It’s funny how things in life sometimes take unexpected turns. Last summer, while I was staying in Grasse and frenetically driving around Cote d’Azur, I got a DM on Instagram. “Are you in Cannes now?” – “Not today, I was there yesterday…” I replied to Sulékó.
It turned out that Anastasia was there, at the Croisette, and she wanted to meet in person. Unfortunately, every second of my stay was planned in advance and we didn’t manage to meet in France.
Later on, we wrote to each other over months to follow, postponing our meeting for Esxence 2019 in Milan in April – where Sulékó shall exhibit this year.
The longer we talked, the more curious I got. In the meantime, I tested and wore Sulékó perfumes, and decided to bring you this brand closer by arranging an interview with Anastasia and Cécile! Let’s find out more about Sulékó!
The brand was founded in 2013, and the name Sulékó recalls a Georgian poem, which became a very popular Russian song – “Souliko”. The poem is about a young man, seeking his soul mate. There are five fragrances in Sulékó’s portfolio, all created by Cecile Zarokian: Midi Eternel, Albho– its name is the Indo-European root of Lebed – Russian for swan; Vy Rosa -in reference to Tatiana, the heroine of A. S. Pushkin’s novel, Eugene Onegin (I was so fascinated by A.S. Pushkin in my teenage years that I managed to read Eugene Onegin in original, in Russian); Djélem is a Gypsy song which became the anthem of the Gypsies (to hear the song click here); Baba Yaga is the terrifying witch, which appears in many Russian tales…or is she so scary?
Sulékó perfume bottles are beautiful Limoges porcelain sculptures, created by artists Joelle Fèvre and Alain Fichot.
Anastasia Sokolow: The Designer
Tell us more about the way that led you to start your own perfume brand? Why did you pursue a path in perfumery?
– My first encounter with the universe of perfume creation took place while I was working at the Yves Saint Beauté marketing team in New York. I realized that this universe was not for the experts only who passed their secret knowledge on, from generation to generation… In fact, that world was accessible to anyone who wanted to explore it; also I realized that there is much more to explore that you might think and much more that should be shared with the buyers of fragrances.
Back in Paris, I took various classes and went through several training programs focusing on the many facets of the world of fragrances; at the same time, I was working at a major hair designer company on its international development programs. But I was hooked: I became a member of the French Society of Perfumers and took specific courses at ISIPCA – the school of perfumers. In just a few years of intense training and exploring, I noticed how much my sense of smell developed – I had opened myself to a whole new world. Scents became to me a form of expression and I decided that I should share my new philosophy of life with others in a more organized fashion.
What are your favorite dish and a bedtime story that your grandmother made/told you when you were a child?
– One of my favorite dishes from my grandmother is her “krendel” when it comes straight out of the oven. It is a sort of Panettone with vanilla, dry fruits, and fresh almonds…
My grandmother, when I was in bed, would tell me all sorts of Russian folk stories but I remember vividly her reading of Pushkin’s poem, “Lukomorye” which told about all the main characters of Russian folk stories such as Baba Yaga, Rusalka, Kaschey… Nature was shown as powerful, rich and beautiful, full of magic and mystery…
How did you meet Cécile? What was the (brand) story you tried to convey to her? How did you two click together?
– I first met Cécile at the opening of her exhibition IP01. I loved her work and her ability to translate illustrations into scents. A few years later, when I started working on my perfumes, I reached out to her. At that time, she had her own laboratory and worked with a major supplier of raw ingredients.
I told her about my language of scents, explained to her the story behind each of the perfumes that I wanted to create and how in my view each story should be “translated” into scents and detailed the ingredients that should be selected. She was able to fully immerse herself into my universes and my way of conceiving perfumes. Cécile is sensitive to Arts: she shares my view that a fragrance is not only about scents, it is also about texture, rhythm, colors, and emotions. I enjoyed working with Cécile —it was real teamwork, a real constructive dialogue.
How do you intend to separate yourself from all the niche brands and offerings that flourish today?
– Sulékó is one of very few brands which combines artistic craftsmanship and perfume and which seeks to trigger all the senses; our sculpture-bottles were created as a visual and tactile reflection of the perfume: you slide your fingers through the bottle of Vy Roza and it is as if your hand is touching fresh grass; you linger on the soft curvy sides and you are caressing the soft petals of a rose! Sulékó highlights the riches of French artistic craftsmanship in the creation of perfumes and in the design of unique porcelain bottle.
Our bottles and our perfumes are the results of the work of a man/woman and not the result of a processing by a machine.
Sulékó also collaborates with artists to explore the links between scents, colors, textures, and movements; an example of such collaboration, “Baba Yaga, a movie for the senses”, was presented by Sulékó at Osme, during Art Basel. The perfume then fully becomes Art.
Which scent do you relate most to Russia?
– Our perfumes are all inspired by Slavic art and culture and they involve many scents …
Russia is such a wide and diverse country that it is very hard to pick just one scent representing it without it making a bit of a cliche…but I would say the scent of wheat fields in summertime.
Your favorite perfume and why?
– Aside from my own creations, I use several perfumes which I love, one of my favorites is Chanel N°22 created by Ernest Beaux (a Russian perfumer of French descent). To me, it is a classic. It is timeless. It is rich and light at the same time, it is full of youthful energy and joy with a hint of solar sensuality.
SULÉKÓ perfume bottles are porcelain sculptures. Why such a high level of bottles-art?
– Because seeing beauty makes us happy!
I believe that holding an object, which is unique, handmade using traditional know-how, creativity, attention to detail and passion is precious.
I also think that nowadays more and more customers want to buy authentic products, products with a story, a meaning, that will enrich their everyday life. With these bottles, our customers uncover new artists, learn about their art and how they reinvent centuries-old know-hows while adding a contemporary touch. There is something fascinating about the work of clay, knowing that men have been working this material for thousands of years, creating beauty with earth and fire. That is actually why we chose the name «Talisman» for our travel spray, there is something primeval about porcelain biscuit.
By buying such objects, customers get involved in the preservation of unique traditions and know-how and will enjoy bringing beauty to their home!
How would you define the current state of Russian Haute Parfumerie?
– Russian Haute Parfumerie was at its high at the beginning of the twentieth century before the Revolution. Nowadays, a few Russian perfume brands are emerging; maybe it is a new beginning, a resurgence of Russian Haute Parfumerie…Sulékó believes that for sure, in its own original way, it is a part of that resurgence.
Please define perfumes that represent different seasons of the year in your collection, Sulékó Spring, Summer etc?
– One can easily connect specific smells, notes, scent ingredients to each season. Spring shall bring into your mind the watery freshness of lily of the valley and hyacinths, luminous and light scents! If I mention fall, you will most likely think of the scent of dead leaves and the dark, earthy, woody scents of a forest after the rain.
Furthermore, we do live through phases in our life, which influence our state of mind, these phases are not necessarily linked to our age and can be qualified as seasons; many poets and writers have used seasons as metaphors to describe their state of mind and their emotions. Fall, for instance, is used to describe a state of « spleen », when sadness and melancholy prevail whereas spring is synonymous of new beginnings, it is a celebration of life and everything luminous and joyful. Therefore, we can say that within each Sulékó season, scents meet emotions and create a specific language.
Each Sulékó perfume, because of its scent ingredients and because of the emotions, which it translates, can be classified in one of the four seasons; it is a small facet of one season. This is a very intuitive classification of perfumes. We currently have 5 perfumes: *Albho– is part of Sulékó Winter, Vy Roza is part of Sulékó Spring, Djélem and Midi Eternel are part of Sulékó Summer and Baba Yaga is part of Sulékó Fall.
Do you plan any new releases soon?
We have several creations in the pipeline and will be happy to tell you more about them soon!
Cécile Zarokian: The Perfumer
Cécile Zarokian graduated from ISIPCA, she was trained for four years in Robertet, at first in Grasse, then in Paris. She was still a trainee when she created her first fragrance, Amouage Epic Woman.
In 2011, Cécile decided to found her own company, CECILE ZAROKIAN SARL, and to set up her laboratory in Paris, in order to be able to dedicate her entire time to working freely as an independent perfumer.
Cécile has been very busy lately. She created an impressive list of perfumes, and I’m a fan of quite a few she did for various brands. Let me just mention Uer Mi OR, Jacques Fath, Puredistance, Evody, Masque Fragranze or Jovoy Paris. You can find the complete list here. And I’m a fan of Cécile’s big smile, fast spoken French (too fast for me…), and bubbling personality. I’m looking forward to more of her creations, and seeing her again, soon! Let’s see her side of the Sulékó story:
You are a very busy lady. Why did you accept to create for Sulékó?
– I was very interested in the universe of Sulékó. Anastasia told me what she had in mind for her brand, the story behind each perfume. Her approach was different and I was passionate about her briefs, fully detailed with very inspiring ideas.
„Baba Yaga“ is a scary story. What is Baba Yaga to you? What is the purpose of this fragrance?
– Baba Yaga is the witch that frightens lost children in the forest, kind of the bogeyman of Russian fairy tales. But in particular cases, she can be seen as a dark force who scares you but in a way she’s forcing you to face and overcome your fears. And it’s the same for the fragrance, it was very challenging to create an edgy fragrance that would be a bit dark but not too much because at the end you have to light it up. A bewitching dark scent that still has to be pleasant because it’s a perfume after all and you have to want to wear it.
What would you say is specific about Sulékó, the point of difference in concept?
– A lot of attention to every detail. The story, the raw materials, the handmade ceramic bottles, the perfume, the distribution, education…being able to explain the whole creative process behind each perfume, every step of the way, directly to the customer.
Which fragrance from this line was the most challenging for you to create?
– Baba Yaga definitely. Because of the above reasons, racing on the edge…
What defines Sulékó to you, in short?
– A unique brand embodied in its founder’s personality, with a very artistic approach and niche distribution.
Now, let’s take a closer look at these four fragrances:
My first memory of Baba Yaga character dates to my early childhood and times when I was reading Russian Fables and Tales, every night before sleep. The book was a gift from my mother who thought I should read stories and books coming from different cultures, to widen my horizons. My favorite story from this book was the one about Vasilisa The Fair, and to this day I remember her words of wisdom: “Mornings are smarter than evenings.”
Baba Yaga didn’t scare me at all, although always portrayed as a mean, (allegedly) child-eating witch. I thought of her as of a strong, independent, no-nonsense woman, living on her own, helpful to those that deserved her help. Dark, intense, different… then the rest. Daring. Powerful and aware of her strengths, dressed in black, uncompromising, everything I was not (at that time).
Baba Yaga (the perfume) begins its spell with a sensation of a dark yet crisp Autumn day somewhere deep in the forest. Multicolored leaves are ruffling as you walk, clouds turn darker and the forest starts to murmur, branches of big, old trees making a crackling sound. This bitter-fresh opening is now tainted with a pinch of cinnamon and a healthy dose of nutmeg, brownish-orange, resembling oak leaves you are walking upon.
Berries protrude – red berries on layers of dark pepper. A spell is cast, with black pepper rising in the air, sprinkling away nutmeg and introducing a bitter orange. It sways from bittersweet to sweeter tones, still spicy.
With time it begins to feel like you are lying on the ground in this dark forest, on soft layers of black earth, leathery-patchouli blankets, and moss-covered oak branches, still feeling traces of spices that sprinkled your clothes, with bursts of nutmeg and pepper rising every now and then…Intriguing.
Warm Summertime evenings, light cotton dresses imprinted with flowers, music, dance, loud laughs and an open fire crackling in the dark.
These images are portrayed by spicy notes, hay, amber, vivid red carnations and cloves, and that feeling of freshly mown hay is addictive!
The hay settles and warms everything up, relaxes its vividness by becoming more powdery, yet never too heavy…
Gypsies have stopped singing and dancing and are now relaxed and simply- happy!
Vy Rosa: an ode to great A.S.Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin…The first verses of this fragrance are starting with sweet springtime freshness of lilies of the valley, very white and green, clean and light, almost soapy. The heart of this fresh, bright, soft smelling rose is surrounded by this bouquet until it becomes more bitter-woody, a bit too bitter for my taste.
Albho, a word for swan, Lebed, labud: a cold breath of Winter, grace, and elegance. Russian Winter. It took me back to St. Petersburg, my evening walks along Nevski Prospekt, the sight of frozen Neva river and the warmth of the Hermitage Museum hallways which I roamed for days.
It opens with cool mints, like when you inhale sharply cold Winter air above the surface of water, rivers or lakes, underneath a pine tree. Woody and balsamic notes take over, it becomes warmer, suaver. A nice play of cold-warm transitions, ending in quiet, subtle and balsamic tones. I enjoyed its drydown, it was so comforting. This fragrance has an inner beauty, poise and elegance, while darker tones are lurking underwater. Like looking at a swan gliding across a lake so clear that you can see its feet pedaling under the surface. Quite different. My favorite.
You can purchase these perfumes at Sulékó online shop here. Prices vary according to chosen combinations/bottles. The sample set is available for 15EUR.
Dear Anastasia and Cécile, thank you and see you soon – at Esxence Milano 2019!
The Plum Girl
Photos: The Plum Girl/ Sulékó/Cécile Zarokian
Samples were provided by Sulékó, opinions of my own.