‘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 ambrée. 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?’