Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Turkish Perfumer

Dear Readers,
Part of my "self-assigned" job as a perfumer is to discover and explore the interesting innovations of others in the profession. Vedat Ozan, a friend and colleague in Istanbul, has recently emerged as a standout media personality as well as a stellar perfumer with a unique signature. Here are the results of my interview with Vedat.

Do you identify yourself primarily as a perfumer, a media personality, an educator?
Vedat: I am primarily a perfumer, although I enjoy sharing what I know. Perfumery, as of any other form of art, is a way of communication between the perfumer, individuals and society.

In newspaper and TV interviews I’m considered as a perfume researcher - and I am very much afraid that it will stick on me as a label, leaving my modest creative side in darkness. I haven’t talked about my perfume formulations in my weekly show because I think that will be too egoistic, but I know this is risky as it can change my label from a perfumer to a perfume researcher.

How would you describe your evolution as a perfumer?
Vedat: Scents are part of my first memories, especially warm milk and cookies. As a teenager, I challenged myself to find out which perfumes the girls around me were using and making guesses about them.

On my trips, I always spend a lot of time in duty free aisles, spraying this or that to myself, my shirt and even my passport. (I will never forget the passport officer lady in the Malpensa Airport in Milan who opened the pages, closed her eyes, inhaled deeply and stamped my passport with a smile).

Prior to every trip, I plan ahead by checking the Internet for the perfumery houses, especially the "marginal" shops that offer fragrances that are different than those found in department stores. In Milan, for example, visiting the lovely Corso Como 10 of Carla Sozzani has been a habit of pilgrimage to me. I can find many extraordinary or niche brands under one roof there. It also has a lovely art gallery and a very interesting bookstore where I can spend hours without noticing how the time passes.

I visit Frederic Malle and Parfums Montale at every opportunity when I am in Paris. I plan to visit L'Etat Libre d’Orange; I find their concept very clever and amusing. In London I just had the chance to smell Frederic Malle’s latest edition of Geranium pour Monsieur, and also smelled a fabulous natural perfume, Shaman’s Party,formulated by the legendary Olivia Giacobetti, at Les Senteurs.

Next time I go to Paris, I plan to visit the Francis Kurkdjan boutique, this little shop seems to be rocking the perfumer circles in Paris at the moment.

You started your radio show in May, 2009. What are the most popular topics?
Vedat: The listeners really enjoy hearing about "bad" or unusual smells such as civet, ambergris and sweat. Today, after my broadcast about "sweat", I can definitely say that my feedback hit a peak and I was asked to continue this subject on my next broadcast. I would have never believed so many people had such "angst" about the smell of sweat!

I’m about to make a single broadcast about Soviet perfumes because no one has any idea about them here. Only three major perfumes were produced by state owned USSR factories, Red Poppy, Red Moscow, and Chypre. But as time passed, lots of people preferred to use the smuggled Western perfumes and would drink the Soviet perfumes when there was an alcohol ban.

Have you done any other public speaking about perfume?
Vedat: I just accepted an offer to give a conference lecture the Istanbul Retail Fair later this month at the Lufti Kirdar Convention Center.

My subject will be ambient scenting, using fragrance as a booster for in-shop sales, and using fragrance as a part of brand identity.

Let’s talk about your own perfumes. When you strive to construct an appealing fragrance, who do you have in mind as the end user of your fragrances? i.e., what is the profile you have in mind of the person or people who will open the bottle and experience a burst of pleasure?
Vedat: Even when making something masculine, my starting point is always a feminine figure from which I get the inspiration.

She is someone who is not satisfied by what is offered to her in the aisles of shops which can be found everywhere and wants to explore new dimensions (in terms of scents), a woman who likes surprises and has no prejudices. I cannot name a female figure in my life, my past or in my futuristic dreams, who exactly fits in this definition, so perhaps it is a collection or a patchwork of feminine qualities and cues I have accumulated in my life.

Maybe it is because I still try to reach the eternal female figure in my life. My mom passed away this February at the age of 93 and this feeling of mine has lots to do with that I think.

What perfumes have you made?

Vedat: Lighter Shade of Pale is light floral-citrus nuanced with water lily, iris, muguet, and various citruses on a base of sandalwood, cedar wood, ambergris, coumarin and some ozonic notes.

Bitter Moon, which I consider to be a love-or-hate fragrance, is a somewhat harsh aldehydic-fruity fragrance with bitter notes that led to its name itself. Have you read Brıuckner's Bitter Moon? The novel itself is a "harsh" one indeed.

Nude is an aquatic semi-floral which I have based around a marine accord.

The more masculine Baalbek contains cedar wood (the name is based on the significant symbol on the Lebanese flag) and patchouli at the base and generous dihydromyrcenol topped with cloves, bergamot, orange bigarade and lemon.

My latest, Tuberose Cashmere, is a sweet, sweet perfume with lots of hints from tuberose and a strong cashmeran dominated base.

There are twelve finished fragrances in my collection.

Are your perfumes influenced by cultural customs?
Vedat: Yes, geography and culture do influence my compositions and also the way I think about perfumes.

For example, Eau de cologne (kolonya in Turkish) is used very generously here. A house guest is offered a few drops before the tea is served. You are also offered some kolonya when leaving a public toilet, or even on intercity bus trips, the host or hostess definitely serves you a few drops of kolonya just after you depart. It is somewhat a cultural icon. In times of stress, or sorrow, people immediately offer you some cologne to make you feel fresher.

Also, rose and jasmine are considered to be feminine scents in the West. It would be unusual to find a man smelling of roses and musk in Denmark or Iceland or Norway, but if you come to Istanbul and wait near a big mosque for the prayer to finish, you find Islamic men coming out with their beards smelling of rose and musk. This is even more common as you go to the Eastern, more Arabic countries.

Other than our national drink, Raki, for which I have named one of my perfumes, I think that our cuisine, however, is more of a social influence rather than an influence on my perfumes.

What is your biggest challenge as a perfumer?
Vedat: My biggest challenge is that there is no one with whom I can share topics about perfumery in my own language. There are people with whom I can talk about perfumes, but not about the more technical aspects of dilution ratios, qualities of the naturals, biological and physiological facets, or perception of odor molecules.

As a perfumer, what are your business goals for the next twelve months?

Vedat: As it is nearly impossible to achieve any "success" locally here before getting your name known, I will try my best to have my name known in next to any subject related to scents and fragrances here. I feel that this will be my greatest capital for the future.

Until then, I will go on experimenting and hoping that a perfume with my name attached on it will attract some clients.

This means I have to try harder with my radio show and with any attention it attracts from any kind of media.

If you wish to contact Vedat, he can be reached at

Image Acknowledgements:, The Brand Union - Sauce,