Who: Michael Michalsky, Designer Where: Berlin We know each other…
Name: Sileno Cheloni
Place: Florence, Italy
MyStylery: Sileno, did you always know that you wanted to be a perfumer someday?
Sileno Chileno: No, it’s a long story. I always had a passion for perfumes and fragrances and I remember when I was young, I often visited my uncle who lived in the South of France and I bought things I couldn’t find in Italy. If I had to decide whether to buy a jacket or a perfume, I would have bought the perfume, because it was my way to distinguish myself. The smell was a very important part of my dressing.
MS: That’s interesting, I have never thought about a perfume being a piece of clothing.
SC: Absolutely. Even today I say to my clients that wearing a perfume is like wearing a suit. It’s the same. Of course it depends where you go and what you do, you wear the perfume in a certain way. Depending on the situation you will wear the same fragrance but with a different attitude. What I want to transmit to people is the experience, not just the smell.
MS: How did you become a perfumer then? Did you visit a special school?
SC: I first studied visual arts to become a photographer and a designer, always searching for spirituality. I learned about the Sufism philosophy, which is connected to the Hindu religion and the Islam, but the spiritual part of the Islam, not with any political aspect. And during my travels to the island of Cyprus I met a perfumer who was an inspiration. I bought many essences and oils and when I arrived at home I created my first scent in my laundry room. That used to be my first laboratory 20 years ago. And the process of composing a scent is a non material world. One composes on a different level. It’s something you don’t see.
MS: But you can see the liquid…
SC: Yes, of course you can see the liquid in the bottle, but it’s like going to a concert and recording the music you can listen to after the concert is over. But the emotion is gone. You can’t preserve the emotion. From the moment when I created my first scent, I felt that is going to be my job, I felt the passion inside, which was so strong that there was no alternative…
Creating perfume is emotion
MS: You had no other choice then…
SC: Yes. But I didn’t have any finances or business. The most difficult thing is finding the right raw materials. The perfume market is a huge industry and also a huge investment, because you need thousands of kilos of materials and in the beginning, I had no idea how to manage this part. Imagine, I presented my first collection in London at Harrod’s on the fifth floor, where you can find the most selective perfume brands in the world and the most expensive fragrances. And in this exclusive surrounding I provided my perfumes made of 50 different raw materials, produced in my laundry at home. And the most astonishing thing was that they wanted my creations. So Harrod’s became my first customer.
MS: How many bottles did you sell?
SC: About one hundred of each of my five perfumes. This is how it started. Then I realized that I needed support in order to get a better source for the raw materials and other conditions for the production, because it’s hard to get access to the market. One of my favourite ingredients, the May Rose of the area of Grass in Provence, I can’t even buy today. Although I met a guy years ago, who is the son of the biggest Italian perfumers, who is my best friend today. But the May Rose is exclusively produced for the company of Christian Dior.
MS: What is the most important requirement for your job – Is it a good nose?
SC: Of course the nose is important. But it’s more about creativity, ideas and passion.
MS: Have you ever read the book “The Parfum” by Patrick Süskind?
SC: Yes. And I liked it very much. It’s a little exaggerated but the sensation of the job is well described. You have to be involved with the smell. Even when I am on holiday, I am focussed on all the smells and influences. I keep all these information to use it at some point.
A good nose is important
MS: Are there any fragrances you don’t like at all?
SC: To be honest, I like all of them. Even the worst (laughs).
MS: Also Christian Dior’s “Poison”? I will never forget the American shopping malls in the 80s, with the heavy smell of “Poison” everywhere.
SC: If you like “Poison”, then you should wear it. But if you go to a restaurant or bar, where other people are eating and drinking, don’t bother them with such an intense scent. It’s not at all elegant, because it’s disturbing and leaves a bouquet five meters behind you. When visiting a bar or restaurant, you better wear your perfume on your skin. Not on your clothes. So people get to know about your perfume, when they come close to you.
MS: Before you started your own brand in Florence, you were working for Gucci and other luxury brands. What was the main difference in your work?
SC: I still work for these companies and develop home fragrances and scented candles for example. This expands my creativity. Working for a big company means talking to many people, the marketing, the designer, the responsibilities, always focussing on the brand’s image. For example every Gucci store you enter there is a certain smell, which has to tell you something about the company. And I created that smell. On the other hand my brand is, where I can express myself and nobody can tell me, how.
MS: Every year there are hundreds of new fragrances floating the market – they come and they go. I wonder, why there are only a few becoming real classics.
SC: Everybody is copying each other. But each company launches one perfume, which is a little bit more different from the others. Normally this is the one, they sell less. But sometime – and we don’t know why – this perfume becomes very famous. And it gets so much commercial attention. Think about Davidoff or L’Hiver de Guerlain, it’s been there for twenty years. These perfumes were completely different compared to others on the market and the market was ready for something new. That is why oud – a strong oriental scent – is famous in the market, although it started first in a niche.
MS: There are fragrances, some of them a hundered years old, which we wouldn’t use anymore.
SC: Yes, and many factors why an old perfume doesn’t work in today’s market. A beautiful car from the thirties is also difficult to drive today, there are spare parts, no advanced technology nor an AC. But lots of pollution.
MS: Do you remember how many fragrances you have created in your career as a perfumer?
SC: I don’t (laughs)…
MS: Is there a new trend or do you consider trends at all?
SC: What I like more is working on a smaller level and influence the new trend. This is much more interesting. Creating a trend doesn’t make you feel very happy. It can only happen when having several experts on your side, a very good business man next to you. You will be like a part of a perfect machine. I prefer having my own little place, where I can express myself and from there influencing the big brands instead of following. BvH
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