How often do you hear about all-natural fragrances with no synthetic ingredients? Practically, never. This is because it is an extremely difficult feat that has a very complex process behind it, mastered by French maison Ormaie – who reveals their intricate and secretive method to us. And so, this family-run perfume house, founded by Baptiste Bouygues, who previously worked for Louis Vuitton and Givenchy, and his mother, veteran award-winning fragrance consultant Marie-Lise Jonak – who he lovingly calls ‘maman’ in this interview – is completely unique.
This is also seen in their attention to detail, working exclusively with local French companies that cater them with recycled glass magma for the bottles and wood from renewable beech forests for the caps, for example. Read through this interview to further understand the philosophy behind this masterfully-made, exquisite fragrance house and get some insight on how these perfumes are made.
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Marie-Lise and Baptiste, how would you describe one another?
Baptiste: Maman is an amazing person. She’s the most faithful person I know and has great emotional intelligence. It’s great to work with someone like that, with who trust cannot be broken; I know I can count on her at all times. She’s also truly a genius at what she does, and she’s very weird sometimes but I think every son finds his mother weird.
Marie-Lise: Baptiste was always brilliant at school, he was always very creative. He’s always positive and loves peace and seeing people happy, he hates hurting and criticising others. His dream has always been to create a maison, and so creating Ormaie was all his idea.
Baptiste, I’ve read that you had quite a prolific career before Ormaie, as you had worked in communications for Louis Vuitton and Givenchy. And although Marie-Lise was already a veteran and award-winning fragrance consultant, why did you decide to suddenly shift careers and create the house with your mother? Knowing that you were already living quite comfortably.
I have always loved creation, and in the process there’s a need to express emotions through different media. So, even though my career was going well, it was more important to me at the time to express this. I also have always loved artisans. I remember as a kid walking in front of shoe stores and just wanting to go inside and watch people work. I have always had a passion for people who work with their hands, and to be close to them you really need a maison.
I just love looking at the Heidelberg machines from the 19th century that hot stamps our paper, or go into flower fields to cultivate, or watch craftsmen polishing the wood of our caps. A family business also allows you to have a very focused vision and, for us, it was all about creativity and the product. The shift therefore came more as a necessity than a real decision.
You both have lived many years in Asia, and I believe Baptiste was also partly raised there. I would like to know if you can see any Eastern influences in your fragrances? Perhaps the extreme attention to detail? Although that’s already a very French approach too.
Yes, the attention to detail is one. There are definitely some aesthetic codes which stay in your mind from childhood. I think also that it affected our link to smells and fragrances, and me and Maman both have a very similar olfactive culture – but that I think it’s quite different to everyone. I used to stay from a small age in temples in Thailand for example, my parents would keep me there during the day and I would spend the days in the incense and come back full of talk and powder. We lived on the beach and on a boat surrounded by flowers, so I think the link to nature was also quite special.
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As mother and son, you work very well together, as you have such rapport, you’re basically the dream team. But, working together so many hours, don’t you ever butt heads?
We work very well together. What is amazing about working with your family is that at the end of the day, you know you can count on the other person and there is nothing that will be able to destroy that, which makes you more confident. And when it comes to perfume, it is something very special. I lived with my grandparents for a while in the French countryside, and when we develop new scents, I can just say to Maman, ‘this smells so much like the soap in my grandma’s kitchen’, and she knows exactly that I am talking about Liz.
What’s really interesting about Ormaie is obviously the fact that you make 100% natural fragrances. What point exactly are you trying to make with this? Also, would you let us in on the secret to making this near-impossible feat?
I just think there is something so beautiful and elegant about nature. There is definitely a poetry and such elegance to a flower growing and then cultivating it to making an essence. We simply do it because we find it very chic. I love the fact that it is directly linked to earth.  The main secret is time and the quality of the raw materials, we really wanted the scents to be exceptional and there was no way we would make concessions on that.
We worked for nearly two years to develop the scents, we had to learn how to work with natural ingredients but I feel like you can smell it, and there is something special about the smell. Natural also needs to rest longer than synthetics, and before putting the fragrances in the bottles, we let the essences unite for three months in order for the full composition to develop.
What’s also very impressive about your fragrances is the fact that the glass is made by recycled glass magma – by Saverglass, the only company that does so in France –, and the wood from the bottle toppers comes from renewable French beech forests. Is sustainability an important aspect for the both of you?
Yes. I think when you try to make something beautiful it also needs to be good. The words are very close in French, ‘beau’ and ‘bon’. I also truly believe that when people are very careful about the extreme quality of their products, they’re very careful about the way it is made and you can feel it in the objects. This is something that I think comes quite intuitively and that a lot of people now feel closer too.
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The typography for each product is slightly different, seen in the ‘n’ in Papier Carbone as opposed to the one in Yvonne. How come there’s so much attention to detail that even the labelling for each fragrance is unique?
It’s part of the creative process and it’s part of working with great artists. When it came to the typography, Jade Lombard, with whom I work very closely in all design aspects, quickly realised that we needed to work with a typography that brought life to the letters. We worked with Jean Baptiste Levée and we quickly realised that every letter would need an alteration so we could play with it. We almost have two alphabets.
We had many inspirations with the typography and we really wanted to play with it. In Yvonne, for example, we decided that the ‘n’ would be less classic than the ‘n’ in Papier Carbone because it was important to bring a modernity to that classic French name, like we brought modernity to the classic perfume.
What is your creative process like? I know that with Yvonne it’s sort of an homage to Marie-Lise’s mother, Baptiste’s grandmother, and also to the great women’s perfumes of the past, the chypres. But what made you, for example, want to create L’Ivrée Bleue or Toï Toï Toï? Do you pick for example a top note and build a whole scent and story around it?
It always begins with a desire to find a smell that comes from a memory or a moment. It can be the memory of a person or of a moment. I worked for a while in the jungle in South America. That is where l’Ivrée Bleue comes from, it is that animal narcotic feeling that you can feel in the jungle. We worked around a beautiful dark vanilla from Madagascar, added cacao Rhum and Iris in order to get the very addictive fragrance. It’s to me almost like a painting of ‘Le Douanier’ Rousseau, you can see the darkness of the jungle with touches of vivid colours in some places. Toï toï toï means ‘good luck’ in German, it’s what is said to performers before they go on stage. It’s quite theatrical with a lot of different beautiful woods like the ones you can smell in an opera.
Also, the naming process must be quite important, do you just go with your gut?
It’s very important, it’s very long nights of wine discussions and books. It can take me so long but sometimes, in a conversation you just find it and you know it’s the one. It’s a very hard process for me.
Which fragrance would the each of you say is your favourite, and why?
I like them all but I wear Le Passant, it’s about my father. Maman wears Yvonne, it’s about her mother.
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