We usually begin Q&As with a photo of the creative mind behind a fragrance. Introducing you to the artist is one way we promote a better understanding of a scent and of the perfume art form in general.
Thirdman, one of the lines featured in our June 2013 collection "Notes on a Journey," takes a different approach Don't care about the names, it says. Care about the juice, only the juice. It's a compelling and refreshing philosophy in an industry where celebrity names drive billions in sales of cheaply produced, overpriced, focus-grouped product.
Still, not all is mystery and intrigue; Thirdman's creative director, Jean-Christophe Le Greves, fronts the line, and the noses who create Thirdman scents are people well known in the industry. But by taking a sort of "anti-marketing" approach to scent—minimalist, utilitarian bottles and sleek, stripped down packaging—Thirdman has shifted the conversation away from the who and the why and toward the simple aesthetic pleasure of applying a great scent.
Le Greves sat down with us to talk about the vision for the juicy, warm Eau Nomade, the eau de cologne renaissance, and why the Thirdman creators—a group of people who understand the way a name can sell a scent—chose instead to conceal the well-known persona behind their line.
Olfactif: We have to ask the obvious question first: Who is the Thirdman?
Jean-Christophe Le Greves: Thirdman is a reference to the famous 1940’s film noir with Orson Wells “The Third Man.” It is the code name of the person behind the scenes whom you never see, like the well-known personality behind our fragrance line who decided not to be revealed. Thirdman is therefore not only the code name for our hidden partner but also an homage to the great perfumers of our industry, both true creators and ghostwriters. Thirdman is also the code name for the small tribe of like-minded people behind our line of scents who are looking at the idea of what it is to wear a fine fragrance today with a different perspective.
We also wanted to stay away from perfume marketing methods, leaving room for mystery but also a chance for the consumer to appreciate what is inside the bottle as much as the branding itself.
O: Why was it so important to approach the marketing in such a restrained way? You have a background in marketing, and you know that marketing matters.
JCLG: I think what’s important is that a brand should allow people to make it theirs, and it should not be people putting a brand on them. It was also a way to show where the consumer’s money was going. It’s not going to be in a pink bow, it’s not going to be in Swarovski crystal, it’s not going to be in celebrity names. It’s going to be in what truly counts: what’s on the skin.
O: The Thirdman tag line is “contemporary eau de cologne.” What was the vision when you started this endeavor?
JCLG: It’s very simple. Most fragrances, even in niche, have descended from a very classic type of perfumery of the early-middle 20th century. They fall into very classic olfactive families and are meant to be worn as an accessory, often with a heavy trail and effect. In the meantime, the concept of the splash eau de cologne, a very noble craftsmanship at the core of modern perfumery, has not truly been reinvented or reimagined for a new era. Thirdman brings to the high-end market a modernist version of the beautiful eaux de cologne of the past, and re-introduces the long-lost sensorial pleasure of a generous, liberal application.
Eau de cologne has its origins in Europe and has a lighter scent than perfume, is made of high-grade citrus and aromatic essences, and is used in large amounts as part of a daily feel-good ritual. But somehow during the 20th century, these types of products have lost their quality. They’ve been relegated to the pharmacy world, and suddenly the idea of quantity became synonymous with low quality. Also, the word "cologne" has become assimilated to fragrance for men, which is not its original meaning. Our scents are like the original eaux de cologne, designed to be enjoyed by everyone, every day, anywhere.
O: Some people have called these “skin scents.” What do think they’re trying to say?
JCLG: I have this very funny analogy. Thirdman is your most perfect underwear. It’s like luxurious, great innerwear, like an essential part of an everyday refined, feel-good regimen.
O: You have taken minimalism to a rare level—not just on the marketing side but also in composition.
JCLG: Yes. The first fragrance, Eau Monumentale, took three years to develop. Three years of long, hard work for a formula that actually is very, very simple and barely more than 20 ingredients, as opposed to most perfumes which can contain hundreds of ingredients. What we call “short formula” in perfumery is about maybe 35 – 40 ingredients. Even that is rare, but we went even further.
Modernism is key, and we did not want to follow the footsteps of traditional perfumery, which is already well represented in niche by a few brands. We saw our formula like a Mondrian painting: You have big blocks of colors, very clean lines, very geometric compositions, but somewhat different spots of color that completely balance themselves so you don’t see one more than the other. The final impression is pure, simple, yet substantial and refined. This is why Thirdman is standing for "the contemporary eau."
O: All of your scents have some pretty impressive longevity. How did you accomplish that with such minimalism?
JCLG: It was hard to make freshness last without becoming a perfume. For perfume to linger on skin, you need deeper base notes like wood, saps, or vanilla for instance. We didn’t want to do that, because that would be denying the very purpose of our enterprise, which was to do a fresh scent that you can splash in large quantity without it becoming overwhelming or heavy.
So we worked a lot with a few key high-end natural or innovative components that pair so beautifully with citrus and allow the freshness of the citrus to become second skin.
O: The literature that comes in your beautiful blue boxes says, “Splashed or sprayed liberally. Chilled or not.” How do you apply your scents?
JCLG: I use the 500 ml bottles, and I can go up to 10 spritzes at a time. I’m someone who—for the 22 years I’ve been in this industry—had never really worn fragrance before this. I felt that every fragrance was slightly overwhelming, but you don’t want something that’s bland and characterless, either. I wanted something effortless that becomes part of me in my everyday life.
O: So many people buy a perfume they love, something that feels special, and then never wear it because they think they’re saving it for special occasions. Compared to a lot of things in niche, your scents are priced so that people can feel happy wearing them every day.
JCLG: We wanted to put in the quality that the customer deserves, but also strike the right price point so people don’t count dollars every time they spray the bottle. They can really, truly enjoy and use the product in the manner it should be used—which is in a more generous, liberal, gesture than they might with other perfume.
O: Tell us the inspiration behind Eau Nomade.
JCLG: Our line is about modernity, quality, individuality, and freedom. What we hope people love about our products is that they are great refreshments on the go, at home after the shower, after the bath, even on the bed. But they are also perfect on the road, after the beach or the pool, on your way to another hemisphere in the world—wherever you go, we want them to be part of your luggage. They are essentials to take with you and are part of your journey. So Eau Nomade is for the modern voyager.
O: The hint of spice is so nicely blended. It’s not easy to do spice without heaviness.
JCLG: Bruno Jovanovic, the talented perfumer who created the scent with Thirdman, was inspired by faraway places and the world of spices, but he didn’t want it to become a “spicy fragrance.” We felt that cardamon has an amazing briskness, and an amazing comfort—which actually works very well with the philosophy of our scent. It’s both fresh and comfortable. Eau Nomade has a solar, textural quality as well, which makes its freshness addictive.
O: Why did you have to tread carefully with cardamom?
JCLG: Like all spices, it can either become too pungent or burden your formula. Spices are not always very easy to work with, and it’s not the most popular family. We didn’t use cardamon just because it was a spice; we used it because it managed to give us the chance to interpret freshness differently. We managed to make it so velvety on the skin that you don’t have any of the harshness or dirtiness that spices can leave behind.
O: Now that you’ve released four fragrances, what’s next for Thirdman?
JCLG: The Thirdman idea is a lifestyle, an attitude toward life. We will always have the eau de cologne as our core, but we will evolve to other lifestyle or travel-oriented products that will work well for our customers.
O: Customers who are both men and women, we should add. We know a lot of men and women who wear Thirdman.
JCLG: Yes. You know, that concept of men’s scents and women’s scents is only from the 20th century. There was no notion of separate fragrance for men or women before that. And for Thirdman, we don’t even say “unisex.” We say, “for everyone.” We are making scents that are a pleasure for everyone to wear. And that also can be an act of freedom.
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