Scents & sensitivity

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 July, 2010, 12:00am

'I WAS RAISED in Gournay-sur-Marne, a small town in the eastern suburbs of Paris. My father worked for a big consulting firm and my mother ran the household. My siblings and I were given the best my parents could afford - on one hand we had our education, and on the other, we were surrounded by art, music, ballet and sport. I learnt how to read music at age six, play the piano at eight and went to ballet school. We learnt to ski, sail and play rugby. It's quite impossible to describe the atmosphere of those years; my parents organised costume balls and parties with friends and their friends' children. Our house was always full of fun and joy. My parents have always respected my personal and professional choices. I still thank them for the education I received and for their support over all these years.

There was no shadow of a perfumer to follow in my family but I grew up full of curiosity and developed a love of handicrafts. After a short-lived career as a classical ballet dancer, I pursued couture. Unfortunately though, my pencil refused to design. When I was 14, I read a piece about perfumers in the glossy pages of a French magazine (VSD), featuring Jacques Polge's Chanel, Jean Kerleo's Jean Patou, Francoise Caron, Jean-Louis Sieuzac and Annick Goutal. It was a revelation. By the age of 15 I realised I would be a perfumer.

That same year my parents took me to Isipca, the perfumer school in Versailles. I was too young, of course, and the school director told me to come back after I had a master's degree in chemistry. I applied to Isipca at age 20, then studied marketing while working as an intern at Quest International [fragrance producers] in Paris.

I won my first fragrance project at age 25; Le Male, the first male fragrance by Jean Paul Gaultier. It is still a worldwide success {minus} the best male fragrance in the world.

My inspiration comes from many sources: literature, travel, people and moments in my life, classical or contemporary dance, and the arts in general ... in short, the world that surrounds me.

Tour Atour, the scented leather bracelet I created, is a wink to the origins of our craft, when perfumers were also glovemakers. The leather is infused with perfume for several weeks, then dried on a spool.

As for my line of laundry-washing liquids, I could never see why detergents and softeners always had different smells. I use to spend hours picking products that went well together. So the creation of this line was in order to fulfil a personal need. It is a line for everyday laundry, for both machine and hand-washing.

I compare choosing a scent to choosing a love. Are you looking for a long-term relationship or a fling? Do you want a signature fragrance or one that is more of an accessory that completes your look and follows your mood? For the former, you need time to try the fragrance on your skin and wait to see how your entourage reacts to it. Do you get any comments from your partner, friends or family? And how do you feel about it? If you don't get any positive feedback, it's not the right fragrance, so try another, until you find the one that pleases you. If it's the latter and you consider fragrance an accessory, then you may just buy what you like at the moment. It's like love at first sight.

I put all my sensitivity into the fragrances I create. I have a vision of what is a good scent and what is not. It comes from my education, my personal history and my relationship with smells. When I work for my own brand, I let myself go. However, when I work for another brand, I stick to its values. It's not just about my taste anymore, but about my feelings. It's like acting: you are given a script and you interpret it in your own way, using your own voice.

I am not a perfumer who is driven by particular raw materials. To me they are like words to a writer, or colours to a painter. I like all kind of smells; they are part of life and the world. My favorites are the ones that help me to compose the ideal moment, or express the flavour of the moment. My desires or commands vary and my palette also changes as a reflection of my creations.

One of my concerns when I create a fragrance is to give it a sense of humanity, to give the illusion that the fragrance has existed previously, to make them feel 'real' and natural. It's like a breath: like those classical Greek sculptures: when you stare at them you can almost feel their breath...

I guess I am a storyteller {minus} I use scents to express what I feel. Maybe, one day, I will use words or colours but right now fragrance is my medium. But please, do not call me a 'nose'. It is too pejorative. Are painters and pianists called 'hands' because they work with their hands? Or would you call a conductor an 'ear'?'