Reconnecting with Nature: Bvlgari Man Wood Essence

Reconnecting with Nature: Bvlgari Man Wood Essence

VMAN chats with Dominique Roques, head of naturals and innovations of Firmenich to discuss the root of every essence that goes into a fragrance.

VMAN chats with Dominique Roques, head of naturals and innovations of Firmenich to discuss the root of every essence that goes into a fragrance.

Styling: Stella Pak

Dominique Roques travels through foreign lands in the horn of Africa peeling through trees, discovering milky pearls of frankincense that later become one of the ingredients to a fragrance we find behind a counter. As the head of natural sourcing for Firmenich, Dominique Roques finds his gems of natural ingredients through the wonders of the world – all while ensuring that the ingredients sourced by farmers are socially and agriculturally sustainable. Chatting with Dominique at the Bvlgari Hotel in London, I was transported to a different state of mind and place with a quick inhale of the raw ingredients that went into Bvlgari Man Wood Essence.

You’re in natural sourcing. How did you get into such a specific segment of the fragrance process?

It’s really… one thing leading into another. I had a strong taste for plants and trees. But I studied business and started working for a company who was positioned into natural ingredients so I went through the world setting distilleries in Spain, Morocco and Madagascar. And then I joined Firmenich to just handle the natural sourcing.

There’s such an emphasis on sustainability with Bvlgari at the moment and in general – culturally and socially. Do you think with the state of global warming, that certain ingredients that were once abundantly available are scarce now?

Yes. But I think for the general picture, we should remain very optimistic because we have around 500 natural ingredients at Alberto’s palette coming from 150 families. Like rose is a family and vanilla is another family. 150 from 45 countries. The diversity is enormous. Fortunately, global warming doesn’t fall on all the ingredients at the same time. In a way you are right… this is an issue we are trying to address case by case. For this type of product, the main problem is water. If you don’t have enough water, then you’re really in trouble. If occasionally you have a drought, well, this you can handle. But if it’s a general trend that there will be less and less rain and water in some areas, then it’s a fundamental issue. We have to think, if we cannot cultivate here, where can we take the product next? Which can happen. But I don’t see it as a phenomenon where everything will stop or everything will be damaged. Which is fortunate because as you can see, the attraction and demand for natural ingredients is incredible. It’s really increasing so we have to face this.

You have enough resources.

My resources are the farmers. We need for each product to have the support of each of the farmers and this is where we come to sustainability where you were mentioning. The stories. The real sustainability is if we want the most beautiful ingredients for Bvlgari, for Alberto (Morillas), we need happy farmers at the start. Otherwise, it doesn’t work. This may sound like a joke but it’s very serious. For a long time, there was too much disconnection between the world of luxury and brands and the farming issues. Now, thanks to the consumers, there is more of a demand of transparency – righteously so. People want to know. They are curious in a positive way. They like to discover very incredible stories but they also want to know that the people they see on a nice video or television or whatever… How do they live really? Do they live decently? Do their children go to school or not? They want to know in Guatemala if the cardamom pickers are they treated decently? This is very challenging because I go there and I buy the products. I have to make sure that this is sustainable.

May I? (smells the base note of Bvlgari Wood Essence)

Sure

 I just feel like I walked into a different dimension outside of the hotel.

Powerful, isn’t it? You go to Haiti or Madagascar for Vanilla. You got two of the poorest countries in the world. What you’re facing is not just the issues of your farmers or your product. You are facing the problems of a poor country that is often in dramatic conditions. You have to be very careful. Perfumery cannot save the world. But where we work, where we source we have to try and do as much as we can. In Madagascar for example, we have many programs. The people in the region where we select vanilla – 38 villages they have no water. When I say no water, the people, they go down. They walk 3 kilometers to pick just water in their bucket to drink. So we have a program to dig wells. You start with the fundamentals. Of course, no medical health, so we had to build dispensaries. Schools are a mess so we had to build schools. Sometimes we have to really first work with the social fundamentals. Sometimes, you go to India for instance. It’s very different. The people live in a higher level so we concentrate on what are the best practices to cultivate jasmine for example. What kind of fertilizer will you use? What type of irrigation do you choose? You can go one step further to really dedicate yourself to the farming issues. So depending on the country, for instance, if you go to Provence, France, the problem of the school is very different. So when we say sustainability, it’s fascinating because there’s always something to be done, but something can be very social. Very crucial for the survival of the people and sometimes it’s more elaborate, but the end result with what we’re trying to do now is to prepare the future. Fundamentally, there is only one question. If the farmers who grow something don’t make a decent living, are not living in conditions that are decent, what will happen? There will be no next generation of this farmer. They will disappear. Either they will grow something else or their children will leave the country, refuse to live under such conditions, go to the cities. This is a real risk for perfumery. No farmers. No product. So no product. This means that Alberto (Morillas) will have to create with one less ingredient. At the beginning, maybe he won’t notice if it’s a small ingredient. But if it spreads, it will reduce the power of creativity of perfumery drastically. So there is a huge challenge there, which we call our own biodiversity challenge. Which is we have the responsibility that the palette of our perfumers grows. And doesn’t reduce. More ingredients. Not less ingredients.

It’s so powerful that you’re starting from the base line.

You smell the roots, now you have to smell the trunk.

It’s a completely different sensation.

This is a woody note that’s in the heart of the combination. Ok? This comes from a cedar.

It smells like a tea tree oil. The closest I can relate to in context to my memories.

They call it woody aromatic. Americans call it a cedar. It’s a juniper tree. It’s really the heartwood. You smell the two magic combinations. The third one, these are the leaves.

Very delicate.

It’s more aromatic. More Mediterranean. This comes from Spain. It’s a Cyprus tree. Little branches of Cyprus that are used.

I just want to dig deeper. The scent is so shy. When I think I have it, it disappears.

Why did I show you these three ingredients? Alberto wanted to create this special wood. Something very, very specific to the perfume. We had this idea of recreating a tree inside the perfume. The roots, the trunk and then the leaves. Using different trees. Different plants but I think it’s the combination of the three at the end that gives this really specific wood that’s very alive. With the combination of the three, you create a very powerful tree inside of the perfume.

It resonates in the packaging as well. What is the most memorable discovery? Even for this fragrance.

It’s hard to isolate really one thing. There’s a lot that we’ve been using in the past for others. I remember two years ago, when we launched Rose Goldea, we discovered this specific rose and specific treatment from Bulgaria. I’m a big rose fan. That is very attractive. My last discovery was very, very, attractive. For many years I wanted to go at the source the origin of frankincense.

That is my favorite. It reminds me of church, home and rituals.

I went to a country called Somaliland, which is in the horn of Africa. It’s very difficult to go. This country normally is pretty dangerous. As a matter of fact, Somaliland doesn’t exist officially so it’s complicated to go there. So I went and we went into the desert with nomadic people and went to really go and look at the trees. The frankincense tree grows in the mountain and steep slope. I go there and with a knife, you start peeling the bark of the tree and immediately you have these pearls. They look really milky. They have white pearls and they got the smell of the frankincense that comes immediately out of the tree. And then they grow bigger and dry on the tree and they make little frankincense resin that you can find in a shop or the ones that you can burn.

Was this a free style discovery or was it a farm?

No, no. It was the same. For years we were looking for a trustful partner for frankincense. The supply chain is very long, very complicated. It’s all based on the social traditions of the Somalia people so we have to respect this and make sure that at the origin, when we’re buying the product, we don’t destroy the trees or disrupt the women who work in there are treated decently so it’s a very complicated topic. So I had to respect this.

What are the cultural traditions that you had to respect when sourcing frankincense?

It’s all clans. The society is all organized in clans. One clan has a territory. They all have a hierarchy and social traditions. Some people will take care of the camels. Other people are dedicated to the resins. So you have the tappers to go chop the tree. They stay there for 2 months. Each day they collect a little bit. And they hide their product in the cave. It’s a very secret cave. And at the end of the crop, they come with donkeys. They load the donkeys with all the products. And there, the women do all the sorting. Because what you get from the tree, you get 5 different grades or qualities. From the best to the less. So the women are the ones who do the sorting.

Can we grab a bottle of wine and continue our conversation by a fireplace somewhere in the country?

Haha.

Credits: IMAGE BY JAKE LEE

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