The vintage dining carriage where our group of journalists is seated has finally trundled to a pause in Romeo and Juliet’s city of Verona. We are aboard the Venice Simplon Orient-Express, complete with fringed lampshades and brass fittings, lush carpets, gloved butlers and champagne flowing freely. It’s all dreamily reminiscent of the 1920s, a time of passionate abandon.
Yesterday, we had passed vineyards and fields, luxury villas and quaint little villages whilst lapped up in luxury. It had been less than 24 hours prior that the affable (and American-accented) Prince William Lobkowicz had given us a private tour of his palace in Prague, displaying a passion for heritage that could only be echoed by our vintage surroundings, and soon, as we discovered, the head honchos of Bulgari’s latest perfume release.
“Luxury must elevate,” Bulgari’s fragrance business managing director, Valeria Manini, says simply. It follows, then, that the brand once again pulled out all stops to create this line. “We had total freedom on our budget — there is a lot of money in these bottles,” she recounts.
The groundbreaking Le Gemme line of top-end perfumes, put simply, is a collection inspired by gemstones, reflecting today’s multi-faceted and broadening concept of masculinity. Bergamot-and-musk-centred, these are not.
It was an organic move for the brand. The previous year, the Italian luxury brand had unveiled a new collection of stunning women’s perfumes inspired by semi-precious stones (and the arduous trade routes they took to arrive in the hands of eager jewellery patrons). The range of scents took their cues from amethyst, peridot, turquoise, tourmaline, citre and moonstone.
The gentlemen’s follow-up stands on its own — in fact, taking inspiration from six different semi-precious stones: Tiger’s Eye, sapphire, garnet, onyx, malachite and amber.
“Stones are the most beautiful expression of nature. The challenge for this project was to choose stones with historical values of masculinity, and link them to perfumes,” Valeria says.
To execute the concept, there could only be one man for the job, in the brand’s eyes: industry veteran Jacques Cavallier, the nose behind Bulgari Aqua and Bulgari Pour Homme, as well as iconic scents such as Issey Miyake’s L’eau d’Issey in 1991. His first collaboration with Bulgari was 22 years ago. “Jacques is the master of the masculine perfume. He understands men very well. There was no question!” says Valeria.
Born in Grasse, the centre of the olfactory world, Jacques smiles, “I have wanted to be a perfumer since I was five. In Grasse, there is no choice — you’re either a perfumer or a cook!” After studying in Nice, he returned to Grasse (and later the Netherlands) to pursue perfumery. His career, which took him from Jean Paul Gaultier to Boucheron, has shown his versatility in the atelier, a master of raw materials.
Jacques’ willingness to play with nature down to a molecular level has made many of Le Gemme’s perfumes subtle yet distinctive. For this collection, he says, he’s taken full advantage of the materials available now that may not have been around when his career kicked off: “For men, you try to find new things — musky notes and some woods did not exist at that time. Some don’t even exist anymore.”
There’s the vetiver, for instance, which he modified to rid it of the greenness. There’s the mix of grapefruits in Tygar, and the range of roses in Garanat. “Haute perfumery is the expression of naturality — using natural ingredients and mixing them with molecules that occur in nature,” Jacques explains.
Each fragrance is complex and complementary to one another. Malakeos seems to be the distillation of yesteryear’s man (with a modern twist); Onekh showcases a mysterious, darker side; yet Ambero is all warmth and spice.
“I’m not looking for ‘a man’. Each fragrance is not for ‘a man’ — each fragrance is for men.” Continuing on the theme, he later elaborates: “Modern man is free to choose what he wants.”
Describing perfumery, Jacques is given to flights of poetic fancy, as one would suspect of an expert in the seemingly ephemeral art of scentmaking: love, scent, passion and art — it’s all intertwined. It seemed only fitting that, with Verona as his backdrop, he concludes of passion, love and reason: “Creation is like the side effect that comes from intuition. You don’t have to be rational every time. It’s like love — in love, if you’re too rational, you’re dead.”
With that, the train creeps onward. We disembark in Venice, the cobblestones baking in the fiery summer sun, and bid our adieus to Valeria and Jacques. If there are emotions to be expressed by Le Gemme, we conclude, it’s one that is also captured by our destination city: delight and of freedom, magic and passion, and ultimately, of a deep appreciation for history and an eye towards modernity.
Look out for Garanat, Gyan and Tygar that will be available from all leading perfume counters in Thailand this month (retail price around 12,740 Baht per 100ml bottle).
Garanat (Red Garnet)
The gorgeous, deep red of a garnet is conventionally thought of as feminine, but consider it the colour of the passion, of fire, of desire — and its appeal to the modern man becomes apparent. It drew murmurs of appreciation from journalists — particularly the women who have a penchant for wearing men’s fragrances. “I had been dreaming of creating a masculine rose for a few years,” says Jacques, his eyes drifting upwards. This, combined with incense, gave the fragrance a deep, gentle presence on the skin, simply a delightful treat for all who tried it. Asked which scent is his favourite, he replies, smiling, “[My wife] loves me more when I wear the rose — so if she loves me more when I wear it, that’s my favourite!”
Gyan (Blue Sapphire)
“I wanted to surprise by working with heart of patchouli — 18 percent of it, actually — which is quite a lot. In fact, we started with 30 percent.” The deep, “white-and-blue” scent of patchouli, coupled with Bhutanese sambac jasmine (which offers a mysterious, South Asian touch) is certainly unusual. “I wanted to pay tribute to patchouli’s fresh side, though it is deep at the same time.”
Tygar (Tiger Eyes)
Fresh, woody and sophisticated, the Tiger Eyes-inspired scent is far from old-fashioned, with a sparkling and zesty grapefruit note and white amber cascade. Everything in this vial is taken to excess, as even the grapefruit is selected from Italy, Argentina and Florida to provide that irresistibly sprightly smell. The less perfume-y smooth base of Ambrox provides a sensual and deep dry-down that “is attractive to women,” according to Jacques. This was the easiest to wear of the collection, and is expected to be particularly popular in Asia.