Rami Mekdachi’s sensory world of fragrance, music and photography
For esteemed perfumer Rami Mekdachi life is a reservoir of memories, experiences and souvenirs. In addition to being the ‘nose’ for illustrious brands like Chloé, Lacoste, and Roger Vivier, he created Lola James Harper to encapsulate the places, people and memories he cherishes most. With names like The TV Basement of Jonet, and Do What you Love with People you Love, the fragrance and candle line evokes spaces, sentiments and philosophies. Its shops are accompanied with collaborative music and travel photography; creating a sensory treasure chest of nostalgia. Just as a fragrance is a dialogue between one person’s essence and the space around them, Lola James Harper is not just a fragrance brand, it’s a world of celebration, togetherness and dreams. Mekdachi is similarly not just a perfumer, he’s a culture creator who tells his stories through the senses. Every so often we’ll come across an object, person or place that conjure those distant memories. One whiff of Lola James Harper’s The Fun Fair of Les Tuileries, and I was instantly transported to my favorite garden in Paris. Its base note of fig conjures the park’s verdant opulence, whereas the lingering cotton candy recalls the playful reverie of the fair. The passion, warmth and soul that reverberates in Rami’s spirit is deeply palpable. In his mind, music, art and fragrance fall into the same poetic realm. Through this melding he’s illuminating our lives and minds one scent at a time.
Rhianna Jones: Describe the journey led you to Lola James Harper?
Rami Mekdachi: Journey is really the perfect word. It’s been 20 years that I’ve been working in many fields with different people, mainly perfume, photography and music. When I was a teenager I would shoot for magazines, play for different bands and labels, and be as creative as possible. L’Oreal proposed me to develop their perfume range; I discovered fragrance organically. The three fields enabled me to meet all these different people with whom I began to work on other projects, in film, galleries, restaurants, fashion, etc. 4 years ago I realized I could gather all these people and encounters together with the places I love. Lola James Harper is togetherness and a gathering, it was never a concept, the journey led me there. My wife, son and daughter travel with me everywhere; they each came up with a word and together made Lola James Harper. It’s a journey. When I come back from a trip I bring my pictures, songs and souvenirs together and try to encapsulate them in a scent.
RJ: In addition to LJH, you’ve been the “nose” for big name fragrances like Chloé, Lacoste, Sofitel, Colette. What’s the difference between encapsulating a historic house into a bottle and starting from your own canvas?
RM: When I work with brands, what’s great is there is a world already there. My focus is understand what people come to find in that world, and sum it in an object and smell. A perfume has no point by itself, its poetic and symbolic; it’s encapsulating a world. Whether it be a hotel, fashion brand or artist, what they offer to the world is I begin to think about it. We don’t need smell, the need comes from the fact that they’re so powerfully linked to memories and emotions. What’s interesting for me is what emotion a brand, creator or place provokes for someone else. Lola James is about personal places, so I decided to tell a story around 18 unknown places that are poetic. I want to make people dream and invent their own story. Like when you read a book, you create a world with your own memories. I never take a specific photo of the place I’m encapsulating. The point is to leave a huge space for poetry and dreams.
RJ: Like fashion, a fragrance is deeply personal and subjective, yet interactive all the same; they absorb a stranger into your world. The LJH mantra is “Together is always better”, why?
RM: When I collaborate with singers, I forbid them from coming with words or melodies, and forbid myself from bringing ideas. What I find amazing is when two people meet, like you and I, there is an encounter created that nobody could have imagined before. When you come with a predetermined idea, you ask the other person to be for you or against you, rather than the relation living organically. We’re launching a film the month With, that is incredibly poetic and has been 20 years in the making. Everything I do is a slow, thoughtful process, like an organic relationship. I call it “with-dom”, my idea to be open to what a new relationship will create that’s inconceivable alone. It’s magical. The openness of the unknown to those first moments are incredibly powerful because they bring you somewhere else. That’s the center of the process for me.
“Lola James is about personal places, so I decided to tell a story around 18 unknown places that are poetic. I want to make people dream and invent their own story. Like when you read a book, you create a world with your own memories. I never take a specific photo of the place I’m encapsulating. The point is to leave a huge space for poetry and dreams.”
RJ: There is a true art to fragrance creation from the science to the aesthetic to the sensory experience. Where do you begin?
RM: So Lola James Harper has two fields: the place fragrances are candles and room sprays, whereas the eau de toilettes are feelings. With a place fragrance, I always start with the raw materials that are dominant and the feeling of the place I want. With the objects, things, and colors, I make a figurative interpretation of the place: with The TV Basement of Jonet there’s wood, brown and dusty so the base is patchouli. The body fragrance are rooted in philosophies, when you wear an Eau de Toilette you change your mindset. Mindset is a poetic, symbolic world whereas the raw materials will stimulate the mindset of the person. I always begin with the meaning rather than the technicality.
RJ: How does your love of music and photography color your fragrances?
RM: Those three fields are really linked. We use the same words in music and fragrance: they are composed by notes and chords. There is something really similar in the creative process you’re putting different sounds or smells and changing the volume of each of them to create one piece. When I work on perfume I almost see a turntable. When I started with L’Oreal when I was 25 I realized how similar with music I had been doing for 10 years. I magnetized instantly to fragrance because it is even more poetic than music. Music there are discernible genres – you know what is rock and what is jazz – but people are more open in fragrance. The less people know the more you can make people dream. Both of them are so deeply linked to emotion, even dating back to tribal cultures. Playing music and smelling something is a natural human ritual; they are so linked in our souls. Photography however taught me the power of colors, senses and graphics. Perfume is in a bottle, and the bottle is an image. When you put the same perfume in a red bottle or a blue bottle you will never smell it the same.
RJ: What is the culture you’re trying to create?
RM: Three things. First is the question: ‘Where does the sun shine?’ It’s a silly question, but the idea is to realize the sun shines everywhere and to find where it shines. In the shops we hang all our pictures that look like they’re in the same place in fact they were taken everywhere. We never say where they are, that is for you to create. I want people to realize how amazing our world is. The second is “With”. We have lots of collaborations, a coffee line, tea line, furniture we’re working on a fashion line fragrance and music. To be “with” is to see everywhere the beauty of sharing and creativity. To go back to the idea “where the sun keeps shining” – which is also an eau de toillete – the point is to be radiate that positive energy with everything you do. There is no point in anything else. The third is senses. We’ve become so attached to the virtual world; I’m trying recreate a room for the senses, to invite people to smell amazing things, sit on incredible chairs and taste good coffee. We have a pop up shop in Le Bon Marché in Paris, where we have we offer coffee, our photos posted, we play vinyls all day long. People come to our space to explore the pictures and the smells and you just see them happy. Not because what we’re doing is necessarily great or anything, but just coming back to their senses is nice for human beings. It’s a place for people to just be.
RJ: One of my favorite words is sillage: the scent that lingers in the air, the impression left in a space after something or someone is gone. What is Lola James Harper’s sillage?
RM: When you come to our spaces, I want people to experience that joyful sweet happiness in realizing you can travel, share with someone and just let go. The sillage is that peaceful happiness and trust in the beauty of the world and the people around us.