The Luminous - Virginie Roux
Like most of our stories, our story with Virginie Roux was rooted in absolute chance. As we were walking through the streets of Paris, we stumbled across a lovely boutique/art gallery and decided to enter. There we met Virginie Roux and her partner in this adventure, Emmanuel Pierre, architect, interior designer and art collector. The two of them had founded La Place, a concept-store which idea was to create a bridge between art and perfumes by showcasing both. The result it unusual, comfortable - the two have infused the place with their warmth and kindness. Back then, it was supposed to be a pop-up store but we’ve just learnt that the two owners just signed up for a whole year. To celebrate such news, we asked Virginie if she would do us the pleasure of an Interview, thus opening our Advent Interviews series.
[The Advent Interviews are a series centered around women. Four women, four exceptional lives, four different paths leading to and from perfumes. Four life-lessons which ought to be listened to and learnt. We wanted to choose four utterly different women, four different backgrounds and careers linked with perfumes, because women are under-represented. Because they are the womb of our lives, of all humanity. Because they are more and more present in the world of perfume. Because their stories are meant to be told and need to be heard.]
Alexandre Helwani – So Virginie, why La Place ?
Virginie Roux – One of the things I thought about, regarding my own problematics as a brand, was to be visible, to be able to communicate and to have a space in Paris because once you’re set in Paris, you can develop your brand internationally. We wanted [with Emmanuel Pierre, interior designer, architect and co-founder of La Place] a place where we could express a certain number of messages because you see, in my brand and personality, I have many things to say and La Place is a place of expression and conviviality. It is has many aspects. It is first a place of sharing but it is also « the place to be », a place which will give you visibility and at last, my encounter with Emmanuel enabled to build a bridge between art and perfume which makes sense as we are trying today to determine whether perfume is an art. So we played with this idea and wanted to lend some prestige back to perfume by displaying it in an art gallery, thus creating, not a perfumery but a perfume gallery.
A.H. – You’re speaking of conviviality, I feel like it is important for you. How so ?
V.R. - Yes because you don’t only come in here to buy a perfume, you come to have a good time. I think perfume is a way to express ourselves, it conveys messages and it can also create and tie new bonds. It is a way to loosen tongues because when you talk about perfumes, you talk. So it ends up creating social bonds, human bonds. Today there’s a whole dynamic in perfumes of adressing your own community. That’s also the idea behind La Place : to create a community, to go beyond our respective social networks, to experience true human contact, to talk to people, to put a face on their names or functions. And it’s also a way to shift the lines…
A.H. - Shift the lines by provoking the encounter of different people from different backgrounds ?
V.R. - Yes. People say that I am an enabler. It is natural I think.
A.H. – Is this why it is important for you to be present here ?
V.R. – Yes. I think it would mean as much if we weren’t physically here. We greet our clients, we offer them some tea, we talk to them…
A.H. – Where do you find all the strength to do this ?
V.R. – First, it is important not to be alone. I don’t think I could do it all by myself.
A.H. – So La Place was at first supposed to be a pop-up store. We’ve just learnt that you just signed up for a whole year, which is great news. How do yo think this project will evolve ?
V.R. – In a different way perhaps. I see this place as an installation, a work of art constantly renewing itself even though the setting stays the same. There will certainly be other things. The important is to get along well, particularly with Emmanuel, so we can continue to propose new ideas. We’re artists, in the end, otherwise it wouldn’t work.
A.H. – Speaking of, were you always an artist ?
V.R. – I used to draw when I was a child, I still do. When I was younger, I’d crush and mix leaves together. I have always had a creative side. Even my project « Au pays de la fleur d’oranger » [In the land of orange blossom] is creative. It is a very long name. Some told me to make it shorter which I refused because it has meaning. It is important to give a meaning to things.
A.H. – Is this quest for meaning guiding you when you’re looking for artists to exhibit ?
V.R. – Yes. For instance, right now we’re hosting a workshop around leather goods [By the brand Stanlett]. In the meantime, I am helping develop new startup companies. I love this intellectual frenzy, I am craving for it. I was a CEO at 20yrs old and ever since, I have always loved this whole atmosphere of creating new companies.
A.H. – So whatever prompted you to launch your brand ? What was the meaning behind it ?
V.R. – There are many layers to my brand. First, I wanted to feature my family’s history, my homeland’s history [Provence, in southern-France] and to bring people into that land through flowers. Then, the idea behind the first orange-blossom perfume was simply to share something which I loved. Néroli Blanc was a pun on the neroli, the colour of the perfume and the colour of the flowers. Then I wanted to participate in the first Exsence fair so we conceived a collection of five fragrances centered around raw materials. The idea there was to highlight a material by using a contrasting adjective, with Lavande Ombrée [Shadowy Lavender] or Violette Sacrée [Holy Violet] and the more I worked with perfumes, the more I understood its meaning : to convey messages on themes like liberty or womens’ rights, both of which are important to me. It thus became something like a tribune.
A.H. – How do you translate ideals into perfumes then ?
V.R – You wake up one day and think : Let’s work on the duality of women. It’s like a painting : you imagine and you try to create according to this vision. This is how I work. Most of the time I’ll start with a sketch and I love working with contrasts. Because we aren’t plain, we’re so many things and that’s what I like, this variety. So after that I created a perfume about women’s rights centered on mimosa because I had read mimosa was the emblem of Women’s Rights. I wanted to do something bold, an overdose, without compromise. I started with the idea of combining tuberose and mimosa, which was odd. It came out with a lot of character, not unlike me. There is also an idea of filiation behind these perfumes : you have my mother, my grandmother and myself. L’Eau de Gina for example is all about hyperfemininity. It is a sorceress, it is the shape of water. There’s a whole setting and in the end, I ended up talking about my mother. And my Italian origins as well.
A.H. – Sounds like it is important for you to represent women…
V.R. – Indeed. So, okay, there are a lot of women in the perfume industry but it is a man’s world which slowly starts opening up, thanks to women I think. But I am very concerned about the bigger picture and the place of women in our society. For instance, Yoon from Hersip [A Japanese fashion and perfume brand recently launched at La Place] came to me wanting to work on the emancipation of women. Destiny, right ? So of course I understood what she had at heart. Liberty, rights are never assured, especially when we’re going through a crisis. So I thought that, through perfume, I might share this message in countries where women’s rights are threatened. When it comes to liberty, I thought a perfume is a bit like a tattoo : when you put it on, you are perfuming liberty onto your skin, you are engraving it.
A.H. – You mentioned you accompanied the house Hersip into coming to life, that you were doing the same with start-up companies. When do you find the right time to let you creativity express itself ?
V.R – I can lead on many fronts at once but I don’t think that makes me an alien. I am creative but not eccentric. As to Hersip, there were many different contributors. But today I am more and more leaning towards these kind of projects. I like working to help other people.
A.H. – Is this important in your life, this will to help others out ?
V.R – To give meaning, yes. Then again I am certainly more selfish than I was before. I gave a lot and now I am protecting myself. I am more able to say now and preserve myself than I was before. I will be very wary and very open at the same time. I was telling you earlier that I don’t like being alone and it is true. I want to be surrounded with people, but quality people. So I am gathering many people around me.
A.H. – Have you always been like this ?
V.R. – Yes but you see, many years ago I had a breakdown. I couldn’t drive nor travel anymore, I withdrew into myself. And I started working on my self. I took yoga classes. And I think it’s an important part of my life. And also, you start losing your kin, your grandparents and I thought to myself : « Dammit, there aren’t many years left to live so if there’s any worth living, live them to the fullest » At some point there isn’t just one truth. You have to seize the day, the emotion. You have to thrill, somehow. Egoism means being lucid. It means admitting that the richness of life’s encounters might be the true meaning of life. The real treasure doesn’t lie in your bank account. Of course it is important but life doesn’t end here. Creating new bonds…but not at any cost, not just for the sake of it. People attract each other and sometimes you can be wrong so you have to accept your mistake. Some doors close too. I have learnt to wait for others to open up.
A.H. – Is it important to know how to wait ?
V.R. – Of course, because nothing is certain, nothing is all pink and some things that were closed will open up someday. My life dictates my creations. I am hypersensitive. Add to this a number of layers and you get someone who might appear a bit distant but little by little, I allow people to know me.
A.H. – Aren’t your perfumes a way for you to open up ?
V.R. – Of course they are. Creative people often pour their hearts in their work. Some tortured artists will leave their anguish in their work but, you see, I am not about darkness. During my breakdown, I had the choice between good and evil, between balance and imbalance. We all have the choice to do either good or evil deeds. Néroli Blanc is all about this light. Mimosa is a luminous flower. Many people, in the perfume industry, have built their work around darkness, but this isn’t me. That’s not what I want to do. I prefer love and light and dreams and poetry. That doesn’t mean you can’t say deep, hard messages but I will do so with poetry, as some writers would do. You see, I don’t think we communicate only with through our speech. We certainly talk to each other on another level. When you know the impact of a perfume on your subconscious, it is all the more important to me to stay in the light.
Translated from French by Alexandre Helwani