Meet Walter Johnsen, the Creator of the Graff Lesedi La Rona Fragrance Collection
For over half a century, Graff has been recognized as one of the major players in the luxury jewellery industry. The legendary jewellery house boasts a legacy of cutting and polishing the world’s most precious rough diamonds and transforming them into works of art.
The Graff Lesedi La Rona is one of the greatest diamond accomplishments in history. Cut and polished from a legendary 1,109-carat rough diamond uncovered in Botswana, the name Lesedi La Rona translates as “Our Light” from Tswana, the country’s official language.
And the house of Graff made sure to take inspiration from this extraordinary diamond to create something new and different. The result? Six luxurious fragrances that pair the rarest and most precious perfumery ingredients: Lesedi La Rona I, II, II, IV, V and VI.
The crystal bottle that houses the new Graff fragrance collection is inspired by the contours of the emerald cut Graff Lesedi La Rona diamond. With long, smooth facets, the striking architectural beauty of this iconic, classic diamond cut is reimagined in an eye-catching, elegant, lead-free flacon featuring the Graff logo.
To create the perfumes, Graff teamed up with renowned fragrance creator, Walter Johnsen, to conceive the Graff Lesedi La Rona collection. Johnsen, who is the Global Development Director and Fine Fragrance Creator at Interparfums Inc, was behind some of the biggest global launches of many luxurious and sought-after fine fragrances, earning himself the moniker “King of Fragrances”.
Despite his years of experience, Johnsen’s passion for perfumery hasn’t faltered and continues to shine through in this collection with Graff. In an exclusive Zoom interview with Tatler, Johnsen walked us through every one of the six perfumes and explained the ingredients thoroughly as well as the thought process that went into each creation.
“When these fragrances hit, each of them, whether you like the type of fragrance or not, you can tell the quality of the fragrances,” Johnsen shared. “You can tell the difference between each of them because they have their own signature and character and they’re individual fragrances that don’t smell like anything on the market but highlight each other and stand on their own.”
Below, Johnsen answers some of our burning questions about the collection.
Which fragrance do you think can be worn from day to night?
Walter Johnsen (WJ): That’s a hard question for me to answer only for the same reason why when someone says there is a difference between a day fragrance or night fragrance or summer fragrance or winter fragrance. Because I come from a place where fragrance is what makes you happy. So if wearing a fragrance that everyone says is a "day fragrance" at night, and if it makes you happy—do it.
But I think Number IV and V would easily transition from day to night. Number I too, as it is simple and elegant. Number II plays more towards a day than it does at night while Number III is more into afternoons and evenings. Number IV is a playful fragrance so you can use that in the day but its sensuality plays towards the night.
Number V, I find the same thing about it as I do with Number IV as there is a brightness about IV that’s playful enough to wear in the day but as it warms up, the vanilla element adds sensuality to it. Number VI, I think, is a day fragrance for Middle Eastern consumers but for someone in the US, it is more for the evening. But it really depends on the individual. I do know of people who want OUD fragrances that they wear day and night. Again, my first reaction is—it’s really a personal choice. What difference does it make if it is for the evening or day?
Do you think these fragrances in the collection are considered genderless?
WJ: That’s an interesting question because that’s a question that’s coming up a lot now. When I spoke to the marketing team, they were like ‘Oh, we’re going to do a genderless perfume’. But where will it be sold? When you go into a department store, they have different sections for men’s and women’s fragrances. That being said, one of the things about niche fragrances [like this collection], the more niche or luxurious the ingredients of the fragrance, they have a tendency to be more genderless in their identity. You’ll find more niche aspects but it’s not because they’re for males or females but because the quality of the ingredients brings it to another level that crosses all boundaries. So for these fragrances alone, yes I think they could play to a male or female consumer. I know men in my office who wear them. They could absolutely go either way but it’s because of their ingredients.
How do you think Covid-19 changed the perfumery industry?
WJ: Believe it or not, I think fragrance found its way again. People buy fragrances because it makes them happy. If you think about the past year and a half when people were in lockdown, people would wear or buy fragrance because it was some sense of structure. It was something they could do to make themselves happy. It was about smelling something that could trigger a happy memory, like a trip to St Tropez or even a visit to the supermarket. I think people relooked fragrances from the perspective of how it makes them feel emotionally as opposed to the ‘commodity’ that it has become over the last couple of years. I think Covid helped fragrance to find its root in happiness.