Saturday, February 24, 2018

An Interview With Puredistance's Jan Ewoud Vos and Reviews of Puredistance 1, Black, White, and M

Back in October I was given the opportunity to interview Puredistance founder Jan Ewoud Vos on the occasion of the introduction of the Puredistance line to the Maven studio of exclusive perfumes at Takashimaya in Singapore. Life intervened so I am just now writing my impressions of what was a very interesting interview with the visionary of these fabulous perfumes. It is clear immediately that Jan Ewoud Vos is passionate about what he does and he has some very specific opinions about the world today which influence the structure of the perfumes he wishes to present.

Talking to Mr. Vos certain things are emphasized: the commitment to exclusivity; the desire to be a true luxury product; translating an appreciation for beauty into the art of fragrance creation. He is the founder of the line but he also fills the very important job of creative director, beginning each fragrance with a very specific idea of what he wants, which may include storyboards or other visuals, but never a list of notes! As he elaborates on this is the interview, let us begin.

Q:   In ten years you've released eight perfumes. Obviously you haven't flooded the market with  perfumes. Is that a deliberate action on your part?
A:   I don't like floods! When you flood it, it's too much! Our motto is small is beautiful. In my personal life I'd rather have two or three good friends than 5,000 fans. I believe in quality over quantity.  This is really  prominent in Puredistance where we go for the highest quality. We need some basic sales to stay alive, of course, but not that much. On the one hand we are big because we are in 35 countries, but we only sell to 80 stores in these 35 countries, whereas a mass fragrance brand would sell to 80 stores in a big city. We more or less have the business model sales wise of Ferrari and Aston Martin, where only one or two stores in each country are allowed to sell these brands. Why? You need a sales person that really knows the car and can tell you everything about it. Same with Puredistance. I want sales people who can really know our brand, love our brand, and pass this on to the customer.  I want to know the store owners personally; it's impossible if there are too many. Lastly our promise to exclusivity is very prominent because I think if you buying an expensive fragrance it's maybe nicer if not the whole world uses it. I want to deliver that promise so I shouldn't sell to the whole world. To me it feels better. We have a small team of seven people in Amsterdam including my two daughters and everything there is done by hand.

Jan Ewoud Vos  founder of Puredistance.

Q:  What advantages does Puredistance perfume offer?
A:   The uniqueness of Puredistance is we only sell perfume extrait which is the highest concentration possible. The advantage of pure perfume is first of all it lasts much longer, but what I find more interesting is every scent fuses with the skin. If you have a lot of alcohol and only a little perfume oil like most mass produced fragrances there is not so much to fuse to skin. If you have a lot of oil it will fuse. You get development the whole day because it doesn't stop after two or three hours, and it's your own unique development because your skin scent is different than from anyone else. This is only possible with pure perfume extrait. So this is one thing that differentiates us from most brands.

The second thing is there are few brands with such an exclusive offering. For example every perfume has a certificate of authenticity that I sign personally, to show my customers we don't sell a lot. Because if I sign it personally you can't imagine that I sell 100,000s of units. It's a hard guarantee. You pay a lot, but you get, what do you say in the States,  bang for your bucks. We don't spend money on marketing. All that money goes into the product. Another thing, everything is assembled by hand in our company. The flacons are filled in the factory, but all separate parts are assembled by hand. There is some soul of a human being going into the product.

The last thing that differentiates us, we only launch every year one fragrance, sometimes two. To work out the concept, to find the right perfumer and then in the end I give him carte blanche regarding ingredients so he can spend what he wants. If he wants to spend 300 euros per kilo, fine. If he wants to spend 500 euros, fine. Whereas mass market perfumers may spend as little as 5 euros per kilo. He gets no time limit. Sometime it took two years if I'm not happy. This is unique that you work so long until it is perfect.

Q:   I'm interested in your concept. Would you mind using one of your perfumes as an example and going through the germination: where did you get the idea and how do you create a new perfume?
A:   It all starts with a very raw concept. Black, for example. Black started with an irritation. I got irritated by the fact that more and more people, especially the young generation, share everything with everybody. I have two daughters and I've warned them, don't show everything to everybody on Facebook or Instagram.  With some people their whole life, including their body, is being shared with the world. It's better to keep, sometimes, a secret.

Today we also have analysis of everything. If you go to the opera you can analyze the notes, but hey, close your eyes and enjoy the music. Take the whole thing in but don't analyze everything because you kill it. Some bloggers and journalists zoom in on a perfume's ingredients, but it is about feeling. So I was irritated by constant analysis that kills emotions and I was irritated by a constant transparency that kills intrigue and sensuality and secrets. So I said Puredistance Black must have ingredients like Batman and Zorro, where you get the mystery of a mask, a typical symbol of hiding something. Like a Zen temple where you only see a ray of light and the rest is black.  And all those visuals I give to Antoine Lie. How to translate it into a scent? I stay away from ingredients. I just feed Antoine Lie all this and he gives me after a while samples and I evaluate those samples with a team in the office. I do nothing alone. When you start a business you need talented people around you to make it all possible, so in the end it is a whole chain of people who make it possible.  We evaluate the four samples. I will choose one, or if I don't smell anything that's right I will say try again. But in this case I had an opening, one that I liked, but I said this was too sacred, it smelled too much to me like a chimney or a church.

Puredistance scents need to be rooted in sophistication. If I smell something that is too sexual or too vulgar, on the basis of that I reject it. Then we have two or three runs where the perfumer gets nearer to the subject. and when Antoine Lie presented me with what was the final version of Black I was like, "Ok, now I find it intriguing", meaning I don't know exactly what I smell. To me there is mystery in it, so now it matches the concept and we're done. It's like a premiere, I'm nervous when I launch something. I like it but what will the customers say? Fortunately in all these cases customers were on the same line as me and my team. We found Black appealed to both men and women.

When in 2002  I got the first idea of Puredistance, everyone said I was crazy for wanting to create a super luxury perfume house from the Netherlands without knowing the business at all. It took me five years to get the first perfume. The hardest thing after the concept was finding a perfumer, and by chance or fate, the concept ended up on the desk of Annie Buzantian who is one of the best perfumers in the world.  On top of the concept was a visual I tore out of a magazine of an old Donna Karan ad ... a lady standing in the snow, silk dress, no coat, Cuban skin, warm brown, so to me it was a nice visualization of the whole concept, warm and cold. The guy asked if she could use this visual to do a perfume for a guy in the Netherlands  and when she saw the ad she got pale in the face, she said, "I don't have to do that fragrance for him, I already have it."

She opened a drawer and took out the same visual that she had torn out of a magazine probably around the same time as me. She used it to create a signature scent for herself with a warm/cold contradiction. She wanted to do it as a challenge. Synchronicity, that two people who don't know each other are linked through their thoughts and have the same vision. Annie and are linked. We have many such occasions since. We probably broadcast on the same frequency! So her signature fragrance became PureDistance 1.

We are based in the Netherlands but the master perfumers are based in London, Paris and New York.  We have Roja Dove from London, we have Cecile Zarokian from Paris, and we have Annie Buzantian from New York.

Q:   How would you describe your customer?
A:   There are three type of customers that I discern. My favorite customer is the customer who loves fragrances and will probably save up money to be able to afford. They may say I love fragrance and this fragrance from Puredistance is the holy grail. This customer buys purely from passion and sacrifices in order to be able to do. We have type 2, who is maybe not as passionate but loves perfume and understands our fragrances DNA and loves it for what it is and has the money to spend, happy with the elegance and the sophistication. There is a small category, the nouveau riche who want to have the most expensive and most luxurious. Their decision is based on other's opinions. It doesn't often happen because we are not that famous, and the motives behind it are less dear to me than the other two motives.

Q:   What does the future hold for Puredistance?
A:    After ten years with Puredistance I am halfway. I always said I want to be in 150 stores and 50 countries, then I stop. I am now in 35 countries and 80 stores, super exclusive worldwide. So another ten years to go probably.We do what we have done; we never knock on doors. Last week I heard from a store in Belarus, we'd like to represent you. We go step by step slowly. We want to know the people who represent us personally. And I won't sell out. Many people sell out today, to Estee Lauder, L'oreal, and venture capitalists. I decided not to sell out. My daughters are both in the company. I want to stay independent as long as we can. It's fun and  It gives us total freedom. We can take our time and not rush.

I would rather have something good that costs a bit more. I've been loyal to Antaeus by Chanel for over 30 years. I still use it but they change the formula. Maybe they had to do it because IFRA, they more and more regulate what you can use, so Antaeus is not the same. Next year I'll have something from Puredistance that I'll use for myself. I sometimes use Black, and M very sparingly. I like things a bit lighter and behind the scenes and M is really a statement. Another passion I have is tennis. I was almost a professional player and it's something I do a lot. The fragrance I want to have for myself is something sporty but at the same time woody. That was almost impossible to combine so we work for three or four years and now it's ready.

Q:   What made you choose perfume as a business?
A:    It's the perfect carrier for everything that interests me: doing design, creating beauty, making movies, packaging, brochures, photos. I do everything apart from the fragrance and there is nothing like a fragrance, a scent;  you can't touch it. You need to create a dream around it. Coco Chanel created a dream around Chanel. Creating this dream to me is pure pleasure. Many other products are short lived and must be replaced. I like long term things. I like the composition of Chopin. Why? It has long term value and beauty.  Therefore I said it will be a perfume I liked creating something with long term value.  I knew that through a fragrance I would be able to do what I like most because I wouldn't have to change the core product which is perfume. The business allows me to travel and meet lots of people. If I'm honest about it, Puredistance wasn't born out of a passion of perfume; it was born out of a passion of beauty and creating beauty.

Q:    Any final words?
A:    I think the world today can be so transparent and negative.  You need a remedy. Do away with media for awhile. Read a good book. Have a good wine. spend time with your partner. and spray yourself with a good perfume.

My thoughts on the interview:

Jan Ewoud Vos is passionate about his product, but even more passionate about creating a luxury product of beauty. I really bonded with his discussion (some edited out) of the clutter of social media in the world today, the lack or privacy, and the loss of that thing called mystery. His products harken back to a time when the world was a bit more polished, the discourse more civil, and an aura of glamour could be created. I was so interested in everything that he was saying that I forgot to ask for a photo at the conclusion of the interview!

In any discussion about Puredistance the issue of price is going to come up. It is a super premium product and Jan Ewoud Vos is proud of the fact that only pure perfume extraits are sold and that the percentage of oil is between 25% to 38%, the highest in the industry. Also, the quality of the oils come priced ten to twenty times higher than those used in mass market product. I have always maintained that you can smell quality in perfumes, and this was the case for me with Puredistance. I have friends who save money to buy a high priced designer hand bag while I choose mine off the rack at T.J.Maxx. Purses are not important to me but perfume is. For some, obviously, the price will be a deal breaker but if you find the one that really speaks to you, all bets are off.


I will review four perfumes from the line, saving my absolute favorites for the next couple of posts. In line with EWV's statements about not liking to list ingredients, I will keep that to a minimum and express the feeling and impressions that each perfume gives to me.

Photo from Elle Sweden 2008, photographer Oscar Falk.

Puredistance 1 was the fragrance that started it all, as told above in the marvelous story with perfumer Annie Buzantian already having created it for herself before being approached to create a perfume based on the visual of an old Donna Karan ad. The proposition was to make a scent that displayed both cool and warm aspects. The opening of 1 is delightful, giving the impression of delicate scents lilting in the breeze, swirling and dancing around you. Impressions I can capture: the fuzziness of neroli, the brightness of tangerine, strains of jasmine, and the uplifting scent of white flowers. If we could all walk out our door into a world that smelled so fragrantly pure, surely there would be less nastiness and dissention? Puredistance 1 is a guaranteed mood lifter. Alas, by its very fragile nature  this sort of  soft explosion of scent cannot last indefinitely and eventually it settles into a nice musky scent with warm accent notes.

Google image

Puredistance Black was released in 2013, and as described above was meant to be mysterious and full of unknowns. Even Luckyscent doesn't try to list notes, honoring the founder Jan Ewoud Vos's wishes. The visuals for its creation included masks, and some speak of a church incense vibe, but for me Black speaks of a whole universe. I picture myself wrapped in a warm and cozy blanket, gazing at pinpricks of light in the inky night sky, with smells of coniferous trees, warm wood resins, earthy patchouli smells, and streaks of something bright to penetrate all this darkness. For me Black is constantly morphing and changing, showing new facets. It is warm and comforting and the scent lasts on my skin into the next day. I like it very much.

Google image of Audrey Hepburn.

Puredistance White is truly the polar opposite of Black. Where Black is moody and mysterious, White is brilliant yet delicate. I chose the beautiful Audrey to visually show the pure innocent beauty of this fragrance. The various notes appear like ballet dancers on a stage; swirling in for a brief moment then out to give another ballerina her moment in the glow of the spotlight. The rose note is beautiful but this is not a rose perfume. I can tell you some notes: sandalwood, orris, tonka bean, but they in no way equal what you might expect. Jan Ewoud Vos wanted to make a perfume that made people smile and brought a feeling of happiness and White succeeds in this, yet at the same time feels very proper and elegant, reigning in the feeling of giddiness and euphoria. If I were rich I would scent my world with this beautiful perfume. Created by Antoine Lie and launched in 2015.

Sean Connery as James Bond, 007. Google Image

Puredistance M conjures images of drinking a Scotch in the clubby wood paneled library of a great estate, of lounging on the deck of a luxury yacht, of driving a McLaren coupe through a twisty Italian cliffside road; in other words, it breathes luxury. Jan Ewoud Vos gave visuals of James Bond (thus, M), Aston Martins, Jaguars, and the like to evoke feelings of old time, over the top luxury and they certainly succeeded. The smell of leather is always mentioned in reviews but it is so much more than that. I'm not always a leather fan and for me, leather (and the finest, smoothest leather) was only one component. M is also smooth, spicy, buttery, woody, and just plain delicious. I happily wore it but to be honest, this is really what I want my man to smell like.  was launched in 2010.

As much as I have obvious enthusiasm for all these scents, I will be reviewing the ones I favor even more highly in my next two posts. 

Thank you again to Maven and Takashimaya for this opportunity.

For more Puredistance reviews go here and here.

** I participated in a joint interview so you may see similar quotes on another Singaporean reviewers page.


Undina said...

It’s a great interview, I have an utmost respect to what and how they are doing. Four of their perfumes are my favorites (and two more I wouldn’t mind wearing).
I do not mind knowing official notes of perfumes but for me it’s more of the basic information - together with the year of release and the nose behind. Since I’m not good at dissecting notes in the scent, I don’t try to do it or pretend that I smell something if I don’t. But, in general, I agree with Mr. Vos on the topic of over-sharing in the modern world.

Cynthia said...

Thanks for reading and commenting, Undina. Which four are your favorites, if you don't mind my asking?

Undina said...

I love Antonia and White; like Sheiduna and Black and would not mind wearing Opardu and Warszawa. Puredistance I and M do not work for me.

Cynthia said...

The ones you mention as favorites are also my favorites, except Sheiduna doesn't work as well on me as the others.