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 had a wonderful opportunity to talk on the phone with Clement Gavarry, the wonderful perfumer who is creating my Holy Grail. He said that my idea behind the scent was very “niche” and “avangarde”…and that is the best compliment I have received in a long, long time. In turn, I told him that I loved one of the two latest mods, R4/M, and that I thought that we were on the right track.
R4/M has all the qualities I am looking for in my ultimate fragrance. It has soft spiciness (cardamom), sweet amber, quite prominent leather and musk, and a comfortable and comforting but not too “fluffy” vanillic drydown. What I want now is for all these qualities to be amplified and emphasized. I would like more spice (I asked Clement to experiment with pepper and coriander), more leather, more musk, even more vanilla. Plus I’d love for the scent to acquire a distinctly smoky undertone. Not so realistically smoky as to be borderline disturbing, like CB I Hate Perfume Burning Leaves; I am looking for subtle, elegant and softly-enveloping smoke of Bois d’Armenie.
The other mod, R4/L, although not drastically different from R4/M, still had, on my skin, the saffron note that I apparently cannot stand anymore. I realize that I actually specifically asked for saffron in my proposal. I loved the note but now the love is gone. I wonder if perfumers in general and Clement in particular find their clients’ ever changing requirements exasperating. I also wonder whether working with one individual client is actually harder in that respect, whether it might not be easier to deal with a committee who submit their brief once and don’t mess with it again, like I do with my “brief” for Holy Grail. In other words, I wonder if it is easier to satisfy a corporation than it is to satisfy one fickle perfumista.
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.
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.”
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.
Things related to finances are the farthest thing from my mind. Therefore, I have no idea why IFF’s stock keeps going up while the rest of the industry is generally sluggish. Is it because they are hiding the best young perfumers? But then, Wall Street wouldn’t know about such a thing…
As the stock started to rise in the end of July, everybody at IFF started to look overloaded with tasks. I remember both Clement and Laurent didn’t take long vacations last summer as French people normally would.
This also reminds me of another thing I should mention here. Made by Blog has become possible thanks to Mr. Nicolas Mirzayantz who let Clement and Laurent use their work hours for this project. There are about a few hundred major fragrance launches every year and probably less than hundred perfumers in the world who are capable of handling these projects. So the workload of each IFF perfumer is huge and it’s not an easy thing for the group president to allow two of the busiest perfumers to spare their time for something that has no financial objectives.
A quick note on the latest mods: Both Marina and Katie has just received their new mods from the two perfumers. It may take a few more weeks to hear from the two ladies on their new fragrances, but the samples of their new mods are now available online.
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]