Givenchy creative director Riccardo Tisci grew up in a house with nine women. He knows a thing or two about perfume.
Givenchy’s avant-garde creative director, Riccardo Tisci, is known for his gothic and romantic aesthetic. For his first perfume he created a “fleure fatale” cocktail of rose, iris and warm, smoky sandalwood. Here he shares his inspirations, memories and love of the perfume world.
Tell us about your new fragrance, Dahlia Noir.
I’ve been at Givenchy for six years, and for me it was the right time to create a fragrance and strengthen the brand’s identity. Dahlia Noir is a fragrance as singular as beauty. But its elegance, its neoclassical nobility doesn’t cut it off from the rest of the world or women in general. I sought out this ambivalence, a rare secret to be shared by as many women as possible. I wanted women to share in this dream of mine.
Tell us about the notes, why did you choose rose and wood notes?
From my first meeting with François Demachy [the perfumer] when we were developing the Dahlia Noir range, I spoke to him about emotions and olfactory memories, not formulas. I remember the smell of my mother and sisters’ make-up, which had a distinctive powdery and rosy scent. This is why we constructed Dahlia Noir starting with a rosy note, enriched with iris and mimosa. We then added sophisticated woody notes such as sandalwood and patchouli to give the fragrance a contemporary edge.
Tell us about your collaboration with François Demachy. How did you work together?
During my many meetings with him, we developed a real closeness. I admire his exceptional finesse, his precise approach. In my feminine world, he was a masculine figure who helped me bring Dahlia Noir to life. I had so much respect for him that during our meetings, I never smoked a single cigarette, and I never wore perfume. I would go home, meditate on what he told me, fully tuned in, very humble with regard to his scientific knowledge and eager to learn some of it.
You’ve mentioned the smell of your sister’s make-up, what other memories did you use to colour this fragrance?
I grew up in a family with nine women: my mother and eight sisters. Of modest means, but very conscious of their femininity, my mother and sisters worshipped perfume; it was almost sacred to them. They would specially wear perfume on Sundays, because it was rare and precious, and because it was a way to observe a ritual. Beyond being a way to express one’s personality, for me perfume is most of all a moment filled with powerful emotions.
What was the thought behind naming a fragrance after an odourless flower?
I thought about Dahlia Noir for a long time. I had been carrying this name inside me along with the totally imaginary flower it refers to, which doesn’t actually exist in nature. In my mind, it’s an abstract flower, very gothic, but also very whimsical and romantic. We conveyed this tension between force and fragility with rather potent top notes followed by a powdery softness.
The name Dahlia Noir evokes a very mysterious, almost dangerous femme fatale feeling. Was that your intention?
I wanted to materialise in the fragrance and its name a seductive black angel, a distinctive couture heroine emanating a dark softness, a fatal tenderness.
Does Dahlia Noir pay homage to James Ellroy’s novel The Black Dahlia?
The Black Dahlia, in the book by James Ellroy, is above all a heroine. In my opinion, this story is more about passion than crime. Passion pushes each individual to the summit, to excess. The culmination of emotions can then lead to acts committed under the influence of passion.
You’re known for your interesting choices for faces of the brand, like Lea T and Steven Thompson. What made Mariacarla Boscono stand out as the face of Dahlia Noir?
Mariacarla and I met 15 years ago. She’s like a sister to me. She’s distinguished, strong and delicate, subtly elegant, that’s what I love. She is extremely feminine but also exudes an androgynous grace, one of the strong aspects of the Givenchy appeal. I would have been able to choose any celebrity, but that would have made no sense.
How has the Givenchy brand evolved since you arrived in 2005?
When I started working for Givenchy in 2005, the reference image was Audrey Hepburn wearing a black dress, gloves and sunglasses. In the archives, I saw how innovative Hubert de Givenchy was in his work, how avant-garde. In 1959, for instance, he presented an all-white collection on exclusively black women… It is in light of this pioneering side of Hubert de Givenchy that my work resonates. In the Givenchy iconography, several things inspire me: the colour black, a certain romanticism, a fragile strength, delicate yet unique, always based on a certain nobility, an aristocratic distance, without contempt, a peaceful posture.
What’s your vision of the Givenchy woman?
Today, the identity of the Givenchy woman is very recognisable. She has deployed her mystery, personality and uncommon force as much as her grace and poetry, neither totally soft nor totally black. Emotion is at the core of my message (my shows, my fashion, my music, my first fragrance).
How did designing a fragrance differ to designing fashion? What was the creative process?
Dahlia is crafted like a couture gown, a perfuming garment. It’s a tactile, sensuous and precious fragrance that cloaks as much as it lays bare. It evokes an addictive sensuality and is in keeping with the quest for quality and structure in the exercise of Haute Couture.
What is it that you love about the fragrance world?
It’s often said that perfume is like a piece of clothing, an impalpable one, a sort of olfactory metaphor for clothes. I go one step further by saying that the chemistry of the skin and that of the fragrance results in a unique sensual message, specific to each woman. That is what fascinates me. Clothes touch the body, envelop it, caress it. Perfume is an intangible trail, and yet the message it leaves is as – if not more – powerful than a dress. There is a special blend between skin and fragrance, unpredictable and unique, which enables a perfume to be designed for all women and a single woman at once.