‘It’s all about your olfactory memory,’ says Anne-Pascale Mathy-Devalck. ‘Everyone is looking for their inner self and a fragrance that reminds them of something from their childhood, the smell of a garden, the feeling of having the smell of someone they loved on their skin.’ It was this highly personal relationship between people and scent that inspired Mathy-Devalck to open her Brussels boutique, L’Antichambre, specialising in bespoke fragrances.
Mathy-Devalck has always been passionate about perfume. She was working as a graphic designer and photographer when, in 2005, one of her close friends found a historic book of perfumes among her mother’s belongings. The book, dating back to 1905, was filled with forgotten formulas that immediately piqued Mathy-Devalck’s interest. Initially, the perfumer planned to resurrect these lost fragrances but she soon realised that her real passion was imagining and creating her own original scents. She then spent four years learning her craft before finally opening L’Antichambre in 2009.
Each scent sold in the store is crafted from the highest-quality raw materials and is manufactured in Grasse, the historic region at the centre of the French perfume industry. ‘We manufacture our perfumes in Grasse because it’s the most renowned place in the world to find the highest-quality raw materials for perfumes,’ Mathy-Devalck explains. ‘It’s the world capital of perfume and has a long history of perfume creation – it’s also one of the best places to find professional noses.’
While L’Antichambre’s perfumes are manufactured in France, each is imagined and conceived in Brussels. The bespoke service is highly personalised. The client is first led through each of the base ingredients, sampling them and discussing his or her emotional reaction to each scent with Mathy-Devalck. After a preference is determined, the perfumer then crafts a series of samples in test tubes, adding and removing different ingredients depending on the client’s tastes, until the final blend is determined. Every bespoke perfume is unique and its exact ingredients are kept a closely guarded secret.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mathy-Devalck’s own tastes are extremely varied. ‘When I first started working I liked the woody and spicy notes,’ she explains. ‘After working and discovering all these new raw materials and fragrances, my senses and tastes have become broader and broader. Now I like some roses, for example, musky notes, heliotrope notes … and a million more!’
Although the boutique is known for its bespoke service, L’Antichambre also offers a highly sought-after range of ‘ready-to-wear’ perfumes for both men and women, as well as a selection of home fragrances, including room sprays, diffusers and scented candles. Each ready-mixed scent is based on the highest-quality ingredients available and crafted with the same amount of care as the bespoke fragrances. ‘Our home-made fragrances are based on stories, meetings we have had with people who came into the shop, a moment, a feeling,’ says Mathy-Devalck.
Every perfume, whether a house fragrance or a unique bespoke creation, is the result of careful thought and consideration, and this attention to detail is reflected in both the fragrance bottles and the boutique itself. Each scent is presented in a bottle designed to echo the spirit of the house and each features a personalised label. ‘We wanted to have something simple to keep the focus on the fragrance rather than the packaging; our main concern is the quality of the product and not the marketing of the bottle,’ explains Mathy-Devalck. ‘It had to be a bottle that shows the luxury of yesterday and the modernity of today but in a very simple way. It was also important for us to have all of our packaging produced in Europe.’
L’Antichambre’s interior has been similarly well thought out. Architect Olivier Hannaert and designer Michel Penneman have created an intimate store, perfectly suited to the personalised nature of its offering. ‘It is a classy and confidential place,’ says Mathy-Devalck. ‘Customers have to feel confident to make their own creations – coming in to L’Antichambre is like entering another world.’
It is this perfectionism combined with personalisation that has proved a winning formula for Mathy-Devalck and L’Antichambre. Imaginatively conceived in Brussels and impeccably executed in Grasse, L’Antichambre’s perfumes now enjoy international acclaim and, perhaps most importantly, Mathy-Devalck is free to do what she loves every day. So what’s next for the perfumer? ‘International development is the next step; we would love to conquer the biggest capitals of the world. Our dream would be to have shops in London and New York.’