Bulgari, Van Cleef & Arpels , L'Artisan Parfumeur and many others. Most guys with a passing interest in fragrance will probably know his work in the form of the phenomenally successful Terre D'Hermès but, should you want to find out more about the man himself, check out this feature by Hannah Betts for The Times.
Currently the inhouse perfumer for luxury lifestyle brand Hermès, he talks exclusively to The Exfoliator at the launch of his new Hermessence fragrance, Iris Ukiyoé. Read the entire interview- including the odd bit of Franglais - after the jump...
You’ve been labeled by many a critic as a minimalist. How do you feel about the term and do you agree with it?
Minimalist really isn’t the right word to describe me. I aim for maximum effect using the simplest possible method. If you look at Minimalist art, for example, you’ll notice that it doesn’t tell a story. I believe that my perfume always tells a story.
Early in your career you became famous for creating some rather lavish and overblown fragrances. These days, people recognise you for your pared down creations. How did you end up going from one extreme to the other? Was it a conscious decision?
It was a totally unconscious transition. I made the move from complicated formulas to simple ones instinctively and only analysed why I did it afterwards. The main reason for the change was because I believe perfumery is an art. And if I look at it as an art form, then I should be able to make something ‘big’ out of just a few materials.
Think of it like music: with seven or eight notes you can play an entire piece. You don’t need every single colour in the world to make a good painting, either. If I can decrease again, I will!
How many raw ingredients do you work with?
I have about 200 products in my palette but I barely use half of them. There are some products that I use for the architectural structure of the fragrance and there are others that are better for details. I can usually get the structure done in a few days – that part is easy - but I can spend weeks and weeks on details. The details are more important.
Earlier in your career you were stifled by the marketing machine behind the fragrance industry. What’s the best thing about where you are at this stage in your life?
Hermès still has marketing people – we just don’t call them that! They’re there to support us, not to tell us what they want. The best thing about working for Hermès is that they give all the power to the artists and the craftsmen. I have total freedom. I get access to new molecules, I can decide the price of the composition – that is to say, I can decide to put whatever I want into a perfume – I have a flexible time schedule….
You often describe perfume in terms of art. Given that you’re a painter and a collector yourself, what are your favourite pieces?
I love Cezanne’s watercolours but I can’t have those. I collect Japanese prints…mostly because they’re more affordable! The walls in my home are always covered with paintings. I have more paintings than wall space so I have to change what’s on display from time to time.
The commercial fragrance industry is in a sad state of affairs. Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel?
There are a lot of fake niche brands out there. But if you look to the real niche - Frederic Malle, L’Artisan Parfumeur and The Different Company – you can still find a lot of new ideas. They work in a tiny market and it’s very difficult for them. I’m a big supporter of them, though.
For the other brands out there…. I still have hope.
Thanks to the folks at basenotes.net for all their help and questions.