François 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.