Sophie Labbé spent her childhood between Paris and the Charente-Maritime area of France, encountering contrasting smells: the odours of a capital city, against the scents of the countryside, living to the rhythm of grape-picking and harvesting, swept with a salty breeze…
She studied at IPSICA, Paris’s perfumery school, and at the Givaudan Perfumery School in Geneva for six months. In 1992 she joined IFF as a junior perfumer, where Sophie has worked on so many famous fragrances (many of which you’re bound to have owned and adored). Most recently, she’s noted for her Signorina creations for Italian house Salvatore Ferragamo, and we caught up with her to find out about the inspirations behind the latest in the lineup, Signorina Ribelle.
What was your inspiration behind the new Salvatore Ferragamo Signorina Ribelle fragrance?
Sophie Labbé: For this new perfume everything started from the idea of this duality between an addictive Italian ingredient and a daring way of life. I must say for each Signorina you have an interesting combination of an iconic flower in perfumery with a twist of a hint of something addictive, and very Italian.
So, for this Signorina Ribelle I wanted to work with an addictive Italian heritage and a new iconic flower, the iconic flower is a specific ylang ylang heart that has been crafted especially for Ferragamo, with a delicious Italian gelato accord. Ribelle has an adventurous heart, addictive and exotic flowers that leads on to an addictive base with the delicious gelato accord and a hint of coconut milk.
How did you work with Ferragamo to create the scent? What was your working process like?
The creative process for this scent, I wanted to have an iconic flower but in a modern way. For instance, if you think of the first Signorina eau de parfum it was a combination between jasmine and panna cotta, for Misteriosa it’s orange blossom and blackberry, so for Ribelle I really wanted a new iconic flower.
The ylang ylang flower is a traditional flower in perfumery but here we developed an exclusive heart, that makes it very modern. This heart of ylang ylang, developed for Ribelle, emphasizes the creamy and solar facets.
I wanted to signify the adventurous personality of this Signorina so I paired it with two other flowers. You have Jasmine Sambac from India, fearless, feminine and voluptuous, and then you have the Madagascan ylang ylang – a unique fractionization for Ferragamo – which is solar and sweet. Then frangipani flower; very exotic, solar and almond-like.
I represented the Signorina girl, who loves being with her friends, within a sisterhood, with these three flowers. It also represents the multicultural aspect of this perfume, with each of them coming from different parts of the globe.
For the top notes, it’s a luminous expression of freedom with the juiciness of the mandarin, the fieriness of the pink pepper – and the mouthwatering feeling of the pear, that is like a stolen kiss. And in the base, I used the vanilla gelato accord, which is my tribute to her Italian heritage.
You know the Signorina Family so well, what empitomises the Signorina girl to you?
For me the Signorina world is an endless source of inspiration and creativity. Every new launch is the opportunity to tell another part of her story, another facet of her personality, the DNA of Signorina is built around this relationship between an iconic flower and an addictive Italian ingredient. For me the Signorina girl is always chic and cheeky. The addictive note always adds a cheeky twist in the fragrances. I would say that Ribelle is very unique, she loves to be with her girlfriends, she’s adventurous and loves to be within a kind of sisterhood, which is very true to the girls of nowadays…
We were thrilled to include a sample of Signorina Ribelle in our fashion-forward #FROW Discovery Box so you can try it for yourself at home. One of thirteen incredible fragrances, the box is yours for just £19 (£15 for VIP Club Members).
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!
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.’
In our continuing series of A Working Nose interviews, we take the time to get nose-to-nose with some of the most talented perfumers on the planet. In these exclusive one-to-ones we dig a little deeper into what happens behind the scenes in the scent world, and discover how they structure their working day, how long a fragrance can take to work on and what, exactly, inspires them.
Today we focus on the brilliant young perfumer Ane Ayo – one of several women we’ve met recently who are, we are very glad to say, forging ahead way in the fragrance industry. We first met Ane at the launch of several new Lalique fragrances, one of which – Pink Paradise – she had been especially comissioned to create for the house.
Part of Les Compositions Parfumées collection, inspired by the modern lines of René Lalique’s jewellery and crystal designs, and fusing the best natural and molecular materials; Pink Paradise is a cloud-like swirl of heliotrope, pepper-sprinkled jasmin and sun-warmed creamy skin atop a lightly salted sea breeze. And for this fragrance, Ayo was the perfect choice, bringing her contemporary style to this ever-chic house…
Lalique Les Compositions Parfumées Pink Paradise £190 for 100ml eau de parfum
Try it at harrods.com
How did you start learning, and who were you inspired by?
‘I was trained in France and have been working in Paris the last six years. I really think that fragrance is like emotion, so I wanted to keep this one [Pink Paradise] very simple, to allow people space to interpret it themselves. When you’re using a short formula, as I prefer to, it’s actually more difficult to create. Everything has to be perfectly balanced, nothing out of place or there without a specific reason
In this way I am very inspired by the work of perfumers like Jean-Claude Ellena who worked with this aesthetic all the time. He was the master of the short formula. For Pink Paradise I worked around two main molecular materials and built the entire fragrance around them, to make them light and airy, that was the most important thing for me.’
Do you use a mood-board, notebook, music or other creative stimuli to help you?
‘I’m a very visual person and always have been, I love working with photos and so sometimes I do use a mood board to collect these and focus on them. It depends on the brief the client gives of course, as sometimes they will supply the imagery, but I like to collect my own. I always try and work very closely with the brand, but not slavishly, because I think it’s important to have fun during the process and not to be afraid to try different things!’
When do you prefer to smell things – is it true your sense of smell works best in the morning?
‘There are times you don’t have the luxury of only smelling things in the morning, and after a time you get used to it, but it’s true that most perfumers I know prefer working early. If you’re working on an important project, the very first thing you would do is try the versions you created the day before, to see how they have settled and smell them afresh. Sometimes, that day before, you think something’s okay, and then you smell it again in the morning and you can spot all the mistakes and say, oh wow. No.’
Do you ever take fragrances home to test and wear them there?
‘Yes for me it’s very important to take it home. I think in the work environment you smell things very differently, clinically, and we do this for a reason, but at the end of the day, this is not how it’s going to be worn by the person buying the perfume! I always want to wear the perfume myself and just see how it performs.
I always ask family members, but you know what? Sometimes they will say ‘well actually I don’t like this one very much’ or ‘you should make it sweeter!’ and while I love them, I have to not get muddled by their personal preference. It’s something a perfumer has to learn to do – to step away from being too personally tied to a fragrance…’
It’s easy to get stuck in a bit of a scented rut sometimes – something we’re all guilty of! But we’ve decided now is the perfect time to blow away the cobwebs and start thinking about things we’re looking forward to trying, seeing and (of course) smelling this year. Which of these have you tried already, and what are you most looking forward to in 2019…?
1: Get social with scent
The internet is, obviously, a wonderful thing (hello, we’re on it right now!) but it’s also good to remember to get our from behind our desks and away from a screen to actually interact with human beings occasionally. There’s absolutely nothing like discovering a group of people who share your passion, meeting up with them and realising you’re not alone. This is genuinely one of the greatest bits of our job – meeting all of you lovely people, and watching you form your own groups and friendships around our common love of fragrance! If you join our VIP Club, we promise you an entire year filled with fragrant opportunities…
– Exclusive perfume events – meeting top perfumers and founders of niche houses, exploring the history of a house with the very people who created it. Learning about ingredients, getting previews of new fragrances or simply finding out about new names our noses need to know…
– How to Improve Your Sense of Smell Workshops – sharing the top tips we’ve learned from the world’s best noses, changing the way we think about scent and discovering deep emotional connections. These workshops are some of the highlights of our year: fun, informative, down-to-earth and genuinely life-changing for everyone who attends!
– Exclusive competitions with fab fragrant prizes – including bottles signed by perfumers.
– An exclusive monthly ‘insider offer’ – just for our VIPs.
If you keep an eye on our Events page, we also list many other perfume events and pop-ups taking place around the country, so whey not make a pact to attend at least one this year and see how exciting they can be? You can make new friends, discover new scents to love and most of all, have fun with fragrance!
2: Be braver!
There are very few people we know (apart from professional ‘noses’ really) who don’t have preconceived ideas about what suits them, and certain ingredients they tend to avoid. Even we can be guilty of it! It’s a slippery slope when you avoid things becuase you ‘know’ they don’t work for you. Taste change – ALL the time – as we get older (or wiser), and the more things you try, the more you become accustomed to liking and the more your fragrance palate expands.
Think you hate rose? It completely depends which type of rose is being used – fruity, fresh and honeyed, or deep, dusty and velvety – how it’s been harvested, where it’s used in the composition and what other ingredients surround it. The same goes for any ingredient you care to name – the new fractionated patchouli, for example, removes the ‘dirty’ earthiness that many naysayers associate with ‘hippies’ and kept them at arm’s length all these years.
We double dare you to seek out notes, fragrances and houses you assume you don’t like, and to just try them (again or for the first time) with a new nose and fresh attitude…
It’s not only about trying things you thought you disliked, but expanding your fragrant horizon at your own pace. How about branching out just a little bit – but still within your comfort zone – by seeing what six fragrances are ‘matched’ to one you already own and love? There’s suggestions for every budget, from niche and high-end luxury, through all-time classics and highstreet-friendly names you may have overlooked. Try our Fragrance Finder, get out there and give them a try. You might find a brand new fragrant love…
3: Change it up
We know there are some of you who still feel a bit odd about fragrance layering, but honestly, what have you got to lose? If there’s a Cologne you love that sits gathering dust during the colder months, bring it out and combine with a deeper fragrance to ring the changes and bring some freshness to your scented habits. We’ve several features dedicated to the art of fragrance layering (simply type into our search box to see more), but here’s the basics for nervous noses…
Always remember: perfume isn’t a tattoo – if you don’t like it, you can wash it off!
– Add power: ramp it up by adding more base notes like patchouli, labdanum, vetiver, woods or musk.
– Add freshness: look for citrus notes like bergamot, neroli, lemon, lime or ‘green’ notes such as galbanum, tomato or violet leaf, green tea, marine/aquatic accords (synthetic recreations of sea-like, watery smells) and aldehydes (often desribed as being like Champagne bubbles).
– Add beauty: find a scent too ‘harsh’ or clinical? Look to layer it with decadently velvety or lusciously fruity rose oils, the sunshine-bottled scent of orange flower, a heady glamour of tuberose or a luminescent jasmine; try an apricot-like osmanthus flower, the fluffiness of mimosa or the powdery elegance of iris/orris.
– Add sweetness: vanilla and tonka bean can ’round’ a perfume, making it swoon on your skin (and addictive to smell), as can touches of synthetic notes described as ‘caramel’ or ‘dulce de leche’, ripe fruits, chocolate or even candy floss. Try to add less than you think you need, as adding more is always easier than taking away, and a little of these can go a long way!
4: Keep a fragrance journal
Writing down your thoughts about a new smell every day is surprisingly revolutionary – especially when noting your feelings at several points through the year about the same fragrance. It’s amazing how weather, mood and even what we’ve been eating can change the way we consider how something smells! This is homework we give attendees of our so-fun How to Improve Your Sense of Smell Workshops (see above), and even if you just jot down a few words about a new thing you smell (perfume, cooking ingredient, handcream, flower, bath gel… anything!) it gets your mind and your nose symbiotically linked, and truly helps ‘fix’ smells in your mind. Try it and see!
We love the scented notelets and journals available at Floral Street – a favourite being their Wonderland Peony Notepad / £12 (above) which makes every page a fragrant delight to fill in…
5: Make your own
Nothing gives you a greater appreciation for a perfumer’s skill than having a go at making your own. Sound simple, right? Just take all your favourite ingredients, mix them up and hey-presto! Well, uh, no. Much like mixing all your favourite colours results in a brown sludge rather than the rainbow you’d imagined as a child, it’s fascinating to attempt to try and balance notes, or to enhance them… a true art form and a kind of modern alchemy we’re in awe of. But it is possible to have a go at making your own under the watchful eye of a professional who can help guide you – and oh so satisfying to come away with a little bottle of a scent you made yourself.
The following perfumers run sessions we’ve personally attended and rate highly, and each of them offer differing workshops based on your experience – from complete beginner to something more skilled. Go on, you know you’ve always wanted to… Make 2019 the year you made your own!
Trained at the perfumery school of ISPICA, Emmanuelle Moeglin worked as a Scent Design Manager for global fragrance brands, alongside some of the biggest perfumers in the world, and now works as an independent perfumer in London. In 2015, wanting to open fragrance up to the consumer and demistify the world of perfumery, she started the Experimental Perfume Club. Choosing some of the most enjoyable elements of her training, she developed workshops to help people understand scent better – exploring the smells of individual ingredients, harmonious combinations, understanding the magic and science of fusing scents. There’s workshops available from Apprentice, through Expert Masterclass to Corporate levels, in a really down-to-earth and friendly atmosphere that encourages you to learn more.
Sarah McCartney – 4160 Tuesdays perfumer offer fun and more professional days, along with afternoon tea and a chance to get your hands on Sarah’s extensive personal collection of perfumes to smell, in her truly astounding Wall of Scent. 4160 Tuesdays are in the process of moving their HQ at the moment, but do get in touch with Sarah to ask when the next dates are, and they can also come to you if you’ve some friends or colleagues who are interested in joining in…
Those wanting to launch their own fragrance should seek out Karen Gilbert, who now runs a series of specialised courses – including making skincare products – for those wanting to learn more about this intriguing yet technically challenging world. She explains that ‘…it came out of years of students coming to my live classes where we make an alcohol based EDT, who really wanted to create for their own product line.’ With courses varying from online Masterclasses – perfect for those who find it difficult to travel – days of natural perfumery and intensive 5-day professional courses, there’s something for all levels of interest.
Don’t you think there are things you could change about your fragrant habits – even if it’s just getting out there and sharing your excitement with a friend, showing them around your favourite perfumery or letting them sniff your own collection of fragrances? Whatever you choose to do, there’s a whole year of perfume excitement to look forward to, and we certainly can’t wait to share it with all of you…
‘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 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…
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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