When we learned that Calice Becker – perfumer behind masterpieces like Dior J’adore, Tom Ford Velvet Orchid and countless By Kilian fragrances – was collaborating on the new L’Occitane launch, Terre de Lumière, we sat up and took notice. A sign for sure that this beauty and perfume name, with its roots in Provence, is now taking fragrance Very Seriously Indeed. (Her fellow perfumers on this creation as Shyamala Maisondeau and Nadège Legarlantezec.)
Calice Eurostarred into London for the flower-filled launch, charming us with her easy manner and love for her work. In Terre de Lumière, she contrasts aromatic, fresh lavender, pink pepper and bergamot with sweet elements to create L’Occitane‘s debut gourmand perfume. Ambrette seed and acacia flower are drizzled with honey, with bitter almond taking the edge off the sweetness, and a final flourish of tonka and musk.
Calice happily answered our questions about how she became a perfumer, about how she works and what inspires her – so we’re delighted to share this latest in our series of ‘nose’ interviews with you here…
When did you decide you wanted to be a perfumer?
The heart of my perfume memories begin with my mother. I was four years old, getting out of a bath. She opened a bottle of eau de Cologne and applied it to me. I was fascinated and curious about the smell. So I asked her how it was made. She said, ‘It’s made from flowers…’ But I couldn’t see the flowers in the bottle! I couldn’t imagine how the flowers got into the bottle and got out, dispersing this beautiful smell. I was very confused, and I kept asking, and asking her questions.
She said: ‘You will understand it later, when you get older.’ So I give credit to my mother, who helped me find my calling. She told me I should become a perfumer, a ‘nose’, after she recognised how sensitive I was to smell. When I was very little, she realised that I couldn’t recognize people by name but, only by their fragrance.
I would tell her, ‘This person is like that one!’ And she would say, “Oh, no! They have nothing in common!”’
What I meant, and what she understood later, was that they were wearing the same fragrance.
What is your first scent memory?
My scent memories as a child show my curiosity and learning that started with the illusion of flowers inside a bottle. I continue to feel this way today, in my daily life. I’m constantly discovering ways of translating emotions that fit inside a bottle. As perfumers, we have the right resources and knowledge to reconstruct these feelings.
What are your five favourite smells in the world?
• Leather and saddlery.
• Lily of the valley.
What’s the worst thing you ever smelled. (Honestly!)
The smell of hospitals. It is very unpleasant and associated to sadness.
What is the fragrance you wish you’d created?
If you could have created a fragrance for a historical figure, who would it be?
What’s the first fragrance you bought? And the first bought for you…?
The first fragrance I bought for myself was Dürer by Dürer, while the first fragrance someone gave to me was L’Artisan Parfumeur Eau de Pamplemousse.
Do you have a favourite bottle design, from those that have been used for your fragrance creations?
The bottle of Dior J’adore is outstanding, timeless, just beautiful. Otherwise the bottle for Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps is one of my favorites. It is at the same time aesthetically beautiful and highly symbolic.
How many perfumes might you be working on, at one time?
I’m usually working on four to eight perfumes at the same time.
Does your nose ever ‘switch off’?
Yes, it does sometimes! For example when I have a cold or when I’m very tired at the end of day. (But it is more my brain switching off than my nose!)
How long, roughly, does it take you to create a fragrance?
It depends. It usually lasts from three months to a year.
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?
For me, a fragrance is at the same time visual, tactile and auditory. All the senses can help translate the olfactive emotion. A mood-board can be a starting point in a creation, as well as a harmony, or a texture.
What is your best tip for improving a person’s sense of smell?
For me, it is important to learn how to truly appreciate beautiful things. It is like tasting wine or discovering opera. You can like something beautiful at once but the more you develop your taste, the more you can understand what you like about it, the way it makes you feel. It is all about the capacity to feel emotions and share them with others. My advice would be: express and share your olfactive emotions…
By Jo Fairley