From the first time she met a ‘nose’, that’s what Christine Nagel knew she wanted to be. So she trained as a research chemist and market analyst, and in Paris, in 1997, was launched on a seriously distinguished career that’s included creations like the blockbuster Narciso Rodriguez for Her (with Francis Kurkdjian), Jimmy Choo Flash and Guerlain’s Les Elixirs Charnels collection.
After several years at Jo Malone London, Christine has now joined Hermès, to work alongside Jean-Claude Ellena. Her desire to ‘pare down’ fragrances chimes perfectly with Jean-Claude’s, and we’re on tenterhooks to see what this creative partnership produces:
‘I have a creative preference for compositions characterised by simplicity, which mirrors their philosophy’. ‘Favourite’ notes go in cycles: ‘I’ve phases when I’m deeply into a single type: woody, oriental, green facets. It can turn almost into an obsession, until I have the feeling I’ve found what I’m looking for, and then I move on.’ And is it easier to create for women, or men? ‘Gender in perfume is an everlasting debate. In reality, anyone can wear whatever he or she likes – even if the fragrance is supposedly “masculine” or “feminine”. There’s no right or wrong…’
What is your first ‘scent memory’?
My first olfactory memory is the scent of the famous Italian talc “Boro Talco” that my mother used for my little brother.
When did you decide you wanted to be a perfumer/create your own perfume?
I knew I wanted to become a perfumer when I started working in Firmenich R&D laboratories. There, I fell in love with the raw materials used in perfumery and begun to express myself through fragrance.
What are your five favourite smells in the world?
Of course, the best scents are the ones of my loved ones: my children, my lover and my mother! I love the scent of a Pierre de Ronsard Rose and the scent of asphalt just after a pouring rain.
What is the fragrance you wish you’d created?
There are two fragrances that I absolutely love and wear myself: “Féminité du bois” and “Ambre Sultan” by Serge Lutens.
Do you feel (like us) that this is one of the most exciting times in fragrance history, because of the creativity being expressed by perfumers? Why do you think that is?
I agree. I feel that brands are asking for more and more authentic and qualitative notes, complex fragrances with great character and signature. So it is quite an exciting time indeed!
If you could have created a fragrance for a historical figure, who would it be?
Eve – to imagine a fragrance for the first woman ever would be quite exciting.
What’s the first fragrance you bought? And the first bought for you…?
The first fragrance I bought was Mary Quant Havoc. Most of the time, if want to wear a fragrance I will buy it for myself, but once, I received as a gift Guy Laroche Fidji.
Do you have a favourite bottle design, from those that have been used for your fragrance creations?
I like when a fragrance bottle is heavy, when you feel the weigh of precious glass. The Jo Malone London bottles in particular had this quality.
How many perfumes might you be working on, at one time?
It depends; quite often I work on about ten fragrances at the same time.
Does your nose ever ‘switch off’?
Even if my nose sometimes “switches off” because of a bad cold, the brain doesn’t, and I can still imagine and write formulas. I smell them once my nose is treated.
How long, roughly, does it take you to create a fragrance?
Once again, it depends on the project. It can be from three days to three whole years.
Is creating a fragrance ‘visual’ for you, as well as something that happens in the nose/brain? If so, in what way…? Is a mood-board helpful?
The idea of the fragrance first rises in the brain. Everything can arouse my imagination: mood boards, stories, colours, shapes, textures … After that, I write down what I imagine and at the end, I smell what I had in mind in the first place.
What can each of us do to enhance our appreciation of fragrance?
To appreciate a fragrance, you just have to follow your instinct. When a fragrance touches you, tickles your sensitivity, it means that the fragrance is made for you.
What is your best tip for improving a person’s sense of smell?
Be olfactively curious. Smell everything you can, everywhere, everyday. Have your nose on high alert.
If you had one fragrance note that you love above all others, what would that be?
The next fragrance I will be creating of course. I will certainly love it more that any other one!