Floral artist Saskia Havekes from Grandiflora in Potts Point, Sydney

Bottling ‘the flower shop accord’ | French alchemy | gardenia glams up

Cool, understated elegance that belies inner sparkle and sizzle.

Drawing on the savoir faire of a flamboyant French “nose”, Saskia Havekes announces a new addition to her Grandiflora family

A fine perfume, says Saskia Havekes, has shape, tempo, and beauty. And, if you’re lucky, Christophe Laudamiel.

The French chemist and master perfumer came on board to help create the final fragrance in Havekes’s exclusive Grandiflora portfolio of six.

Mutual industry colleagues predicted alchemy between the Sydney florist who counts Hollywood stars, luxury brands, artists, beautiful brides and high society among her clients and the avant-garde “nose” and educator who creates scents for perfume houses, celebrities, hotels and museums.

French “nose” Christophe Laudamiel stops to smell the gardenias

“They said he’s youngish, a bit of a ratbag, a bit of a rascal, talented, pushes boundaries … they thought we’d be right for each other,” says Havekes, tweaking an arrangement of magnificent creamy-flowered Magnolia grandiflora after which her Sydney Aladdin’s Cave is named.

Indeed, they clicked.

“He was tall, striking, full of energy – a ball of atoms firing on all cylinders,” says Havekes of their first meeting in Nice, France.  “A streak of blue hair. Very attached to his dog, which also has blue hair. His leather belt was dingle-dangling with press-studded holsters containing tiny canisters of scent which he was constantly wanting me to smell. He was just on fire.

“I’d never met a perfumer like him. I knew we were on a journey.”

They discussed at length the gardenia, its glamour and its elusiveness, and its starring role in her new perfume, Saskia, to be released in coming months.

“Sure, there’s the beauty in gardenia, but I wanted it to have some grunt and edge, not just be purely pretty.

“Christophe likes flowers with bad smells, and weird smells. A rose need not be just a rose: it might have a metallic twist. I found that really attractive. We both like the Dutch tulip called the Maureen Tulip, which has a big cream flower that smells like semen. And the Coral Charm peony, which is quite ‘bodily’ in its demise. Almost vulgar.

“He’s as mad as I am for a flower market, so we’d go on these little adventures together…”

Testers for the new perfume lined up inside Grandiflora

Havekes clears one end of a workbench that is like an ancient felled tree and covers it in a “cloth” of Grandiflora’s trademark waxy white wrapping paper. On it she places three little bottles marked 85A, 85B, and 85C, a fan of paper test-strips in attendance. They’re like the medal winners on the Olympic podium. 85A, virtually empty because everyone has been coming back to remind themselves how seductive it is, is the gold, and now in production.

It has notes of ginger, pink pepper, gardenia petals, ylang ylang, and French mimosa. Australian guests at the party include Tasmanian myrtle, boronia, and leaves of the delicate violet.

But while the end result is elegant and refined, the brief revolved around a middle note Laudamiel has dubbed “the Flowershop Accord”.

“It evolved around the shop itself,” explains Havekes. “The perfume needed to signify our 25 years of being in Potts Point – both the physical shop, Grandiflora, and the flowers and foliage it has housed.”

The mission: to capture her unique “flower shop accord”

It’s a big call. On this day alone, in residence are blousy peonies, starry white bouvardia, dramatic lotus flowers, the willowy allium pom-poms (the lanky basket-ballers of the onion world), feathery pink flowering gum, fiery and frilly gloriosa lilies, velvety purple cannas, and buckets full of roses – from dusty pink Secret Garden blooms from Ecuador to fragrant David Austin roses.

Havekes concedes, though, that incorporating every flower she has known and loved was ambitious. “The perfume has to work. It can’t be a big blancmange. It needs to be pared back, have lines, structure … there’s such a huge science to it.”

Five Skype sessions took Laudamiel into every nook and cranny of Grandiflora: peeling paint, deep workbench crevices, speckled concrete, its Macleay Street frontage, window dressings, the team, the almost total absence of room to move, and much evidence of Havekes’ knack for turning the prosaic into the paradisiacal.

“Blending is so personal and abstract, but Christophe got the nuance very quickly. He’d produce a scent ‘sketch’ and we’d work on that. Structurally, I leave that genius of [top, middle and base] notes to him. Fitting that together is like a Rubik’s cube, from both a chemistry and creative point of view.”

Saskia, the sixth and final perfume in the Grandiflora portfolio

But imperative to the mix was petrichor, the very earthy smell of the soil just before it rains.

“It’s a smell I am really familiar with because when I grew up in Sydney’s north-west, I spent a lot of time in the bush. I was solitary.

“We had a creek down in the gully, and after school I’d go there to make tea and damper. I loved the smell of the creek, the moss, the tadpoles, the sandstone. I knew when it was about to rain … you could feel rain in the air, smell it.

“I get that same feeling in the shop – the wet concrete, the wood – it’s so evocative of petrichor.”

All of the Grandiflora perfumes have drawn on French expertise. The first two fragrances in 2013 were interpretations of Magnolia grandiflora – Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine, by the late perfumer Sandrine Videault, and Magnolia Grandiflora Michel, by Michel Roudnitska, who also collaborated on her third scent, Madagascan Jasmine. Bertrand Duchaufour, who has created perfumes for Penhaligon’s, Amouage, Comme des Garçons, Givenchy and Christian Dior, brought Queen of the Night into being and then Boronia.

Each perfumer she has collaborated with has inspired her in different ways. From Videault she learnt how to articulate the language of perfume and understand the wealth of notes that go into creating the scent of a singular bloom.

Magnolia grandiflora, the bloom that started it all

“I was so surprised when Sandrine first smelt Magnolia grandiflora, and exclaimed, ‘pamplemousse!’ Grapefruit! I had never considered how many different notes can combine to make the scent of a singular bloom.”

Michel Roudnitska showed her the scented garden he created with his famous perfumer father, Edmond Roudnitska, used daily as a creative reference. “For example, he showed me the patch of lily of the valley where Christian Dior knelt when creating Diorissimo.

“Bertrand has travelled extensively, and been inspired by traditional methods. In Africa he looked at the ritual of scenting hair and skin with smoke infused with aromatic grass, spices, wood and petals. And I learnt about volume in perfume from Bertrand.  His operatic fragrances are a signature, with much complexity.” (Duchaufour’s Queen of the Night – an operatic, floral, woody, musky fragrance – has been the most successful of the Grandiflora portfolio to date especially in Italy where a big personality is prized.)

“And Christophe? He’s taught me to devour any note and commit it to an internal olfactive library as a reference to tap into.”

Havekes sees her new namesake perfume as the exclamation mark of the sextet. And a pause before exploring her next floral art adventure.

Saskia by Grandiflora, $195 for 50mls, will be distributed by Agence de Parfum, agencedeparfum.com.au/

Featured portrait by Victoria Zschommler




Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab. susan@excessallareas.com.au

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