After working for years in the cosmetic industry, Patrice Cardenoso and Jérôme Bonnet had an epiphany: In an increasingly urban world, consumers were seeking ways to integrate nature back into their lives. Everywhere you looked, natural products were capturing people’s imaginations: in the cars they drove, the foods they ate—and yes, even the cosmetics they wore. And while the natural perfumery movement was in full swing, Cardenoso and Bonnet saw an opportunity for a new approach: 100 percent natural perfumes created according to the time-tested principles of French composition and created out of Grasse, the mecca of French haute perfumery.
That’s when Cardenoso and Bonnet—known in the industry for their trailblazing independence—decided to launch a new venture. They connected with talented perfumer Fabrice Olivieri to create a groundbreaking new line of fine fragrance that borrows from nature’s finest materials and combines them in a stylistic alchemy: old but new, natural but refined, urban but inextricably tied to the earth. White Classic Edition, with its soft, radiant notes and minimalist construction, shows just how much we have yet to discover of perfumery’s ability to coax new surprises out of Mother Nature herself.
In this Q&A, Patrice Cardenoso discusses the philosophy behind Undergreen, the making of White, and the role of nature in modern life.
Olfactif: How was the idea for Undergreen born?
Patrice Cardenoso: UNDERGREEN was born out of a desire to rediscover perfume. Many fragrance lovers today have no memory of the beauty of natural perfumes. For us, it all started during visits to perfumeries and exhibitions all over the world, where we noticed that there was a demand for, but a dearth of, fine fragrances composed solely of natural ingredients. When my partner, Jérôme Bonnet, and I returned to Paris, we decided to launch UNDERGREEN. The idea was to use 21st century technology to reinvent a forgotten genre—but to respect the French tradition of composition found in haute parfumery. We presented our first two scents, Black and White, in limited editions and as objects of art, from the fragrance to the flacon
O: I love that photo of the plant pushing through the concrete, and it illustrates the concept beautifully. Can you tell us about the origin of the name "Undergreen"? What does it represent to you?
The idea was to play on the word “underground.” The photo symbolizes the idea that nature will always reclaim what belongs to her—that’s the green shoot blooming from the concrete. Our goal is to create contemporary perfumes that are alternatives to synthetic perfumes, yet different from many natural perfumes on the market as we use cutting-edge biotechnology and high-tech extraction methods.
O: Why? What’s the inherent commentary about modern life or society or nature?
PC: UNDERGREEN is as an alternative to synthetic perfumes and is part of an overall change in the way that consumers approach their purchases. Society today is trying to return to values of authenticity, of customization. “My perfume is unique,” people say—that’s the idea! We encourage our clients to communicate with us and know more about their perfumes. That kind of thing is impossible with perfumes produced by big conglomerates. In that sense, UNDERGREEN corresponds entirely to life today, where we are on a quest to recapture the upper hand on time that passes too quickly. When customers choose an UNDERGREEN perfume, it’s an important moment—a moment where you choose to take the time to take your time.
O: Why was it important to you to use all-natural materials?
PC: Most commercial fragrances are engineered to smell the same on everyone and lack individuality. Just as consumers are showing a preference for natural cosmetic products, we think that in the near future it will be the same for perfumes. Society is changing. We’re paying more and more attention to the environment. We are recycling; we want to know where our food comes from. It will be the same for what we put on our skin.
O: Why do you think consumers are demanding naturals more and more? Is this an indication that nature is missing in our lives?
PC: We think that more and more, the inhabitants of the earth will turn toward nature. Our ways of consuming are changing, evolving. We are consuming differently—driving electric cars, even riding bikes in big cities instead of driving, creating organic markets and gardens in big cities. One recent example is the banks of the Seine in Paris, which have been given back to Parisians in an urban renewal project with a mix of organic matter and lots of plants.
O: How did you meet perfumer Fabrice Olivieri and how closely do you work together? Can you tell us about that first brainstorm session you had about Undergreen?
PC: Our first meeting with Fabrice Olivieri was during a conference three years ago. We had been charmed by his natural, modern approach to perfumery. From the moment that Jerome and I met Fabrice, we have been like the Three Musketeers. We are all convinced of the power to modernize the image of natural perfume, and we want to surprise consumers with each creation.
O: Your work seems to be a pioneer line in the crossover between naturals and fine fragrance. Was that your intention?
PC: Yes. After having studied natural organic perfume at length, we noted that the existing products often focused on a single note and were lacking creativity and modernism. So we wanted to react to that reality and propose a totally different kind of natural perfume—one that was different, well designed, and refined.
O: What is "Chimie Naturelle"? You mention it on your site, and I read a description that says it's a "perfect natural mimic of synthetics." What does that mean, and how does it happen?
PC: “Chimie Naturelle” (natural chemistry), in fact, is a provocative joke. In effect, the word chemistry “naturally” evokes synthetic products. But we also use the term to describe the kind of research we do on the raw materials that we use in creating our perfumes.
O: How is technology revolutionizing natural perfumery?
PC: The revolution around naturals is happening because perfumers have rediscovered molecules present in natural materials. Sophisticated methods of extraction enable us to isolate the molecules in the heart of essential oils. We can isolate them, purify them, and obtain these magnificent ingredients. The CO2 extraction method also helps produce the closest materials to the natural scent of the plant.
O: What was the most challenging part of creating White? For example, is it hard to achieve that sense of sparkle (the aldehydes) using all-natural materials?
PC: The original idea was to create a very white scent, with an aura of light but with a hint of shadow. To realize this vision, it was necessary to forget the laws of typical formulations and incorporate more of certain ingredients, like naturally derived aldehydes, but to do so in a unique way. We enriched White with very sensual—and very expensive— materials such as orris, tuberose, and jasmine, creating a final scent that is sophisticated and contemporary and totally different from other natural perfumes out there.
O: Tell us more about those organically derived aldehydes in White. Most people hear "aldehydes" and think "synthetic."
PC: The aldehydes are present naturally in numerous plants, notably in the zests of citrus fruits They are 10 times more costly than their synthetic equivalents but are also richer and more complex, and therefore create a very interesting natural formulation.
O: What's next for Undergreen?
PC: We will be launching a new Undergreen “color” perfume in September, and it will be just as true to our mission.
Learn more about Undergreen White Classic Edition and purchase your full bottle.