Classic is an overused term, but when you smell the scents of Von Eusersdorff – there is no other word that can better describe them. Created by Camille Henfling, whose love of scent traces back to his childhood spent playing with the scents of his grandfather’s apothecary, the line began with patchouli and was expanded to include myrrh, vetiver, and mimosa. I spoke to him in Amsterdam and was fascinated by his stories and how his life journey has lead him full circle back to his roots. You can read the reviews of his scents and watch out for his forthcoming Orange scent set to be released next in September.
Ron Slomowicz: I read that your family tradition goes back to apothecaries.
Camille Henfling: Yes, my family comes from them. My grandfather always made creams and salves for the people that were in the shop. As a little boy I would come from school and wait for my father, I remember the combinations of the scents- especially the peppers, the vanillas, and the saffrons. I started to learn about herbs and oils and I did all of that as a little boy. When I was seven years old, I remember the other kids got blocks and Legos and I got a box with all the herbs in it. It was sitting in a paper box with plastic around it and there was a name on the side of it, but I had to teach myself. There were things like red pepper, black pepper, anise, and spices, and I had to learn what they were and their Latin name. When I grew up I worked for my father’s company and eventually became the boss. About 25 years ago he asked me to take the company over, and I told him that I could do it for a couple days out of the week. I eventually left his company but ended up coming back to help him. I was sitting in the office at the pharmacy one day and I realized that I really didn’t like it. I flew to Gibraltar and told my father that I was sorry but I wasn’t the man to take it over. It was very sad for my father because the pharmacy had been in the family for a long time. I sold it to a larger company in the Netherlands and from there I started working at a company with fine jewelry. We wanted to introduce people to the market of fine jewelry and we traveled all around to London, Paris, and went to the fairs. Every year we had a new designer to join the group and that is when I met my partner. We split the companies and I started another company dealing with fine jewelry. Five years ago my partner told me that he was going to stop working for me in 2012 because of his age. We had known each other since we were little boys; we worked together in the family store. He handled everything for me, all the money, the paperwork, and the taxes so I told him that if he stopped working in 2012 I would stop as well. That was four years ago and I started to think about what I was going to do with my life. I knew that New York was very nice but there were mostly young people and or those who had a lot of money.
RS: Were you worried at all about moving to New York and starting your business there?
Camille: At that time I was forty years old and I decided that I could start my business there but there was a possibility of losing my money and at that point if I lost my money it would be too hard to build it up and get it back again. I decided that I would travel and spend a couple months in each country. Eventually I started to travel from New York to Amsterdam and it became too tiring, there were always problems with the train and it was not fun. I knew that I wanted to live in New York and found a house about twelve years ago. Around six years ago my parents were in a very bad accident and I stopped my business. It took me two years to arrange my parents’ business and get everything taken care of. My family had land in Spain and a plantation business in Costa Rica so I went there to take care of everything. It used to be a large plantation but it turned into a small business. It was in my family’s name and I told my nephews that they could have it but I needed to keep my name. My name is of Von Eusersdorff of 1700 and it is a blue blood line. In 1700, Protestant people from my family became Catholic, and if you are Catholic you won’t have the Von Euserdorff name anymore, so it is really special to me.
RS: So how did you go from making jewelry to making perfume?
Camille: About five years ago I was thinking that I had to do something with my name. I originally was going to stop in 2012, but I realized that I was too young to stop working and do nothing. I wanted to start doing something that I really liked. The strange thing with my family is that I always felt that I never wanted to do what my father did. I wanted to do something with the name and started to think of perfume. I wanted to make a new collection of jewelry but I realized that I would have needed too much help to do that. A few years ago, I was with four friends in Paris and one of my friends said to me “Do you like this smell?” I told him that I didn’t know and the man from the shop gave me a little tester. We walked to the other side of the street in the Marais to get lunch, and the smell from houses reminded me of the houses that I played in during my childhood; it was the smell of pepper, coriander, and vanilla. At the beginning I didn’t know if I liked the smell but all of a sudden it was the smell of my past. I pictured myself as a little boy playing and the smell brought back so many memories. At that moment I realized that I wanted to make perfume. I already had the whole history of oils, spices, herbs, and petals because of my family, so I started. I always had talks with my grandfather and father about oils and spices and where they came from – Costa Rica, India, and Morocco. I already knew everything as a little boy. My grandfather taught me so much and taught me what ingredients I needed. I always thought perfumes were roses and lavender, but now people are using more spices.
RS: Did you aim to start with a line of four fragrances?
Camille: I decided that I wanted to have one perfume and I started with patchouli. I wanted to make a very good Patchouli. It is a very strange smell, and you either hate it or love it. I have a friend that I gave a bottle to and he gave it back, like I said, you either hate it or love it. It took me two years to find the quality products and find the company in Grasse who could produce it. There are so many different patchouli plants and I make a very nice one. Do you have one?
RS: Yes, I love your patchouli and have reviewed all four of your scents.
Camille: I decided just to do Patchouli and then people asked for more perfumes.
RS: Going back to patchouli, patchouli usually has a dirty kind of hippie scent to it, but I remember when I smelled it it came off very comforting and envelopes you – it’s very warm, is that what you were going for?
Camille: It is a little strange, it started off very strong and most people didn’t like it at first. I was also like that but it turned into a beautiful, soft perfume. If you use patchouli it can last for 6 hours or longer. Somebody asked me to make a perfume and it took me over a year to finish, that was a long time since I usually make it in seven months To find the best bergamot, black patchouli, and high quality tonka bean, it takes you a lot longer to make.
RS: As you are blending and testing your perfume, do you let other people test it on their skin?
Camille: I have two men and two women that I discuss the scents with and we test them amongst each other. My perfumes are constantly changing, and when I originally made the patchouli we changed it a couple times and tried new ingredients and combinations. We start seeing how much percentage of alcohol is in it and from there we take a tester home and come back to find a perfect combination. With the new combination we go to the laboratory in Grasse and make a couple more bottles from there we test it again.
RS: How many mods were there? I’ve read in books about one fragrance that had 140 mods and one had 23 mods.
Camille: I don’t know exactly how many mods there are but there were about 6 for the Classic Patchouli. It always changes, though, so there may have been 10 and then with the alcohol another 4. So all together there were about 15. It is very hard to make other smells once you have the smell that you love. I love the patchouli, it’s my baby, but it’s not selling as much as Mimosa or the others. I can make smells that everyone loves, but this smell is for people that really love that scent. You don’t like the Vétiver do you?
RS: On me Vetiver doesn’t work well, it gets very cumin and spicy in an almost skanky and raunchy type of way, the scent association just isn’t very good, it doesn’t burn but it has the smell of burning.
Camille: Did you let anyone else try it?
RS: If your Classic Patchouli took about 15 mods, how many mods did the other ones take?
Camille: They took between 12-20 mods.
RS: You have four perfumes finished; did it take you two years to finish all four?
RS: Are you working on any more now?
Camille: Yes, I am working on two other ones.
RS: Can I make a suggestion?
RS: The reason why I like your Mimosa so much is because it is very violet on me and I am wondering what a classic violet would be like.
Camille: I am very happy with the Mimosa; it is very French to me. Every year in March I am in France and mimosa is everywhere. If you sit in your car you can smell the mimosa and it is everywhere. It is so beautiful and I have memories of my mother, she loved the mimosa flower. The Mimosa is doing really well.
RS: The Mimosa reminds you of your mother, do any of your other scents remind you of your family?
Camille: Yeah, the Patchouli and the Myrhh really remind me of my whole family. The Vétiver is more what I like and wear; I have always worn Vétivers, like Creed.
RS: All of your scents are called “Classic,” what does classic mean to you?
Camille: Going back to the old way of making perfumes- and what I told you before; I can go to a company in France and ask for patchouli and they all have the same type of patchouli. I made a rule to find the best quality of ingredients. I have always said from the beginning that if I am going to start something it has to be the best quality. The prices for my perfume ingredients are a lot higher than most people’s, but it is because of the quality I use. The normal patchouli has had the alcohol in it for one month, but my perfumes have the alcohol in it for four months and that costs a lot more – in order to really have the smell of the patchouli in the alcohol. The prices are reasonable for the quality of my perfumes though.
RS: Do you consider your fragrances all-natural, meaning there are no aroma chemicals in them?
Camille: Yes, we only use quality products; you can see that there is no color in the perfumes. For example with the Mimosa if you hold it in the light you can see the mimosa working on the alcohol and that’s where the color comes from. With the Classic Patchouli there is a little caramel in it and that’s the oil. It is really the family way of making things. I said in the beginning that the only perfume that I knew was rose and lavender, but now with the spices and roses I try to find the difference between them and try to make a combination of everything.
RS: When wearing your scents, I noticed that there is always a touch of patchouli in each one.
Camille: There is always a little patchouli with other smells. It is like a base smell to make the flowers and other scents stronger. Twenty years ago people weren’t talking about patchouli, and it didn’t have a good name. Patchouli was used to bring very expensive cider from India to America and the patchouli was inside it to keep the animals away. People didn’t like it at first, but then started to use patchouli to make perfumes. I like it so much because my family used it when I was a little boy. It is so beautiful and to me it is the same as making good wine, it is an essential ingredient.
RS: You are Dutch and Von Eusersdorff is a Dutch/German name, where does the New York come from?
Camille: At the time I was living in New York and we had all the ideas when I was living in an apartment on 39th Street in Hell’s Kitchen. We moved to 42nd Street on the West Side and we loved our apartment there in the middle of New York, we started everything there. That was the basis, all in New York.
RS: When you say “we” are speaking of you and the five people?
Camille: Yeah my partner Darren Johnson and I started it all, and then we went further in Europe, in the south in Maastricht with the other people. I love New York, it is my city and it has given me so much strength. Amsterdam is very nice but the people there are slow. I love New York so much though and these four smells are my babies. To get the reaction from the market and all these people has been great. I have gone really slowly but everyone has other jobs as well, I work in the company full time but some people only work 1-2 days. It is a very little company and we have put a lot of work into it. I have traveled all around the world to find my smells; I am doing everything slowly but efficiently.
RS: Right now your fragrances are available in Paris, Amsterdam, and Moscow.
Camille: We are also in Belgium and New York. Belgium has been very good to us.
Interview conducted October 2012 in Amsterdam.