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On the Mysteries of Halfeti - In Conversation with Christian Provenzano
Penhaligon’s recently had the opportunity to sit down for a cuppa with the father of Halfeti and the new arrival to the Trade Routes collection, Halfeti Leather, the modern-day Prince of Perfumery, Christian Provenzano. He was kind enough to share a few secrets of his art with Penhaligon’s and put into layman’s terms some of the key differences between the iconic scent, Halfeti and the icon reimagined, Halfeti Leather.
So, Mr. Provenzano, let’s start from the beginning, shall we? What made you decide to become a Perfumer?
I did not decide to become a perfumer; the decision was made for me. The
process of becoming a perfumer is extremely long; I didn't get up one day as a
perfumer, it was a long race and the steps I took in my career lead me to where I am
I think the role of the mentor is also very important to be a perfumer. I joined a Dutch fragrance company in Amsterdam as a laboratory compounder. After several months of compounding fragrances, the perfumer I worked for discovered that I had a good nose and asked me if I wanted to join their perfumery school, and I did. When I completed my training, which lasted about a year, I started as a trainee perfumer than promoted to junior perfumer. Four years on, I was approached by a UK company who offered me a position as
Perfumer. I was a bit worried moving to another country, but I eventually did take the offer. I worked eight years with them and again was approach by another competitor to be their senior perfumer.
In 1989, CPL approached me. CPL is a family owned company and from day one, I felt very comfortable working with them and very much part of the family. I have now been working with CPL for 30 years as the Global perfumery director with a team of 30 perfumers.
Can you tell us what the experience of creating your first fragrance for Penhaligon’s was like?
I believe my first creation for Penhaligon’s was Quercus, which launched in 1996. There is a bit of a story behind this fragrance, but I can’t really say too much about it. All I can say is that Quercus is a beautiful fresh citrus fragrance with soft floral notes of Lily of the valley, Jasmin and a warm musky undertone. It’s hard to believe that this fragrance was created some 25 years ago and is still very popular today. I guess this is because it conveys a sense of the timeless. It is a genderless, clean, fresh and happy fragrance. When you smell it makes you smile.
You’ve created an array of fragrances for Penhaligon’s. Which is your favourite and why?
Well, I do have a few Penhaligon’s favourites but if I had to choose one, I would go for Halfeti. I have had so many compliments on this fragrance from friends, Instagram followers, fans and so on. The fragrance possesses a certain special something. Its complex, mysterious and intoxicating. This is due to a combination of rare spices, Turkish Rose, Amber and voluminous natural woody ingredients, such as Cedarwood, Patchouli and
Sandalwood supported by a touch of Tonka and vanilla beans.
Halfeti has created something of a cult following over the last five years. Can you tell us a little bit about the process around the creation of the fragrance?
For Halfeti, the aim was to evoke the opulent goods traded in Turkey. Inspired by black roses, an extremely rare flower grown in the village of Halfeti in Turkey, I used ingredients that brought darkness and mystery. I used Rose absolute from Turkey enhanced by a bracing blend of spices and layered with rich woods, sensual ambers and balsamic undertones. Halfeti is all about strength and complexity. If you smell it once, you will
You spend most of your time in Dubai. Would you say that has had an influence in the way you formulate fragrance?
Having lived in Dubai for 14 years now, it has changed the way I formulate my
fragrances. I have learned a few tricks that not many perfumers have had access to, and this
is a privilege. For example, The use of Oud oil. There are so many types from different origins like India, Cambodia, Laos and Bangladesh, and they all smell different. Some are smoky, some are leathery, some animalic. The key is to use the right Oud in the right fragrance, and this is what I have learned and mastered. Also, the key words in the Middle East are ‘Strong & long lasting’. At first, I didn’t understand what they meant by strong, but believe me, the fragrances here are mind blowing and highly concentrated. They can vary from 25 to 45% in EDP.
Which ingredients do you find yourself most drawn to working with?
As a perfumer, I have a few raw materials that I often use in my creations. For example; Cashmeran, a velvety Musk; Ambroxan, a long-lasting Ambergris note; Iso E Super, a velvety musky woody; Suederal, a leathery and suede note; Muscenone, a powdery musk. On the natural side; Bulgarian and Turkish Rose, Jasmin Sambac, Baies Rose (Pink Pepper), Cistus Labdanum, Patchouli, Vetiver, Cedarwood and Sandalwood, to name a few.
Other than the notes found in Halfeti, what would you say is your favourite essence to work with and why?
It would have to be an accord between the Cedarwoods and Patchouli heart. For this fragrance, I use 2 types of Cedarwoods Atlas and Texas. Both are very different on odour. The Atlas is very dry, like the smell of a pencil. The Texas is smoother. Patchouli heart is a clean version of Patchouli where all the impurities have been removed. It’s a wonderful smell. These 2 elements give so much depth to the fragrance when combined with
amber and Cashmeran.
Penhaligon’s have now launched Halfeti Leather online – something we’ve been awaiting with eager anticipation – how do you take a fragrance which has such a cult following and adapt it whilst remaining sensitive to the character of the original?
I got very excited when I was asked to create the new Halfeti Leather. It is not an
easy task to come-up with another winner such as Halfeti. Although Halfeti leather contains a high percentage of the Halfeti ingredients, I had to do something different. So, my initial thought was to increase the leathery character, whilst ensuring both fragrances have a different smell.
What would you say are the key differences between Halfeti and Halfeti Leather?
Halfeti Leather not only has an ‘overdose’ of leather ingredients but also contains some CPL Aromas captive ingredients known as ‘AromaFusion’. These are
only available to CPL perfumers. In this formula I have used Incense Fusion, an intense Cistus and Frankincense note and Cedar Fusion which contains fractions of Cedarwood oil and Incense. Both are used to enrich the oriental character of Halfeti Leather. Compared to Halfeti, Halfeti Leather is more ambery, resinous and balsamic with added fruity-plum and smoky leathery undertones.
As the majority of people watching today won’t have been able to smell Halfeti Leather, could you please describe the olfactive nature fragrance to our audience?
Halfeti Leather is a warm, intoxicating fragrance. It has a fresh top note of cedar leaf, a citrus accord, plum and a spicy bouquet of Saffron, Cardamom, Pepper and Cinnamon. The base consists of Leather & Suede, Cedarwood, Patchouli, Agarwood, Amber, Cistus Labdanum, Musks and rounded off with a touch of Vanilla.
What does the leather note bring to Halfeti Leather?
The leather note doesn’t come-up to the top note straight away but adds a touch of smokiness. It only becomes dominant after around 10 to 15 minutes on the skin.
Does Halfeti itself inspire you to dream up any other variations of the fragrance?
Definitely. I am always thinking of what I could do to make the next ‘Halfeti’ another winner. You’ll have to wait and see…
Does travel inspire you? And, if you had one opportunity to travel this summer, where would you go?
Traveling is a must for perfumers. Discovering new ingredients, see how the products are processed, learning about different cultures. One of my favourite places is Spain but not for work. I would probably go to Asia. They have so many interesting products to offer from Oud to spices and flowers. But under the present circumstances, I am not sure if I will make it this summer!
What future projects are you working on that inspire you and that you’d be happy to share with us today?
I am working on various confidential creative projects right now. Recently, I worked on a coffee fragrance that evokes the smell of Arabic coffee, with very rich aromatic spices like Cardamom, Saffron and clove. It’s an amazing smell! I am also working on 100% Natural fragrances but, for me, a luxury fragrance must be a mix of natural and synthetic elements. Lastly, I am working on a new brief for Penhaligon’s, but to say any more, now that would be telling!
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