A Moment With: Manuel Cross from Rogue Perfumery

Manuel Cross is the nose behind Rouge Perfumery, and with each creation, he reaffirms the brilliance of 'retro' perfumery. His touch is exquisite and sophisticated, and with every release, Cross brings a beloved olfactory style back to life, like restoring an artefact from a bygone era in the present.

Archetypically 'indie' in manner, Cross's style is unambiguous, allowing people to lean into a love for traditional perfumery - which amounts to good form, structure, and complex accords throughout. We are excited to offer a curated selection of Rouge fragrances, emphasising beloved masculine styles that bring to mind many of the greats of yesteryear. In conversation with Cross, we've dived into the brand, the makings of a 'nose', and his many inspirations.

Integral to your brand identity is its retro olfactory aesthetic and style. Of course, these are released in an age with strikingly different tastes and expectations surrounding perfumes. Do you worry about your consumers not ‘getting the point’ of your scents?

Absolutely! A good example is Mousse Illuminee which is one of my top sellers. I nearly scrapped the entire project from the start because I thought, “Nobody is going to ‘get’ this”. I mean, I had hit my target goal-wise; I wanted to create a strong mossy fragrance that ticked all the nostalgia points from my childhood in the 70s and early teens in the 80s. Mousse Illuminee is a bit brash and unforgiving, I wasn’t going to release it but on a whim I just put it out there.

Are you targeting a certain niche sect of perfume fans? Who might they be?

The vintage fragrance enthusiasts and collectors first come to mind as I am one of those myself. I hunt down and collect and it is an expensive habit yet I cannot necessarily luxuriate in these fragrances because I want to preserve my collection. My logic is, why not create fragrances that push some of these “dated” aesthetics that can be worn regularly at an affordable price point?

The younger generations of fragrance enthusiasts can also get a taste of vintage aesthetics without having to delve into the rabbit hole of research and hunting.

Could you describe the type of customer that would wear a Rogue fragrance?

The Rogue customer is one that definitely lives for today but has one foot planted in nostalgia.

What is a defining and distinguishing feature of your perfumery style?

I’d say a defining characteristic would be the mix of modern and vintage. My fragrances are actually for the most part very modern with vintage effects. The base is most important - and by base I take to understand it as the central accord that runs throughout the fragrances, from top to bottom.

You first began as a lover of vintage perfume. Could you tell us about some of your favourites?

Some of my absolute favourites are Guerlain Derby, Hermes Bel Ami, Chypre de Coty, Caron Pour un Homme and Trussardi Uomo. Unfortunately I never have an opportunity to wear fragrances because it will interfere olfactorily with my work.

So, how valuable has your exposure to these scents been for your own work? 

Exposure to these fragrances have been fundamental to shaping my aesthetic. I find inspiration in their depth, their profiles and richness.

And from this passion, you transitioned from working as a chef to a self-taught perfumer. Was the transition from the kitchen to the perfume organ an easy one?

The transition begin in 2007 and it was very gradual. I failed at my first attempt to make a fragrance. That failure led to an obsession to figure it out. I scoured the internet for information, tracked down old perfumery books on eBay and just kept practising. Every bit of free time was spent learning, practising and researching perfumery. I found perfumery forums and would spend any free moment reading, absorbing and practising.

It was a process that lasted 9 years until I was able to create an actual fragrance that performed as a fragrance, not just an amorphous mix of smells. That fragrance underwent several modifications and about a year later it became the prototype for Tabac Vert. Simultaneously when I was finishing up Tabac Vert I was already putting together prototypes for Chypre-Siam.

Chypre-Siam has a detectably strong Thai influence on the nose with notes of lime leaf and holy basil. When you composed this fragrance, did you work within a culinary framework?

Chypre-Siam was indeed composed within a culinary framework! My wife and I both had a rare day off together (she too was a chef). We were cooking an early dinner of Thai curries and I went out into our garden to pick some lime leaves from our makrut tree. The aroma from the leaves intermingled with the scent of the pink jasmine that grew over the arbour of our garden gate and it was so familiar and mesmerising. At that moment I had the idea to create a fragrance within the traditional chypre structure, using southeast Asian ingredients.

What sort of struggles do you face as a perfumer, and no less an indie ‘small brand’ perfumer?

The challenges of being an indie perfumer are nonstop. Logistical challenges aside, the niche market has grown exponentially since 2007. There is a vast ocean of fragrance brands, how does one keep afloat and stay noticed? I am constantly exploring different ideas to keep relevant, refusing to fall complacent because the moment you’re comfortable you’re dead.

Let's turn to some more of your scents. What can you tell me about Tabac Vert? This fragrance also happens to be my favourite!

The original prototype for Tabac Vert was a basic woody chypre, based on cedarwood and vetiver (one of the unlisted notes). Through a series of modifications in order to find its character, I was originally thinking in the direction of fragrance profiles like Krizia Uomo and Carlo Corinto - those sharp, herbal types that remained fresh through and through. I never hit that goal (the skills to achieve those effects were something I learned later) but rather Tabac Vert was taking on its own personality; it had a cigar humidor effect that I thought smelled much more vintage than the profile I had in mind. I “listened” to the direction this fragrance was going and played up the tobacco and carnation notes. Tabac Vert was born.

What I like most about Tabac Vert is it conveys true tobacco leaf and humidor notes as opposed to the myriad of vanilla-heavy pipe tobacco fragrances on the market.

And Targhee Forest?

Targhee Forest is an ode to my home here in east Idaho. The Targhee forest is only a short drive away from my house and in the early summer I love to take morning drives with my boys into the forest. The scenery is beautiful and we often spot moose and deer (the boys love that) but what I find most intriguing is the scent of the pines being warmed by the rising sun. There’s a fresh, yet musky fragrance that fills the air.

When I created Targhee Forest I wanted to capture that odour of the sun warmed pine trees but through the lens of traditional French perfumery. It’s like placing classic evening wear on that vast and beautifully rugged landscape. 

Your most popular scents are Bon Monsieur and Mousse Illuminee. Why do you think they've been so popular?

Mousse Illuminee and Bon Monsieur are indeed my top sellers, the recently released Targhee Forest is quickly joining that list. These fragrances collectively tick all the nostalgic boxes. Whether or not their fans have lived through the 70s or 80s these fragrances are also very nature-forward and nature is something, I believe, to which we all feel akin.

Finally, what can we expect from the Rogue brand in the future? And, is there anything you’d like to tell your Australian friends?

This year I am finally releasing my second instalment to the oud series. This time around it will focus on the high grade “Kinam” variety of agarwood. Also an Absolu version of Mousse Illuminee is soon to be released. I have many works in progress including some “gourmand” fragrances that aren’t like typical gourmands; not candy-sweet or vanilla-dominant.

Hello Australia! It has been challenging getting my products onto your shores, I’m super excited to be onboard!

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