A perfumer’s secrets: Paris-based Cécile Zarokian is our latest ‘nose’ interview

On this website we’re building a growing portfolio of interviews with perfumers – the fascinating creatives who by stepping into the public eye are helping to generate a huge amount of interest in the art/craft/skill of creating fragrances.

We think this moment in perfume history is akin to when the chefs came storming out of the kitchen, around 20 years ago, and got us interested in food in a whole new way by talking about ingredients, ‘terroir’, the stories of producers and the inspirations behind their creations. So: enjoy our latest ‘nose’ interview – and why not tell us which perfumers you’d like us to turn our spotlight onto…?

Paris-based Cécile Zarokian graduated from ISIPCA (Paris’s ‘perfume university’), spending spent four years at fragrance house Robertet, in Grasse and Paris. She was still a trainee when she created her first fragrance, the stunning Amouage Epic Woman.

In 2011, Cécile set up her own laboratory and now creates as an independent perfumer for Jovoy ParisXerjoffJacques FathLaboratorio Olfattivo and Masque Fragranze. Cécile also created the entire Chateau de Versailles scented candle collection.

What is your first ‘scent memory’?
The perfume of my mother, Femme de Rochas.

When did you decide you wanted to be a perfumer?
Pretty late; I first studied medicine and biochemistry until I changed my mind. Then I met a friend of a friend who was ending the school ISIPCA – and that’s how I started to consider perfumery as a career.

What are your five favourite smells in the world? 
Tough question! I would say smells and perfumes of my relatives.

What’s the worst thing you ever smelled.  (Honestly!)
Puke… I really can’t stand it.

What is the fragrance you wish you’d created? 
I’m truly impressed by Jean Paul Gaultier Le Mâle and Guerlain Shalimar.

If you could have created a fragrance for a historical figure, who would it be? 
Victor Hugo.

What’s the first fragrance you bought. And the first bought for you…? 
The first bought for me by my mother was Tartine et Chocolat (from Givenchy). The first I bought when I was a teenager was Yves Rocher Vanille.

Do you have a favourite bottle design, from those that have been used for your fragrance creations?
Maybe those of the brand Suleko (ceramic handmade) or the bottle of Hayari Only for Him.

How many perfumes might you be working on, at one time?
I may find myself working on 10-15 at a time.

If you had one fragrance note that you love above all others, what would that be?

Does your nose ever ‘switch off’?
Not really. But I can decide to be less focused on it, not to pay too much attention, like you hear something versus you listen to it.

How long, roughly, does it take you to create a fragrance?
I can’t really say, it depends on a lot of things, it can be different depending on what the clients want, deadlines, etc…

Is creating a fragrance ‘visual’ for you, as well as something that happens in the nose/brain? If so, in what way…?  
I can’t say it’s ‘visual’, but it’s definitely like I smell it in my brain…and of course sometimes I have visuals (mood-board, pictures, paintings, etc…) that go along with the brief  so I will “translate” them into smells and raw materials, or it could be the other way around.

What is your best tip for improving a person’s sense of smell? 
It’s often just a matter of paying attention, be focused by the smells around you. And another thing is usually you notice the smell but it’s difficult to express about it, you need to know the words.

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