As readers of our magazine The Scented Letter will have realised from our latest Provence & Perfumers edition, Grasse’s position as the centre of perfumery is being reaffirmed. Dior‘s restoration of La Colle Noire, Christian Dior‘s home there, is another step in the Provençale town’s renaissance.
To coincide with the villa’s reopening, Dior have launched a fragrance of the same name – a stunning, multi-faceted woody-rose, ‘a sunny composition in homage to the land of Grasse, which plays a vital role in the history of Dior fragrances, and to its flower queen, Rose de Mai’, featuring an intense concentration of the Rosa Centifolia which grows there.
Dior Perfumer-Creator François Demachy (see portrait below) is steeped in the area’s history and ingredients, having spent his entire childhood in the town. His workshop is also based in the town, once again. On a recent visit to London, we caught up with this charming, gentle ‘bear’ of a man, and asked him to share his scented thoughts and memories. We’re delighted to share them with you here…
What is your first ‘scent memory’?
Aside from the perfume of my mother…? I remember that when I was a child, my father – who was a pharmacist – was going to launch a fragrance of his own called Eau de Grasse Impériale, a classic eau de Cologne, and he asked me to smell the different samples. (As for the scent of my mother? She used to wear two perfumes: Miss Dior for day, and Chanel No.5 for night – and serendipitously, I ended up working for both companies…)
When did you decide you wanted to be a perfumer/create your own perfume?
Quite late, around the age of 21, and really by accident. I wanted to be a doctor or a dentist, but I wanted to be independent which meant earning money to pay for my studies. So to earn some money, I got a job working for a perfume factory, Charabot. I found it impossible to do my studies and work at the same time; as it happens, Charabot were looking for some trainees, and I thought, “why not?”
What are your five favourite smells in the world?
- The smell of the sea.
- The smell of pine trees, by the sea: that wonderful resinous aroma of the wood.
- The jasmine fields, which I still visit every year, to meet the growers Dior is in partnership with – in Grasse for the Jasmine Grandiflorum, and India for Jasmine sambac.
- Rose – of all the flowers, I find it the most interesting.
- Olive oil – the first pressing from the olive, with its green fruitiness.
If you could choose one fragrance ingredient above all others, what would it be?
Patchouli, because it is so amazingly versatile: you can use it in almost any quantity, in fragrances for men and women. But I also love it because it has a bad reputation!
What’s the worst thing you ever smelled. (Honestly!)
The smell of the stubble when a corn field has been burned.
What is the fragrance you wish you’d created?
For women, Clinique Aromatics Elixir, which is such a beautiful Chypre, I love the Chypre family. For men, I’d love to have created Eau Sauvage – it looks simple, but in the same way that Mozart makes music look simple.
If you could have created a fragrance for a historical figure, who would it be?
Napoleon. Of course! Because he was a connoisseur of fragrance but also very curious. I admire him as a character.
What’s the first fragrance you bought?
Eau Sauvage. It was end of the 60s and I remember there was basically a choice between two: Eau Sauvage and Brut. No contest.
And the first bought for you…?
An English fragrance, Yardley Sandalwood. I remember the dark green bottle. It was a gift from my father; my mother died very young and he married an Englishwoman.
Do you have a favourite bottle design, from those that have been used for your fragrance creations?
I truly like the very elegant bottle of La Collecton Privée: it looks simple, but all the proportions are very carefully calculated.
How many perfumes might you be working on, at one time?
Right now, about eight or nine.
Does your nose ever ‘switch off’?
No. But you can switch off the mind. Normally I don’t eat spicy foods or garlic, but in the summer I allow myself to enjoy them – and it definitely changes how my nose functions.
How long, roughly, does it take you to create a fragrance?
Anything from 12 months to two years.
What can each of us do to enhance our appreciation of fragrance?
Take time. Don’t rush, ever: enjoy the process of exploring and trying fragrances.