Soap stars: a keen nose points Portuguese label Claus Porto in a fresh direction
Last year Lyn Harris didn’t have time to take a holiday. London’s most internationally recognised fine perfumer, Harris trained in Grasse 30 years ago and established her first line, Miller Harris, 17 years ago. She founded her rather brilliant fragrance brand, Perfumer H, in 2015 and is again hot property, with numerous brands knocking at her door for the talents of her nose.
The workload may have seen off 2016’s summer holiday, but Harris did make a road trip around Portugal at the behest of Claus Porto. Founded 130 years ago in Porto by Germans Ferdinand Claus and Georges Schweder, Claus Porto is the brand that soap savants have sought out as much for the striking packaging as the fragrant toiletries inside. The arresting graphics of the soap wrappers trace the illustrative fashions of the 20th century, with some of the deco designs particularly sought after. Taken in hand by the de Brito family at the end of the First World War, it remained in the family until two years ago when Ricardo Cunha-Vaz of Menlo Capital acquired a majority stake.
Anne-Margreet Honing, a Dutch art director who built her career in Paris working with clients such as Comme des Garçons, was enlisted to steer the brand into its next phase. She sought out a roster of local creatives to bring the brand back to life in the most sensitive and relevant way. The talents she has brought in range from the world-renowned Portuguese architect João Mendes Ribeiro, who has designed the interiors of the new Lisbon store and the recently opened Porto flagship, to lesser-known talents, such as set designer Pedro Rodrigues, who works on windows; Eduardo Aires, of White Studio, who redesigned the men’s Musgo Real line; and Francelino Gomes, a young graphic designer who became Honing’s right-hand man in the redesign of everything from the logo to the Porto store’s original tiled floors.
But to ensure one of the most important elements of the brand’s revival was handled skilfully, Honing turned to Harris. Having already met socially, the pair were quick to bond. Not so much a sightseeing tour as a nose-nudging endeavour, the road trip was proposed by Honing as a way to immerse Harris in the brand and the country it represents, with a view to developing a signature fragrance.
Accompanied by photographer and filmmaker João Sousa, they set off in September. ‘The heat of summer was captured in the earth and was making all the smells richer,’ says Harris. The starting point was a vineyard in the Douro, the home of Aquiles de Brito. Having steered the ship before Cunha-Vaz stepped in, de Brito is the man the brand still turns to as an authority on detail and authenticity. ‘Aquiles is someone who has held the brand through the hardest times, dedicating his life to it. His family estate is what fed him, and fed the brand, it’s the context for the story,’ says Honing. Climbing a hill to an abandoned chapel on the estate, they were bathed in the scent of cedars, a smell that hooked Harris. They also talked to de Brito about his most poignant smells, and his answer was decisively citrus accords.
The cologne’s handmade glass flacon is in the shape of an ink bottle ‘to represent 130 years of storytelling’, explains Honing. Photography: Bruno Barbosa
Passing by the botanical gardens of Porto and Lisbon, they moved down the coast and wherever they went, Harris picked up leaves, cones, stems and stones, and where possible pressed them into her notebook. They sniffed the wind, and the salt of the marshes, and cedar notes carried by the humidity. Harris was struck by one particular botanical, the Barbary fig, a tropical plant with watery green notes that is native to Portugal.
Back in the lab, Harris tried to synthesise the experience into a single fragrance. The Barbary fig became her starting point. She added citrus notes to the top, galbanum for greenness, and elemi for a green peppery note, and cedar. It captures the fruits, the salt, pines and shrubs of Portugal in a very modern, comforting cologne. ‘With Aquiles’ citrus element and the Barbary fig, it has become a unique combination of things,’ says Harris. Together, Honing and Harris have honed a scent that captures the essence of the proudly Portuguese brand.
Harris will continue to see that the olfactory offering remains en pointe while Honing, having jumped into Porto life with both feet, is inspired to bring far more to the brand than once imagined – think tiles and textiles, tapping into the local vernacular and crafts, and taking advantage of the brand’s weighty illustrative archives.
As originally featured in the October 2017 issue of Wallpaper* (W*223)