A native of Grasse, Mathieu Nardin grew up in a perfumers’ family and gravitated to the house of Robertet to fine tune his creativity and the sense of smell he began developing at a very young age. One of a new generation of perfumers combining traditional techniques and materials with the very latest innovations, Mathieu created Jacquard for Etro, Iris de Champs for Houbigant and Blue for Kenneth Cole, his latest project has been working withthe British house of Miller Harris creating Tea Tonique and Rose Silence at first, then composing the incredible Vetiver Insolent. Having already proved his versatility, this young perfumer is going from strength to strength and we were thrilled to catch up with him and find out more.
How many perfumes might you be working on, at one time?
It depends, it can be five at the same time or two. It’s the amount of modifications that take the time, you work with a team of people and it’s back and forth. Or you know, sometimes it’s straight away. It’s always good to have another opinion though – they can see things that you’ve missed because you are too close to a particular accord or note.
Does your nose ever ‘switch off’?
If you’re focusing too intently on something you have to put it aside and come back to it later. I like to step back and see the whole picture. At night when I go home, I’m covered in coloured dots where I’ve sprayed different things and people look at me like I’m a crazy person, because I’m sniffing myself! But then you need to let the notes macerate and come back to them the next day with a fresh nose.
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?
Everything can be inspiring. I have a notebook, and everything I see and experience that triggers an idea goes in there. Things I see, the personality of someone, going for a walk in the woods or the city. Pictures I’ve seen, books I have read – as a perfumer when I read a book I can smell what I am reading – the sense of what the writer is describing, I “see” it as a smell. It’s to do with emotion and your imagination triggering your senses.
What can each of us do to enhance our appreciation of fragrance?
The most important thing is that people become more aware of what a great sense smell actually is. Taste and sight always seem to come first and people aren’t so focused on their nose. What perfumers do is to close their eyes and focus on that one sense a lot – I mean all the time, not just at work. There are so many studies that say the nose is so closely linked to memories and images, it’s incredibly intense. But you have to explore it deeply. When you smell something – lavender, a particular perfume, a cooking ingredient – you have to forget what it literally is and instead link it a personal feeling, whatever it makes you feel. The more you analyse those emotions and link that to personal feelings, the better you become at smelling more and memorising those smells. This is how we learn at perfumery school. It has to be personal or it has no meaning.
If you had one fragrance note that you love above all others, what would that be?
I love to use… oh goodness there are so many! But I do really love frankincense and labdanum. It’s very complex and can be so overused, but it is fascinating to work with.