JOHN-PAUL WELTON I INTERVIEW
A GENTLEMAN'S SECRET SCENTED GUIDE FOR TRAVELLING IN STYLE.
May 18th 2021
written by Laurence Arrigo Klove
A Swiss ambassador in London or a British diplomat in Geneva. Possibly both. Thanks to John-Paul Welton, diplomacy only consists of pleasant, scented encounters. Our gentleman secret is his passion for New York City. Damn it! He is an American agent. One with the cover of creating beautiful scents.
You are not quite Swiss and not quite British. Are you lost in translation? Where do you feel home?
I can see how you can get confused about me and the matter is even more complex than what you think. I was born in Geneva from a Swiss mother and an English father. My grandmother was Italian and my grandfather from the South of France, precisely from the hills behind Nice. As early as 6 months old, we moved to a new country every year. I got used to settling down in a new place, with a new school and new people.
"I am a curious person and I utterly enjoyed discovering different worlds. I have always been happy as I was able to take advantage of the present without feeling nostalgic of the past. To this day, I feel home where-ever I am. All-right I will admit that I have a sweet spot and it is Provence, my family summer holidays destination."
How many countries have you travelled to and how many languages do you speak?
I have travelled to more than 45 countries. Not only I have continued my family tradition of living in a new place every year - Paris, Florence, London for the last 3 years - but I also travel overseas during my holidays, to far away destinations. I only speak English, French and Italian. However, I try and catch as much as possible foreign words, I‘monkey’ speak Spanish, Romanian… The locals must have a ball listening to me!
From all your travelling around the world, which place inspires you most?
That is an awfully difficult question for a cosmopolitan traveller! How can I possibly only choose one place? All-right then, I will put aside London and Florence and I will pick Bali.
"Bali is such a unique place, the whole world mixes there and lives in harmony. The locals’ kindness is authentically rooted in their culture. They are used to giving offerings to their god, to their family, to their guests… without expecting anything in return. Another thing is special there, the sheer enthusiasm, the joy of its people. In our culture, only children have that level of elation, then as adults we become so wise and tamed. In Bali, when I see adults totally enjoying steering their kites for hours on end, I feel so happy myself."
Can I assume that you infused to your brand your passion for travelling?
Precisely! My brand is indeed ‘an invitation to an olfactory journey’, mine really. I do not follow fashion or trends. My trips to Geneva, to Italy, to the Middle East, to Asia… they all inspire my scents. I share in an authentic way my emotions, my dreams, my happiness and put it into my perfumes. You see, I am trying myself – like the locals in Bali - to give something that will make a difference, that will bring a smile.
Beyond your passion for travelling, what originally triggered the creation of your brand?
At one stage in my life, I decided to leave the corporate business world I had lived in all along and venture into a new chapter, a more creative one. Having stayed in so many different hotels around the world, I could not help noticing that some lounges and rooms had a blend smell usually not that appealing. I thought I can do - or at least try - better than that. I can create an atmosphere through intense, evocative interior perfumes.
"In 2003, I started my own business of home scents and custom-made home decoration. The business experienced a genuine good start with plenty of private client’s orders. Then in 2007, I attended the Parisian fair ‘Maison & Objet’ and that was a game changer. Suddenly, I had calls of several prestigious French fashion houses..."
Let us stop it there, shall we? You have worked and still work for fashion designers such as Courrèges, Christian Lacroix, Karl Lagerfeld and more…Tell us everything.
Right not quite everything. I will try and be short, to the point. I was noticed in 2007 as I said earlier and started working on candles projects for Dior and Lacroix. I could work not only on the scent itself but also on the glass and on the packaging box, therefore developing the whole concept tailor-made to the specific requirements of the brand. First, I immerse myself in the specific brand universe, and I listen to their specific request. I then submit 3-4 scents to begin with, over the course of 8 months or so, the scent is finalised as well as the product prototype. For Lacroix, the whole idea is to give the ‘Couture’ feeling, its Spanish universe to the candle. I also produce Lacroix hotels amenities for the Asian region and for Australia. For Courrèges, I needed to convey an architecture style, so I had the idea of a crystal cube.
"Karl Lagerfeld is my most important collaboration not only in terms of sheer business volume but also in terms of contact. I was lucky enough to work directly with Karl over so many years and on a large variety of projects. How could that possibly happen? How could a small brand like mine be chosen by him? He told me that he had bought Welton candles for his home interior. He simply liked them. The most difficult project was the creation of the candle ‘Karl’ which features his famous white-collar shirt and his black glasses. The black button shirt was ultimately the toughest challenge for production. We cracked it. The most recent project is the creation of an exclusive scent ‘Iris Noir’ for Karl Lagerfeld Boutiques Worldwide."
So, have you also ventured into bespoke perfumes?
I must confess I have not. I am worried that when meeting with the client, I will not have the ‘spark’ required to develop a bespoke perfume. I fear that I will put too much of my perception of the other person rather than the brief given by the client. Ultimately, I guess it is quite intimidating to me to become so intimate with a stranger really. It is much more comfortable discussing home scents. Laugh! So, following my clients requests, I have developed a perfumes collection. Out of the 7 perfumes, the most popular one, Secret Amber, was a home scent that I made into a perfume.
What is your least favourite scent ingredient and the one you particularly like?
I particularly dislike the citrusy chemical smell used to generate the feeling of cleanliness. I have smelt it so often and I am still surprised by how much I distaste it.
"What I love are warm smells, comforting ones. Woody, amber, floral, depending on the mood, on the spur of the moment, I will pick one. It could be, Jasmin Sacré for the feeling of an Italian Island, Oud Inspiration, or Iconic Amber Oud, for its rich warm tones. There are no gender codes at all in my collection. Only mood and destination codes."
So, in order to produce your scents, how did you get to mingle in the so-closed universe of Grasse?
That is a good question as Grasse is like a club and one needs a key to enter. Through my grand-father Nice connections,I got to know a young owner, Franck Lions, of a perfume laboratory who happened to be available for new projects.
"I also met Vincent Ricord, senior perfumer at CPL Aromas, who became a dear friend so that he happened to be my wedding witness. He totally understands my inspirations and is able to perfectly translate them into perfumes. This is to this day a fantastic collaboration."
Vincent Ricord, Senior Perfumer CPL Aromas
I usually go down to Grasse regularly and we work very well together on new ideas such as the sustainability of our products. All our products are FSC certified, recyclable PET and the new body range bottles are made of Green Bio-Based PET from sugar cane. We will definitely continue to do much more on this front.
Can you explain why you were inspired by New York for the design of your home collection?
When I am in New York City, I am always taken by the thrill, the frantic rhythm, and the multi-cultural mix of its people. Who would not! I was lucky enough to live in an apartment in front of the Empire State building, so that I could see the different lights reflecting on its façade. More than anything I love the entrance of the Empire State, the elevators doors are like magnificent sculptures. This gave me the inspiration for the home diffusors which I then used for the perfume bottles. I also chose black and metal accordingly.
Why is the black colour so present in your brand and in your lifestyle?
In my opinion, with black one cannot risk lacking taste. Black is elegant, timeless, beautiful. I do mix it though with beige, off-white, and terracotta colors in home interiors. My last perfume collection is white as well as the new body care line.
Now back to London, what do you particularly fancy in the City?
Well, in one way, London has one thing in common with New York; namely its diversity. The whole world comes to London for work. I really love it. What is special in London is the fact that for as long as one does not bother anybody, one can be dressed in the most eccentric way and that will be totally fine. Wearing a striped dark-colored suit with a bright pink tie or socks and a crazy hat is perfectly okay. This is what I call the British touch. I hope my fellow citizens will agree with me on this one. But as you have figured out, I am also Swiss, organized, rigorous, on-time. Just dressed differently…
Why is Harrods so appealing in your opinion as a shopping destination?
"Harrods is the temple of luxury goods. It has vast spaces; it has style and history. Welton has done very well at Harrods since its inception. I am always impressed by its escalators design, its food halls, its different architecture styles… Clients are also remarkably interesting as they do come from all over the world. I have fun inside. Always."
As an experienced traveller, what does it mean for you travelling in style?
It can be different things depending on the destination, but one thing is for sure. No train. I do not fancy travelling by train as I like to step out wherever and whenever I wish. My favorite way of travelling is by plane. Once I am through the hand- luggage control, I find it a totally relaxing experience. Once on board, I fall asleep before take-off and I must be awakened before the plane lands. I get so much rest that by the time I arrive I am totally ready to take full advantage of a new experience. I travel light. But of course. Notepad in hand. Light one.
What is luxury for you?
"Luxury for me is to be able to see beauty all around. In Geneva, where we are now, I am always mesmerized by the beauty of the lake, the light, the boats sailing, the moon rising… Luxury is also the time I spend with my family totally enthralled and happy whether in London singing and playing or running on a beach."
If you were to pick a star for its elegance which one will it be?
Oddly enough, I will pick two actors from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, two American stars: Robert Redford and Humphrey Bogart. I find Redford’s casual elegance stunning as well as his silent attitude. He says little, he is not in the limelight. He is quite mysterious. As for Bogart, what a magnetic actor, gangster, or detective in the noir movies, surely unsettled or unsettling, one never quite understands who he is really.
I Need to know More. To Uncover the Agent.
Behind his classic elegance and his divine politeness, the world of John-Paul Welton is full of mystery. One never quite fully takes at face value what he says. Something remains untold. What comes to mind is Humphrey Bogart in the 1944 movie ‘To have and Have not’ with the stunning Lauren Bacall singing "How Little We Know"*. Could not fit better the character. I am utterly curious and thrilled to know more and ‘uncover’ his magnificent scents. At all costs. He sparked my determination.
*you could also listen to ‘An Englishman in New York’ by Sting. But in this case, Mr. Welton is not quite an alien. He mingles all right as an undercover agent.