Jean-Christophe Le Greves is the founder and creative force behind the Thirdman Contemporary Eau de Cologne line of frangances. Along with Bruno Jovanovic and Clement Gavarry, Le Greves has created scents that are “simple and streamlined, abstract yet familiar, and unlike any of its predecessors.”
Thirdman has been featured in Vanity Fair, Wallpaper, Details, Martha Stewart, Finoman, and received a Fragrance Foundation Award Nomination earlier this year, recognizing creativity, artistry, and the entrepreneurial spirit.
429Magazine spoke with Le Greves on his inspirations, his process, and what it means to be the creator of Thirdman.
429Magazine: Tell me about your background and how you came to work in the luxury goods industry.
Jean-Christophe le Greves: By learning consecutively marketing, creative direction and perfumery, I wanted to develop a true understanding of brand philosophy, creative development and their implications on a fragrance positioning, visual, olfactive and marketing.
I graduated in business studies, then at the Royal College of Art. Before working for multinational groups such as L’Oreal in Paris and New York and International Flavors & Fragrances Inc, where I was trained in perfumery, McCann Erikson as SVP as Senior Creative Director, and Young & Rubicam as agency Creative Director for Chanel.
This is how I have had the privilege and pleasure to work on some well-known fragrance launches covering a wide range of luxury brands, before launching my own line in late 2011
429Mag: Why do it? Why perfume?
Le Greves: Indeed, does the world need another fragrance? I did it simply because there was still something to be said in the field that was not being explored the way it could be.
Perfume is one of the luxury objects which is devoid of a function, and giving a product real emotional relevance to a customer through just a scent, a word, and a form or a color, fascinated me early in time.
429Mag: How would you define the niche fine fragrance category? It seems as if it’s a bit of an uprising, an endowed rebel group launching their own lines of liquid art…a counter brand where consumers create their own stories.
Le Greves: The niche fragrance market is still in its pioneering phase from some standpoint, with brands based on differentiation, attention to the craftsmanship of scents, from traditional to modern, the quality of the ingredients, and olfactory inventiveness of the note, away from the usual fragrance marketing models of the classic fine fragrance brand. The market has nevertheless evolved and become very kaleidoscopic, and in an era of immediate gratifications, some brands with the apparent cues of a niche product may not quite be.
Today, modern perfumery can find its voice through niche. There are still very interesting characters and enterprises starting in the field which allow to broaden and renew an industry that has become too often a commodity at the expense of craftsmanship.
429Mag: What do you aspire to do through this line?
Le Greves: Bring back freedom and a different attitude towards high end fine fragrance arena, more about freedom than only status, ultimately question the way we look at luxury in general and what that means today.
429Mag: Would you say it’s timeless or will the scents be seasonal and ever changing?
Le Greves: It all comes down to who wears them. The Thirdman line is to be used anytime, anywhere and all over regardless of season or moods.
429Mag: You have dedicated yourself to holistic understanding—bringing it to the marketplace. What is it about the natural benefits that intrigue you? Is a product with no true benefit to humans or the planet—that does not make a difference—without purpose?
Le Greves: The Thirdman line is in contemporary craftsmanship; beautiful highest grade essences, minimalistically blended to give a sense of modern well being and liberating on impact. It is not about smelling good but very simply living well.
429Mag: How is it that you came to these specific scents? What was it about each facet that you were drawn to—how did you come to put these components together? Does each scent have a story behind it?
Le Greves: Thirdman wanted to arch back to the original purpose of a scent and make our blends part of a daily feel good ritual that is still very luxurious and qualitative. For that we needed to create a new kind of freshness, more modern than the classic high end splashes on the market and make freshness last without becoming a perfume.
For perfume to linger on skin, you need deeper base notes like wood, saps, or vanilla for instance. We didn’t want to do that, because that would be denying our very purpose, which is to do a fresh scent that you can splash in large quantity without becoming overwhelming or heavy.
So we worked a lot with few key high-end natural or innovative components that pair so beautifully with citrus allowing the freshness of the citrus to become second skin. Their architecture is very minimal, letting the quality of each natural ingredient shine through while the overall impression is more abstract than usual.
Each scent is a modern study on freshness taking the classic ‘Eau de Cologne’ archetypes (an aromatic, a citrus, an amber, a floral/neroli) and reimagining them for the new era and a type of new consumer.
429Mag: Bruno Joavnovic described the versatility in the eaux in that it can be worn by “anyone and everywhere” and can even be used to “perfume your blankets.”
Le Greves: The concept of men’s scents and women’s scents is only from the 20th century. There was no notion of fragrance for men or women before that. And for Thirdman, we don’t even say “unisex.” We say, “for everyone.” We are making scents that are a pleasure for everyone to wear.
The word Thirdman, is not to describe a scent for men. Instead of a brand name, it is a code name for the personality hidden behind our line.
429Mag: Were these scents developed to be so adaptable and multipurpose?
Le Greves: Yes. We also call them ‘universal’ scents to live in rather than ‘wear.’ They are versatile and can fit many places, needs and circumstances. We like to think of the Thirdman scents, as part of a personal journey, an everyday ritual, after sports, on clothes, or linens, on the road as instant refined refreshment, by themselves and even your favorite perfume.
429Mag: You mentioned “versatile scents to live in rather than wear.” It seems as if this is a personal connection that the consumer makes with the fragrance—specific notes that resonate and hit a specific emotional button so to speak. And so, is the choice in which fragrance about mood or personality?
Le Greves: Thirdman’s scents are first and foremost about feeling good and living well. The romantic notion of fragrances being emotional triggers is definitely true and the basis on which most of the perfume marketing models are built. To our opinion, scents fulfill also a more ‘utilitarian’ role while no less luxurious nor aspirational. Striking such duality is what we find interesting.
429Mag: Tell me about your perfumers and how you came to work with them. Why Bruno Jovanovic and Clement Gavarry?
Le Greves: They are both part of the new and next generation of perfumers who come with a beautiful academic background, unbelievable knowledge of natural essences, while able to question and evolve the architecture of a scent, believing in the ‘essential.’ They are minimalists rather than impressionists in their olfactory style, more about abstraction than ornamentation or even design.
429Mag: Tell me about your packaging: the minimalistic colors and bold pop of the box.
Le Greves: The size of the bottle is to allow for extra application. I love the dual function of the hand-dipped rubber bottoms—beautiful and practical. This brand stands for freedom and liberation.
429Mag: Tell me how the colors, shapes, and typeface come into play. Is it an anti-image?
Le Greves: We like to abide to the notion that form follows function, best represented by the Bauhaus esthetic, stripping away the unnecessary. In a time where we believe that beautiful simplicity, attention to texture, lines and proportions, timelessness but also with some humor or lightness. Modernism does not have to be stern nor cold.
429Mag: Tell me about “Neo Freshness.”
Le Greves: Each scent is a modern study on freshness taking the classic ‘Eau de Cologne’ archetypes (an aromatic, a citrus, an amber, a floral/neroli) and reimagining them for the new era and its new consumer.
429Mag: How did you come to work with Sophie Toulouse?
Le Greves: I met Sophie Toulouse in New York many years ago and from the beginning loved her esthetic view on objects, life, art. Her creative approach is lateral: it is thoughtful simplicity. She does not think in ‘design’ terms, but very instinctively finds a unique creative answer to each project and problem. It fits perfectly the Thirdman brand mindset in a very organic alliance.
429Mag: What have been some of the highlights of your career thus far?
Le Greves: My years at the Royal College of Art in the early 90’s, living amongst a huge variety of creative minds. Learning perfumery thanks to the mentorship of International Flavors & Fragrances, and its amazing noses, and being able to see perfume creation from various angles thanks to our collaboration. Working with the multi disciplinary team at IFF on the launch of several important scents now internationally established. Starting an amazing collaboration with the Neiman Marcus group for the launch of the Thirdman line.
429Mag: What does it mean to make a difference?
Le Greves: To carry one’s unique view and beliefs into action and learn to do even better the next time.
429Mag: As an artist to resonate with your audience, as with a product brand, you have to resonate with your audience. You must stand out and be bold, but at the same open and exposed. How can you be strong and vulnerable at the same time?
Le Greves: Launching a creative project on a significant scale is accepting full exposure indeed and jumping without a net. It is both beautiful and humbling. Keeping the destination in mind and also the reason why and where we started in the first place, that carries us through.
429Mag: What moves you the most?
Le Greves: Strength with vulnerability.
429Mag: What was the last thing you learned?
Le Greves: Start everyday with the freshest perspective.
429Mag: What’s important?
Le Greves: Have creative independence. Truth. Stay curious. Be kind.