Carlos Benaïm – one of the most charming ‘noses’ we’ve ever met – talks scents…

When Carlos Benaïm landed from New York on a flying visit, we settled down into a pair of leather chairs and asked him to share his scent memories.

One of the perfumers we’ve been most charmed by in all our years of hanging out with ‘noses’, Carlos is a veteran of the industry, with so many fragrances to his name: the blockbuster Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb (with Olivier Polge and Domitille Bertier), Boucheron Jaipur Bracelet, Bulgari Jasmin Noir, Calvin Klein Eupohoria and Ralph Lauren Polo – among many others we’ve worn, loved or admired. More recently, he’s created for Frederic Malle, including the airily fresh and so-wearable Eau de Magnolia, as well as the sublime modern classic Icon for Dunhill.

His appreciation of scents and smells started early. ‘As a young boy I would often accompany my grandfather to the marketplace in Tangier and I remember the smells of the spices and fruits, oranges, peaches, melons and apricots – they are engraved in my memory…’

When summing up his career, we also love these words from Carlos: ‘There’s an old Arab saying: whatever is not given, is lost. That’s how I’ve tried to live my life and my career.’

What is your first ‘scent memory’?
The scent of my grandmother’s kitchen, cinnamon, mixed with sugar and other sweet smells. She’s someone I was very close to growing up in Tangiers, in Morocco; I was raised there, although my background is Spanish. I left Morocco at 17 to study chemical engineering and then at 23 went to Paris and New York, studying to be a nose alongside head perfumers Bernard Chant and Ernest Shiftan at International Flavors & Fragrances – I never went to a ‘classical’ perfumery school and for me, it was more like an apprenticeship.

What are your five favourite smells in the world?

  • Orris (iris) – an elegant smell; there’s something so cool (temperature-wise) about it that I really like.
  • Sweets and baking smells and chocolate – because I have a sweet tooth, and I’m often caught with something sweet!
  • Smells that remind me of my mother: Femme and Mitsouko – I always recognise both of those smells right away, which brings back wonderful memories.
  • Fruits. I love the smell of fruits, particularly raspberries and peaches, pineapple, cassis, blackberry, blackcurrant. There is nothing like the smell of a fresh-picked French raspberry; they taste and smell completely different to the ones you can buy in New York – so much more perfumed…
  • Tobacco. This is the smell of my grandfather; he used to have snuff tobacco, and my father who was a pharmacist used to perfume it, either with a violet perfume or a geranium aroma. It was a very rough tobacco from Morocco and that combination was very haunting, blended with those sweet notes. I use it a lot in fragrance as a note; I used to smoke when I was young and fortunately I stopped, but I do like a little ‘hit’ from using tobacco.

And your least favourite?
I hate the smell of garbage – but that’s an obvious one. Actually, I don’t like the smell of cats and dogs. We don’t have animals because my wife is very allergic to them – but I don’t like their scent, either.

What is the fragrance you wish you’d created?
The great Guerlains: the Mitsoukos, the Shalimars… My grandmother used to wear Shalimar. Those are magnificent, absolutely wonderful, with their mossiness – not just oakmoss, but the other mosses, which we’re restricted from using so much these days.

Is creating a fragrance ‘visual’ for you, as well as something that happens in the nose/brain? Is a mood-board helpful?
Everything is helpful for me. A fragrance is a mood, it’s colour, it’s form – and so it’s definitely visual as well; I build up a picture in my mind, and start trying to bring it to life. It’s a process that takes several months.

Do you have a favourite bottle, from those which have been used for your creations?
I’m very fond of the Ralph Lauren Polo bottle, which is also very significant for me because it was my first success. I also love the bottle for Flowerbomb.

Does your nose ever switch off!
As a perfumer, you can switch off being in ‘work mode’, to a ‘not actively searching’ mode. When my nose is ‘on’, I’m sensing the environment, I’m interested in the smells around me, I’m trying to put my effort into understanding what’s going on in, say, that particular flower. But I like to relax, too, and my nose relaxes at the same time.

What is your best tip for improving a person’s sense of smell?
Be interested; that’s really the key. Pay attention and try to ‘fix’ smells in your mind by putting words to them. That’s how a perfumer starts; you smell everything, and you can’t remember abstract smells so you have to label them – I would smell something and think, ‘ah, that’s the wood in my grandmother’s house’ – and that’s how I’d be able to remember it…

 

Orange blossom: how to bottle sunshine

Did you ever sleep in a field of orange-trees in bloom? The air which one inhales deliciously is a quintessence of perfumes. This powerful and sweet smell, as savoury as a sweetmeat, seems to penetrate one, to impregnate, to intoxicate, to induce languor, to bring about a dreamy and somnolent torpor. It is like opium prepared by fairy hands and not by chemists.’ ― Guy de Maupassant, 88 Short Stories

Orange blossom is beloved by perfumers in light-filled ‘solar’ scents – a newly emerging category, and a word I’ve found increasingly used for fragrances which aren’t merely fresh, but attempt the alchemy of bottling sunshine.

It’s the bitter orange tree we have to thank for these heady white blossoms – one of the most benificent trees in the world, for it also gives us neroli, orange flower water and petitgrain – all utterly unique in smell, from verdant to va-va-voom depending how they are distilled and the quantity used in a fragrance.

Originating from Asia, the bitter orange was introduced to North Africa by crusaders of the VIIth century, and now it’s just six villages in the Nabeul region of Tunisia that provide the majority of the world’s crop. Women do most of the harvesting, the pickers swathed in headscarves climbing treacherously high-looking ladders to reach the very tops of the trees, typically working eight hours a day and gathering around 20,000 (approximately 10kg) of flowers.

 

 

When the blossoms are hydro-distilled – soaked in water before being heated, with volatile materials carried away in the steam to condense and separate – the extracted oil is neroli, the by-product being orange flower water, while petitgrain is the essential oil steam distilled from the leaves and green twigs.

Long steeped in bridal mythology, when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840, she chose orange blossom to decorate her dress, carried sprigs in her bouquet and even wore a circlet of the blossoms fashioned from gold leaves, white porcelain flowers and green enamelled oranges in her hair. It firmly planted the fashion for ‘blushing brides’ being associated with orange blossom – but this pretty flower can hide a naughty secret beneath its pristine petals…

 

 

While the primly perfect buds might visually convey a sign of innocence, their heady scent can, conversely, bring a lover to their knees with longing. In his novel The Leopard, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa chronicles crossing an orange grove in full flower, describing ‘…the nuptial scent of the blossoms absorbed the rest as a full moon does a landscape… that Islamic perfume evoking houris [beautiful young women] and fleshly joys beyond the grave.’

It’s the kind of floral that might signify sunshine and gauzy gowns or veritably snarl with sensuality. Similar to the narcotic addictiveness of jasmine, with something of tuberose’s potency; orange blossom posesses none of that cold, grandiose standoffishness of some white florals: it pulsates, warmly, all the way.

 

Perfumer Alberto Morillas associates the scent of orange blossom with his birthplace: ‘I’m from Seville, when I’m creating a fragrance, all my emotion goes back to my home,’ Alberto told me, talking about his inspiration for Solar Blossom (below). ‘You have the sun, the light and water – always a fountain in the middle of the square – and “solar” means your soul is being lifted upwards.’

Oh, how we need that bottled sunshine when summer fades; an almost imperceptible shifting of the light that harkens misty mornings, bejwelled spiderwebs and sudden shivers…

Why not swathe yourself in these light-filled fragrances to huddle against the Stygian gloom? I love wearing them year-round, to remind me sunny days will return, that things will be brighter, presently.

 

Mizensir Solar Blossom Luminescent, life-affirming, a shady Sevillian courtyard with eyes and hearts lifted to the glorious sun, ripples of laughter and birdsong.
£175 for 100ml eau de parfum harveynichols.com

Sana Jardin Berber Blonde A shimmering haze of Moroccan magic, orange blossom diffused by dusk, a languid sigh of inner contentment.
£95 for 100ml sanajardin.com

Stories By Eliza Grace No.1 Waves of warmth giving way to fig tea sipped beneath the shade of whispering trees, bare feet on sun-warmed flagstones, fingers entwined, forever dancing.
£50 for 15ml eau de parfum elizagrace.com

Shalimar Soffle d’Oranger A flurry of white petals in the Taj Mahal’s gardens, the creamy warmth of sandalwood swathed skin an embrace you’ll want to prolong throughout the seasons.
£79 for 100ml eau de parfum selfridges.com

Maison Francis Kurkdjian APOM Femme A golden halo of comfort, sunshine diffused through honeycombs, your lover’s neck nuzzled, licked, bitten.
£150 for 70ml eau de parfum johnlewis.com

Serges Lutens Fleur d’Oranger Softly soapy at first, then sultry, writhing with unabashed decadence: a pure heart gone wonderfully awry.
£110 for 100ml eau de parfum libertylondon.com

L’Artisan Parfumeur Séville à l’Aube The molten wax of church candles delicately dripped on to eager skin as virtue meets vixen.
£115 for 100ml eau de parfum artisanparfumeur.com

By Suzy Nightingale

Givaudan perfumer Calice Becker, Knighted!

In France they don’t just honour perfumers with prize certificates, they actually award them with knighthoods! We’re thrilled to learn that Calice Becker, Vice President Perfumer and Director of the Givaudan Perfumery School, has been honoured by receiving the French médaille de Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres for her significant contribution to the arts through perfumery.

Having created many of what we’re sure are your favourite fragrances – from Tom Ford’s Velvet Orchid to Dior’s J’Adore, L’Occitane Terre de Lumieré and hundreds more besides, we say it’s about time, too, and highly well deserved!

The prestigious honour was presented in Paris by Sylviane Tarsot-Gillery, Director of Artistic Creation at the Ministry of Culture for the French government.

Givaudan say: ‘Calice is an exceptional, award-winning perfumer having created some of the world’s most recognisable fragrances of our time.  She’s an extraordinary leader in the global perfumery community serving as the President of the International Society of Perfumer-Creators and also a dedicated advisor for aspiring young talents.  She joins the small number of perfumers who have been recognised by the French Ministry of Culture with this honour.

In 1985, Calice began her perfumery training at Roure in Grasse which led her to Givaudan where she has passionately contributed as a perfumer for almost 40 years. She was appointed to the prominent position of Director of the Givaudan Perfumery School in 2017 where she leads the training and development of future perfumery artists. She combines her passion for sharing her knowledge of creation as well as her constant quest to enhance the creative process.

Calice’s creative success is unique in its breadth across the United States and Europe where her fragrances have marked eras and defined brands.  Her creations include international classics such as: Monsieur Balmain by Balmain, Tommy Girl by Tommy Hilfiger, J’adore by Dior, Ambre Eccentrico by Armani Privé, Dylan Blue by Versace, and select By Kilian fragrances.

Calice Becker said: ‘I am truly honoured and gratified to receive this honour from the French Ministry of Culture.  I feel privileged to join the small group of perfumers who have been recognised and I am especially pleased of the recognition it brings to celebrating the heritage of perfumery today.’

Maurizio Volpi, President of Givaudan’s Fragrance Division said: ‘Calice’s passion for perfume creation and dedication to training young perfumers is an inspiration to all of us at Givaudan.  This honour celebrates her remarkable career in perfumery and her leadership in the industry.  We congratulate her for this magnificent, highly deserved achievement.’

In fact, this is the second time a Givaudan Perfumer has received this accolade – the brilliant Daniela Andrier, Vice President Perfumer, attained the same honour in 2012. And we’re stringing out the bunting and waving the flags to celebrate this double female success in the perfume world!

By Suzy Nightingale

Eau dear what can the matter be? (How to spray away the January blues)

There’s only so much a body can take, isn’t there? Once we have worked our way through a glut of Christmas cheese, weaned ourself off eating handfuls of chocolates for breakfast and drinking a glass of Bailey’s Irish Cream before midday (possibly while still wearing pyjamas), one begins drooling over the thought of a salad leaf or a fresh tomato. Similarly, in these darker days while we stumble through that twilight zone between New Year and the distant thought of more daylight or anything nice happening ever again, our spirits may need some manual help with lifting – and luckily for us, fragrance is one of the most direct ways of doing this.

The problem is, for me, this time of year also brings a certain type of well-meaning advice about ‘wellness scents’  – a somewhat shudder-worthy phrase that has recently, along with ‘clean eating’, appeared in our modern lexicon. While there are definite wellness benefits to wearing the right scent, I’m here to tell you that just as nobody really cares about your kooky dreams or what your New Year’s Resolutions are (again), neither do we need that peculiar sense of smugness that can be served up as side while basically talking about what to spray to perk you up a bit.

Lads, 2018 felt as though it was five years long, and we’ve a while to go before venturing outdoors without a coat again; so can, in fact, spritzing a scent truly alter your mood?

For anyone who’s had a terrible day and reached for the bottle – the perfume bottle, that is – the answer is resoundingly in the affirmative. Little wafts of a favourite scent throughout the day can be a perfumed treat for you, or worn as a fragrant shield against the world in general. And now we have some research to back up those beliefs.


When you take a deep breath and inhale aroma molecules, they’re detected by the olfactory receptors in your nose and immediately stimulate some of the deepest, oldest parts of the brain – in ways that we’re only just starting to understand.

‘This process produces nerve impulses which travel to the limbic system, the part of the brain which is most concerned with survival, instincts and emotions. It’s thought by scientists the activity of the nerve signal passing through this region causes mood change by altering brain chemistry,’ says Christina Salcedas, of Aromatherapy Associates London. Our ability to smell ‘…is a window into parts of the brain related to core functions, like pleasure, emotion, and memory,’ agrees Jayant Pinto, MD, author of the study and an otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon at University of Chicago Medicine.

‘Pleasant ambient odors have also been found to enhance vigilance during a tedious task and improve performance on anagram and word completion tests’ reports scientificamerican.com, going on to explain that, conversely, ‘…the presence of a malodor reduced participants subjective judgments and lowered their tolerance for frustration. Participants in these studies also reported concordant mood changes. Thus,’ they conclude, ‘the observed behavioral responses are due to the effect that the ambient odors has on peoples mood’

Scent alters mood, mood increases creativity and productivity: it’s a win-win. But what exactly should you spritz to give yourself an olfactory boost for the spirit? I don’t necessarily want to reach for bottles of perfume I normally associate with winter – you know, those fragrances that seduce you into a state of langorously scented stulification, with rich, velvety florals swathed in spices and cosseted in cashmere. No, it’s time to be gently jolted a little, to kick-start your senses when your spirits are low, or whenever you just need a dose of extra sunshine in your life…

Still going strong since 1792, I’ve heard some wise French grandmothers advised leaving this in the fridge and splashing your breasts with it every morning, to tone and invigorate. Lemon, orange, dewy fresh rose and sandalwood oil combine with some sort of alchemy to take the heat out of a situation and ease the onset of a headache – particularly useful for those of us constantly tied to our computers. Did you know this is the only scent that Holly Golightly wears in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? In the mailbox of her apartment, she keeps her everyday essentials – a mirror, lipstick, and bottle of 4711. Quite right, too.

4711 Eau de Cologne Cool Stick £5.99 for 20ml
Buy it at Boots

A revolutionary fragrance and body treatment that was first launched in 1987, the invigorating aroma was unisex way before the word became trendy, and offers uplifting essences along with the promise of moisturising, firming and toning. Containing essential oils of lemon, patchouli, petit grain, ginseng and white tea, it leaves you feeling like you’ve just bounced out of a spa treatment (while avoiding awkward small-talk and the need to pre-wax your lady garden).

Clarins Eau Dynamisante £50 for 200ml Eau de Cologne
Buy it at clarins.co.uk


Abandon all thoughts of “grenade” in the sense of pulling a pin and hot-footing it in the opposite direction, for pomme grenade in French is what we know as “pomegranate”. An exotic melange of intensely fruity notes for a feeling of exuberant light-heartedness. Orange gets zesty with the mango-like davana, hypnotic neroli flowers fall like confetti on a base of vanilla – a scent now proven to calm startle reflexes and is being used to help patients undergo stressful sessions of chemotherapy in some hospitals. Spritz, breathe and dream, exotically.

Weleda Jardin de Vie Grenade £21.95 for 50ml eau naturelle parfumeé
Buy it at weleda.co.uk

Whisking you to the light-filled royal courtyards of Seville, bitter orange, sun-drenched bergamot and mandarin giggle into neroli and the cardamom-flecked, florist-shop freshness of galbanum; while ylang ylang is (unusually) found in the base, making for a giddily joyous landing. Wrapping cedar with flirty floral tendrils, the musky trail of sunshine-infused happiness surrounds you like a much-needed hug.

Molton Brown Orange & Bergamot £39 for 50ml eau de toilette
Buy it at moltonbrown.co.uk

If you’re anything like me, you spend half your life searching for plug points to charge up whatever electronics you’re lugging around – if only our own batteries were boosted so simply. Consecutive days of not enough sleep and hectic lifestyles can really take it out of you, as can eating your own body-weight in dairy products, I have discovered. Book me in for a barrel-load, then, of crisply revivifying grapefruit, lemon & rosemary to help refresh and re-energise.

Neom Energy Burst £49 for 50ml eau de toilette
Buy it at neomorganics.com

Sparkling fresh, this citrus scent with a rich floral heart is ‘perfect for spritzing any time your spirits need a boost,’ as they put it. It’s that sudden throwback to summer memories, a snapshot of yourself laughing while dancing in a garden, the fizz of Champagne bubbles still on your lips, a warm breeze swirling rose petals at your feet. Spray whenever you need reminding that better days will come again.

Liz Earle Botanical Essence No.1 £54 for 50ml eau de parfum
Buy it at uk.lizearle.com

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Ruth Mastenbroek: A Working Nose

‘Scent is my life.’  Says perfumer Ruth Mastenbroek. Quite simply, she explains that ‘The fragrance is the essence of my art.  It is my signature…’

Ruth Mastenbroek was born in England and graduated with a Chemistry degree from Oxford University. Having trained in the late 70s and then worked as a perfumer in the UK and Netherlands with Naarden International (who later became Quest and is now Givaudan – one of the largest perfume suppliers in the world); Ruth worked in Japan and in the perfume capital Grasse before returning to England to work for a small compan. There she created fragrances for up-and-coming brands like Kenneth Turner and Jo Malone – including her now infamously successful Grapefruit candle. But finally Ruth knew she wanted to set up her own perfumery company, Fragosmic Ltd., in 2003 – the year she became president of The British Society of Perfumers.

In 2010 Ruth launched her capsule collection of scented products featuring her signature fragrance – RM – and also became the first to use the ground-breaking micro-encapsulation technology… in a scented bathrobe!

Ruth launched her second fragrance, Amorosa, in May 2012 at Les Senteurs in London. Her range is now sold in more than 25 exclusive shops in the UK, as well as in the Netherlands and Nigeria. Her fragrances are astonishingly well composed, but more than smelling beaituful, they capture whole worlds and stories in every bottle.

We’re thrilled to be stocking this incredible discovery set of fragrances in the Ruth Mastenbroek Collection for you to try at home. From the smoulderingly sensual to the classically chic, with sunshine, smoky green unisex to travel memories and joyous moments captured in every bottle, we truly believe there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Why not treat yourself (or a loved one) to a whole new world of exploration…?

Ruth Mastenbroek Collection £17.95 for 4 x 2ml eau de parfum

Ruth has long been a friend of The Perfume Society, so we thought it was about time we caught up with her and found out exactly how she goes about making her fragrances, as part of our series of exclusive interviews with perfumers, called The Working Nose

Is there any such thing as an average day for you? What’s your routine?

Ruth Mastenbroek: It’s not quite as rigid as that. What tends to happen is that I get ideas overnight, and then I can try them out in the lab the next morning. I do enjoy writing out my formulas then, and feeling that then I’ve got the rest of the day to work through them. The way that I like to work has evolved over time. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to make a chypre, and the basic structure, but I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with it – there was a lot of trial and error and going back and forth between versions, but eventually I did get there with Signature.

With Amorosa, I knew I wanted to create a tuberose fragrance, because it was so incredibly different from what I’d done, so I wanted to explore. But it had to have something else, which became the ambery woody part of it. With Oxford and Firedance I had a starting point, but then I’d take a chunk out and try something else, to see how that affected the performance and character. It’s not as though I know exactly what’s going to happen when I put two things together. Obviously after forty years I know a lot, I have the experience, but you can never absolutely be sure until it’s done!

Do you keep a notebook with you to collect ideas – how do you keep a track of everything you imagine?

Well it honestly tends to be all in my head, the ideas are very vivid and I like to start working on them immediately, but over the years I’ve made so many different formulas, it’s all written down and I keep a note of every single addition or subtraction I experiment with. That way you have this back catalogue of things that you might not have a use for immediately, but which you know will prove vital at some point! My daughter thinks it’s hilarious that I still write everything down by hand. I still make a note of everything on the computer, but I prefer writing by hand. I do tend to have a lot of Postit notes around, scraps of paper with things that have occurred to me – an unusual combination that worked surprisingly well.

Are you inspired by pictures, textures or sounds at all?

For me it’s a very visual thing – I know some perfumers are synaesthetic and also inspired by sounds, and I can imagine that being very creative working with music, but I see them visually. I think of them texturally, too – very touchy-feely. When I think about my fragrances this way I can then sense what else I need to add to extend that feeling.

Do you need to work in complete quiet – do you shut yourself away when you’re working?

I very much prefer to be alone. I love working and creating on my own. Working from home a lot of the time I can do that. If you’re in a bigger office it’s much harder to do that, but I will always go and find a room where I can go and have some solitude. Otherwise there are too many distractions. I mean, sometimes it’s nice to be distracted, but I like to work methodically through something and just get it done.

When you’re composing a fragrance, are you strict about keeping everything very neutral around you? So not wearing any scented products at all?

Oh yes, you have to really. I mean you end up trying them on your skin of course, because you need to know how they perform, but other scents are very intrusive. Actually, I had one moment that really awkward – I was working for a company where they invited several perfumers to on a day trip to a bluebell wood, with the idea that each perfumer would then create a fragrance based on their personal impressions of it. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of wearing a sweater I’d worn previously had perfume on it. I just didn’t think. But when everything else is un-fragranced (and everyone else there!), boy do you become hyper aware of it. I learned my lesson that day.

What do you think of the rise in self-taught niche perfumers? Do you think it’s a shame they aren’t being trained in that strict way you were?

I think it opens up other routes. But, from what I understand, those who are self-taught are learning about ingredients they can get hold of. And actually that becomes a very limited palette. Whereas, because I had the great fortune to work for a big company, I had access to thousands of materials and had to learn them inside out. On the other hand, Im sure it’s making them really consider what they’re using and how they use it, because they don’t have that luxury. I am a great believer in training, but there just aren’t the places or opportunities for everyone to train the way I did. I guess I’m just glad I did it, you know, a hundred-million years ago, and so I can now rely on that breadth of knowledge and experience. Because in the end, that’s what colours every single fragrance I create…

Written by Suzy Nightingale

The working nose: Julien Rasquinet for Elegantes London

Julien Rasquinet is the brilliant perfumer for Elegantes London, and here we interview him as part of our Working Nose series. Privilleged access means we get to discover not only the ways perfumers train, but the way they think and learn – and Julian’s apprenticeship was more incredible than most…

What is the working process for creating a fragrance for a brand like Elegantes London? How do you begin?

The process of creation always starts with an encounter – with someone or a new culture, a new system of thinking within that culture – this what creates that spark of an idea for me. But I think something that’s so important, and so often overlooked, is being able to work as a team on the project. Together we have to be able to re-transcribe that initial encounter into something that really evokes a moment of truth. Being figuartive and being able to create something logical from this – that’s how I love to work.

What was your training like, and how did a career in perfumery start for you?

Well in the beginning I didn’t even know the job of a perfumer existed when I was young! I always wanted to work in perfume because when I was a teenager I fell in love with fragrances, and they totally became part of my life. You can say they were my first love, and I think as a perfumer now I’m always trying to recreate that same feeling of first love, and also hope that what I’m creating is going to light that spark, create that magic for someone else.

I knew I wanted to work in the industry but didn’t know exactly where. I did a business course, because that’s what you do when you’re not sure which direction you want to take in life! I did an internship at Firmenich and as part of my marketing course I met with some perfumers there who gave me the sickness for creating perfume. But I didn’t have the chemistry background required to even apply to ISIPCA [the famous French perfumery school]. My chance came when my father met with Pierre Bourdon. In an airport, of all places! They exchanged business cards, and that evening he told me he’d met “some guy who works in the perfume industry” but had no idea how significant Bourdon was!

You know, in my mind he was the greatest perfume ever. He created YSL’s Kourous, Dior’s Dolce Vita, Davidoff’s Cool Water masculine and feminine (which are still best sellers)… so many greats. So when I saw his name on this card I jumped to the ceiling, and continued jumping all night long! The next morning, after no sleep, I called him and basically harassed him for the next few months. But I never once asked him to train me, because I just assumed without the chemistry background I had no chance. Then one day he called me and said he was going to retire soon, and wanted to train his last student to pass on his knowledge and techniques. He said “I want you to be this guy.” It was amazing.

So he must have seen something in you, despite not having had the technical training?

Yes I guess so! I suppose part of me thinks it was fate, but yes he made a connection with me and saw how seriously I took this, how much I wanted it. It all goes back to connections. Like when I first met with Thomas and Dagmar Smit [the husband and wife duo who founded the house] from Elegantes, and I knew they travelled a lot – that’s something that’s really important to me, it broadens the mind and your expecations. We just clicked. So much of perfumer’s life is about these connections – from who they are working with in their team, to the house the fragrance is for, and of course from the fragrance to the person wearing it.

What testing process does a perfume you’re working on go through?

For me there’s a lot of similarity between music and perfumers. We know the raw materials, like a musician knows the notes so well, and so you can imagine how they blend well together and what the melody of the fragrance will be like. I like to wear a fragrance on my own skin – it’s very important, because there are always some surprises. I need to smell on other people, too, so always in the office we are asking “do you have skin available?!” We want to evaluate on lots of different people’s skin. I don’t personally wear it during the day, but at night I take it home with me, and everyone ends up wearing it. For Elegantes it was very important for their fragrances to be powerful and diffusive – that meant trying it on my wife as she was cooking, seeing if I could smell it as she walked down the street. There’s no escape if you are married to a perfumer you know!

I know it was part of the way Thom selected the final fragrances for Elegantes, too. You know when people stop you in the street to compliment you on your fragrance, you’re on to a good thing! This is the only form of market testing that really matters to me.

Do you insist on strict laboratory conditions at all times when you’re working, or can you allow yourself to be more relaxed and work on things outside the office as well?

Well I strive for excellence at all times, of course, but I’m not slavish to strict conditions, For instance, a lot of perfumers smoke you know – Pierre Bourdon was always smoking when I trained with him! One thing that is important is not to have too many disturbing smells around you as you work though. I know many perfumers who refuse to even allow people to drink cups of coffee in the office, but Im not like that. You have to live.

What’s the most imporant skill for you to have as a perfumer?

For me the job of a perfumer is not only to smell well, though of course that’s very important, but it’s more about the ability to create new olfactive forms. You could have a brilliant sense of smell, but not the creativity to put it together.

How does the fragrance go from formula to being finished?

I work in front of a computer in my office, and I have a lab assistant, one in Dubai and one in Paris. I give my formula to the assistant and we even have a robot who helps with measuring exact amounts. Then the lab assistant give me back the mixture in a very neutral environment to smell. At this point, with many brands, one of the main features to focus on is the cost. For Elegantes luckily this was not a consideration, which gives you much more chance to fulfill your creativity. We never discussed price, and that’s so freeing. Not being limited in the cost means you can use everything you have. If you are limited, the palette of raw materials becomes more and more tight.

Are there particular materials you like working with?

This is something we’re often asked, but to be honest it’s not something I like answering, because for me it’s vital that I experiment always, and start with a blank page for each perfume, with no preconceptions about ingredients I want in it. It’s like if you always used the same words, you’d always end of telling the same story. Each one of my perfumes, I hope, tells a different story. I mean of course I am drawn to some more than others, naturally – I love cistus labdanum notes – but I don’t let this guide me.

Julien Rasquinet interviewed by Suzy Nightingale

Marty the Mighty Nose – smelly poems required!

Do you know a child aged 7-11 who loves writing and exploring their sense of smell? Get those nostrils in training, for The Fragrance Foundation‘s Marty the Mighty Nose Awards are once again open for smell-inspired poetic entries!

Kids tend to be far more naturally connected to their sense of smell than most adults, and the annual competition invites Key Stage Two pupils to explore this sense even more, by taking ‘…an aromatic approach to creative writing, as we invite them to write their own smell-inspired poems for the chance to win prizes for themselves and for their schools.’

The Fragrance Foundation say: ‘Whether it is inviting children to develop their use of simile and metaphor in English by writing smell-inspired poems or learning about history through the stinky aromas of the past (Ancient Egyptian Mummification anyone?), structured activities incorporating fragrance and smell can truly support and inspire pupils of all abilities.’

Marty the Mighty Nose entries can be made by schools, or by individual parents and guardians, and details of the competition and how to submit an entry are explained, below. Poems are judged and awarded prizes individually, but there’s also a Best Class prize to the highest overall scoring class, so the more who join in, the merrier Marty will be.

The Fragrance Foundation encourage pupils to write poems inspired by the sense of smell (the whiffy socks of an older brother has been a previous winner’s poetic theme!) and these are then read and chosen by a distinguished panel of judges each year, with this year’s Head Judge being Nicky Cox MBE, Editor of young person’s newspaper First News, who are this year supporting the awards.

Entering Marty The Mighty Nose Awards is easydownload the entry pack here. The deadline for submissions is the 14th December 2018, and entries can be sent online or through the post.

Here’s one of last year’s winning entries, to get you inspired…

Smelly Seasons
Suncream and salty air,
Summer smells are here,
Candyfloss and doughnuts,
Sweet smells at the pier.
Lavender and Wisteria,
Spring flowers in bloom,
Bluebell and lilac,
All smelling of sweet perfume.
Fireworks, pumpkin soup,
And smoky burning leaves,
Toasted sweet marshmallows,
Fill the autumn’s breeze.
Frost morning air,
Cloves, cinnamon and pine,
Pretty burning candles,
Christmas is my favourite time!

– Bella Barlow
Shiplake C.E Primary School

We always wonder if the talented children who enter the awards with their smell-inspired poems could well be the noses behind future fragrances – or the journalists writing about them –  either way, we can’t wait to read the results, so get those kids’ noses in training…

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Givaudan perfumer reaches for the stars

Givaudan perfumer Shyamala Maisondieu grew up wanting to be an astronomer, ‘…but in Malaysia, there are no astronomers!’ and so decided she wanted to travel, broaden her horizons and eventually became a perfumer. And there’s a link with the stars in more ways than one, for did you know that there are more people who have walked on the moon than there are master perfumers?

We loved watching this insightful interview with Shyamala, which we’ve shared with you, below, and especially hearing her views on niche versus mainstream (or what she calls ‘selective perfumes’), especially because she has worked extensively across both categories of fragrance, enjoying them in differing ways but finding ‘a symbiosis between them.’

‘I think perhaps travelling gives you different insight into differing people, different cultures, different backgrounds. And as perfumers, it’s imporant for us to understand the diversity of human beings!’

‘People are more in tune with themselves, and they need things that reflect them, and you cant make one type of perfume for so many different types of people.

It’s always such a pleasure to hear directly from perfumers themselves, on what drives and motivates them, what inspirations they bring to a fragrance brief – something we enjoy talking about in our series of Working Nose interviews (just search that phrase at the top of the page), and when asking noses about their Five Favourite Smells (which never fails to be an eye-opener!)

Watching this video and Shymala’s humble but obviously passion for her craft, it’s also encouraging to see diversity of gender and culture finally breaking through in the fragrance world. For, as Shymala puts it so well: we humans are a diverse bunch, so why shouldn’t our fragrances reflect this?

Written by Suzy Nightingale

 

Bertrand Duchaufour – A Working Nose

As part of our ongoing Working Nose series, we were thrilled to meet up with one the busiest and most talented of perfumers – the incredible Bertrand Duchaufour.

We met with Bertrand at the launch of a new trio of fragrances for Miller Harris, for whom he created Hidden (On the Rooftops) as part of the Forage collection. Inspired by urban foraging and the joy of happenstance, these scents focus on seldom used ingredents which we may overlook or even tread on as we traverse our cities.

Miller Harris chose Bertrand along with fellow perfumer Mathieu Nardin (who made Lost (In the City) and Wander (Through the Parks), and you can read Part One of our perfumer interviews with Mathieu, here.

I began by asking Bertrand how he went about translating an original brief into a final perfume. How does that alchemical process actually begin…?

Bertrand Duchaufour: ‘Well this is my interpretation of foraging, and I think the original concept was to take the idea of humans foraging – you know, wandering through parks and gardens in cities and coming across this incredible array of plants, herbs and flowers we don’t normally stop to look at. In fact we came to London with the Miller Harris team and went foraging with a professional forager. It was really very eye-opening to take this practical trip as a creative exercise.’

So, did you end up using ingredients in Hidden that you’d never used before?

‘No not really, but here’s the interesting thing – although I’ve used all these ingredients previously, it depends on the way you work with them, how you make your accords, what else you put them with, and then you can make new smells that replicate the ones you were inspired by. As a perfumer it’s not always a matter of just writing a list of ingredients you come across and then using them to re-create a scene, because often that doesn’t work.

I try to translate certain plants and herbs I found, the smell that came from scrunching up their leaves, and it was really quite amazing to try and accomplish this. Foraging for me was something completely different, and for this fragrance I tried to look at it from the perspective of a bee. I imagine the route the bee takes, all the flowers they visit in that area. It’s a bee’s eye view of a city!’

‘I only recognised one plant I could eat while foraging, the Wild Garlic, which we also have in France – and I used that to make a homemade pesto!’

Why do you think we so often overlook the plants growing around us and think of exotic ingredients for fragrances?

‘Well I guess we are just not that curious! We tread on them almost every day, but we worship the expensive materials we don’t have access to.’

Do you have a set routine for working on a fragrance, or does this change depending on the project?

‘Too much focusing on just one project is never good as a perfumer, you get lost in it and can’t see clearly anymore. Spending all day long on one fragrance is not healthy. I’m always working on many things at the same time. Sometimes you just happen on an idea, it comes to you just like that [snaps his fingers] and those ideas are usually the best!’

Are there visual stimuli used to help with the creation of each perfume?

‘Sometimes yes, sometimes no. For Miller Harris they gave me a moodboard made up of photographs, and this is a starting point, I found it very inspiring because ideas start to form in your head right away. It gave me the idea of having the bee’s eye view, foraging from the bees, just from the photographs. I thought that because honey can taste very different depending on where the bee forages, the same should be true of this fragrance.’

Do you prefer to get up early in the morning to begin?

[Bertrand looks utterly aghast at the word “prefer” in regards to getting up early, so I modify the question as ‘Is there a time of day you work best?’]

‘Again, it depends with each project. I have so little time to just sit and think, so there is no going for a long walk to find my muse or anything like that! I work on perhaps twenty or thirty different fragrances at once, so sometimes you just have to get your head down and get on with it.’

People have the idea that any creative person must use the luxury of time to be inspired…

‘Maybe Jean-Claude Ellena can use the luxury of time – you know, wandering around his garden – especially now he is retired, but the majority of perfumers cannot!’

Miller Harris seem very good at allowing perfumers to interpret the brief in their own way. How do you find working like that?

‘It’s a different way of beginning, certainly, and really interesting, but in the end you still have to go through the same process, and so I always work the same way. You have a concept, and there are many ways to interpret even one word of a brief, or the way you are inspired by a picture. I like to talk about synaesthesia, the way these things cross over in our senses, the millions of ways we can each translate something. Synaesthesia is the art of making correspondence between one expression of a sense to another one, and it’s not that easy. For me a patchouli, for example, might be likened to violet or something purple. I might be convinced of that, but Mathieu might have a completely different idea. It always has to be personal.’

Miller Harris say: ‘High above the city, London is home to countless hives of diligent honeybees. A whoosh of fresh honeyed floralcy leads you to the crisp green privet of a HIDDEN rooftop garden. The hazy yellow sun warms new flowers, motes of pollen and seed buds dance lazily.’

Top notes: Bergamot, lime, angelica seeds, violet leaf absolute, clary sage, red berries, black pepper
Heart notes: syringa, privet flower, pollen, honey, honeysuckle, Turkish rose oil, tea
Base notes: vetiver, ambergris, sandalwood, driftwood, musk

Miller Harris Hidden (On the Rooftops) £95 for 50ml eau de parfum
millerharris.com

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Mathieu Nardin forages for Miller Harris

We tend to think of ‘noses’ insisting on using exotic ingredients to be found growing in vast jungles, or atop far-away, mist-shrouded peaks only reachable by particularly gutsy mountain goats; but the truth is, we all overlook those fragrant materials growing – often literally – right under our feet. Mathieu Nardin is a talented perfumer from a family of noses who hail from (where else?) Grasse, and has been doing some incredible work for Miller Harris, who asked him and fellow perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour to concentrate on the concept of foraging – searching for unusual ingredients to be found peeking through cracks in concrete, lurking beside pathways and creeping over buildings: nature always finding a way.

We were lucky enough to attend the launch of the Miller Harris trio of fragrances that resulted from this fascinating creative exercise, two fragrances from Mathieu – Lost and Wander – and Hidden from Bertrand (we’ll publish our interview with him, later, as Part Two); and we asked both of them to explain exactly how they work on a fragrance.

So, how does a perfumer take a brief and turn it into that final fragrance we so enjoy wearing…?

‘We received the brief from Sarah and she wanted us to go forgaing with an expert who knew what to look for. It was actually really cold – we were in a graveyard of all places, in Tower Hamlets! – and I wondered what we could possibly find. It was actually amazing. We found many ingredients, like violets, magnolia, something called sweet woodruff which is incredible and smells and tastes like tonka beans. If I hadn’t have been with the forager, I would never even have looked at them, and certainly not felt confident to pick them up and eat them.’

How does Mathieu structure his day, I wondered – can he devote an entire day to working on a single perfume?

‘Well, we have plenty of projects to work on at one time, but actually I find that’s a good thing, because it helps me not to focus too much on one thing. If I’m too immersed I cannot see the whole picture, so sometimes it’s good just to put it on one side and work on something else. Then I get another perspective – perhaps even the day after something will occur to me about that fragrance I put aside, and that gives greater clarity.’

So how does Mathieu balance these projects, then?

‘I continue working on things in my mind even when I leave the office, these ideas are there all the time, so in a way I don’t stop thinking about it even if I’m not actively engaged in working on it. All the time. There are moments when something suddenly becomes clear, what I have to do with it, and I can be at home reading when it happens. It becomes obvious.’

What about using visual stimuli, like photographs or notebooks?

‘Well we have mood-boards usually for the fragrances we are working on, they can be photographs or things from books and magazines, they help set a mood or give an idea of direction. But for me I take the idea of it everywhere, and like I say, I think the best ideas happen when you’re thinking about something else.’

Is there a time of day you prefer working on the ingredients?

‘I’m at my best, my nose works best, in the early morning because we are fresh – sometimes at the end of the day the nose can get tired. But you know, I also really like working late at night because my colleagues aren’t around and I can just do my own thing! I can really dig down and work on a project then, because often during the day you can get interrupted. So what I prefer is to work on the formula alone at night, and then be ready to smell it in the morning.’

‘There’s always a lack of time, because we’re working on so many projects. So what I try to do is allow myself, alone at night when everyone else is gone, to have maybe one hour that is not connected to any project at all, but is just experimenting. It’s free creativity. It could even be half an hour, but it’s so important for me.’

What did this experience, working on the Miller Harris fragrances, bring to Mathieu?

‘I feel that it’s always a learning process, and if a project isn’t moving or going in the right direction, then we just stop and experiment. My whole time is spent constantly working, experiementing and learning. So for me this foraging was an amazing experience – it’s quite rare to get that luxury of indulging in a project that way. To smell and taste new things, and then you try and describe these unknown things and liken them to things you do know. This is always what we do with new ingredients, we have to learn to describe them accurately.’

Was there something particular on the foraging trip that Mathieu was inspired by?

‘There was one herb we smelled and tasted it, and it was exactly like melon. It blew my mind really. And then magnolia blossoms – when they are dried I had no idea they tasted gingery! I knew the smell of magnolia blossom, but not the ginger taste. Things like this really help with my work because it gives you new ideas, new ways of thinking about ingredients and how they can be used…’

Ferns force their way through walls and concrete, their green intensity splashing vibrantly against the grey backdrop of buildings. In Lost, this intense verdancy is contrasted with the sharp pink snap of wild rhubarb, making the senses fizz.

Miller Harris Lost in the City £95 for 50ml eau de parfum

Stinging nettles spring up all over London, producing a unique, sparkling green scent. Before they flower their spiky greens are smoothed, the sappy earthiness of the stems blend with zesty fruits. A beautiful unisex fragrance with fresh notes of Pink Grapefruit and Juicy Mandarin to balance the green, sappy Nettle.

Miller Harris Wander through the Parks £95 for 50ml eau de parfum

Written by Suzy Nightingale