Julie Massé

JULIE_MASSEWhat is your first ‘scent memory’?

I am French, my family is from Grasse, but I was born in Tokyo and I lived there for many years as a child. My earliest memory is the scent of Japan. It’s the aroma of tatami mats and wooden and papyrus screens. It’s a blend of woodsy, papery grasses and tea… a very natural, slightly dry woody smell.

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

My father worked in the world of perfume, in Tokyo and in Grasse. I was surrounded by fragrance and its language; it was very natural and instinctive for me to end up working in the world of scent.

What are your five favourite smells in the world? 

•  The comforting scents of home and of my loved ones! But in terms of olfactory notes, I would say woods, for their mystery and subtlety.

•  The orange tree in all its forms, blossom, fruit, rind, leaf…  neroli. So varied, versatile.

•  The frangipani flower, for the powerful memories it recalls of travelling to Sri Lanka, a country I adored.

• Orcanox, a form of white amber, because it smells like warm skin.

•  Cardamom for its oriental associations…

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

The worst thing I’ve ever smelled brings me back to one of my travels. During a vacation in Indonesia, I found a market in Bali where all the different smells made up an unbearable whole. Rotten meat, dust and dirt mixed in the ambient mugginess. A rather unpleasant olfactory memory! 

What is the fragrance you wish you’d created?

I am thinking of Christian Dior Eau Sauvage, because of its incredible citrus chypre structure, fresh and so elegant at the same time. This fragrance is one of these fragrances that has marked perfume history. I have always found that a man wearing Eau Sauvage has intense, almost magnetic charisma!

Do you feel 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?

Absolutely! It’s a fantastic time to be creating fragrance. For one thing there’s much innovation in the field of new molecules and methods, like MANE’s captives (NB MANE is a leading fragrance ingredient house), and Jungle EssencesTM, an exclusive extraction technique of capturing naturals. And also, not least of all, there’s creative freedom we get now with the smaller, niche brands like Shay & Blue where the founder-art-director tends to push perfumers to open up and imagine all sorts of creative possibilities. 

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

I would love to create a fragrance for a legendary rock star. Mick Jagger for example, for his attitude and his charisma, something between rebellious style and British elegance!

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

My first fragrance was Azzaro Eau Belle. I wore it for many years. The sparkling freshness made me feel good. 

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

There are many. But I love the way that Dom De Vetta has taken the classical perfume note flacon that we perfumers use and reinvented it in the bottle for Shay & Blue. It looks simultaneously old and new, something I love. 

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

I might work on up to fifteen fragrances at a time. But you have to find a way to juggle them, to punctuate one project with another, to shuffle them around so that your creative imagination remains fresh and stimulated.

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

Most typically a fragrance will take a year of work back and forth. At its extremes, you can create a scented sketch in an afternoon, or a grand project could take three or four years. I like to work swiftly though, there’s an energy and dynamism in working quickly and instinctively.

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?

Of course! I like working with the Art Directors who have a crystal clear vision of their fragrance house, and visual references can be a great help. Dom De Vetta at Shay & Blue expresses himself through painting, visuals, tear sheets and mood boards. It’s a fantastic way of opening up the rich dialogue that we then have around our creations.

Does your nose ever ‘switch off’?

Never! It’s always there, in the background, working. Even when I’m off duty, wandering around Paris or London, it’s unconsciously registering all manner of scent in the air. It’s a great creative reserve, so I don’t mind.

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

Be curious and have confidence in what your nose is telling you. If you think a wine you are smelling is spicy, go with it, sniff more deeply, think about what other aromas and associations it’s provoking for you. You can do this with everyday smells, and in this way you can ‘train’ your nose and actively improve your sense of smell. 

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

Probably a blend of orange or orange blossom and woody ambers. A contrast of both the fresh and the deeply sensual…

 

Karine Dubreuil

KARINE_DUBREUILKarine was born in the heartland of perfumery, in Grasse, where children grow up with their noses buried in the flowers the town is famous for – ‘so I decided I wanted to be a perfumer at the age of eight years old…’

She was essentially ‘apprenticed’ at the local perfume school (just three students a year were taken on). ‘They trained flavourists, too, but I decided that would be a dangerous job for someone who loves food as much as I do…’ By the age of 24 Karine found bestseller success with collections for Roger & Gallet, and went on to create for Lanvin, and Gucci (their Gucci for Men and Envy Me). Famous for her work with florals, she was taken on full-time by L’Occitane, creating the acclaimed La Collection de Grasse fine fragrance collection. ‘And I’m proud to be part of an industry that’s finally recognising women. It’s such an obvious feminine job, yet not long ago women in perfume companies were mostly washing the dishes or making the tea…’

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

When I was a child growing up in Grasse, I loved the smells of the flowers, the plants and the fruits in my grandparents’ garden (mimosa, roses, jasmine, orange flowers, violets, lilac etc…). I also loved the smell of my mother’s cooking; she always used lots of spices and fresh aromatic herbs.  I always knew I would have a creative job. One of my parents’ friends was a perfumer and she introduced me to this art at a young age. I always used to smell the new perfume creations she was working on and visited the labs regularly.

What are your five favourite smells in the world? 

I have too many favorite notes. I love patchouli, Grasse jasmine, vanilla, lilac, bitter orange…

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

The smell of rotten potatoes. It’s a memory I wish I didn’t have.

What is the fragrance you wish you’d created?

It is hard to choose one: Clinique Aromatics Elixir, YSL Opium, Courrèges Empreinte

For you, is this one of the most exciting times in fragrance history, because of the creativity being expressed by perfumers?  And if so, why do you think that is?

Rather than an intense period of creativity, I would say that the fragrance industry is facing some big changes. For several years, brands have been launching so many new perfumes every year, many of which are copies and variation of previous ones; they have now reached an economic and creative deadlock. In my mind, the only solution is a return to honest, artisanal perfumery with precious ingredients, distinctive character and personality. That is why in-house perfumers have become more prominent and starting to guarantee an olfactive ‘tone of voice’ for brands. Perfumers are placed again at the centre of that, which is a very good thing!

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

It would be for Maria Callas. (*Karine is trained classical opera singer)

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

I broke my piggy-bank to buy Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps for my mother.  For me, I used to wear Monsieur Balmain, a fresh verbena and a precious fragrance, when I was doing a lot of classical ballet. And I would always remember the Eau de Cologne that my mother used in my hair after my bath when I was a very little girl.

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

I really like the shape of L’Occitane Eau des Baux; it reminds me of old perfume flask.

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

I might be working on a dozen different ideas at the same time.

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

It can vary greatly. In general, a perfume development lasts from 6 months to 1 or 2 years. In the current industry, this is a real luxury to have.

Does your nose ever ‘switch off’?

Hopefully, no! It has happened before when I worked for too long on a project or on the same note. Thankfully, my sense of smell still evolves; it becomes more developed every day, and when I smell raw materials that I already know, I can still discover facets that I hadn’t necessarily analysed before. When I am relaxing and socialising my mind switches off – but my nose still works and every now and then it will draw my attention back to something it picked up.  

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?

I do get inspiration from pictures, images and often memories. But my inspiration can come from anywhere and anytime. I might be inspired by a journey, by a delicious meal with wonderful and surprising flavours, by a garden or a walk in a forest… I usually begin by writing down what I want to create. Then I start thinking about the ingredients I’d like to use. So I might think about jasmine, which has many facets: it can be very fresh but also very strong, just like the flowers before they are picked. When I smelled the extract for the first time, I was so disappointed. I always want a fragrance to smell as natural as possible, like the living flower, which often is the biggest technical challenge for a perfumer.

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

The first step will be to improve your awareness of all the smells around you. Take time to quietly analyse and explore them and try to learn the language to speak better about them. Then, don’t be shy about smelling things around you; be curious! If you want to train your nose, you should smell in a place that’s well-ventilated, but not too dry and quiet.

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

If I have to choose one, I would say patchouli.

 

Alienor Massenet

ALIENOR_MASSENETAlienor Massenet studied perfumery at Cinquième Sense and Firmenich before beginning an internship at International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), where she has worked since 1995.  Her fragrance creations include Liz Earle Botanical Esssence No. 15, Chloé Eau de Fleurs Neroli (2010), and many key fragrances for MEMO, including Italian Leather, Lalibela and Sundance.

What is your first ‘scent memory’?

I was five years old and I smelled my skin under the sun. The skin, bathed by sunbeams, produces a warm smell: I was addicted to it.  And during all my childhood, I used to smell my food before eating it. My parents actually got angry at me, because it was a “bad” habit, but I couldn’t help it.

When did you decide you wanted to be a perfumer?

At 20, after a training in the industry (at the fragrance houses IFF and Firmenich), I started to learn olfaction, I discovered I loved to create smells. I created my first scented candle then, and I am still asked to reproduce it by friends. But I don’t know where the formula is – I would love to find it. 

What are your five favourite smells in the world? 

• Vanilla bean oil is my favorite smell ever, I love to compose fragrance with it.

•  The smell of a newborn, when he or she is delivered from the womb. It has animalic and strong  musky notes.

•  The powerful smell of the Atlantic Ocean. Standing on a large and windy beach, when iodine and salty smells come to your nose. It is a cloud of freshness and nature.

•  Incense and myrrh are deep and spiritual; they evoke a lot of memories.

•  The smell of the lotus flowers on the lakes in Asia;  it’s almost synthetic. I would love to reproduce such a smell. But once it is picked, the flower does not smell anymore.

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

When you are in a mountain hut, after a long trek in the snow and when you enter the restrooms, the smell is awful (fermented ammoniac!)  Better go outside. But, usually as a perfumer you analyse smells, even bad smells; for instance civet, at small dose, gives character to a fragrance…

 What is the fragrance you wish you’d created?

This question is very difficult. But I must confess that for me, Shalimar is one of the most beautiful fragrances. It represents femininity and warmth, it is one of the first Oriental perfumes. And yet it is very simple, it keeps a coherent identity from top to bottom notes. The magic is that it evolves from one woman to another.

Still there are a lot of fragrances that I admire:  Cartier Le MustDior J’AdoreGuy Laroche Drakkar Noir, Calvin Klein EternityLancôme TrésorCarolina Herrera for Men

Do you share our feeling 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?

In the niche perfumery there are a lot of nice and interesting creations. Many new brands are being launched. In the more mainstream and commercial perfumery, the money goes first to the packaging and less to the perfume in itself – but hopefully it will change.

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

I would have loved to create a fragrance for Cleopatra; because of her beauty and will, she tamed strong male figures like Julius Cesar or Marc Antony. In the same spirit, Jeanne of Arc raised an army thanks to her strength and faith. 

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

The first olfactive object I bought was not a fragrance but a vanilla tincture in a small bottle – I was seven!  As a gift, I received Cacharel Loulou.  I still remember its power. I used to make my own mix, by combining it to a few drops of Chanel Cristalle or Eau de Givenchy.

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

This is hard to answer, but one of my favorite is the bottle and design of Liz Earle Botanical Essence No. 15. The pack is very soft to touch. All the botanical pictures of the ingredients are printed on it. It is very pure and elegant.

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

It varies from nine to fifteen. To have a variety of brands and fragrances to develop makes me more creative.

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

There is no rule. From three months to four or five years; the pace is decided by the clients. Besides, some fragrances are in my mind for a very long time – and then, if there momentum is good, I may write down the formula.

Does your nose ever ‘switch off’?

Yes when I have a cold. It is the only time I am on full vacation.

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?

A fragrance is visual for me because when I create a fragrance some ingredients are vertical; other horizontal (they vary from time to time). So I literally conceive fragrance as a geometrical figure. It is helpful for me to construct a fragrance this way. I also often associate raw materials to colours; some create strong emotions – for instance, aldehyde is blue and cold.

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

First take your time to discover fragrances. Improve your knowledge by enlarging your scope of perfumes. The more you know about perfumes, the more you distinguish the tiny details. 

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

It is better to smell in the morning; the room must not be “polluted” by other smells or fragrances. Train your smell memory by smelling three or four different fragrances per day, and learn to recognise them. Then increase the number each day.

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

I love ‘gourmand’ fragrances – first because I am found of vanilla, but there are also lots of different possibilities in the gourmand family. It is very exciting to explore that family and invent new combinations.

 

Christine Nagel

CHRISTINE_NAGEL

From the first time she met a ‘nose’, that’s what Christine Nagel knew she wanted to be. So she trained as a research chemist and market analyst, and in Paris, in 1997, was launched on a seriously distinguished career that’s included creations like the blockbuster Narciso Rodriguez for Her (with Francis Kurkdjian), Jimmy Choo Flash and Guerlain’s Les Elixirs Charnels collection.

After several years at Jo Malone London, Christine has now joined Hermès, to work alongside Jean-Claude Ellena. Her desire to ‘pare down’ fragrances chimes perfectly with Jean-Claude’s, and we’re on tenterhooks to see what this creative partnership produces:

‘I have a creative preference for compositions characterised by simplicity, which mirrors their philosophy’. ‘Favourite’ notes go in cycles: ‘I’ve phases when I’m deeply into a single type: woody, oriental, green facets. It can turn almost into an obsession, until I have the feeling I’ve found what I’m looking for, and then I move on.’ And is it easier to create for women, or men? ‘Gender in perfume is an everlasting debate. In reality, anyone can wear whatever he or she likes – even if the fragrance is supposedly “masculine” or “feminine”. There’s no right or wrong…’

What is your first ‘scent memory’?

My first olfactory memory is the scent of the famous Italian talc “Boro Talco” that my mother used for my little brother.

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

I knew I wanted to become a perfumer when I started working in Firmenich R&D laboratories. There, I fell in love with the raw materials used in perfumery and begun to express myself through fragrance.

What are your five favourite smells in the world? 

Of course, the best scents are the ones of my loved ones: my children, my lover and my mother! I love the scent of a Pierre de Ronsard Rose and the scent of asphalt just after a pouring rain.

What is the fragrance you wish you’d created?

There are two fragrances that I absolutely love and wear myself: “Féminité du bois” and “Ambre Sultan” by Serge Lutens.

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?

I agree. I feel that brands are asking for more and more authentic and qualitative notes, complex fragrances with great character and signature. So it is quite an exciting time indeed! 

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

Eve – to imagine a fragrance for the first woman ever would be quite exciting.

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

The first fragrance I bought was Mary Quant Havoc. Most of the time, if want to wear a fragrance I will buy it for myself, but once, I received as a gift Guy Laroche Fidji.

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

I like when a fragrance bottle is heavy, when you feel the weigh of precious glass. The Jo Malone London bottles in particular had this quality.

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

It depends; quite often I work on about ten fragrances at the same time.

Does your nose ever ‘switch off’?

Even if my nose sometimes “switches off” because of a bad cold, the brain doesn’t, and I can still imagine and write formulas. I smell them once my nose is treated.

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

Once again, it depends on the project. It can be from three days to three whole years.

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?

The idea of the fragrance first rises in the brain. Everything can arouse my imagination: mood boards, stories, colours, shapes, textures … After that, I write down what I imagine and at the end, I smell what I had in mind in the first place.

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

To appreciate a fragrance, you just have to follow your instinct. When a fragrance touches you, tickles your sensitivity, it means that the fragrance is made for you.

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

Be olfactively curious. Smell everything you can, everywhere, everyday.  Have your nose on high alert.

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

The next fragrance I will be creating of course. I will certainly love it more that any other one!