Artwork by Lisa Dietrich (part of her Spirit Art collection): www.lisadietrich.com
“The love of perfumes springs from a quality of the soul, from a memory or from a premonition of paradise.“
Those beautiful words come from AbdesSalaam Attar who generously gave up a lot of his time over the last few weeks to answer a lengthy interview. His answers are filled with poetic grace, thoughtfulness, and honesty on such varied subjects as his perfume background, alchemy and spirituality, animal pheromones and human olfactory instinct, the economic challenges of making fragrances, the myths of modern marketing which dominate the mainstream perfume industry, olfactory psychology, the role played by our mind in translating scent, and whether we can ever really know what we smell at all.
AbdesSalaam Attar or Dominique Dubrana via the NYT. Photo by Domingo Milella.
For those of you unfamiliar with the name, AbdesSalaam Attar is an Italian perfumer (born “Dominique Dubrana“) who became a Sufi convert. His all-natural creations for his Italian house of La Via del Profumo are some of Luca Turin‘s favorites, several of which have received Five Star reviews. His last scent, Venezia Gardini Segreti (which I’ve reviewed here) was included on Luca Turin’s list of the Best Releases of 2014 on his column for Style Arabia. And The New York Times calls AbdesSalaam “a genius of sorts,” “a Saracen Willy Wonka.”
Yet, to me, and in my mind, he is above all else, first and foremost, a gentleman — and I mean that in every sense of that word. He is a very gentle, extremely courteous man, one whose vast knowledge is imbued with an old-world, Eastern mysticism and spirituality, as well as enormous humility and modesty. His words may seem simple on the surface, but they are usually laced with layers of meaning that often make me think deeply long after I’ve read them. Perhaps it’s because of his philosophical nature, or perhaps it’s AbdesSalaam’s very unique world view that stems from his travels far and wide. Whatever it is, there is a thoughtful quality to both the man and his creations that always shines through. Regardless of whether a particular fragrance works for me or not, they are always distinctive and unique, always seem to convey either emotion or a sense of a place, and always beautifully crafted.
Oud Caravan perfume. Photo and source: La Via del Profumo
My main goal in this interview was to show you the AbdesSalaam Attar that I’ve gotten to know in email correspondence, but also to have him share his knowledge and to teach us. However, I started with very similar questions to what I asked Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes and Liz Moores of Papillon in their interviews, focusing on the process of learning notes, handling raw materials, and creating fragrances. The reason for the deliberate overlap is that many of the perfumers in my interview series are self-taught, so I think seeing differences in how they answer the same or similar questions will be revealing. Other questions, however, are very different, such as AbdesSalaam’s views on the Myths and Marketing of Modern Perfumery, or how our mind filters information to interpret a perfume. I hope you will find his answers as fascinating, as poetic, and as beautiful as I do.