osMoz > Magazine > Interviews > Perfumery Professions: Thierry de Baschmakoff, designer

Perfumery Professions: Thierry de Baschmakoff, designer

“A designer’s role is to break new ground, to provoke, to surprise.”

Thierry de Baschmakoff has designed bottles for the most prestigious fragrance brands. Like a sort of artistic director, he dreams up settings that wrap the fragrances dreamt up by perfumers in poetry, audacity or technology.

Thierry, tell us a little bit about yourself, and about the fragrance bottles you have designed.
I was born in Grasse, and despite growing up surrounded by touch strips and fragrance, I didn’t follow the family, geographical and olfactory logic. Very quickly I cared more for the bottle than the contents! Arriving in Paris with no experience our contacts, I created my own style of agency that evolved with events, encounters and opportunities. I was lucky enough to meet men and women from magnificent, prestigious houses, like BVLGARI, who trusted me quite early on, which changed the perception of the agency. Since then, we have worked continuously with top-of-the-line brands, maintaining our position as a reference in the fairly closed world of luxury.

Who are your influences as a creator? Where do you find new ideas?
Nowadays, artistic culture is infinite, it draws on everything; that’s the influence of contemporary art, which questions everything, rather than looking for an aesthetic line per se. Personally, I’m very sensitive to the quest itself, and I like to look for extremely diverse sources and influences with no connections between them, in a sort of infinite aesthetic chaos. At the same time, I’m fairly Cartesian, and my mind pulls it all together in a way that avoids total stylistic breakdown and confusion. But blending genres is a good thing, I work on a lot of other subjects now, which leads to new concepts… Also because that’s what brands are looking for. So you’re as likely to find me wandering around the flea markets on the outskirts of Paris as in the Palais de Tokyo*. And sometimes I explore experimental artistic concepts on my own.

Which of the fragrance bottles you have designed are you proudest of? And which one was the hardest to create?
I prefer to avoid the word “pride”, but there are certain objects that I call "the premieres" because they opened up a whole new approach. Like Dior Addict lipstick, the first lipstick tube that opened the opposite way around from a traditional one; now it seems obvious, but then it was revolutionary. There’s also the bottle for Bulgari eau parfumée. In a way, in 1992, you could say it was the first "alternative" product. Actually, we set a lot of precedents. But that is also – it’s important to remember this – a designer’s role is to break new ground, to provoke, to surprise. As for the act of creation itself, without wanting to be immodest, that has never been hard for me. What is more difficult, on the other hand, is when there’s an aesthetic misunderstanding with a brand. It can delve into the realm of the irrational, which can be hard to cope with.

How exactly do brands go about choosing a bottle designer? Do you compete with other designers the way fragrance designers do? Or do you have an exclusive relationship with certain brands?
I have decided to reduce our involvement in competitions to a strict minimum, as I don’t see that anybody gains from it, brands or designers. Having too many choices winds up meaning you can’t choose. Whereas here, we talk about the human and creative adventure: it’s a real partnership, and competition is diametrically opposed to that attitude. Competition is based on the idea that you have doubts about a designer’s ability to respond to your needs. Film producers don’t ask three different directors to shoot a bit of the film before choosing one; they select someone they are confident will achieve the hoped-for results. Nowadays I prefer to focus on that kind of teamwork with brands that understand that the results are obviously much better when there’s cooperation, and also because we have diversified our offer of services, which also includes communication.

A few years ago, in reference to alternative brands, you often used to hear, “It’s not the bottle, it’s the fragrance… ”. Today it seems, au contraire, like alternative brands are focusing on the bottle more and more before they launch anything. As a designer, but also as the co-creator of the alternative brand The Different Company, how do you feel about that?
Alternative brands have just one medium, both for communication and for generating income: the product. The other aspects of a brand are out of their reach for a fairly long stretch of time for budgetary reasons. Given that, the design and the definition of each and every one of the product’s details takes on an almost philosophical importance, because everything depends on them. For The Different Company, I wanted to put a significant distance between our products and other brands’ through specific particularities that are hard to reproduce. In the meantime, the market has changed, and it has edged closer to our image. So now, we often have to re-establish that distance: it’s a kind of game, not letting the others catch up with you.

Do ecological considerations have greater weight now in clients’ choice of materials for new bottles?
To be perfectly frank, ecological considerations are not an issue when it comes to designing, because the effort comes from the industries themselves, and there has been tremendous evolution on that score. We opened the way with The Different Company by creating totally refillable bottles with almost no plastic components, and by doing everything to keep the empty bottle from winding up in the garbage. For fragrance and cosmetics, refillable or rechargeable can provide a response. I think it’s part of the culture of luxury to believe it doesn’t pollute. Which isn’t entirely false, because luxury items rarely wind up in the dump. Only it works the other way around in the beauty industry, where there is so much waste that goes into the creation. So there has to be a new way of thinking about things, to reduce that sort of luxury waste cycle.

What other designer’s fragrance bottle do you wish you had created?
I would rather create an object for a band. Like Archive, for example, because they’re indefinable and eclectic, with an entirely novel approach***. So managing to express that universe in an object would be entertaining, but not easy.

What unusual new ideas for fragrance bottles (shape, texture, function, etc.) do you think we’ll see in the near future?
If you look at a fragrance bottle nowadays, you have a bottle, a neck, a pump and a cap. But we could easily imagine other paths to explore. In fact there’s still a world of possibilities for evolution out there. A few years ago I designed a bottle with no neck or cap, yet it was still a spray. It must have been ahead of its time…

(*) In addition to fragrance bottles, Thierry’s agency now designs cosmetics, spirits, watches and more…
(**) The exhibit space attached to the Paris Museum of Modern Art.
(***) Archive is an English musical group, or rather collective, whose members come and go. It has a musical style that is somewhat difficult to describe.