November 16, 2016

The Big INTERVIEW with Leo Crabtree 'BeauFort London'.

Leo Crabtree

The Big INTERVIEW with Leo Crabtree 'BeauFort London'.

1. How you get to own a perfume brand? Natural development, by coincidence or it was a wax?

Leo: The brand itself has kind of grown from a mix of a lot of my interests and the need to be creative I think. The key thing being my interest in history. I did history at university and I also studied history of art. I have always been interested in design, psychology, and even trained in anatomy, but my real interest is dark bits of history. I still think is kind of bizzare comming here and seeing the BeauFort stand and meeting all these people, it's like - How has this happened? But the catalyst was defintely the wax. A few years ago I started developing moustache wax because I got it into my head that I wanted to make the best moustache wax in the world.

Me: In the world?
Leo: In the world!

The wax.
Me: Are you use it?

Leo: I did, when I had a moustache, yes. So, I started making moustache wax with friend of mine, we had a workshop and we made this aluminium case for the wax, and I spent a year formulating it in my kitchen! it was something I just got totally obsessed by, creating this object to the best of my ability. I think it‘s in my character maybe, to be - obsessed. If I find something that intrigues me, I just...

Me: Go deep.

Leo: Yes, and I can get tunnel vision on it, focus. So through doing that (wax) I started experimenting with the fragrance oils, I started to learn about fragrance and researching. I always had an interest in fragrance but I wouldn't call it an obsession, it has always been something I have enjoyed. But then, through doing the project with the wax, I discovered a lot about how fragrance is constructed and how complex and varied it can be. There is so much to it, you know? And the more I learnt, the more I found there was to learn and so my kind of obsessive side took over. And now I find myself down the rabbit hole, it's like „Alice in wonderland“ - you start at top and then you lose yourself (laugh). And now here we are, in deep! Developing the Fragrances has really appealed to a side of myself that’s always been there, the creative aspect that likes finding curious projects to get obsessed by, and In an unexpected way I've found something that I really love to do. And perhaps because I don't know so much, I'm not an expert, maybe it's more interesting, because weird things happened and thats fine.

Me: No classic structures, not usual ways...

Leo: No, no, and I think working with perfumers as now I do (because when I tried making the perfumes by myself, it was not so good!), I found that they really enjoy working with me, because the briefs they get from me are not like anything they usually get. Two perfumers. Two ladies called Julie Marlowe and Julie Dunkley, both the same name, very confusing sometimes (laugh), but they met with me, when I was looking for someone, when I was trying to find the company that had enough size to be able to grow with me, but also be small enough, so that we could have lots of conversation and work closely. That was really important. We sat down, and had lunch and that was it!

To be honest, I don't think about it too much. I don't analyze it. I just do it and I do what feels good and what I like to do. I don't question it. Cause if you start question too much you can maybe lose the fun. There's never been a plan, I never sat down like with an accountant or a business advisor... I just enjoy, like do something that you find interesting. And if you do something that you find interesting, you will do it to the best of your abilities. And it just so happens I found this project and It seems to have fallen into place somehow. 

2. You named collection of Beaufort perfumes „COME HELL OR HIGH WATER“. This expression usually is used when someone is determined to do something (by example: „I will be there come hell or high water “) Is it in honor of Deep Purple’s album, determination to do something, sailors expression, a metaphor related to a sea and battlefield, or what was the idea?

Leo: Well, as with everything with this project, it seems to become what I call it... so initially the collection was called „come hell or high water“ simply because i like the phrase and it resonates, it made me feel something. Then somehow it has lived up to the name! You know, it's not very easy doing this and i have had plenty of things to learn, issues to overcome developing the range. It's a hard thing to do, very hard, but I am driven to do it and now it's almost like „come hell or high water“ this is going to happen and I will make this work – its the company motto! I think that's an American expression - a legal expression that is using in contract law but I can't help but feel it has British roots. Because we will overcome, whatever happens, we will continue. And I feel it refers to London, because London is the city that's been destroyed over the centuries by countless fires, bombs... even in more recently years we had terrorist attacks, all the shit that happens in the world... but we carry on, whatever happens. And I think that I got the sort of idea from my grandmother. She was a nurse during the II. World War and she was living in London during the blitz, the bombs. Just the way she talks about it now. She doesn't talk about it like it was any big thing. They just carried on, they just keep going whatever with all this awful stuff going on around... which I admire. You continue your life. You don't let them win. That's kind of my philosophy with a lot of things. Whatever happens, you keep going. And if you have an idea, that you believe in, you stand up for it and you go.

Leo's Tattoo showing London in flames. It's a reminder, that „whatever happens, 
we will continue... we carry on... Come hell or high water".
3. New fragrance „FATHOM V“, what we should expect, what we can imagine?

Leo: The phrase Fathom V come from The Tempest, the Shakespeare play. I like the expression. Again, for me it's lot about words. Words that have to do with depth. So when I was a kid my father used to show me nautical charts. These intrigued me because they are like normal maps on the land, but instead of the land you have sea and instead of height is depth. And depth is measured in fathoms. So the idea behind Fathom V was the kind of capture something dark and deep under the water. But it also refers to kind of change, because within The Tempest, the passage from which name Fathom V comes from, there's another little phrase which appeared for the first time which is „sea change“ which we come to now know is a sort of transition. And I like the idea that the sea is always changing...

Me: So definitely not linear.

Leo: Exactly. And this fragrance is deep, its dark, but it also got light, it's salty and it's earthy. It's the earth, it's the sea, it's duality. So: What we should expect? Meeting of earth and water. And the important thing for that fragrance was always to bring together elements of two things. So you have an represent of water aquatic scent. But what is the sea? It's not blue and nice. It's dark, it's scary sometimes, it can be calm, but it's also rough, it's shallow, it's deep, it changes, it's always changing. So that is the principle. But of course with all this ideas I have, I think about them a lot, because I enjoy it. But ultimately it's for people to explore, understand for themselves and my opinion is only one.

4. Would it attract you to live in the times your perfume „1805 TONNERRE“ (previously 1805) represent?

Leo: To live in that time? Uhmm? It's a funny question. I mean the whole idea behind the collection is that the past is with us. So what has happened before, makes us who we are now. So a lot of the perfumes, a lot of the ideas are about things that have happened to me, or have happened to British people in the past. And that has made us who we are today. So I wouldn't like to live in those times, but I've kind of feel like I almost do, bacause of the past living throught us. That's how we come to exist now. I like the idea bringing something old into its modern context.

The look of previous bottle of fragrance "1805", now is called "1805 Tonnerre. The same "juice" now in different bottle under the name "1805 Tonnerre".
1805 Tonnerre (current bottle).
5. Why you are obsessed especially about British navy history, because there are a lot of things which you can pull out of the past?

Because I grow up with this sort of background of my life. My dad is really obsessed with boats. My grandfather was really obsessed with boats. But also more broadly because it's a really big part of British identity . I was living in London, but then I start to realise that London is just a big port. That is why it became such an important city because it's such a key port. And because Britain is this tiny island, the meeting of the water and the land and the naval aspect was so important as part of creation of British identity.

6. What does it mean LIGNUM VITAE?

Leo: It translates as „Tree of Life“. It's a hard wood, it's a tree, which has been used over the years for many different things. But the thing that interest me about it it's intensely hard, they called „iron wood“, so it's always like metal. And they used it to make parts that would normally be metal particularly in ship’s clocks becuase it won’t corrode in sea air like metal does. And this idea that something can be two things at once. It's tree, but it's metal, it's hard, but it has soft qualities..

Me: Metamorphosis.

Leo: Yes, exactly. Duality. And I just love the words. Lignum Vitae. It's been a phrase thats been in my mind for a long time. And that was only the matter of time before I made something with that or channeled that into an idea. In fact the first prototype caps that we made for the bottles, we made from Lignum Vitae. I met this guy, who is a designer in London and he had a crazy workshop on an island on the river Thames. He used to make staircases for peoples homes, beautiful architectural stuff, but he is create things with metal and wood in a very modern way, but his workshop is in an old boatyard on the Thames. Quite near to where I was born. Cause I was born very close to the river Thames and I and my family, we lived on a boat.

Me: A houseboat?
Leo: Yes. When I was a baby.
Me: So you are a „sea-man“

Leo: (laughs) Exactly, yes. So he introduced me to the wood itself. And he showed me that it has this aromatic quality. And then in the process of working with the perfumers to create a fragrance, I decided to try an experiment to see how you will make something from lignum vitae like . So to make a piece for a clock, which is very tiny and small, you had to use like really tiny little saws and stuff, so I tried to make something. And Itˈs really hard to make anything come of it. But in doing that it created this amazing aroma, which was almost sort of gourmand aspect of the fragrance that we now know.

Me: Itˈs also a little bit smoky.

Leo: Yes. Smoky... I think everything I do will always be smoky, just because I like it! (laugh) The smokiness. Perfume. „Per fummum“. Through smoke. It make sense to me. 

Lignum Vitae
7. Beaufort. Probably something well known to sailors, but what others will recognize in this name?

Leo: Itˈs funny part of British identity beacuse its a very ‚British‘ name but of course itˈs also two French words. That says a lot about British culture to me.... So contradictory. But the key aspect for me is the wind force scale describing wind intensity which is still used around the world by sailors. It represents something invisible and powerful which is always changing and potentially dangerous....

Me: And can you steer a boat? 

Leo: Well, itˈs been a while, but when I was a kid, we used to go sailing all the time. Every weekend. So, Iˈam kind of think itˈs in my blood somewhere.
Me: Oriented by the stars?
Leo: Yes, I probably use IPhone now (laugh)

8. What is hiding behind „VI ET ARMIS“ (previously EAST INDIA)?

Leo: That is a little piece of British history, which people donˈt know that much about. Which was the Opium Wars, when we were occupying India at that time.. And we, as the British, were selling... smugling opium from India, where it was grown. And then smuggling the opium into China in exchange for tea. And the tea we brought back to England, because everyone there was obsessed with tea, and still is. But this created some real big problems in China and there was very brief, fairly brutal military campaign about this. It was interesting for me to kind of create something with this idea of the tea versus the opium. It's something that is really intense.

Me: And how can get the opium into the perfume?

Leo: Well, that was the question I asked the perfumers. So they had to do some research about like what the opium smells like and they found some old books. I also found some books about opium, there’s a big poetic tradition like Shelley and Keats, all were taking opium, it was a big thing then. But the actual aroma of opium, they discovered, was kind of like flowers, very sweet, sticky, like ylang. That was the kind of starting point. They made the opium note with ylang and it could be a birch tar as well. To get some stickiness. 

The look of previous bottle of fragrance "East India", now is called "Vi Et Armis". The same "juice" now in different bottle under the name "Vi Et Armis".
Vi Et Armis (current bottle).
Me: Do you drink a tea? 

Leo: Yes sure, I’m English! I always drink Earl Grey or Lapsang souchong. Smokey. Smoked tea with some spiciness. And in the background of „Vi Et Armis“ with this his kind of spiciness of the trades, the boats that trade the goods, we take the opium and then we bring the tea back. So there's quite a lot of aspects.

Me: And there is also religion as a part of the story of Vi Et Armis ?

Leo: The religion? Yes. There is incense in there as well. That was partly because of my great grandparents were missionaries in China and the idea that Religion was a kind of ‚export‘. So as I tell before, thereˈs a lot of aspects, lots of different ideas brought together and itˈs not necessarily one clear thing, itˈs like a stream of consciousness. That make it interesting for me. To bring this bits together.

8. Ink, rum and an old book binding in leather. I feel there all of it. „COEUR DE NOIR“.

The look of previous bottle of fragrance "Coeur De Noir".
Coeur De Noir (current bottle).
Leo: Coeur de Noir. In the beginning the inspiration was the „Heart of Darkness“ the Joseph Conrad book, which I read as a quite young. Thereˈs a great piece in the beginning of that book, where thereˈs group of sailors, they are sat on a boat on the river Thames, ready to leave London to go to Africa. And they tell each other stories. And the idea was how do we communicate our stories, how do we communicate our history. And itˈs through ink. Through paper. Through tattoos as well, over drinks! Your stories, your identity is a kind of path drawn through these things. So thatˈs where the inspiration originated. And there is another personal aspect. My grandfather , he was in the navy and he wrote books about boats. But then he also did the pictures. So he was an artist, he did pictures of boats in ink. Black ink. So this is kind of homage to that. So again, there are several things, but brought together in one...

Me: ...piece of art. Thank you for the interview Leo! Great story!

Leo: Pleasure!

Me and Leo. Badass mood. 

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