PHILIPPE DI MEO Love at First Scent

Liquides Imaginaires are boiling. In the wake of startling revelations about two surprising new creations — the untamable « Peau de bête » and the visionary « Ile Pourpre » — designer and concepteur extraordinaire Di Méo announces the creation of two new trilogies dedicated to the animal nature and the realms of imagination, as well as a video and a collection of mysterious pictures, shot by photographer Julien Benhamou in a deserted manor of the Marais, the Rohan Hotel. Three dancers (Valentin Regnault, Calista Ruat and Utku Bal) collide, intertwine and rise to the rhythm of a trance conducted by cellist Sébastien Grandgambe. What better way to embody the very idea of perfume, immaterial, evanescent and evasive, than this invitation to travel, beyond boundaries, towards the mysterious lands of daydreaming? Les Liquides Imaginaires push the doors of our imagination open and embrace our senses. Experience elevation. 

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For three years, Liquides Imaginaires have stolen the hearts of perfume fans in search of particular, unique, audacious olfactive creations. To celebrate the release of Ile Pourpre, the first fragrance of a new Liquides Imaginaires trilogy, designer Philippe Di Meo returns to Leclaireur with a concept that brings together his passion for the symbolic nature of perfume and his unquenchable thirst for freedom.

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Leclaireur: The story behind the creation of Liquides Imaginaires is unexpected.

Philippe Di Meo: Liquides Imaginaires started as the title of an exhibition that took place in 2011 during Paris Design Week. For the longest time, I’d had the mind to create a fragrance based on Holy Water. There had never been a perfume known for its purifying properties. That's how Sancti was born - a mineral, incense scent inspired by the garden of Hesperide.

L: So, above all, it’s the symbol behind the perfume itself that inspired you?

PDM: It was. The symbol, the idea of returning to the sacred. Most true perfume lovers know that the etymology of the word perfume is 'per fumum’, which means 'through smoke’. Thanks to incense, perfume was used as a way of communicating with the gods, as a medium between our world and spirit entities, as well as a precious element in purification rituals. I like the idea of retaining their significance in the creation of contemporary perfumes.

L: Sancti was the first of a trilogy.

PDM: It seemed to me that exploring the theme of 'Eaux-dela'  could be an interesting direction. Fortis became its strongest incarnation, darker and woodier, supported by spicy animalistic notes. Tumultu, on the other hand, represents troubled waters, it’s more sensual and suave. This trilogy was created at a particular moment in my life. Just as I was questioning my career as a designer, an accidental fire destroyed my apartment… My perfume research led me to think differently about my connection to solid materials, as well as the notion of immateriality.

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L: This first trilogy was just the beginning. Were you simply rising to the challenge or did you feel you were finding a new path?

PDM: I was passionate about the creation of 'Eaux-dela’. I found great pleasure in working with such talented ‘noses’, but I also had the feeling that perfume carried something original, as if, by working on it in a symbolic way, it had the power to become more than a simple beauty accessory. Scents speak to us in a very intimate manner, allowing us to escape, to get lost in the realms of our own imagination. They’re an invitation to travel, to elevate ourselves, even… I wanted to continue to explore their fascinating aspects.

L: Since Sancti, your first creation, and L’Ile Pourpre, your most recent, what path have you travelled?

PDM: Unlike other perfume makers I know, nostalgia is not a personal driving force. My inner nature, probably, prevents me from seeking a ‘scented madeleine de Proust'. The second trilogy,  Les Eaux Sanguines, is marked by dark romanticism. It draws its inspiration from wines and passion. 'Dom Rosa' has the effervescence of champagne, 'Bloody Wood' is a duel of metallic notes against a fruity heart, and 'Bello Rabello' is dedicated to Port wine. I followed with the 'Eaux Arborantes', which were guided by a shamanic interpretation of the tree. They evoke compost and roots, peel and sap, the fruit and the canopy, and represent, to me, the essence, the juice in the literal sense. While developing these trilogies, I managed to fulfill my desire to create unusual perfumes. The quest for beauty is not what necessarily guides me, I’d rather search for truth and difference. The Liquides Imaginaires offer something new. They require a certain acquired taste…

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L: Tell us about the relationship you have with the perfume makers who work with you.

PDM: I mostly work with The Givaudan laboratory, but I also made a trilogy (Les Humeurs) with the Flair laboratory. It's always a pleasant and enriching experience. Each of us brings our expertise, and we move forward towards a shared objective. We find a common language, which is based on our intention, on the material. My approach is of course narrative, and I put no limits on the cost of fabrication. As the designer, when I sketch an object (whether in metal, glass or wood) I hand over the making process to an iron- worker, a glass-maker or a carpenter. The principle stays the same in perfume making, except the materials used are styrax, castoreum and incense which I particularly love.

L: "Niche perfumes", "Designer fragrances", is there an exact terminology, an exact definition? 

PDM: The designation is that of a family of perfumes. More accurately, I like to speak of «  exceptional perfumes », of « rare perfumes »… I like to use, in French, « parfums d’auteur ». Behind this typology of brands, there is generally a designer, who might be a perfume maker himself (such as Marc-Antoine Corticchiato for Parfums d'Empire) or a passionate creator of concepts. In all cases, the brand often reflects an intimate, singular universe. I think we can recognize a designer's brand by its singularity, the choice of basic materials, their creative sense of freedom, and the world of scents they bring to the table.

L: Is there another perfume label who’s work resonates with you, that you feel are pushing the envelope? 

PDM: I recently discovered Orto Parisi, while in Milan, and was really impressed with their audacity. The approach is quite radical, and displays a true artistic point of view. When faced with Gualtieri’s creations, I connect exactly with what I like so much in niche perfumes: the possibility of creating a fragrance that reflects and owns up to its inspiration, rather than an ad campaign concerned with a celebrity or name face. What I create for Les Liquides Imaginaires follows that same approach. 

L: Your story with Leclaireur started well before Liquides Imaginaires…

PDM: It's the story of a friendship. I was living in the Marais and was a customer, twenty years or so ago. I met Armand Hadida, Leclaireur’s founder, during one of my visits, and we began a friendly dialogue. I was invited a few times to show my work in their various boutiques. I love Armand's commitment, his universe. He is not one to make concessions, and I’m like that too; he's stayed true to his vision, to his identity. The Liquides Imaginaires were a natural match for Leclaireur. They fit well. Today, this shared adventure moves on even further, with the arrival of Tranoi perfumes, the new professional show dedicated to these exceptional fragrances. I have been invited to put together  an artistic installation.

L: What perfume are you wearing today, Monsieur Di Meo? 

PDM: Possibilities are almost endless for me now, from one day to the next, even! I love to wear new fragrances. Today, I’m wearing a vegetable leather scent which I made with Givaudan for Tranoï. I created five perfumes for that occasion, inspired by couture materials: ancestral linen, white cashmere, raw silk, neoprene, and vegetable leather. I fell in love with the last one, which was never actually planned for commercialisation. 

L: What’s your definition of luxury?

PDM: A certain type of freedom. Not owing anything. Not being accountable to anyone! Being able to create, freely.