Carlos Benaim is the Vice President Master Perfumer at International Flavours and Fragrances (IFF) in New York. The lingering scents of tobacco, pennyroyal and market herbs of his childhood in Tangiers inspired his vocation, which now spans four decades. His work has taken him to Grasse, the perfume capital, as well as Amsterdam and the UK. In 2014, he was awarded the Fragrance Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award.
With a keen understanding of air’s potential as a fragrant canvas, he has masterly distilled the volatile essence of colour and emotion into a number of best-selling perfumes. He is also widely recognised as the talented nose behind Ralph Lauren’s Polo and Polo Blue fragrances, which champion a “heritage of elegance and masculinity.” Here, Mr. Benaim talks to Manuscript about the latest Ralph Lauren men’s fragrance: Polo Supreme Oud, which balances robust wood notes with more delicate spice notes.
What was the inspiration behind the new Polo Supreme Oud?
My vision was to bring a unique interpretation to oud perfumery. I have a personal fascination with oud, which I have been studying for more than 20 years. If you ever have the opportunity to burn this precious wood, you will be mesmerised by its addictive aura. For this particular fragrance, I wanted to capture that essence of smoke from burning oud, which creates a hypnotic effect.
What exactly is oud?
It’s a dark aromatic resin found in rare species of agarwood trees. It is extracted from the wood and burned to create a distinctive scent characterised by intense woody notes with smoky, ambery undertones. It’s a rare and precious ingredient that is deeply rooted in the heritage of Middle Eastern countries, where it is associated with royalty, strength and luxury and has been a part of the culture for years. Recently, we have started to see the fast-growing trend of stronger and more intense fragrances all over the world.
How did you go about distilling it in the creation of Polo Supreme Oud for Ralph Lauren?
I used a special technology that allows you to capture plant and live smells and enables their reproduction in the truest impression. In this instance I selected the highest quality of oud from India. A glass dome was then placed over the burning oud to contain and extract the smoke being emitted. The scent molecules are captured in a special trap and analysed, allowing me to create the unique smoking oud accord found in the resultant fragrance.
You balanced oud with other ingredients. What makes olfactive structure so intriguing?
Polo Supreme Oud is a hypnotic blend of precious spices, smoky oud accord and rich woods. We wanted to create a more modern and faceted oud so I introduced key ingredients such as vetiver and guaiac wood that when combined give the fragrance incredible depth and texture. We contrasted the smoky woody complex with fresh spices like cinnamon and pink pepper for a very masculine and distinctive scent. It’s also an eau de parfum, which uses a higher concentration of ingredients for a more robust and longer-lasting fragrance, making it the most luxurious in the Ralph Lauren portfolio.
You created the first Ralph Lauren fragrance, Polo, in 1978. Do you find there are any similarities to your new fragrance for the brand?
Created more than 35 years ago, Polo continues to be the epitome of Ralph Lauren’s heritage of elegance and masculinity. Polo Supreme Oud shares a common thread of smoky woodiness, but this is a more modern fragrance that is adapted for the sophisticated man of today.