Jean-Claude Ellena, the exclusive perfumer for Hermès and author of “Perfume: The Alchemy of Scent,” admires [Thierry Mugler] Angel for its structure. “It has a strong shape,” he said. “People can recognize you in the street as somebody who wears Angel.” But he refuses to use sugary notes in his own perfumes. “When you use the sugary gourmand product, I know by experience that you please easily,” Mr. Ellena said. “And when you please easily, people are pleased for the moment, but after they forget. I prefer a perfume that is more difficult to understand.”
"Surprisingly enough, Jean-Paul and I rarely discuss fragrance. We are two creators and two different kinds of animals. I once asked him, “You were mentored by your grandfather; what did you learn from him when discussing fragrance?” and he replied, “Nothing much”. Jean-Paul then went on to say that the way he did learn a lot from his grandfather (Jacques) was by quietly observing everything he did, rather that speaking about it. So I did the same thing with Jean-Paul. Watching the way he creates has taught me much more than any discussion we could have."
Maurice Roucel is a perfumer whose work I admire for its originality, boldness and unapologetic sensuality, which are clear even in his "big brand" creations. He is the author of Hermès 24, Faubourg, Frédéric Malle Musc Ravageur and Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist, among many others. The following is an excerpt from a fantastic book by Clara Molloy called 22 Perfumers: A Creative Process. It features in-depth interviews with 22 perfumers such as Calice Becker, Dominique Ropion, Olivier Polge, Alberto Morillas, Annick Menardo and many others. The book is available in French and English editions and can be found on Clara Molloy’s website.
How did you enter the perfume industry? At the time, when I started out in 1973, there were only people from Grasse in the perfume industry. I was born in Cherbourg. I arrived in Paris with my parents at the age of 5 and I stayed there. I was passionate about organic chemistry and theoretical physics. In 1973, Henri Robert, the creator of "No 19" by Chanel, hired me to develop a chromatography laboratory. I spent 6 years with Chanel. While I was there, I learned the profession of perfumer by myself; I was self-taught. But I still love organic chemistry, which I find extremely creative! For me, creation is everywhere. Anything can be creative. In my career, I've even found myself working on a shampoo. I find it refreshing to have a look elsewhere. There are also surprises in soaps and detergents. Today, it's clear that in fine perfumery there are more resources, time--sometimes--and a broader scope.
My article on Germaine Cellier, a perfumer I admire for her genius, confidence and ability to succeed despite all odds against her, appears today in Financial Times Magazine. In Renegade Perfumer, I talk about Cellier and one of her most famous creations, Robert Piguet Fracas.
I am currently reading Jean-Claude Ellena's fascinating Journal d'un Parfumeur and wishing that more perfumers would share their thoughts on the creative process as generously as Ellena does. After all, understanding the creative intent behind fragrances makes one appreciate them even more. While I am on this topic, I would like to share an excerpt I loved from another book by Ellena, Le Parfum. The excerpt comes from the section "On Certain Perfumes," a title derived from the last piece written by French author Jean Giono.
"In order to judge perfumes that have outlasted time I use the nose of today, whereas for new perfumes I use the nose of yesterday. And I realise that memory works in such a way that perfumes which are not experienced with excitement and passion, which are not linked with a personal story or, in our business, with the training of the nose, are devoid of meaning and leave no trace in the memory... In order to discover a perfume, I have to enter into it, grasp it from the inside...