Had he not become a perfumer, Jérome Epinette says he’d likely have been a sommelier. Growing up in the famous wine region of Burgundy, he loves to attend wine tastings, comparing notes just as he does in perfume. And if it wasn’t wine, it could just as likely have been a food career that beckoned – in his spare time Jérome is an accomplished cook, particularly enjoying blending unique combinations of herbs and cooking traditional French dishes.
Luckily for us fragrance lovers, Jérome’s passion for perfume had also been realised at an early age – his mother worked in a fine perfumery, and he would join her there during school holidays to help out. Having earned a Master’s Degree in Biochemistry in Dijon, France and attended the Grasse Institute of Perfumery in Grasse, Jérome’s career really began when he joined Robertet’s Paris office in 2003 and was part of the U.S. team to launch the New York Creative Center in 2006, where he now lives.
Known for his love of exceptional quality naturals and how elegantly he blends them with the finest synthetics, you’ll very likely have worn and loved many of his creations already – houses from Atelier Cologne, Byredo, Frapin, Olfactive Studio to Vilhelm have fought for Epinette to be their nose. Now, Jérome has turned his talents to the self-proclaimed ‘upstart’ fragrance house of Floral Street, who won the Fragrance Foundation Retail Award 2019 and are wowing fragrance fans the world over with their contemporary spin on floral ingredients.
We had the pleasure of meeting Jérome at our Perfume Society event in their Covent Garden flagship store, just as Electric Rhubarb was launching – a fragrance collaboration with Chelsea Flower Show, and a fruity/floral like no other. Of course we couldn’t wait to ask this brilliant perfumer exactly what makes him tick, and how he goes about creating a fragrance.
Describe your office and how you like to work…
‘It’s a very neat, white office, a white wooden floor, everything very minimal. My desk is bright white, very clean, I try to keep very tidy as I can only work like that. I couldn’t have a pile of blotters tumbling everywhere and a mass of stuff around me, that would drive me crazy.
Usually my nose is more efficient in the morning, I start working at 8:30am and smell all of the drydowns from the night before, it’s only then you can judge their longevity or see which aspects need adjusting. You need that time for it to develop overnight, but you also need time to let go of thinking about it, to come to it fresh. A fresh mind and a fresh nose.’
How do you like to think about a fragrance – do you use mood boards, go for a walk, read, listen to music…?
‘For Floral Street we use mood boards, because Michelle [Feeney – Floral Street’s vibrant founder] is very visual, as is the brand. I get an immediate idea from the pictures and colours, and I work from there. I think I’m very lucky to go to work by walking. I have a 25 minute walk and that gives me time to set my head up for the day. It’s a treasured time to reflect. I couldn’t take the subway, that’s too fast.
When I go home I walk through Central Park, and I think about what I’ve done that day, but when I get home I switch everything off and just relax with my family. Although I do spray my wife with fragrances I’m working on… she’ll sometimes say “have you put that ingredient I don’t like?” There are some things she likes so much she wishes I wasn’t selling it! I can’t listen to if my family and friends like a perfume, as such, because I’m not making it for them, but I see how it works on different skins.’
What did you want people to experience when smelling Electric Rhubarb?
‘For me this is buzzy, it has an energy, there’s a luscious juiciness and then a surprising smoothness. It’s so important to try on the skin, only then do I know to push the wood or whatever tweaks I need to do. You need to follow the perfume, how it behaves. When you smell the ingredients, like the sandalwood I’ve used in this one for example, you only then get the creamy aspect, a silkiness that only happens when it radiates on your skin, the full evolution of the fragrance.’
What are your favourite ingredients, and why?
‘I have tonnes of flowers I love, but gardenia is one of my all time favourites – I have one on my terrace and I can smell it whenever I walk past, and I’m always transported – that’s why I chose it for Electric Rhubarb. In the woody character, I think part of my signature is using patchouli and sandalwood, I’d say I use these practically all the time, in differing ways of course, but every perfumer has their signature, and that’s definitely mine.’
What do you say to people who ask why you use synthetic as well as naturals in your perfumes?
‘I’d say we need both, it’s as simple as that. If you ask me tomorrow to make 100% natural perfume, that’s incredibly challenging to make it smell good – you have a much smaller palette for a start, and synthetics add a complexity, they allow you to link everything together, the beautiful naturals and the clever synthetics make something whole.’
Jérome Epinette interviewed by Suzy Nightingale