Olivier Cresp’s family heritage is rooted in perfume: his grandfather and father spent their lives buying and selling natural raw materials in Grasse. (In fact, the Cresp name in this ‘perfume’ region of France goes back to the 12th Century.) Becoming a perfumer was an entirely natural step for him. ‘I never doubted this instinct, this destiny…’ But he didn’t enter the perfume world in Grasse: in the 1970s, Olivier moved to the US, where he now works for the fragrance house Firmenich.
He says that the most important aspect of fragrance creation is the idea: it can arise from a childhood memory, a feeling, a conversation, a walk in nature. His preferred style is ‘minimalist’, simple and authentic.
One of the perfumery world’s most distinguished figures, Olivier has hundreds of creations under his belt, including Midnight Poison, Estée Lauder Modern Muse, Penhaligon’s Peoneve and Juniper Sling, the legendary Thierry Mugler Angel and Paco Rabanne XS. He is one of the quartet of perfumers behind YSL Black Opium, one of the biggest launches for autumn 2014.
What is your first ‘scent memory’?
It is the smell of bergamot in my grandparents’ garden, during my childhood.
What are your five favourite smells in the world?
I like jasmine and freesia for their feminine edge and their sunny and luminous accords. I also like rose, vanilla and patchouli for their sensuality.
And your least favourite?
I don’t like narcissus and hyacinth notes.
What is the fragrance you wish you’d created?
It would be Guerlain Shalimar for the feminine fragrances: I love Ambrées and I like its sensual, chocolate and leathery facets. For the masculine one, it would be Dior Eau Sauvage, which is unlike anything that existed before.
Is creating a fragrance ‘visual’ for you, as well as something that happens in the nose/brain? Is a mood-board helpful?
When I am creating a perfume, I take inspiration from everywhere. I enjoy working from figurative ideas but sometimes I also like to work on abstract fragrances. However, I always start from something visual, something from the nature.
How many perfumes might you be working on, at one time?
I am currently working between five and 10 fragrances.
If you could have created a fragrance for a historical figure, who would it be?
For Napoleon! I would have created the best Cologne ever for him!
Do you have a favourite bottle, from those which have been used for your creations?
Yes, I like the Angel star.
Does your nose ever switch off!
Yes, just as my brain does, sometimes!
What is your best tip for improving a person’s sense of smell?
The best thing to do to enhance our appreciation of fragrance is to smell it! The more you smell more you develop your sense of smell. Smelling raw materials is also a good way to improve your abilities. The key is to focus and concentrate on what you smell all the time: a fragrance, a smell in the street, food, etc.