Domitille Bertier has worked on some seriously successful fragrance launches in the past few years, in her role as a Senior Perfumer at International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF). She studied at the ISIPCA perfumery school in Paris, before joining IFF as a trainee – and her many fragrance creations include Lanvin Me, Lanvin Jeanne Lanvin Couture, Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb (with Olivier Polge and Carlos Benaïm), Thierry Mugler Mirror of Secrets and Roberto Cavalli Just Cavalli for Him (with Clement Gavarry). She juggles all this with having three children…
What is your first ‘scent memory’?
When I was a child, I spent two years in the New Hebrides, now called Vanuatu, a tropical paradise where I found the perfect playground to educate my sense of smell. I have a very clear memory of the smell of the islands – woody and green – that I rediscovered, 30 years later, during one of my trips.
When did you decide you wanted to be a perfumer?
Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a passion for smell. Then, when I was in college, I became aware of the ISIPCA degree (at Paris’s ‘perfume school) and found out about the job of being a perfumer job. This was a revelation. My passion could become my profession!
What are your five favourite smells in the world?
Actually, I would have three… The smell of my three new born babies, a very special smell I would associate with some kind of orris (iris) leathery note.
Do you have ‘signature’ ingredients that you like to include in fragrances?
I don’t have a signature ingredient but I do have a perfumistic style. I like daring and unusual fragrance associations. I design fragrances with a lot of ‘parti-pris’ (thought-provoking), with beautiful natural ingredient in their heart.
What’s the worst thing you ever smelled. (Honestly!)
The vomit note of jackfruit.
If you could have created a fragrance for a historical figure, who would it be?
I would have loved to create the original fragrance for the Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon. But, actually, I had the chance to (re)create it in her honour, for the scented gloves designed by Maison Fabre as a limited edition in their boutique in the Cour des Senteurs, at Versailles.
What’s the first fragrance you bought. And the first bought for you…?
When I was 22, I bought my first fragrance, Shiseido Féminité du Bois. The first fragrance I was given was Annick Goutal L’Eau de Charlotte. At the time I was 12 years old.
How long, roughly, does it take you to create a fragrance?
The inspiration could take just a few seconds… while the realisation could take years, sometimes even a full life.
Is creating a fragrance ‘visual’ for you, as well as something that happens in the nose/brain?
The creation of perfumes is certainly “cerebral”. When a musician writes a score without any instruments, he can hear what he is writing. It is the same for me when I create. I start with a piece of paper and a pencil. I write down the perfume recipe that I can smell in my head… Then, my assistant blends the ingredients and I can really start smelling what I have imagined.
What can each of us do to enhance our appreciation of fragrance?
I think it is like wine tasting. To truly appreciate a fantastic wine, you need at first to have a true knowledge of wine tasting. The same would be true to appreciate perfume. You would need to reinforce your knowledge on perfume, on the art of creating a structure, on the ingredients that are used.
Do we live in an ‘over-fragranced’ world – scented candles, room fresheners, fabric conditioners – and if so, what do you think this does to us, and our senses?
Every morning, all year long, I open the windows wide at home, to fill the rooms with fresh and unscented air. Then, I carefully select a candle to create the specific atmosphere. I clearly prefer quality to quantity, which is why I select only a few scents to surround me.