Meet the nose behind Karen Walker’s Runaway success fragrance

Article by Fashion Quarterly

Karen Walker's Runaway scent

FQ meets the nose behind Karen Walker’s cult hit fragrance.

A bold blending of opposing elements is Véronique Nyberg’s signature, making her the perfect fit when it came time to create Karen Walker’s newest fragrance, Runaway (the perfume launched in February 2016). As the creative director of Fine Fragrance at MANE, the Paris-based perfumer has developed best-sellers such as Lancôme’s Treśor in Love, Jimmy Choo and Paco Rabanne Invictus. Described by Karen as “a midnight journey deep into the forest”, Runaway is a potent oriental with exotic woody and sensual undertones.

You’ve created a lot of incredible fragrances in the course of your career — what was unique about Runaway?
Every fragrance I’ve created is a different adventure and has a different story. This one began with a great and inspirational encounter.

What was it that drew you to Karen and her brand?
I was seduced by her passion and strong personality. Karen’s signature of playing with masculine and feminine, folk and utility attracts me, as I also love to work with contrast and opposition, exploring the ambiguity of an ingredient’s olfactive profile.

When you create a fragrance, do you envision the sort of person who would wear it, and if so, who is the Runaway Girl to you?
At the beginning of the creative process, Karen introduced me to the Runaway Girl through photos and a storyboard. Thus I had her perfectly in mind from day one: someone wild, edgy, neither feminine nor masculine, who behaves unpredictably. I imagined an artist — a creative, adventurous and independent woman.

Karen Walker's Runaway scent

What was Karen’s brief? And after receiving it, how did you translate her vision into a scent?
Karen showed me her initial concept with some photos. She imagined a universe of a dark forest, with something psychedelic and rock ’n’ roll. I dove into Karen’s fashion, universe and ideas before I started to create the fragrance. For me the creative process always starts with words, colours and textures.

Once I was filled with inspiration, I let the creation begin. I had to choose ingredients that would fit with Karen’s ideas. I knew I’d build a woody structure with spices and flowers
in order to have an androgynous touch that was wild yet feminine. Karen and I worked together for almost a year and it was a fascinating experience; she was there every step of the way, giving her feedback for every new olfactive trial.

So tell us more about that interplay between masculine and feminine…
We really wanted to create an edgy and unpredictable fragrance, something feminine but not girly, something raw with a dark element. To bring that androgynous facet, I used ingredients that are usually for masculine scents, for example woods like vetiver, and spices and aromatic notes such as elemi and black pepper.

What influence does the bottle have on the experience of the fragrance?
The bottle is what you notice first, before the scent itself. It catches the eye and identifies the brand and has great importance in the sensorial experience of a fragrance. Final success depends not only on the fragrance, but on the full mix of packaging, brand and marketing, outside the scope of the perfumer.

Karen Walker and Véronique Nyberg, who brought a beguiling duality to the new scent.

Karen Walker and Véronique Nyberg, who brought a beguiling duality to the Runaway scent.

Do you have a philosophy when it comes to scent?
To be a perfumer, you have to be an artist, painting with olfactive ingredients from both nature and chemistry. For me, a true creation is a seamless merging of opposites; my perfumes are built upon a duality of elements. My style leans on a fine balance of the emotional and the rational, the intuitive and the tangible, chemistry and witchcraft, the innate and the learned. I believe every fragrance should create an emotion.

Where do your ideas come from?
I find inspiration in everything around me: every emotion and impression felt while travelling, visiting a museum, listening to music, or looking at a landscape. Every time my senses are aroused, I’m inspired.

To the outsider, the world of perfumery is magic and mysterious — what’s the secret?
There is no secret to creating a perfume — it’s only a combination of creativity, passion, dedication, knowledge and hard work.

Véronique on Runaway’s notes

Lemon oil For the fresh, electrifying and attractive start.
Cardamom oil For its cold and vibrant note.
Elemi oil For its masculine side with spicy and aromatic facets.
Jasmine absolute and rose oil For the floral heart. These notes are ultra-feminine and opulent — a contrast to the woody, spicy and aromatic notes.
Black Pepper For the intensely spicy effect; it’s slightly masculine and lends a dark and dangerous facet.
Guaiacwood oil and vetiver oil For an androgynous, woody base. Full of contrasts, they’re both creamy and textural.

Words: Bronwyn Williams