A few years ago I had dinner with Jacques Cavallier and some other people from Firmenich at my favorite Japanese restaurant in Manhattan which he had heard about from Issey Miyake and wanted to go. Jacques had been in Japan a few times to work with Issey and seemed to have liked being there except for one thing. During the dinner Jacques told me that the smell of Japanese women’s skin bothered him when testing fragrances on them, “Their skin smells like fish.” I laughed and told him that I kind of liked it.
First, I have to say I don’t know about Japanese men because I’ve never stuck my nose to a guy to smell his skin, but I knew the subtle smell of the Japanese women’s skin that Jacques spoke about that evening. However, I’m not sure if I can pick up that smell when a fragrance is sprayed over the skin. I’m talking about a genius that appears only once in many years – Jacques Cavallier can smell many of the things that we can’t. There are a few “scent experts” trying to discredit the genius, but I have to say they either are jealous or cannot understand his sharp sense of humor, and therefore dislike him.
Anyway… what am I trying to say here? Oh right, I think most fragrances smell boring on Japanese women. Generally they have faint body odor, and on top of that they cleanse their bodies too much. When they wear fragrances they only smell like the fragrances. I’m not a big fan of Paris (I’m talking about the city) but love the way women there smell. I don’t particularly enjoy the smell in the Metro or NYC subway during summer, but the mixture of a woman’s body odor and her perfume is often more exciting than any perfume.
Basically the fragrance industry is driven by Western people who don’t know much about Japan or other Asian countries. They often say “Oh, it’s so difficult to sell fragrances in Japan,” or “The Asian market is so unpredictable.” Maybe it’s not important for them to make smash-hit fragrances for Japanese market… but think about Prada or other European fashion brands. Sometimes more than half of their revenues are coming from Japan. Fragrances could do the same as well. So Fragrance Industry, bury your noses in Japanese women and think! I wouldn’t be surprised if you guys come up with a scent that smells like soy sauce.
I used to make sculptures from sugar. That’s when I started to incorporate scents made by wonderful perfumers like Jean-Pierre Bethouart and Thierry Wasser in my art.
In 1999, I used 5 tons of sugar and 50 kilograms of fragrance oil for an installation in Japan. Everyday during the exhibition, 2 kilos of scent created by Thierry Wasser was sprayed on the floor. The visitors to the exhibition left with the scent on their clothes and shoes. As a result, an old downtown neighborhood in Tokyo was scented for a several block radius during the exhibition, and the scent remained for more than a year in the former rice market which housed the installation. Surprisingly, there wasn’t even a complaint, and I was still receiving messages from people who wanted the scent a year after the exhibition.
© What We Do Is Secret
There is a question from Sariah which I want to answer in this post. This is the same question I had when I first stumbled in the fragrance industry – why are the industry’s most talented and creative forces hidden behind the curtain?
There are mainly two different types of players in the fragrance industry: the clients (i.e. L’Oreal, Estee Lauder, Dior, Calvin Klein, and so many more) and the suppliers (i.e. Firmenich, Givaudan, IFF, and a few more).
Now, the relationship between these two is not like the one between a fashion designer and his client. If a rich woman orders an haute couture dress from Giorgio Armani Prive, the dress will be saying “I’m Armani!” to the world. Everyone would know Armani’s creativity is woven into the fabric.
Although the word “supplier” doesn’t imply a serious act of creation, these few major suppliers in the fragrance industry are the true source of creativity. Their scientists develop new molecules, and their perfumers create scents. Things become complicated since their clients are supposed to be the creator of fragrances in the eyes of the consumers. There is another factor which contributes to the complication – there is only a limited number of suppliers that can handle the demands of these clients. As a result, a perfumer will often be working simultaneously for several clients who are competitors. Imagine if the perfumer has a great formula which may set a new trend, and all his clients want it for their new fragrances…
The perfumers are very much aware of their circumstances and mission. Jacques Cavallier was once quoted as saying, “Our profession is based on the notion of secrecy. We are the temple guardians.”
Several months ago I heard that Givaudan was up to something really big. I have been wondering about it since…
Givaudan bought out Quest International today. more »
The competition between the Big Three will be more interesting than ever, but I hope IFF will not rush to buy a struggling company like Symrise which probably will be for sale soon.
Recently, there was a very good question for Clement which made us think about the current trend in perfumery…
It’s not really relevant to the interview, but I’m curious what it is like to work with other perfumers on a particular fragrance. I’d imagine that there’s a lot of discussion and such, but was wondering if they run off and make mods and then meet up and decide what direction they like best, back and forth, until it’s finished? And who makes the decision to have multiple perfumers work on a fragrance? Is that more or less common than having a single perfumer?
And, here is Clement’s answer to the question.
Thanks for your question.
More and more fragrances on the market today are the result of teamwork.
So, why has it become like this over the last several years?
– Short deadlines: we often have to make new mods in one day.
– So many briefs to work on at the same time: each perfumer needs to prioritize his projects. Some projects will need other perfumer’s help to be finished in time.
– Sometimes we get stuck in a formula. The involvement of another perfumer could help take a fresh look at it.
– There are often requests from our clients or the management to have such and such perfumers work together.
When we work together on one project there are a lot of discussions not just between us but also with the evaluator and the client. Many back-and-forths usually happen.
Good answers, no?
Molecular Love: March of Perfume Posse sent me a message a few weeks ago, and it has been bothering me. Well, she had some great points in her message which made me think to do something about it…
Portraits: I love portraits whether it’s photography, painting or sculpture. I’m thinking about showing the great black and white photos of all 34 fine fragrance and beauty care perfumers at IFF on the website. It will probably be the first time for any major fragrance houses to show their most valuable assets to the public. [by Nobi]
Here’s a quiz.
There’s another perfumer who shared the same dream of becoming a concert pianist. Is it Jacques Cavallier, Loc Dong, Thierry Wasser, Olivier Polge or Annick Menardo?
The winner of this quiz will receive AU.WOOD.029 by Laurent Le Guernec. The winner will be announced here (in the comment section) in one week.
Laurent Le Guernec didn’t turn his childhood dream into a career but is still very passionate when he speaks about music and piano. He explains about the importance of studying GC (gas chromatography) at an early stage, “We tend to think learning GC is not important, but it’s like practicing solfège, it’s one of the basics.”
Ahaa I see, it sounds quite boring but seems as important as practicing to throw jabs and one-twos millions of times. In boxing the rule is simple: keep your feet and hands busy, or you ain’t gonna survive.