Q&A: Diane Pernet on her first fragrances


Diane Pernet. Portrait by Alan Gelati. Diane Pernet is a personal hero of mine. Before Style Bubble or Man Repeller, Diane’s website ‘A Shaded View On Fashion’ (ASVOF) was arguably one of the first to record the thoughts of its founder on fashion and visual culture onto the web. I remember reading it, when it launched ten years ago this year, having no idea what it was but simultaneously confused and excited. Today, when blogs are ten a penny, ASVOF still stands out - for its integrity and sense of adventure - as a champion for original, young talent.

Pernet was also among the earliest to recognise the potential of fashion film. In 2008, she created the first international fashion film festival ‘A Shaded View On Fashion Film’ or ASVOFF, where todays prominent brands such as Dries Van Noten, Christian Dior, Hermès, Gucci and Kenzo showcase their work with award-winning filmmakers such as Mike Figgis, Ellen Von Unwerth and Bruce Weber.

Now, Pernet turns her attention to fragrance - and in so many ways, it’s a perfect fit. Ask Diane what underpins all her work and she will say ‘instinct.’ And what is more instinctive than fragrance? Working with Celso Fadelli, CEO of Intertrade Group, and a team of master perfumers, Diane has created four compelling fragrances: the woody To be Honest, the oriental Wanted, the citrusy In pursuit of Magic and the ocean-fresh Shaded.

Each attempt to capture an aspect of Diane: from secret desires, the quest for happiness, the pleasure of being worshipped, the power of truth. But they are as elusive and evocative as the woman herself, in her signature black, with mantilla and shades.

Bel: How did you develop the fragrances? Was there a tight brief? Diane: I told Celso I love woody fragrances. He said, ‘ok, you can do a woody and a green but I want you to do a citrus and a marine.’ That was the only brief I had. So for each, I did a storytelling, an imagining - because perfume is about memory.

Bel: In the release, there are descriptions of scenes that have inspired the fragrances: the walk in the woods, the wait on the beach. Were these real or imagined moments for you? Diane: It’s a mix. For example, all my life, I’ve loved going into churches; I love that feeling. It’s so intense and serene at the same time. That’s why I like To Be Honest. There’s something about the church in it. And I love the idea of the country, the fantasy of it, but if I spend more than a couple of days in the country, I really miss the city. So, by creating this fragrance, I have the fantasy of discovering this old church in a forest and the smell of the woods. I can wear this and feel as though I’m there.

Bel: You worked with three ‘noses’, experts in fragrances. What was that like? Diane: I was never allowed to meet them. I’d tell Celso what I wanted and he’d talk to the noses. These ‘noses’ were, like, ‘Try this. Try this’ - and I was never happy. But there was one nose whose formulas I kept choosing. So finally, I said to Celso, ‘I want to talk to the nose. I want direct contact.’ And when I met her, it was great. She was very refined, beautiful skin; she had a great aesthetic. We spent time trying to work out which ingredients I reacted to, which ones I really liked. I absolutely loved doing it. It came naturally because I have really strong likes and dislikes. I’m not a nose, of course, but I’m not wishy washy. What’s important is the juice. I didn’t want it to be about a great ad campaign or great packaging and then, it smells disgusting. The biggest sellers are sometimes the most disgusting smelling stuff. It should be about the scent. It should be part of you.

Bel: Are there links between fragrance and all you’ve achieved in the visual arts? Diane: Instinct, intuition. They rule every single thing I do in my life. Everything is organic. You arrive somewhere naturally, never force the issue. My life is like that.

Bel: What fragrances did you wear before? Diane: When I first started wearing perfumes as a teenager, I wore sickeningly sweet stuff like White Shoulders, Shalimar, Gardenia and Joie the roses. As time went on, I started wearing Vetiver by Guerlain for Men. And then, finally, about 15 years ago, I discovered Avignon and other fragrances by Comme des Garcons.

Bel:  How did you name the fragrances? They sound personal …. Diane: I always use that expression ‘to be honest.’ That’s a quality that’s important to me. I was making a film on the designer Bruno Pieters. He’s fantastic. Before Rana Plaza, he was outing the whole thing. Because his collection was called Honest By, we called the film To Be Honest [https://vimeo.com/43240734} When I was thinking about the name for this fragrance, I called it the same thing. Wanted came from a Polish documentary on Roman Polanski, Wanted and Desired. That’s the more carnal fragrance. There’s a leather note in it - and I’m really dreaming of having Roman Polanski on the jury for my next film festival. I have his picture scanned on my wall. In Pursuit of Magic, my festival was in New York. Someone put this pictures of me all over downtown Manhattan and this girl art performance group stencilled on all of them the words ‘In Pursuit of Magic’. And Shaded is obvious ….

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Bel: And the packaging? Diane: My friend Mario Salvucci is the designer who also designed the spiders I’m wearing. Back in the 1980s, when he lived in New York, he used to do the accessories for my shows. Then he stopped doing jewellery and started making jewellery for the walls, great lights as abstract shapes that cast beautiful shadows. He said I was like a spider. In the words of Louise Bourgeois, spiders are the protectrices. But it’s also a play on words with the net - because so much of me is on the net. The net, how you catch people in your net as you travel. And the inside of the box is all red, because that’s the one colour I wear.

Bel: Yes, on your lips. But the rest of you is dressed in black. Diane: But everything in my house is colours! I love the energy from colours. I just wear black. I feel better in black. I like what Yohji Yamamoto said about it. With black, you can recede into the background. It’s easy but it’s strong. It gives you a sense of power.

Bel: There’s an androgynous element to the scent. Why is this important to you? Diane: I want men and women to wear them. All the fragrances I’ve worn over the last 20 years, all the Comme fragrances …. I’d have men and women asking me what I was wearing.

Bel: Androgyny minimalises the feminine side of women, the masculine side of men. Diane: We’re made up of both. I don’t want to distinguish between the age - or the gender - of the client. You could be 14 or 86. Sometimes, journalists ask me ‘who is the woman’? And I say, it’s not just a woman. It’s the response. If you respond, it doesn’t matter how old you are.’ Now, we have these ad campaigns by Saint Laurent starring Joan Didion and Joni Mitchell. When I was a fashion editor in 1995 for Joyce Mah [owner of the Joyce boutiques in Hong Kong], I put this beautiful model on the cover of the magazine in a Galliano dress in the Bois de Boulogne. At this point, she was 67. And I remember Stefano Tonchi, who used to be the New York correspondent for Joyce, saying ‘if you’d been working for Conde Nast, they’d have walked you to the elevator and pushed the down button.’ It’s funny, because, right now, finally, there’s this focus on the older woman, which is really rare.

Bel: I’m hoping there’s a cultural shift but I worry it’s only a trend. Diane: It’s like with ecology. There are people like Bruno Pieters who attack it from the roots - and there are brands who are going to get on the bandwagon because this is a trend and it’ll sell more products. It’s the same with older woman. You have blogs Advanced Style, set up by someone who loves his grandmother and older people. It’s really organic and he’s the first one to do it and then everyone else picks up on it. So it’s a trend. But it wasn’t started as a trend. I don’t think older models are going to replace younger models but it’s an acknowledgement that the market has to think about these people because they exist. People are living longer - and they’re vital. Alejandro Jodorowsky is 86 and he’s working on his next feature film, Roman Polanski is 80.

Bel: You’ve been a pioneer in so many areas. How? Diane: It’s always organic. I like to pave my own way. I’ve never been into trends. I care about creativity, authenticity, originality. The blog is 10 years old; I started it on February 5th, 2005. Someone asked me to try out this new software on my phone called LifeBlogging. So I’d carry this heavy phone around. Mark Eley of Eley Kishimoto was launching his menswear collection at the Gumball Rally and he said, ‘I’d love you to do a road movie of the launch.’ We covered 3,000 miles in six days and I was shooting it with my mini camera and at the same time, I was live blogging the trip so his kids could see him. It was fun but it was crazy. He put together six people who had never met each other before in the support van. You’re sleep deprived, you’re food deprived. You never know where you’re going until you get there. We’d fall so far back that they were, like, forget Vienna, you’ve missed it. But it started like that, long before Twitter. The film with Mark is up on my Vimeo channel (here https://vimeo.com/46820237). It’s called the Adventure of Pleasure and it’s really funny. It’s like watching the beginning of the blog - and the beginning of the film festival.

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The Diane Pernet fragrance collection is currently showcased at Liberty www.liberty.co.uk