I’m all dressed up in a formal black jacket for my interview with Elisabeth Modin of Friedemodin, a step-up from my usual hoodie and jeans ensemble (I am a Vagabond, after all!) because we are meeting in the bar of the very swanky 5-star Mayfair Hotel. I’ve decided that going in a full suit would be somewhat of an overkill, so I’ve paired the jacket with khaki chinos and brown leather shoes. I hope the outfit is appropriate for the venue, I think to myself, just before I step into the Quìnce Bar. Thankfully, I’m a perfume blogger, not the editor of Vogue magazine, so I shall lay off the uninspiring references to what I was wearing from now on.
All traces of nervousness or worries about my outfit vanish when I meet Elisabeth. She is busy typing away on her phone, probably busy with work. After exchanging greetings, we order two pots of tea, mint for her and jasmine silver needle for me. It’s too early for alcoholic beverages, and it would have been disastrously comical if I had been tipsy, slurring over my questions and asking Elisabeth to repeat what she has said simply because I couldn’t focus.
I’ve decided to find out about Elisabeth the person first, before finding out more about the brand. Elisabeth tells me that there haven’t been very many typical days. She’s been busy with a whole range of things, including press meetings, discussions with agents about new market strategies in Europe, and meetings related to the supply-chain side of things (warehouse stock levels, logistics etc.), which she informs me resolutely is not the glamorous side of the business, but an integral and necessary one. Just last night, she had to stay up to prepare goodie bags for an event – some British supermodel awards – that they were sponsoring. It’s a small operation, so Elisabeth and Nina (the other co-founder of Friedemodin) have to be very hands-on and manage every aspect of the business. The two of them try to split the work; for example, Nina focuses on the German market whereas Elisabeth focuses on the Swedish market, but there’s usually so much to do that they work on many things together. Recently, they’ve also started getting into social media – in fact, it was a random tweet about their recent launch party at the Buddha Bar that led me to contact them about the possibility of an interview in the first place.
Both Nina and Elisabeth currently have their own day jobs, with Nina doing something related to amenity products for hotels and Elisabeth doing product management for an online company. “Don’t you get tired juggling both Friedemodin and your day job?” I ask, curious to find out what keeps them going. Elisabeth shares that they’ve got a big passion for perfumes and for creating something that’s their own, as well as the feeling that comes when other people appreciate and like something that they’ve created. She recalls the first time Friedemodin was launched in Germany – the very first customer was a guy with a big beard who bought Roseé de Nuit. “The feeling when someone bought something was amazing,” she exclaims.
“What about yourself? How did you feel when you bought your first perfume? What got you interested in perfume?”
Elisabeth shares that the first perfume she ever bought was the original Kenzo by Kenzo – although that was something she owned when she was very young. She opines that when she grew up in Sweden, she used to cycle through the forest quite frequently, appreciating the different smells she experienced in the forest. She also recalls visiting a perfumery in Grasse when she was younger, where she had the opportunity to see the flower fields and look at how perfume was processed; however, she didn’t really think that she could work in perfume until a few years ago, because she never thought that she would have a chance to do so. The interest was always there, she assures me, but that interest only manifested itself more strongly as she grew older.
In fact, things really kicked off only when Elisabeth met Nina five years ago through mutual friends in London. Being neighbours, they bonded over long sessions of coffee where they smelt the perfume samples that Nina got from her job with the hotel. They also attended numerous new perfume launches. Unsurprisingly, it was at Harrods’ The Perfume Diaries exhibition when the idea of starting their own brand began to take root. There, they met the current owner of Lubin, Gilles Thevenin, whom Elisabeth describes as someone who is very passionate and enthusiastic about perfumes, and an inspiration in the perfume industry. Gilles encouraged them to follow their heart and reach for their dream, and so they did.
The perfumer behind the perfumes of Friedemodin is Francois Robert, who is the son of perfumer Guy Robert (Francois is also the perfumer behind many of the fragrances in Les Parfums de Rosine). As we delve deeper into the often-murky subject of fragrance development, Elisabeth shares how the idea for the Jardin Mystique collection was described in a brief containing images, some ingredients, colours and emotions to Francois, in such a way that he would have freedom to interpret the imagery they had in mind. She describes have many long brain-storming sessions together; in particular, she recalls going up to Brighton, where Francois lives, for a full day in order to describe the entire concept to him and to smell some of the plants in his garden. After plenty of back-and-forth between them and Francois, during which Francois would prepare samples and then get feedback from Elisabeth and Nina before modifying the juice further in order to achieve the concept of a mystical garden.
Which brings us to the fragrances themselves. With the first three fragrances (Jardin Mystique, Vertine, and Rosée de Nuit), it took close to a full year to develop them. Jardin Mystique was the one they started with and encapsulates the garden as a whole. The other perfumes evolved from this first scent and revolve around different things that can be smelt as one walks through the mystical garden. An interesting tidbit that Elisabeth shared was that Vertine required the most mods and was hard to get right because, as a green perfume, it tended to swing between two extremes – on the one hand, it would become too botanical, which made it interesting as a smell but not as an elegant perfume, and on the other, it would become too much like a fine fragrance without any defining character. I was curious how Feu Follet would fit into the mystical garden theme – wouldn’t having a fire in a garden burn everything down? (Trust me to ask bizarre questions like this!) Elisabeth reassures me that it’s a small midnight fire, one that’s dancing in the wild garden, not a huge bonfire à la Guy Fawkes night. It was created as a counterpoint to the other perfumes as it was darker, smokier and heavier.
I’ve always wondered how those involved in perfume creation know when a fragrance is just right, with no further need for modifications. Elisabeth tells me that one gets a visceral reaction when one likes it. Another important thing is for the perfume to develop nicely in all stages, and to be balanced. With Vertine, it required more than 30 iterations, with them having to start from scratch at times. With Feu Follet, it was a lot quicker, requiring only 6 iterations.
The Jardin Mystique collection is also marketed as ‘Combination Perfumery’ – on the leaflet accompanying the fragrances, it is mentioned that “The ingredients of each perfume within the Jardin Mystique collection have been carefully chosen and balanced to ensure they interact harmoniously however they are combined”. Playing the devil’s advocate, I ask, “Are the fragrances are better when combined, and if so, why haven’t you simply combined them in the finished product?”
Elisabeth is quick to clarify that the perfumes were meant to be standalone perfumes; however, as they share a common base and certain common ingredients, they would work well if they were layered, for a different fragrant experience. She concedes that they would probably have to work on bringing across this message better in their marketing in order to avoid misconceptions. Since we are on the subject of layering, I ask Elisabeth if she layers other fragrances, and if she does, what her personal combinations are. Elisabeth hesitates, then admits that she doesn’t normally combine her perfumes, although she has started doing so with the Jardin Mystique collection.
As our tea starts getting cold, we begin discussing Elisabeth’s thoughts on the industry. Being a blogger, I am curious about how she feels stepping into an industry where the power of the Internet is becoming increasingly important. Elisabeth replies that they are starting to get more involved with social media. With their Twitter account, for example, which they started relatively recently, they discovered a completely new way to reach out to people – they’ve had a store in the US that discovered them on Twitter. She muses that it’s different from networking in the real world, but concludes that both definitely take quite a lot of time.
Does she think the perfume market is oversaturated? I inform Elisabeth that there were approximately 1,200 new perfumes launched in 2011 and 1,400 new perfumes launched in 2012. How does this affect her as someone who’s started her own brand? Elisabeth opines that it’s a challenge to get in the market and to get people to discover their fragrances, and that it’s not too different from other businesses where one has to ride the wave of consumerism. Thankfully, she says, people do want to try new things, and she is positive that there are people who will be interested in the Friedemodin style, which is classic with a contemporary twist.
As we draw near to the end of the interview, I ask Elisabeth what the brand’s plans for the future are. Here, a gleam comes to Elisabeth’s eye as she reveals that they are excited to start working on the next collection soon, on top of focusing on getting the brand known and out there. That said, she adds that while more is better, having too many fragrances in the collection makes it hard for people to choose.
I throw in one last question as we wrap up the interview, “If you weren’t so busy with Friedemodin, what would you be doing?”
“I would probably be doing something fashion-oriented… some things go quite well together, for example, scarves and perfumes. I like scarves a lot, so I’ll probably be designing scarves.”
~ The Smelly Vagabond