Photos: Rosa Merk
1. The Blind Tasting | LAVS by Unum
We confronted Christoph Tophinke with a mystery perfume in a neutral, opaque vaporizer. Only afterwards did we reveal the name of the scent. Follow Christoph on his journey into scent …
Force and Volume.
This reminds me very much of a Catholic Mass. True, I was raised in Protestant Hamburg, but my family is originally from the Rhineland, where just about everyone is Catholic. My grandfather was a sculptor and specialized in sacral sculpture. The scent is evocative of those kinds of image: the chilly nave of a church, a bad organist, crucifixes and snoring grandmas.
But it’s more than anything a musical trip into my past. Sacral music of all kinds has always interested me and indeed influences my musical tastes to this day. Nothing beats a loud blast of organ music when one is stuck in Berlin traffic. The organ is an instrument of incredible force and volume, downright physical. Yet David Guetta fans probably can’t make much of it at all.
There’s nonetheless something pretty laid back about this scent. It is not that it dates from bygone days or is in any way old-fashioned. Rather, it’s something for a wacky guy such as Dieter Meier of Yellow. He too likes to rant against the church. Yes, he might wear this and then go laughingly on his way. Does the Pope wear perfume do you think? Would he be allowed to?
Incidentally, church is a good place to learn to tell the time. Once the wafers have been handed out there’s still roughly fifteen minutes to go. And do exercise caution when choosing your pew neighbors. Old people snore — although they certainly sing much better than anyone else. Younger people keep mum throughout the show then get in a lather on the way home about the bad wine served at Mass. Fortunately the Church equipped itself to cater for vegans very early on: the Host are made of water and flour.
2. The Interview
What is Christoph Tophinke’s earliest scent memory? What is the significance of fragrance in his life? Which are his personal Top 3 perfumes? Find the answers below!
Light, summery scents that are barely there.
Helder Suffenplan: Do you recall your first ever perfume?
Christoph Tophinke: Absolutely, it was Azzaro pour Homme. I bought some for myself when I was eighteen and instantly felt very grown up. What nonsense!
HS: A true classic!
CT: A 1980s dinosaur: Heaven 17 on the cassette player, a pair of Fiorucci jeans, a splash of Azzaro and off one went! It would be to one-dimensional for me, nowadays. Still, at the time it was great fun!
HS: And what came after Azzaro?
CT: I discovered pretty quickly that Creed suited me. I found it in England. The Brits are good at light, summery perfumes — scents that are barely there.
HS: Are there any favorites you wear regularly?
CT: Not really. I vary it daily. Anything else would bore me to tears.
HS: Would you be interested in having someone create a perfume especially for you?
CT: No. That stuff is pure nonsense. There are even stores around nowadays where apparently one can compose one’s own perfume — every one of them a devil’s kitchen for those out to drive other people mad. I feel very well provided for without any of this supposedly customized nonsense.
HS: Are you ever conscious of how other people smell?
CT: Yes, absolutely! Odors, in particular perfumes can literally be an attack on the environment. I’m afraid that a lot of people are lulled by marketing into buying a certain brand, but give little thought to what consequences it may have for them, personally.
HS: In your store, the Chelsea Farmers Club, there are products from Trumper, Taylor of Old Bond Street and D.R. Harris — all long-established London brands.
CT: Taylor of Old Bond Street was the first soap to be included in our range. I could hardly believe they were willing to sell it to me. The first time I ever stood in front of the Taylor store I was eighteen years old and didn’t dare cross the threshold. There were at least eight people in white coats behind the counter — totally awe-inspiring. I still take a photo of the store’s window display every time I’m in London.
HS: What so impressed you about the brand?
CT: Not the teeniest thing ever changes. It’s very fascinating. Every rule in the marketing book is ignored with a smile and it nonetheless somehow works. That is the most advanced form of marketing ever. Ultimately, the premise is: Please, everyone, don’t make such a fuss. There are considerably more important things in life than soap, suits and neckties! Try some conversation instead and enjoy life! Get a move on! And the Chelsea Farmers Club is based on the exact same premise.
HS: Are you planning to integrate further brands in your range — also perfumes perhaps?
CT: No, nothing more will be added. Chelsea Farmers Club is neither a soap store nor a perfumery. We sell practical and very useful society wear, from Wellington boots to tuxedos. Which is why we don’t serve Prosecco or cappuccino. We do however keep a bar well stocked with gin and vodka. That helps people make up their mind more quickly [laughs] and is simply more honest.
HS: Different types of gin vary enormously in odor. Is that the case also with vodka?
CT: Vodka is practically odorless, although there are definitely exceptions. You can drink good vodka warm without it doing you even a hint of harm. But the taste of it too can vary enormously — it may even be quite buttery. Ketel One from Holland is my absolute favorite, an extremely good vodka manufacture. It opened a completely new world for me. Which is why we have that too in our bar.
HS: What is the best smell of all, in your opinion?
CT: Fresh tar! The Ku’damm in Berlin is being re-asphalted so I’ve caught myself driving more slowly these last few days, rolling down the window to enjoy the pleasant whiff. It smells a little toxic, very forbidden and very intensive!
HS: And what is the worst smell you can imagine?
CT: I find the air in a club the morning after truly disgusting. It’s a cocktail of various awful odors: spilled alcohol, stale smoke and possibly also someone’s vomit … It’s really repulsive!
HS: So you would never buy the perfume The Morning After?
CT: No, on no account [laughs]! Although the name does have a wonderful ring to it.
HS: Thank you!