everything is about proportions. The same as in the kitchen. From 30 different raw materials in different proportions and using different ways to mix them, it’s possible to cook miscellaneous meals. By example, I am using my own patchouli. In normal natural distillation, the patchouli oil has a dirty camphoric tone. My secret is that I am doing several distillations one after the other, basically it is fractal (molecular) distillation, which help me clear away all undesirable and dirty tones. Of course it lengthier, but the result is really worth it. I do the same with cedar, vetiver…the smallest and finest components I am not distilling, but finest of them I achieve by so called “infusión”. The way I am doing it, will never be possible to do in big mass production of perfumes, because the final amount of the essential oil, essence is very small. Usually the perfumer has his main bases. By example, there is no essential oil of lily of the valley, the same with leather and so on. They are compositions. It means combination of ingredients with exact proportions that are reproducing identically their fragrance. Each perfumer, respectively huge companies manufacturing perfume compositions ( Givaudan, Symrise, Firmenich, IFF) have their own style, their own bases, their own molecules, that is the reason you cannot create equal perfumes as for example ABC. By using my own bases, special ingredients in my perfumes, I create immutable DNA, embedding in them my own signature. Being from the Mediterranean, I am using plenty of Mediterranean ingredients. So personal know-how, culture, my own style is what defines me, what defines my perfumes.

16. Do you have you favorite perfume ingredient with which you work most gladly?

Ramon Monegal: Iris, Leather, Tuberose...

17. How many perfume ingredients are you able to detect?

Ramon Monegal: When I was a perfumer prentice, and had training, really a lot. But for me it is not important, it is not about quantity. I am more interested to enter the depth of each component and discover how these components communicate, what perceptions, what picture bring up.

18. Does the technological advance touch you in any way, do you have to adjust?

Ramon Monegal: Yes, of course. I am aware that today’s technology of processing has a much higher quality then in the past. You can make better „juice“. Negatively I am influenced by IFRA and its restrictions.

19. In your opinion what will be the trend in the perfumes world for the coming 10 years, and where you see yourself in it?

Ramon Monegal: In my opinion the exclusive perfumery will be discovered again, using of some ingredients will be renewed. In the coming tenth of years, the originality will be more important, creativity, quality ingredients, the understanding of the perfume and the story behind the perfume than the marketing tool. And I will be on the top of it, as the cherry on the cake (laugh). But there is a risk, that those brands that are independent today, create freely, will let themselves be bought up by big mass market companies, that will apply on them their marketing. And that will be “game over”.

20. What kind of scent will people use in year 2100?

Ramon Monegal: First of all I think perfumes will change and will not be on alcohol base. Secondly, perfumes will be personal, perfumes are not going to be uniform. We will use them in different way, in different occasions. The method to apply it will change, by example perfumes will be used internally, and will evaporate throe the skins pores.

21. Which period you consider the golden age of perfumery, and why?

Ramon Monegal: The beginnings of the 20th years 20th century. Because the creation was free, there were really great perfumers, and great ingredients. And there was freedom to use these ingredients. If you take the previous Shalimar and the current version – they are different perfumes. In the 20th years first the perfume extract was born, then the toilet waters arrived. In the perfume extract it was possible to use 10% of Jasmin oil. Today it is not possible anymore because of legislative restrictions, only a small amount is allowed.

22. If you would have the possibility to change something in the perfume world, what it would be?

Ramon Monegal: I would like the perfumers to be able to have their author rights recognized for the perfumes that they created. The same as other artists have their creative rights recognized. I wrote a novel (in 2012 Ramon Monegal published a novel “La Parfumista” in which he gives tribute to creators of scents - perfumers – NW remark). I have the copyright to it. The idea is to give the same status to a perfume creation.

23. What is your favorite fragrant memory?
The smell of the sea.

Coffee or tea?
Coca-Cola (laugh). This is my dose of caffeine.

Cedar or Sandal?
Cedar . Because It smells like a pencils that I biting when I was a child .

Barcelona or Paris?

Thank you for the interview.

For Ramon Monegal we prepared a surprise. His perfume “Mon Cuir” gives tribute to black leather jacket, and the culture of European riders of American bikes. As he says, it is his alter ego, and he identifies with it. We brought to the hall where the opening event took place, a special edition of Harley Davidson, made for the 100 years anniversary of the brand. As Ramon Monegal, next year will also celebrate 100 years of his family tradition in perfumery, we felt it will be nice highlight this fact by this symbolism.

Meeting with Ramon Monegal was for me and for all of us a great pleasure, experience and a well of observations. Even after many years in the branch, he radiates passion for his work. 

Thank you Señor Ramón Monegal.


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