Serena Britos is one of the team at Richard Lüscher Britos (RLB), along with Malvin Richard and Lukas Lüscher who make terroir perfumes that capture scents from around the world. The concept is one that I really love and feel attracted to. The scents are made ethically and are totally natural, joining a small but growing niche in perfumery. Other natural brands and perfumers we have profiled here on these pages are Hiram Green and Tanja Bochnig (April Aromatics) who make outstanding fragrances.
RLB make use of well-regarded perfumers including Andy Tauer who is the nose behind the wonderful 44°N-3°E – Causse Méjean, an amazing evocation of the highlands of Southern France with a top notch lavender. If you’re not a fan of this herbaceous plant from the mint family, then this perfume may just be the one to win you over.
Serena who I met last year at Pitti Fragranze very kindly agreed to answer some questions about her work with RLB. The trio behind the brand are childhood friends so I suspect this is a lovely project for them to connect on. They have a new terroir release this year called 32°N 08°W – Marocco Nana Mint that has a great zesty, sweet mint character signed by Delphine Thierry. I’ll be writing about that perfume very soon and in preparation for this you can get a taster for the perfume house by reading what Serena has to say. So thank you Serena.
Can you tell us a little about your background, where you grew up and where you are today?
I grew up in Locarno in the Italian part of Switzerland where we had a big garden and I was always outside and quite wild. My passions were plants and flowers…now I am living in a farm in Uruguay where we produce organic vegetables and eggs and where my three kids can be wilder than me when I was a kid.
What did you do before you were involved with RLB?
I was Head of Projects at Pro Natura Ticino. Pro Natura is a private non-profit organization founded in 1909 and it’s the largest organization for nature conservation in Switzerland.
You are an ethno botanist. Can you tell us what that means and what it involves?
Defining ethnobotany is not a simple matter but is about studying the relations between human kind and plants and means studying a fascinating and constantly evolving environment. A world where new astonishing discoveries stand alongside old knowledge at risk of disappearing, where simple traditional recipes can be a greater secret than complicated chemical processes, where human and plants co-exist and constantly influence each other life. Basically I do a lot of questioning. I observe and I try to understand the intimate relation between man and nature.
In what ways does your work influence the RLB brand?
The aim of RLB is the terroir and the terroir is nature and culture so my support on the brand is to investigate these two points: I travel in the search of the best plants but I also search a place of cultures and savoir faire. As we write on our website “Serena continues to travel, study and talk with all sorts of people in order to grasp the complex relationships between plants and humans – one of the strengths of RLB”.
I know that you came together with your two childhood friends to start RLB. How did you come up with the concept for the perfume brand?
We come up with the concept in a very special moment…we were together on holiday! Today we would say that was a terroir travel but at that time we were just on holiday. A terroir is not just a place where a fragrant plant grows, it is much more. A place of individuality and character – here cultures are lived.
It was a hot summer day, we decided to stroll along the small path behind our holiday cottage, where we were enchanted by wild thyme, rosemary and immortelle – a truly magical moment. This terroir was enveloped by these wonderful scents. This scent moved us, we dreamed, we tried to catch him and understand how something so magnificent can be “caught”. At that time, our cornerstone was laid for Richard Lüscher Britos.
Serena Britos, Malvin Richard and Lukas Lüscher
What roles do each of you take in this partnership?
I am the Ethnobotanist – I search for the main protagonist. Malvin is the nose. He collaborates with the perfumer and Lukas is the art director. He interprets the terroir for the customers.
You make perfumes that are fair, transparent and natural. For you what are the benefits of natural perfumery?
For us a natural perfume is like a life concert – you feel all this emotion, you smell the beauty and deepness of the perfume – it’s a balance. If you hear for example a CD – the highest and lowest tones are missing like in “conventional” perfumes.
The terroir is an important component to RLB. You are taking us on some beautiful journeys in our minds and noses through the ingredients and lands encapsulated in the bottles. I think your new perfume really does a great job in conveying a sense of place. What comes first when you are deciding on a perfume – the place or the raw materials?
It depends. We do not always proceed in the same way. Normally we sniff around a great number of essential oils that we find interesting from an olfactory perspective. As soon as we identify an outstanding protagonist, we begin our preparatory ethobotanical work before going in the field. We find out the plant’s origins, history and ideal growing ground. We investigate how it is used in different cultures, and why, by looking at books, reviews, maps, diagrams, and chromatography. But we are never as orderly and linear as that, we often set out looking for a particular plant, only to return with a different one. Because nose and heart always come first.
How do you select your perfumer for each project?
All the creators who collaborate with us are professional niche perfumers used to working with natural raw materials. We work in close collaboration with them so that they can identify with the specific character of a given terroir and with its culture and fragrance. It’s like falling in love: it takes two. The perfumer chooses the terroir, but the terroir must in turn choose its perfumer. During the whole process of creation we share opinions and samples, and the work is declared to be completed only when all parts are satisfied.
The main challenge of the perfumer is to combine the natural substances into a bouquet without resorting to synthetic raw materials. Few perfumers are currently able to rise up to the challenge. Our network of perfumers is an essential part of our added value, and ensures an exchange of skilled expertise.
We have worked with : Vero Kern, Andy Tauer, Jean-Claude Richard, Jean-Claude Gigodot and Delphine Thierry.
Your design is always beautiful and your stand at Pitti in Florence is a joy to see. Who is responsible for the this element?
The main person responsible for the design is Lukas, he’s the art director but he’s also the specialist in understanding the quality of raw materials and quality of the ingredient. He’s the one that knows how to transmit the concept of the terroir to the custumers. Of course all our work is a teamwork and we always discuss the ideas and concepts.
And now to finish up, here are a few more smell related questions. What are your favourite smells in nature? Man made? Childhood?
My favourite smells are the ones in nature. I can’t choose one because It depends on the period and the season and the mood but I can say that for example I always love the smell of cut grass and the smell of some tropical humid forest and for example at this moment our oranges are flowering and it is just amazing the smell of the garden. And it’s strange but I also really love the smell of horses. I have a passion for horse and horse-riding and I really love this mix scent of leather-horse-pampa.”
Which perfume in your range do you feel closest to or like the most and why?
Of course I love them all and I use them all depending on the day and mood but I have a special love for Terroir de Colombia. I lived there for two years and my first child was born in Bogota and I just fell in love with this land, the people, the music, the colors…all!
Are there any plans to add other products to your collection?
We are thinking about the rose from Iran. I am dreaming also of a Uruguayan terroir. In fact there are so many terroirs that we would love to do, as always we will follow our nose and heart.
How do you see your range evolving?
Our vision is to bring the natural scent to the people. They should use the nose every day and we will bring the character, the emotion of a terroir to all people. So that’s what we work on and we give our best. The aim is to have fun and continue the work we began with passion and professionalism.
Thank you so much Serena for answering these questions. Please take a look at the Richard Lüscher Britos website for further information on the brand. And of course we’ll be paying some attention to the new perfume on these pages very soon, so stay tuned.
Notes : All images from Serena Britos except for the RLB stand at Pitti Fragranze by Megan In Sainte Maxime.