Get to Know the Nose: Mathieu Nardin

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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. More recently, Mathieu could be found foraging for fragrant inspiration for Miller Harris Wander – an exploration of overlooked ingredients right under our very noses.

Having already proved his versatility, perfumer is going from strength to strength and for our ‘Get to Know the Nose’ series, 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.

Anne Flipo

Anne Flipo PortraitAnne Flipo is one of an elite group entitled to call herself ‘Master Perfumer’, a title given by IFF (International Flavors & Fragrances) to their most experienced and talented perfumers.

Anne has worked with IFF since 2004 and the list of her creations would keep you scrolling and scrolling, but highlights include Burberry Brit Rhythm, Chloé Love Story, Jimmy Choo Illicit, Paco Rabanne Lady Million (with Dominique Ropion and Beatrice Piquet) – and recently, so-successfully, The Herb Garden collection for Jo Malone London, in which she was able to express her own passion for gardening.

What is your first scent memory?

My first ever scent memory is the smell of my mum. She used to wear lot of huge fragrances, but I also remember her own natural smell.

When did you decide you wanted to be a perfumer and create your own perfumes?

I had a revelation during my studies at perfumery school in Versailles, near Paris. It was also a school for flavours and cosmetics, but when I began to play with fragrance ingredients and raw materials I saw it as a game, as a challenge. That’s where my passion and curiosity developed.

What are your five favourite smells in the world? 

• Wow! Well the first one, at least, is easy: neroli. I’ve always loved this extract from the blossom of the bitter orange tree. It’s very important to me because it holds personal memories from childhood. I work around this scent all the time and it’s a constant note in many of my creative processes at the lab.

• I love basil, too, so when Céline Roux at Jo Malone London approached me about using it in the Basil & Neroli fragrance (launch: autumn 2016), I was delighted.

• I also love jasmine sambac – a very interesting white flower. It’s the variety of jasmine most similar to the orange blossom.

• I really like patchouli; it’s a great raw material and so effective within a formula. I use it as a ‘modifier’ to adjust a composition.

• The last one is difficult because I have so many raw materials going around in my mind – but I do love orris for the sense of volume and quality it can bring to a fragrance.

What is the worst thing you’ve ever smelt?

Pigeons – they have a terrible smell! Especially if they land on you – it is the most horrendous odour. I used to play with a lot of odd-smelling ingredients at perfumery school – both natural and synthetic – so nothing really fazes me except that!

What is the fragrance you wish you had created?

A fragrance that I love and that I wear a lot is Guerlain L’Heure Bleue. Astonishingly, it was created at the very beginning of the 20th Century.

Do you feel that this is one of the most exciting times in fragrance history?

Absolutely – over the past five years or so it’s become a very interesting and exciting time. But I believe that if you want realnsuccess you have to take some risks.

If you could have created a fragrance for an historical figure who would it be?

I am so interested in the idea of Britishness – that’s why I love working with Jo Malone London and especially on Basil & Neroli, which is the spirit of British youth, elegance and carefree hedonism. So I would love to choose one of your own very famous historical personalities such as Sir Winston Churchill.

What was the first fragrance you bought and the first bought for you?

They were both Guerlain fragrances; the first I bought for myself was Guerlain Parure, and the first perfume given to me was Guerlain Chamade.

Do you have a favourite bottle design from those that have been used for your fragrance creations?

I am in love with all the Jo Malone London bottles! To me they are so chic and elegant, and the perfect representation of high quality. I love them.

How many perfumes might you be working on at one time? 

Good question! That really depends, but usually quite a lot. Luckily they are never at the same level of development, so it doesn’t get too overwhelming. At the moment it’s not too many; I can manage!

Does your nose ever switch off?

Yes absolutely, I need to have certain forms of ‘silence’. Often during the weekends I can cut off and switch off.

How long roughly does it take you to create a fragrance?

It depends, but I would say nine months is the minimum.

Is creating a fragrance visual for you, as well as something that happens in your nose and brain? If so, in what way?

To create a fragrance I use all of my five senses. It’s very much a brainstorming experience. I can visualise in my mind some odours and after that I play with the idea through flavours, textures, smells and even sounds. There’s a moment during the day, at the beginning of the afternoon, when I think about fragrances in my mind. I go into a meditation period, and after this time I write my formula.

What can each of us do to enhance our appreciation of fragrance?

Firstly you have to try to relax. Write down or say immediately the words that come to mind when you smell something, and don’t hesitate. Don’t worry if you make mistakes or say something wrong. In fact I personally think there is always something correct in what anyone says about a fragrance.

What is your best tip for improving someone’s sense of smell?

One really helpful exercise is to smell by contrast. So you smell one type of fragrance, and after that you smell something very different – for instance a fresh citrus Cologne and then a spicy Ambrée. That way you smell by contrast and it makes it easier to think, write or speak about each one.

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

Neroli – absolutely without question. I love the fragrance of orange blossom: it’s so rich and beautiful; I want to smell it every day. I really love, love, love it!

Alberto Morillas

2009ALM2Alberto Morillas has created some of the world’s most iconic perfumes – Calvin Klein CK One, Kenzo Flower, Bvlgari Omnia, Cartier Panthere de Cartier, Giorgio Armani Aqua di Giò for women, and now Goldea for Bvlgari: however you began your journey in to scent, he is bound to have been the nose behind several of the fragrances you’ll have worn, lived with and loved.

Born in Sevilla, Spain in 1950 – though Morillas describes himself as ‘mostly self-trained’ in perfumery, he began his career at the School of Beaux Arts in Geneva, staying there for two years before eventually joining Firmenich in 1970.

Winning the prestigious Prix François Coty in 2003, among numerous awards for his creations, Morillas set up Mizensir, initially selling candles – using the same dedication and attention to detail in hand-making these as he does creating fine fragrances. Now fans rejoice in the fact Morillas has recently expanded Mizensir in to a range of fragrances, too.

With so many infamous names on his client list, Alberto can pick and choose who he works with at any time, and recently created the wonderful Goldea for Bvlgari – a uniquely ‘Morillas’ modern take on an ethereal musk that somehow glows from the very bottle. We questioned Alberto on his favourite (and most-hated) smells, his fragrant inspirations and for a unique insight in to this incredibly hard-working perfumer’s behind-the-scenes techniques…

What is your first ‘scent memory’?

‘Traditional Christmas Cakes that smelled like Anis and Vanilla, made by the Carmelite nuns in my town, we would order these cakes from Christmas and pick them up at the convent, this smell is imprinted in my memory.’

 When did you decide you wanted to be a perfumer/create your own perfume?

 ‘I started hearing about the métier of perfumer when I came to Geneva to study; around the same time I discovered that there was a creator behind each fragrance. I had read an article in Vogue Magazine where Jean Paul Guerlain explained how to create a fragrance. That was a revelation for me!’

 What are your five favourite smells in the world?

More personally, I like everything that would evoke the Mediterranean Sea, with the deep blue water, the sun and the nature which go with it. I am very attached for example to the citruses, sea notes and flowers including jasmine, tuberose, neroli and orange blossom. They are the expression of a certain kind of freshness, a sophisticated freshness and at the same time full of joy. I’m also in love with gardens. They are my second passion. I spend a lot of time in my family garden in Geneva, it gives me a breath, a moment of dream and relaxation, and it always inspires me for my work as a perfumer. The inspiration which feeds my creation is very simple, it is everything I see in nature.’

 What’s the worst thing you ever smelled. (Honestly!)

 ‘The smell of onion is really unpleasant and overwhelming. I can’t smell anything when there’s onion in the room. And it makes you cry!’

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?

 ‘A lot of things have changed! Mainly due to an acceleration of time and pressures. In reaction to these constant pressures, people want freedom, to express themselves freely. Perfume is a world of passion, pleasure and emotions which gives a beautiful escape to everyone. The increasing number of new creations each year has not restrained the community of perfume lovers. On the contrary, men and women are becoming more and more experts of fragrances. Brands are now offering a different storytelling around creation, giving a major place to the olfactive creation and to the ingredients. I’m very positive about the future!’

How many perfumes might you be working on, at one time?

‘Oh I can be working on many, many – in over twenty directions at any time! I work on mine and for other people. I like to say yes, but only if I love the people themselves. I made Zara candles and that was an honour to me, that they wanted to have my signature. But when I finish working on something it is no longer mine, it’s not for me when it’s finished – it’s for the customer, it belongs to them. Though the formula is mine!’

Does your nose ever ‘switch off’?

‘No, never, I am working all the time – even just walking down the street I am smelling and sometimes, well quite a lot as it happens, I smell one of the perfumes I created as someone passes me. It still gives me the same pleasure to smell that on someone now as when I first created it… Perfumers never rest, no one is ever in a completely odour-free environment and it is like the brain: the nose never rests. Creating a fragrance is an art, it is very personal and creative exercise.’

How long, roughly, does it take you to create a fragrance?

‘Some are one or two years, others can be five or more. But it’s very difficult you know, because it needs to change only a tiny bit and that takes a lot longer than if it was just brand new. To alter something a little takes a lot more work.’

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?

‘No, I can be inspired by seeing something but it automatically goes to an emotion in my head and I memorise that and that’s what I try to create. As perfumers, we use words, sounds, colours, shapes, textures to talk about smells, and get our memory working. That’s how we build up and maintain our “scent bank”, by associating a smell with another completely different sensory element. Perfume calls on our strongest instincts and our emotions. Spontaneously, we grab hold of something palpable, something we can see to give it meaning. In my daily work, I’m a very visual person, almost all my formulas are written by hand. My handwriting is my emotion. When I write the formula, I can smell the perfume. I also really like to receive images when I create new products; it is always a great source of inspiration.’

What can each of us do to enhance our appreciation of fragrance? What is your best tip for improving a person’s sense of smell?

‘If you train your nose, you’ll be able to make the difference between the main olfactive families. In fact, everyone has his own olfactive memory like a “library of scents”, made of smells you associate to people, places, travels, objects, food, moments of your life, etc. You can enrich this library by smelling fragrances in store or trying them on skin to live with them. Some are fresher, some are more sensual, try to put words on what you smell to define the different sensations. Then repeat, repeat ceaselessly. Practice by smelling in blind. Be spontaneous, say everything, feel free to write everything which comes to mind. Time after time, you’ll have your own references and you’ll be able to classify fragrances by main themes, like woody, aromatic, citrus and ambrée. Memory. That’s the most important thing. You need to smell again and again and again the same thing and then mix it with other things and see how it changes. Like cooking – you need to taste all the time to improve your palette and it’s the same with smell. I cannot say enough how important memory is, that act of memorising how something smells, what it means to you.’

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

‘Oh the rose for me, always the rose. But then the musks of course – I guess I am the king of musk! But each one is different – so there’s an Armani musk, a Cartier musk… They each have their own unique character, so you cannot simply talk of “musk” as one thing. And it’s not an obsession, but I like very much orange blossom when I’m back to my homeland in Seville, spring time is the moment for traditional processions. It smells orange blossom and incense, a wonderful smell that could inspire me in the future, who knows?’


François Robert

FRANCOIS_ROBERT_CARICATUREFrançois Robert is almost ‘perfume royalty’: a fourth-generation perfumer, he is the son of Guy Robert, who created (among other masterpieces) Chanel No.19, Chanel Cristalle, Dioressence and many more.

Francois’ own creations include the fragrances for Londoner,Friedemodin and most famously Charlotte Tilbury (he created her award-winning Scent of a Dream), as well as for Les Parfums de Rosine. His perfume creation house goes by the name of Quintessence, and is actually based on England’s South Coast, near Brighton.

What is your first ‘scent memory’?

Difficult as being raised in a family of perfumers, I have seen smelling strips and little bottle all around since I could open my eyes… One smell I will always remember is my grandfather’s shaving cream. Very old-fashioned but so classic. I don’t remember the name or brand but could recognize it if I come across it.

When did you decide you wanted to be a perfumer?

Again I was very lucky. For the holidays, when we were kids, our parents sent  my younger brother and myself, to Cannes at our grandparents. My grand-father used to take us to the orange tree orchards, jasmine and rose fields between Grasse and Cannes. He was showing me the different essences and explaining the ways to use them. From the age of eight years old, I was in this ‘ambiance’. I did my first training at Parfums Rochas when I was just 14 years old.

What are your five favourite smells in the world?

I have worked and lived in many countries. Each place made me discover and love some different ingredients. Among all the beautiful ingredients, I always prefer the naturals, of course. These are the ones I love most…

Ginger. I have always been fascinated by this fresh and delicate smell and taste. I used it in one of my first fragrance, Roland Garros for Men, in 1990.

Cardamom. I discovered this spice drinking the very special tea they prepare in Rajastan. Impossible to forget. I use cardamom as often as I can.

The ocean. Another very special smell for me comes from the sandy beaches of l’Ile de Ré near La Rochelle. When I was young, I spent my holidays on the Mediterranean sea where the tides are very small and the odour is weak. When I first visited l’Ile de Ré my nose was struck by this strong and powerful ocean smell, along with the smell of the herbs and plants and trees in the dunes. Since then, I have tried to work near a mass of water with tides (New York, Mumbai, and Brighton).

The smells of Corsica and Greece. Both have the same type of smell due to the vegetation that grows there: cistus, everlasting, thyme, rosemary, fennel, and so on. I have always tried to recreate the odour of those places.

Rose flowers. Last but not least, my favourite smell… With Marie-Hélène Rogeon, we’ve created together more than 10 fragrances for Les Parfums de Rosine. Each one originated from a special rose growing in her garden or in mine or when we travelled and visited rose exhibitions. A rose with a touch of grapefruit was the idea behind Rosissimo; a rose with a touch of saffron and cardamom gave birth to Rose Kashmirie and a rose with a hint of cinnamon gave birth to the latest creation for her: Majalis. A rose scent seems simple but it is far more complex than it looks. For the past give years, I’ve been trying to create a fragrance around a special rose I have in my garden.

Do you have ‘signature’ ingredients that you like to include in fragrances?

Not really. I like to work on an accord and play around with some raw materials but I change depending on the fashion, mood or trend. However, I always like to add a few rich and special naturals to my fragrances; they are complex and multi-faceted and bring depth to the fragrance.

What’s the worst thing you ever smelled. (Honestly!)

When I lived in Mumbai in India, I loved walking through the little non-tourist streets. With the heat, some garbage could deteriorate to an extremely strong unpleasant rotten odour. It always took me some time to adapt to this smell. Otherwise, all odours are interesting. There is always something ‘good’ in a ‘bad’ smell…

What is the fragrance you wish you’d created? There are so many! Arpège, Calèche, Opium, Kenzo pour Homme, Angel, Casmir, Eau de Bulgari au Thé Vert, Terre d’Hermès to name a few.

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

I have created some fragrances for many individuals already, some famous, others less. I do not see anything different or more exciting to create for a historical figure or a personality than for any other person.

What’s the first fragrance you bought. And the first bought for you…?

Never bought a fragrance for myself, never received one as a gift either!

How long, roughly, does it take you to create a fragrance?

I was lucky to create a fine fragrance in a single trial for a customer 15 years ago. A lucky blend that was ‘perfect’. No modification, nothing. My customer liked it also and we launched it. It lasted on the market as long as the brand did. On the other hand, I worked together with Marie-Hélène Rogeon for almost 10 years on Rose d’Homme before we were both satisfied with it… So it’s difficult to say; it depends on so many parameters. Five to eight months is closer to the average.

What can each of us do to enhance our appreciation of fragrance?

The majority of people do not smell things around them. I spend my time smelling everything, everywhere: leaves, flowers, newspapers, paint, anything. You improve your sense of smell by using it consciously. The more you concentrate on smell, the better you will smell.

Do you ever think we live in an ‘over-fragranced’ world – scented candles, room fresheners, fabric conditioners…?

It is difficult to preach against your own church but I things we are getting a bit overloaded with odours. For a lot of things, you have a choice. A candle for example, you can light or not. However, I have noticed lately the breakthrough in technology, especially micro-encapsulation, is invading your atmosphere. A few years ago I was visiting my father and staying in the guest bedroom. He had bought a new washing powder (or tablet or liquid). True, the bed sheets smelled nice and fresh. However, I had to take them off the bed in the middle of the night because when I moved in my sleep, my body was breaking the micro capsules and the fragrance did wake me up each time! My only choice was to remove the bed sheets, cover, pillows… Same with tissues.


Cécile Zarokian


Paris-based Cécile Zarokian graduated from ISIPCA and 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 Paris, Xerjoff, Jacques Fath, Laboratorio Olfattivo and Masque Fragranze. She 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.


Ruth Mastenbroek

‘Scent is my life.  The fragrance is the essence of my art.  It is my signature…’ 

Ruth Mastenbroek was born in England and graduated with a Chemistry degree from Oxford University.

Ruth trained and in the late 70s worked as a perfumer in the UK and Netherlands with Naarden International.  (It later became Quest and is now Givaudan – one of the largest perfume suppliers in the world…)

Ruth worked in Japan and in the perfume capital Grasse before returning to England to work for a small company, where she created fragrances for up-and-coming brands like Kenneth Turner and Jo Malone – including her Grapefruit candle.  Ruth set up her own perfumery company, Fragosmic Ltd., in 2003 – the year she became president of The British Society of Perfumers.

In 2010 Ruth launched her capsule collection of scented products featuring her signature fragrance – RM – and also became the first to use advanced micro-encapsulation technology in a scented bathrobe…!

Ruth launched her second fragrance, Amorosa, in May 2012 at Les Senteurs in London.  Her range is now sold in more than 25 exclusive shops in the UK, as well as in the Netherlands and Nigeria.  Through Fragosmic, Ruth loves creating bespoke personal and home fragrances for small and medium-sized brands…

Notes Ruth loves…  ‘Memories of childhood in England and America – chocolate cookies, fresh earth, blackberries…  Of Holland – lilies, narcissus, hyacinth and salty sea air…  Of France – orchids, roses and wild herbs…  Of Japan – cherry blossom, lotus and green tea…’

Ruth’s signature creations: click on each perfume’s name to read more about them…

RM Signature



Follow Ruth on Twitter:  @ruthmastenbroek

Sonia Constant

It’s tradition for perfumers to have a ‘trophy’ wall in their office: a shelf with all their creations. It starts out bare, of course, but as their career progresses, fills up with beautiful bottles and extravagant boxes, a testament to their talent.

Sonia Constant‘s ‘trophy wall’ at leading fragrance house Givaudan, in Paris, is quite something. Sonia’s roll-call of fragrances is longer than most people’s arms – from Balmain Extatic to Montblanc EmblemOscar de la Renta Fresh Vanilla to Burberry Sport for Men, via eight fragrances for Fragonard (MuguetLe LilasÉtoile, among others), as well as Guerlain L’Abeille and Acqua Allegoria Tiaré Mimosa. And that’s just a taster.

Now a mother-of-two, Sonia trained at the Paris perfumery school ISIPCA. ‘I didn’t really know I wanted to be a perfumer; I thought I might become a designer, a stylist, an architect. And then I discovered ISIPCA and because I loved fragrance, it seemed the perfect profession for me. My grandmother says that one of my first words was “flower”.’

‘My family didn’t really believe I could do it,’ Sonia continues, ‘because they thought I was too shy and not tough enough to work in such a competitive industry. I did not have an uncle, a father or any male relatives to help pave the way. I was alone in believing I could achieve my dream. Even as a young woman, though, I thought that it was better to aim for the moon – and if I missed, at least will end up in the stars… It took five years: I did a “sandwich” course, training at the school and spending time at Givaudan, where I still work.’

We’ve a hunch Sonia could go on to become one of perfumery’s top names. And we’re delighted to share some of her fragrant insights, here…

What is your first ‘scent memory’?

My mother’s perfumes: she was wearing Van Cleef & Arpels First, and sometimes Paloma Picasso. She liked those ‘rose Chypres’.

What are your five favourite smells in the world?

• I love a flower that almost nobody knows, called a spider lily. It smells a little like a lily, but is more powdery. I work a lot with flowers.

• Ambroxan. It’s a synthetic ingredient and it excites me a lot: it’s like a black-and-white photograph – very modern, and it doesn’t date or age.

• Cashmeran. It’s a wonderfully soft ingredient but also a little bit ‘rock star’ – like a beautiful feminine woman wearing leather trousers. I like the handwriting it gives to a perfume.

• Orange flower. For me, it’s a sort of gourmand (edible) flower – you just want to eat it. And of course, you can: it’s used for cooking. I like to use it with musk for a sort of marshmallow effect, and it goes brilliantly with iris.

• Orris (iris). I love the powderiness, like a woman with a sort of untouchable beauty. It almost has a texture, to me – like suede. I like to use it in a modern way.

And your least favourite?

Vomit! I used to run a lot around a lake where there’s a restaurant where people take a boat and drink too much… And every Friday there were piles of sick on my run. I also hate the smell of durian fruit.

What’s the one fragrance note that you love above all others?

Ambroxan – for the reasons above.

What’s the fragrance you wish you’d created?

Narciso Rodriguez, by Christine Nagel. Actually, she’s my sister-in-law – I’m married to her brother. (She kept the name of her first husband.) You might think we talk about perfumery when we get together, but actually, we’re both very busy and it tends to be family stuff. (NB you can read Christine Nagel‘s nose questionnaire, here.)

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

Does it have to be a historical figure…? I’d love to create a fragrance for filmmaker Wong Kar-wai: I love his films -especially ‘In The Mood for Love’ – and the atmosphere they create. They’re all about love and lovers; the cinematography is so beautiful: no sex, just suggestion. I’d love to capture the same feeling in my perfume. His films give me shivers and I’d like my perfumes to do the same.

What was the first fragrance you bought? And the first bought for you?

I stole my mother’s Van Cleef & Arpels First, and then when I had some money, Chanel Allure was my first big fragrance. When I finished the bottle, my boyfriend at the time bought it for me again. Nowadays I wouldn’t want to wear something I hadn’t created myself – and of course, I’m always trialling perfumes.

L'AbeilleDo you have a favourite bottle design, from those that have been used for your fragrance creations?

The crystal bee bottle for Guerlain L’Abeille. In general we are given bottles of the fragrances we create but this one is way too expensive!

How many perfumes might you be working on, at one time?

Up to 10 big ones, at one time. I also work on niche perfumes, of course. It’s not easier when it’s a niche perfume, but when I create for a big brand – such as Valentino – the fragrance is tested on consumers to gauge their response, and you need to know that response is positive. When I create, it’s like a partnership: I listen to the comments and adapt, constantly.

Is creating a fragrance ‘visual’ for you, as well as something that happens in the nose/brain?

I’m a very visual person, and so yes. I might be shown a picture of ice, and I love the challenge of something that smells ‘frozen’. Or see a picture of bright colours, fruits and spices, and create something that’s fizzing with energy. Ingredients for me can be like planets, orbiting in the universe. It’s like my solar system: there’s the sun and the planets and sometimes, there’s a big bang!

What is your best tip for improving a person’s sense of smell?

Pay attention to all of the smells around you. Blind-smell your spices, in the kitchen, and try to figure out which is which. Smell plants. Smell wine. Most people go through life not thinking of smells, but when you start to notice them, there are just so many different and interesting things to smell – beyond fragrances themselves. It’s an absolutely fascinating time in history, for those of us who love smells, as this awareness of our precious sense of smell dawns.

Sidonie Lancesseur

SIDONIE_LENCESSEURAs you all know by now, we’re fascinated by perfumers – an elite group of just a few hundred individuals in the world, who make their living via their nostrils… (There are fewer of them than astronauts!) Sidonie Lancesseur is one of the ‘noses’ for the Lalique Collection Noir Premier fragrances.

Here, the perfumer – who also worked on several of Frapin‘s fragrances, Olfactive Studio Lumière Blanche and Terry de Gunzburg Flagrant DéliceOmbre Mercure and Parti Pris, among others – shares her thoughts on smells, scents and memories…

What is your first ‘scent memory’?

Chimney fire smouldering in the country house of my grandfather.

When did you decide you wanted to be a perfumer/create your own perfume?

I’ve always been interested in smells. I remember a meeting when I was 12 years old with a friend of my parents who was in the perfume industry. She shared with me her passion and gave me the desire to express myself through scent.

What are your five favourite smells in the world?

• The smell of my children.
• Chimney fire.
• Books.
• Twilight in the heart of the countryside when there is deep moisture in the ground.
• The smell of the wind in the middle of ocean.

What’s the worst thing you ever smelled. (Honestly!)

Each smell could be interesting depending on the situation and the intensity!

What is the fragrance you wish you’d created?

Déclaration by Cartier.

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

Freud, in order to create a universal fragrance which gives desire to people to confess.

What’s the first fragrance you bought?

Paloma Picasso Minotaure.

And the first bought for you…?

Thierry Mugler Angel.

Do you have a favourite bottle design, from those that have been used for your fragrance creations?

I love the bottle design of By Kilian L’Oeuvre Noire collection for its luxury approach while respecting the environment. Once the bottle is empty you can refill it.

How many perfumes might you be working on, at one time?

There is no rule; for example today I am working simultaneously on nine different briefs.

Does your nose ever ‘switch off’?

For me, it is instinctive to keep in olfactory contact with my environment. It is an endless source of inspiration and I’ll never cut the link.

How long, roughly, does it take you to create a fragrance? This is very variable. Sometimes the creative work is very fast, 2-3 days. Or inversely, many months or more may be needed to achieve the reached accord.

Is creating a fragrance ‘visual’ for you, as well as something that happens in the nose/brain? Is a mood-board helpful?

Absolutely; all external sources of inspirations are rewarding to create a new fragrance: images, colours, shapes, raw materials etc …

What can each of us do to enhance our appreciation of fragrance? Smell regularly and be curious about everything.

What is your best tip for improving a person’s sense of smell?

Take time to smell…

Cécile Matton

Cécile Matton grew up in Africa where she comments ‘the smells were very strong, because of the heat…’ Cécile originally began mixing fragrances herself as a teenager, using essences sold in the Pier Import shops in her native France, before training as a perfumer.

Her creations include YSL Baby DollValentino Gold (with Antoine Lie), Viktor & Rolf Bonbon (with Serge Majoullier) and most recently, the most ‘animalic’, sexy offering – Élegance Animale – in the Lalique Noir Premier Collection.

What is your first ‘scent memory’?

The mosquito repellent which was sprayed on houses during my childhood in Zaïre, in Africa.

When did you decide you wanted to be a perfumer/create your own perfume? 

About the age of 14. So I decided to train as a pharmacist, because at the time a lot of perfume companies belonged to pharmaceutical groups.

What are your favourite smells in the world?

• Nutmeg.

• Puppies.

• A synthetic called Orcanox™, when combined with vanilla.

• Drying laundry.

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

The green Chypre accord.

What’s the worst thing you ever smelled.  (Honestly!) 

A mix of rotten garbage and metal I smelled next to some fast food restaurants in some big cities…

What is the fragrance you wish you’d created?

Chanel Chance.

Do you have a sense that this is the most exciting time to be a perfumer, since the dawn of fragrance? 

It is a tricky question. We have exciting new ingredients to work with, yet strong limitations at the same time, because of regulations and the need to please as many people as possible. Creativity may be stimulated when you are limited because you have to find a new path… But I would fancy more freedom!

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

Marilyn Monroe. When it comes to beauty, she made history.

What’s the first fragrance you bought.  And the first bought for you…?

The first I bought was Van Cleef & Arpels First. I was given Bal à Versailles before that.

Do you have a favourite bottle design, from those that have been used for your fragrance creations?

I really adore the bottle designed for Bonbon by Viktor & Rolf.

How many perfumes might you be working on, at one time?

Generally from 10 to 20.

Does your nose ever ‘switch off’?

Yes it does… If it gets ‘saturated’ and I need it to work, I pause for a moment and smell wool.

How long, roughly, does it take you to create a fragrance?

It all depends on the wishes of the person who I design it for. I sometimes find that the first trial is the best one!

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?

No, it doesn’t work for me like that.

What can each of us do to enhance our appreciation of fragrance?

You should smell fragrances outside in the fresh air, not in perfume shops. Preferably on skin. Always wear it before buying!

What is your best tip for improving a person’s sense of smell?

Train again and again. Improving your sense of smell has a lot to do with memory; you have to smell a lot (and often).

Marie Salamagne

MARIE_SALAMAGNEMarie was born in 1977 in Paris, and claims to have had ‘an awareness and fascination for odours, ‘of attics, bread, earth, putty…’

As a child, Marie was passionate about dance – but after a degree in chemistry, she went on to study at the ISIPCA perfume school in Versailles, before joining Firmenich. When talking about her career, she makes parallels with art: when she was a teenager, she took painting lessons, and remembers preferring acrylics to watercolour. Today, she often associates smells with colours – and enjoys materials with a strong character. ‘I like working from a raw material that has a history… like patchouli, to “dress” it, to enhance it…’

Marie is particularly drawn to masculine notes like amber and wood, and her wide portfolio includes La Perla Just Precious, Nina Ricci Nina L’Eau (with Olivier Cresp), Jo Malone London Osmanthus Blossom and Saffron Cologne Intense, and Kylie Minogue Music Box. She’s one of the quartet of perfumers who worked on the new YSL Black Opium.

What is your first ‘scent memory’?
My mother wearing Guerlain Shalimar.

How many perfumes might you be working on, at one time?
Currently, I’m working on about 20 fragrances.

When did you decide you wanted to be a perfumer?
I started studying child psychiatry after passing my Baccalaureate but I quickly realized that my destiny was elsewhere. My lucky star revealed the existence of the ISIPCA school in Versailles, which I entered after obtaining a degree in chemistry.

What are your five favorite smells in the world?
Patchouli, putty, glycine (an amino acid), bread crust and the head of my children when they were born: a singular scent that lasted only the three first weeks of their lives!

If you had one fragrance note that you love above all others, what would that be?
It would have to be the patchouli.

What’s the worst thing you ever smelled?
The odor of tanners in Fez is really strong, animalic and a bit disturbing but it is not repulsive.

How long, roughly, does it take you to create a fragrance?
It is quite variable – but the average is about 14 months. Creating the initial accord is one thing, but then it takes a long time to find the perfect ‘expression’ – the one that a brand wants to share, without losing the original idea.

Is this one of the most exciting times in history to be a perfumer?
Yes; the fragrance industry is changing with niche brands multiplying and expressing their creativity. Brands want to create fragrance that everyone likes, but also that is memorable and unique, which is really exciting for us perfumers, but it is also a real challenge…

Do you have a favourite bottle design, from those that have been used for your fragrance creations?
I love the bottles of the Martin Margiela Replica Collection.

How many perfumes might you be working on, at one time?
At this time, I am working on about 20 fragrances.

What is the fragrance you wish you’d created?
Guerlain Jicky because it is audacious and ultra feminine. It is an ‘elegant overdose’.

Does your nose ever ‘switch off’?
No, never, even during the night, sometimes, I smell fragrances I have put on my skin or I think about new ideas when I wake up.

Is a mood-board helpful when you’re creating?
Very helpful, as I like to associate colours with raw materials. It is a real support for me to see mood-boards.

What is your best tip for improving a person’s sense of smell?
Curiosity is a good thing to explore and develop a person’s sense of smell. You have to not be afraid of smelling things you think you don’t like at first sight.