Ane Ayo – A Working Nose

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…’

[Many thanks to We Wear Perfume for the use of their lovely photo of Ane.]

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

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