Get to know the nose: Alberto Morillas

In this series we are inviting you to ‘get to know the nose’ – those perfumers who create the scents we adore, who bottle lifelong scent memories and span the worlds of Art and Science. In this exclusive interview, you’ll get to know none other than Alberto Morillas… 

Legend‘ is a word bandied about so often it can be rendered meaningless, but when applied to the perfumer Alberto Morillas, there can be no doubting the truth of such a statement. Creator of countless iconic fragrances – from Calvin Klein CK One, Kenzo Flower, Bvlgari Omnia, Cartier Panthere de Cartier, Giorgio Armani Aqua di Giò for women (seriously, the list is seemingly endless) – to the more recent scent success of Gucci‘s fragrances, perfumes for Penhaligon’s, and the BVLGARI Goldea scents. And then those more ‘niche’ interpretations of his art, working alongside remarkable brands such as Aedes de Venustas, A Lab On Fire and By Kilian to name but three of his extensive client list. Whatever your taste, wherever you began your quest for the perfect perfume – his scents have doubtless been in your collection and on your skin at one time or another. 

Winning the prestigious Prix François Coty in 2003 and The Fragrance Foundation Lifetime Perfumer in 2013, among numerous other awards for his creations; Morillas then set up his own house of Mizensir, initially selling candles – using the same dedication and attention to detail in hand-making these as he does creating fine fragrances. Now fans rejoice in the fact Morillas has recently expanded Mizensir in to a range of fine fragrances, too.

With so many infamous names on his client list, Alberto can pick and choose who he works with at any time, so those scents he composes are very special indeed. We were honoured, indeed, to catch up with Alberto for our regular ‘get to know the nose’ feature, and hearing him wax lyrical on his favourite (and most-hated) smells, his fragrant inspirations and for a unique insight in to this, yes, legendary perfumer’s behind-the-scenes techniques…

 

 

 

What is your first ‘scent memory’?

‘Traditional Christmas Cakes that smelled like Anis and Vanilla, made by the Carmelite nuns in my town, we would order these cakes from Christmas and pick them up at the convent, this smell is imprinted in my memory.’

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

I started hearing about the métier of perfumer when I came to Geneva to study; around the same time I discovered that there was a creator behind each fragrance. I had read an article in Vogue Magazine where Jean Paul Guerlain explained how to create a fragrance. That was a revelation for me!’

What are your five favourite smells in the world?

More personally, I like everything that would evoke the Mediterranean Sea, with the deep blue water, the sun and the nature which go with it. I am very attached for example to the citruses, sea notes and flowers including jasmine, tuberose, neroli and orange blossom. They are the expression of a certain kind of freshness, a sophisticated freshness and at the same time full of joy. I’m also in love with gardens. They are my second passion. I spend a lot of time in my family garden in Geneva, it gives me a breath, a moment of dream and relaxation, and it always inspires me for my work as a perfumer. The inspiration which feeds my creation is very simple, it is everything I see in nature.’

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

The smell of onion is really unpleasant and overwhelming. I can’t smell anything when there’s onion in the room. And it makes you cry!’

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?

A lot of things have changed! Mainly due to an acceleration of time and pressures. In reaction to these constant pressures, people want freedom, to express themselves freely. Perfume is a world of passion, pleasure and emotions which gives a beautiful escape to everyone. The increasing number of new creations each year has not restrained the community of perfume lovers. On the contrary, men and women are becoming more and more experts of fragrances. Brands are now offering a different storytelling around creation, giving a major place to the olfactive creation and to the ingredients. I’m very positive about the future!’

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

‘Oh I can be working on many, many – in over twenty directions at any time! I work on mine and for other people. I like to say yes, but only if I love the people themselves. I made Zara candles and that was an honour to me, that they wanted to have my signature. But when I finish working on something it is no longer mine, it’s not for me when it’s finished – it’s for the customer, it belongs to them. Though the formula is mine!’

Does your nose ever ‘switch off’?

‘No, never, I am working all the time – even just walking down the street I am smelling and sometimes, well quite a lot as it happens, I smell one of the perfumes I created as someone passes me. It still gives me the same pleasure to smell that on someone now as when I first created it… Perfumers never rest, no one is ever in a completely odour-free environment and it is like the brain: the nose never rests. Creating a fragrance is an art, it is very personal and creative exercise.’

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

‘Some are one or two years, others can be five or more. But it’s very difficult you know, because it needs to change only a tiny bit and that takes a lot longer than if it was just brand new. To alter something a little takes a lot more work.’

 

 

 

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?

‘No, I can be inspired by seeing something but it automatically goes to an emotion in my head and I memorise that and that’s what I try to create. As perfumers, we use words, sounds, colours, shapes, textures to talk about smells, and get our memory working. That’s how we build up and maintain our “scent bank”, by associating a smell with another completely different sensory element. Perfume calls on our strongest instincts and our emotions. Spontaneously, we grab hold of something palpable, something we can see to give it meaning. In my daily work, I’m a very visual person, almost all my formulas are written by hand. My handwriting is my emotion. When I write the formula, I can smell the perfume. I also really like to receive images when I create new products; it is always a great source of inspiration.’

What can each of us do to enhance our appreciation of fragrance? What is your best tip for improving a person’s sense of smell?

‘If you train your nose, you’ll be able to make the difference between the main olfactive families. In fact, everyone has his own olfactive memory like a “library of scents”, made of smells you associate to people, places, travels, objects, food, moments of your life, etc. You can enrich this library by smelling fragrances in store or trying them on skin to live with them. Some are fresher, some are more sensual, try to put words on what you smell to define the different sensations. Then repeat, repeat ceaselessly. Practice by smelling in blind. Be spontaneous, say everything, feel free to write everything which comes to mind. Time after time, you’ll have your own references and you’ll be able to classify fragrances by main themes, like woody, aromatic, citrus and oriental. Memory. That’s the most important thing. You need to smell again and again and again the same thing and then mix it with other things and see how it changes. Like cooking – you need to taste all the time to improve your palette and it’s the same with smell. I cannot say enough how important memory is, that act of memorising how something smells, what it means to you.’

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

‘Oh the rose for me, always the rose. But then the musks of course – I guess I am the king of musk! But each one is different – so there’s an Armani musk, a Cartier musk… They each have their own unique character, so you cannot simply talk of “musk” as one thing. And it’s not an obsession, but I like very much orange blossom when I’m back to my homeland in Seville, spring time is the moment for traditional processions. It smells orange blossom and incense, a wonderful smell that could inspire me in the future, who knows?’

The first in a fascinating series of in-depth interviews with the world's greatest perfumers

We’re about to get geeky, here. Because we’ve a hunch that you’re as fascinated as we are with how perfumers actually work. When they’re at their most productive. What they surround themselves with. What the creative process entails…
So – with our privileged access to the world’s greatest perfumers – we’re introducing a new series on The Perfume Society, which looks at how these ‘noses’ go about the job of creating.
For our first subject, meet Alberto Morillas – without question one of the greatest perfumers of our times, with literally hundreds of fragrances to his name. For 20 years, this Spanish-born perfumer has been the exclusive ‘nose’ for Bulgari (and indeed we caught up with him on his recent London visit to launch Bulgari Goldea The Roman Night). He’s also the man behind Giorgio Armani Acqua di Giò (in its many incarnations), Penhaligon’s Iris Prima and Blasted Bloom/Blasted Heath, Calvin Klein ckoneMarc Jacobs Daisy, Flower by Kenzo – and so the list goes on and on and on. And on. (Morillas also has his own beautiful fragrance collection, Mizensir.)
But how exactly does he do it…? Here’s what Alberto Morillas told us.

I do my creating in Geneva. I have offices in Geneva, New York and another in Paris – and every week, I’m on a plane somewhere. But the lab in Geneva [at Firmenich fragrance house] is where I actually work.
Before I create a fragrance, I have to do a lot of thinking. Geneva is a good place to achieve a synthesis of all the impressions I get while travelling. I am inspired by the view of the mountains – I can see Mont Blanc – and by being outside in my garden, which is very private and enclosed. I grow a lot of roses there, and it is very important for me to see the beauty of nature. I have to do a great deal of contemplation before I actually start to create any of my fragrances, to get my ideas in place. Sometimes I will sit for three hours, just contemplating.
Travel fuels my creative process. It’s important for my spirit. I recently spent four days in Formentera, where there is sunlight, the smell of the different aromatic plants, a lot of stone. Travel’s hugely important to me. When I set about creating Bulgari Goldea The Roman Night, for instance, I thought about what is important to me when I visit Rome. The first thing is the gardens, the trees – and the smells; you have this amazing night-blooming jasmine. And stone. Again, a lot of stone. (See the beautiful visual of Bella Hadid as the ‘face’ of the fragrance, below.)
For me, starting to think about a creation is a bit like watching a movie. I literally travel there in my head, drawing on those experiences of travelling. For The Roman Night, I started with blackberry to have the effect of the sunshine in Rome. Black peony and night-blooming jasmine, which are very feminine – like the women of Rome. And patchouli, for the mineral effect of the stone. And of course there had to be musk, because that is my signature for Bulgari: it gives the same sensation as when you wear nice jewellery; it’s heavy and sensual. Yesterday, I spent the day in London – with its very diverse, bustling crowds, but also the wide open spaces of beautiful parks and gardens; a place where the energy of the city meets the energy of gardens. On the streets I smelled a lot of oudh and also a lot of rose. So I will carry those thoughts and at some point in the future, they may help to shape a perfume that I am asked to create.

I like visual clues when I’m given a brief. And I like a tight brief – if you have complete freedom, it can be difficult.  Photographs and art works are very important – sometimes it’s just looking back at my personal photographs, to get a feel of what I’m trying to convey. This process is useful for crystallising the emotion of the fragrance. I take a lot of photographs of flowers, and I try to capture those in fragrances; my phone is very important for capturing moments and flowers and places – but I don’t enjoy the narcissism of social media so much.
I get up very early, at 6.30 a.m. The mornings are very important for me, creatively. I like that quiet time. I have a coffee, I smell things, I check my formulas – and I write many, many notes.
I work for very short bursts on each perfume. Creating a fragrance requires huge concentration and I can only spend about four minutes at a time on a particular fragrance before I stop. During that time I write all my emotions and feelings – it’s a little like holding onto a dream when you wake up; you have to write it down before it goes. I need to go from one perfume to another, refreshing my mind. I will come back to it many, many times, but I can’t work for hours at a time on a single fragrance. And there is much more to be done, alongside creating: I am selecting new ingredients and testing how long they last on the skin. Many hours are spent on that each day, and it’s very important for future creations.
I don’t take to lose time having lunch. I find it hard to get back to where I was afterwards in the creative process – so I work right through the day.
I finish my day at 5 p.m. But I take everything I’m working on home with me. I might smell it again after dinner – and definitely in the morning, for the dry-down.

Bella Hadid is the ‘face’ of Goldea The Roman Night – Alberto Morillas’s latest for Bulgari

Nowadays I am very selective about the fragrances I work on. That’s the luxury of being at this point in my career. I like to work very closely with people; this is what gives me the energy to create, and  don’t like ideas being diluted by a hierarchy within a team. I have a wonderful relationship with Bulgari, going back almost 20 years; it leads to a kind of shorthand in a working relationship, where I am easily able to understand exactly what they want. And for the recent Gucci Bloom, I worked very closely with Creative Director Alessandro Michele, who was very involved in the fragrance design from start to finish. With Bulgari it’s about the stones; with Gucci it’s about the fashion. But the bottom line is: I don’t want to work on 10 fragrances at the same time now, as I did in the past. If you’re tired, you aren’t happy – and if you aren’t happy, you can’t create.
I may work for a year and a half on a fragrance – and yet we’ll go back to the fifth submission for the final perfume. You need to experiment a lot. For Giorgio Armani Acqua di Giò, there were thousands of tries – but that’s fine. It’s like a dancer; they have to repeat and repeat and repeat to get something perfect. And yet quite often, when you get to that 1,000th try, it’s not so very far from the first one.
If you ask me what is the greatest fragrance ever created, I’d say Guerlain Shalimar. It’s old-fashioned but also very modern. There are all sorts of contrasts inside it – but it works so well.
I have 3,000 materials at my fingertips when I create. But I have a palette of around 200 that I enjoy working with the most.
As a perfumer, I have a certain signature. Naturals are incredibly important to me: I want to smell a real rose, real jasmine… But beyond that, musk is what people tend to recognise in my perfumes; it’s how I add light to a perfume. I also love woods: patchouli, vetiver, sandalwood – they’re part of my signature.
There’s no ingredient I won’t work withIf the brief demands a certain ingredient, and I don’t particularly like that material, that’s a challenge I actively enjoy – to transform it and make it more beautiful.
Even though I write down so many thoughts and ideas – and it is such an important part of my work I don’t consider myself a good writer. I find it very difficult. But I am a good perfumer – and I suppose that’s what matters!
Bulgari Goldea The Roman Night from £45 for 30ml
Buy it at Escentual
Written by Jo Fairley

The ultimate personalised perfume ­– via Penhaligon’s and Alberto Morillas

It isn’t every day you discover that one of the world’s most celebrated ‘noses’ is up for hire.
But Alberto Morillas – famed for fragrances like Bulgari Goldea, Calvin Klein ckone, Marc Jacobs Daisy,  Versace Bright Crystal and Yellow Diamond, winner of the coveted Prix François Coty and more, more, more – will now create you a signature scent, through a new service offered at Harrods Salon de Parfums. (Which has just been extended, on the Sixth Floor, offering new spaces including the Penhaligon’s boutique where we photographed Mr. Morillas recently.)
As a brand new venture, there’s currently no waiting list for Penhaligon’s Bespoke by Alberto Morillas – though our hunch is that will rapidly change. The downside? You will need £35,000 to spare. In think that in the grand scheme of things, that’s honestly not unreasonable; this is the equivalent of getting Rembrandt to paint your olfactory portrait. And no question there’ll be customers lining up for the service. Us? We’re buying extra EuroMillions tickets and keeping everything crossed.)
The process involves lengthy consultations with Penhaligon’s in-house fragrance expert, and a to-and-fro process which is likely to take eight to nine months. Not for the impatient, then. But at the end, the fragrance will be presented in two customised 200ml British cut crystal decanters, inside a luxuriously lacquered wood box – in case the perfume-lover is in any doubt about how exclusive an opportunity this is. (The decanters can be refilled at any time, with the recipe exclusive to the customer.)
Alberto Morillas and Penhaligon’s have form. Even before he began his career as a perfumer, Alberto Morillas was a fan of Blenheim Bouquet – indeed,  ‘Penhaligon’s perfumed my father, my grandfather. It’s a style of perfume that you don’t find anywhere else.’
Morillas created the sublime Iris Prima, and of the witty, characterful-in-every-way Penhaligon’s Portraits ‘family’, is responsible for The Tragedy of Lord George and the soon-to-be launched Mr. Beauregard (a cad of a chap, by all accounts, but he smells dashed good – all orris, lemon, pink pepper and resinous benzoin).
We were delighted to present Alberto Morillas with his own copy of The Scented Letter (he’s a new fan!) – and he also found time to share his five favourite smells with us…
1. Orange flower ‘Always my favourite because it reminds me of the house in Seville where I grew up.’
2. Rose There is such amazing variety in rose; some fresh, some musky, some like incense… It is the eternal sign of femininity, in the garden and in perfumery.
3. Tomatoes If I’ve been travelling somewhere – China, or the Far East – I love to come home and enjoy a tomato. For me it’s a combination of two things: the leaf – which smells so unique, so green, when you rub your fingers on it – and eating the flesh of the tomato. Is there anything nicer than the simple pleasure of enjoying a summer-ripe tomato, with a little salt…?
4. Patchouli This is a dream ingredient for a perfumer and I just love the smell – and its incredible versatility as an ingredient. You add it to moss, and it becomes a Chypre. You mix with jasmine, and you have a beautiful exotic floral.
5. Incense I grew up in a Catholic community and this is the smell of the cathedral in Seville. It makes me a little sad, but at the same time is a very peaceful and meditative smell. As a perfumer, quiet and peace is incredibly important to me. A very important part of the creative process for me is to sit and do nothing – just to think. I can spend hours simply thinking, creating in my head, staring at the sea or sitting in my garden. I take photographs of things that inspire me and I might scroll through those, but no e-mail, no social media, no scrolling for ‘likes’. Just quietness and stillness.

If a personal perfume from Alberto Morillas is beyond your budget, however, you might want to consider the semi-bespoke service that Penhaligon’s is also offering within the Salon de Parfums (see above). Another gifted perfumer, Fabrice Pellegrin, has created four bases – Chypre, Woody, Oriental or Amber – which can be customised with four different top notes: rose, iris, sandalwood and oudh. And trust us, the results are sublime. (We are saving for the Chypre/sandalwood combo.) The price varies between £300-425 depending on what you choose (oudh and iris being the priciest).

This customised perfume will be mixed before your eyes and hand-poured into a classic Penhaligon’s bottle, adorned with a beautiful velvet bow in a choice of colours.
Did someone say ‘birthday’…?
Find the new Penhaligon’s boutique in the Salon de Parfums, 6th Floor, Harrods, Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7XL
By Jo Fairley
 
 
 
 
 

Bvlgari Goldea – a golden scent for Cleopatra. Behind-the-scenes with Alberto Morillas on his creation of a ‘re-modelled’ musk that simply glows…

Having caught up with genius (and we do not use the word lightly) perfumer Alberto Morillas for our recent Nose interview, we couldn’t just leave it there. Actually, we could conceivably spend years listening to his tales of perfumes past and present – the intricacies of his methods, the creative process from brand’s brief through creative inspirations and onwards to the final scents we all know and treasure so dearly.

Specifically, we wanted to know all about how Alberto worked on the recently launched Goldea by Bvlgari (available to try at home in our Exquisite Essences Discovery Box), and graciously were granted an exclusive interview to find out more…

Alberto Morillas-1008 2
What were your inspirations for the fragrance?
‘Goldea is a tribute to gold and femininity. It really hypnotizes you and makes you travel through the most mythical places of our History. It is a multifaceted interpretation of the Golden Age, from the antique goddess to the modern diva. The fragrance reflects the richness and timelessness of gold, just like a jeweler, I wanted to sculpt the radiance of gold. And create a deep and sensual fragrance that literally radiates on women’s naked skin.’

How did the use of musk help you to conjure up ‘a golden symphony’: what does it bring to this fragrance?
Among all the gems of my perfumer’s palette, musks are the talismans of Bulgari and create a mythical and sacred signature. Goldea plays with their sensual and bright royal aura which echoes gold. A waterfall of musks that I worked for Goldea with a lot of texture and richness. As a step back in the origins of musks, an ultra-precious ingredient of the perfume History which is today bathed with light and modernity. I wanted to push the radiance, beyond limits, to reach the full power, the supreme alchemy and express this “golden symphony”.’

How do you put ‘the sun’ into a fragrance, as a perfumer?
‘To create solar strength in Goldea, I wanted to add noble raw materials such as papyrus and patchouli wood. In the floral accord, we begin to sense the palpitation of flowers and the rare ylang-ylang from the Comoros Islands. An intensity golden yellow ylang-ylang is the perfect embodiment of a flower fusing with gold. I have always used bergamot as a citrus note; this fruit is round and luminous, intensely yellow and instantly suggestive of the sun. In Goldea, you feel at the same time the morning sun with its sense of renewal and unique freshness, the burning midday heat and the nostalgia of the evening sunset.’

o.33877
 Did you have an image in your mind, when creating?
‘Cleopatra was my muse for this unique fragrance. She is an absolute icon of femininity, power and seduction. And so the fragrance is. If it were a piece of art, it would be a golden sculpture of Brancusi. Brancusi was a visionary, a pioneer of modernism and one of the most influential sculptors of the 20th century. This craftsman of gold inspired me a lot to create a sculpted floral oriental, in which each ingredient is facetted and polished like a gold nugget.’

Unusually in a fragrance construction, this note is actually present in the head, heart and base notes, awakening the sensual amber and floral elements in the fragrance. Musk highlights the airy naturalness of orange blossom, alongside the voluptuous qualities of ylang ylang and a cascade of jasmine pearls. In the base, a soft and rounded velvet musk is ‘fanned’ by the carnal sensuality of that amber accord, with an intoxicating trail of golden patchouli and Egyptian papyrus…

Bvlgari_Goldea_Bottle

Bulgari Goldea £37 for 25ml eau de parfum
Buy it at Harvey Nichols

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Alberto Morillas – our exclusive interview with the iconic nose and ‘king of musk’…

Legend is a word bandied about so often it can be rendered meaningless, but when applied to the perfumer Alberto Morillas, there can be no doubting the truth of such a statement. Creator of any number of iconic fragrances – from Calvin Klein CK One, Kenzo Flower, Bvlgari Omnia, Cartier Panthere de Cartier, Giorgio Armani Aqua di Giò for women (seriously, the list is seemingly endless) – to more niche, modern interpretations of his art, working alongside remarkable brands such as Aedes de Venustas, A Lab On Fire and By Kilian to name but three of his extensive client list. Whatever your taste, wherever you began your quest for the perfect perfume – his scents have doubtless been in your collection and on your skin at one time or another.

Maintaining that he is ‘mainly self-taught’ as a perfumer, Morillas been working for Firmenich since 1970 and creating many of those all-time greats, while also finding time to work on side projects for Zara home, and now concentrating on devloping his Mizensir range of home candles into a luxurious collection of personal fragrances. Imagine our excitement at getting to sniff them at their press launch in the UK last week – with something for everyone (another oft-used phrase that’s equally true in this case) from soft musks, exqusite roses, uplifiting neroli and right through to ‘The Perfect Oud’ (yes, he went there)…

0000011775874_img_6319We’ll reveal our full interview with Alberto waxing lyrical about his love for candles and the new Mizensir fragrances very soon; but in the meantime, sit back with a cuppa and revel in our exclusive ‘nose’ interview in The Noses – a regular feature here on The Perfume Society website, in which we quiz some of our favourite perfumers on their passions, working methods and how you, too, could improve your appreciation of fragrance… Happy exploring!
Written by Suzy Nightingale