Some are great noses, others are perfume makers, but then there are a few that are more than just both. Some come under the title of genius. Ramón Monegal truly is a genius: a term too often and too flippantly used. The Spaniard has a deep-seated history in the fragrance industry. Born in Barcelona in 1951 he is the fourth generation of the family that created the perfume company Myrurgia. This brand was not just the suppliers to the Spanish royal family but also the first company in the world of fragrance to introduce fashion brand perfumes on to the market.
Ramón became their most important and international representative having trained in 1972 at Myrurgia headquarters, where he submerged himself completely and became intimate with the most essential scents such as the mythical infusions of Ambergris, Tonka Bean, Musk, Castoreum, Civet and Divine Iris.
But this was not enough for the young Ramón he continued his training in Geneva with his mentor, the maître perfumer Artur Jordi Pey, then in Grasse with Marcel Carles and finally in Paris. He managed to train with some of the greatest names in the industry but came home in the end to his beloved Spain, not before studying architecture (and why not) with a course at the Barcelona Design Centre in 1977.
His first fragrance was created in 1979, which bought an unexpected success within Myrurgia. From then onwards he took over the creative management of the business which he continued for over 20 years. In 2000, the Puig Group acquired Myrurgia yet he was asked to continue creating successful new fragrances for them.
In 2007, he left the group and, after a period of reflection and experimentation, he started the project he had always dreamed of: creating: his own fragrances and reaching his public directly and living his life as a true perfumer. He talks of the idea of perfumes having an ‘olfactory image’, as well as being a very hands-on perfumer in preparing his creations in all their phases and aspects from conception, design, and communication. Think of his perfume collection like an art gallery: the gallery is the stage for the artist that really wants to show off his creations.
At this point, it is important to express my personal sense of gratitude to Ramón. In an early meeting with him, we talked of Spanish perfume. Lesser known than its French cousin, Spain has a very long and regal relationship with fragrance. But much of this changed when the dictator Franco came to power. Franco did not allow items to be imported into Spain, wanting the country to work with its own national commodities.
Therefore perfume makers could only work with ingredients native to Spain. Well, think citrus and you have hit the nail on the head. Then began a period when all Spanish perfumes were in cologne style citrus scents, this meant that although all the bottles, tops, as well as ingredients, came from Spain the perfumes were cheap, plentiful and really rather good, to say the least. Pop into any chemist in Spain at that point in history and find real gems for a fraction of the cost of their French, English, or Italian cousins. Ramón did explain at this point that these great citrus based fragrances were fresh, clean and transparent but lacked any sexuality, an ingredient found a-plenty in his juices.
We met with Ramón recently and talked fragrance so much that it felt like the world around us changed seasons in one day. After all, he is well versed in the whole process. Also, he is a master when it comes to ingredients something he did whilst at Myrurgia was sourcing the best purest ingredients which have stood him in the best place for his own line. For example, knowing what real Oud looks and smells like and knowing that if you find real Oud, it is something very special.
There is practically no real natural Oud left in the world. Ramón recently tracked some down. In the last 5 to 6 years he has been researching Oud and Oud Wood; the real thing, not what most perfumers use. Even though he comes from the North of Spain he loves the South of Spain including the world heritage site, the Alhambra; and it is this location that he used as inspiration for his journey with Oud.
This incredibly rare find meant he bought all that was available in one go, simply because he didn’t know if he could ever find it again. Because Ramón understands on an almost cellular level the power of this purest of ingredients he then took this and blended five Ouds to ‘sort of create’ a version he could use for one very unique fragrance. But as he said once it’s gone it’s gone, so for real Oud lovers now is the time to buy Alhambra Oud Eau de parfume. A blend of Rose, Jasmine and Orange Blossom, the signature note of Oud flows throughout for richness. However, the important thing to know here is how the Oud is used. Oud is utilised at every level, from top notes, to middle and in its base. This allows for the subtle to strong elements of this magnificent and extremely rare ingredient to be celebrated. Only a true nose and a true perfume hero could be this audacious, almost to the point of reckless, to brilliantly understand exactly how to use this gem, ensuring its balance through every stage of the scent.
But whilst discussing ingredients it’s hard for Ramón not to mention the change in rules with ingredients which have meant that many of them can no longer be used in perfumes. For example, it is well known that Oakmoss an essential ingredient in Chypre scents, is no longer allowed to be used as it is now considered an irritant, the same with items like Rose, Amber, Bergamot and many more, which means that over the years many loved fragrances had to, over time, slowly but surely alter the ingredients in order to get the same scent. Do we notice? no, not really, but if you were able to compare an original bottle of say, No 19 by Chanel with its modern-day equivalent you would notice the difference. Poor Francis Coty must be turning in his grave.
We moved on from ingredients to talking sexy perfumes and on to discussing Ramón’s newest fragrances from his Spanish collection. Olé, the newest fragrance to be added is a very personal project for Ramón and one he has spent many years getting to where he wanted it to be. A fruity Caramel inspired fragrance.
Olé in Spanish is more than a simple Hi or even Life or a word called after a flamenco dance. Olé is an energy, a life force, part and parcel of the very lifeblood passion and creativity of the Spanish. Think of the big exclamation mark at the end of a passionate sentence. This explosion brings emotion to the surface, a rush of endorphins if you like. When you see a piece of art that touches you far beyond your understanding why, yet reacts with you like the hairs on your head standing up on end. The word has its roots in the Arabic word Allah (meaning GOD). Think of it as Ramón says, ‘Like a sharp intake of breath!’. And its this very passion that Ramón has spent much time trying to capture in his signature inkwell flask; a perfume that is a fleeting emotional moment. He only launched this when he honestly felt it was ready to be sold: a quality to be proud of, which others wish they could do but he has the power to do so as it’s his brand.
It starts as a fruity ‘ripe’ top made up of Date, Pineapple and Raspberry (and even a little grapefruit) giving a real ‘whoosh’ of love happiness and vitality to the opening of the scent. The middle of the scent is Jasmine, Orchid, and Cedarwood. This brings the warm floral quality alongside the Cedarwood which has a distinctive woody, spicy-resinous scent. And for the follow through there is Fir Balsam Musk and Vanilla. The Fir Balsam brings not a woody medical facet but a Caramel note alongside the sexy Musk and Vanilla. There are hints of marine notes as though walking along a Spanish coastline with flowers and Fir trees whose Silage mixes with the churning sea.
It’s a very modern take on a floral woody fragrance it’s addictive, it’s passionate and very sexy. Notes here are echoed and almost work like a Ying Yang. Like an artist who can create a perfect balance, the simple genius is the building of this fragrance like an artist with his colour palette alongside the mathematical creativity of an architect, this perfume is so obviously a labour of true passion for Ramón, like a magician creating in his cauldron a magical essence.
A floral chypre is another launch and its called The New paradise. Ramón talked of it as an impossible metaphor for utopia nature the best of flora flowers fruit and wood. A green floral chypre. A place of perfection where the best of the natural world is contained within a bottle. An optimistic balance of wellbeing and pleasure all brought together harmoniously. Think Samuel Coleridge’s, Kubla Khan. A younger fresher fragrance than we usually get from Ramón but just as deliciously addictive.
It starts at its head with Citrus Ferns and Fig. There is Bergamot, Orange, and Mandarin that give its distinctive citrus burst mixed with the green Fir and delicious Fig which brings a woody fruity Mediterranian note via the Fig Leaf. In the middle majestic Jasmine, the queen of flowers, Rose and the Lily of the Valley which brings delicate softness and calm to the middle. Finishing with a base of Oakmoss Amber and Musk which all bring a depth, soft powdery set of notes that round off the perfume.
It’s fresh yet heady it’s alive yet soft, it is a perfume that wraps and comforts and above all leaves a sense of serenity. A young yet sophisticated fragrance as a great introduction to the brand for those just starting their perfume journey with Ramón, as it has his signature scrawled all over it. After having worked with so many deep rich heady fragrances this was Ramón’s escape into a fresher scent.
Then we have Hand in Hand; a Rose and Oud fragrance that Ramón describes as a “Wild and Feline elixir”. This is a perfume about opposites; about simple purity and sensuality of the Rose and then the power of sexuality and power of Wood. Where the ‘wildness meets feline’, a union if you like of the female as a whole her sensuality entwined with her sexuality a powerful dynamic connection. Rose is not a sexual flower it is sweet and innocent, it is pure and deep, it is powdery and warming and absolutely the queen of flowers in perfumery, but sexy it is not. However here we see Ramón’s mastery at the fore bringing this soft sensuous delicate Rose alongside the tigress in every woman by allowing it to come together with the power and raw sexuality of Oud, one of the deepest darkest and most dangerous of ingredients. The mastery is the head of delicious and very Spanish Saffron with Corriander and Geranium which meets in the middle via peachy soft Osmanthus, Rose, and Oud. It comes together in its base of Leather Musk and Vanilla to set in place a sensuous yet powerful very individual scent.
Ramón Monegal is not a flashy perfumer whose name is plastered across every magazine page, he is an artist who creates fragrances that are works of love. As the artist with his canvas, the depth of knowledge passion and commitment to his work is obvious in the juices he creates. His life’s work is contained within each and every inkwell shaped flask and he is a creator above and beyond anything else. Lastly, another thing to know is he now works with both his children within his business to keep up the family tradition. Find his perfumes at Harrods and indulge in his genius yourself.
Read more about him and his perfumes at his website ramónmonegal.com