PERFUMER AT CHANEL
WRITTEN BY NATHALIE HELAL
TRANSLATED BY EDWARD SIDDONS
The man whose distinguished mark can be found in every chanel fragrance since 1978 is also the watchful guardian of its olfactory sanctuaries, N°5 above all. his latest creation is a sumptuous extract of coco noir with baroque harmonies reminiscent of the Venetian splendour so dear to Mademoiselle herself.
Which perfume do you wish you had created?
How could I respond without mentioning N°5? It’s one of those rare perfumes from before the war to have endured time without so much as a wrinkle. What’s funny is that when I joined Chanel, my predecessor Henri Robert, who was already rather old, did not immediately pass on the formula of N°5. Instead, he drew my attention to the importance of jasmine, infusions, the range of vanilla and amber.
Perfumers have a preconceived idea of what N°5 is, but I work with it on a daily basis and am forever finding beautiful new facets. N°5 has a loyal clientele, but for young women nowadays, we needed something younger, fresher and more transparent which remained loyal to its heritage whilst conserving its mysterious edge, exactly what I tried to do with Eau Premiere.
Did you begin your perfume career by choice or by chance?
Chance. One is often a perfumer because it’s passed from father to son, a tradition upheld particularly in Grasse (the celebrated perfume region in the south of France). That handover did not happen in my family: my father was a pharmacist in Provence. Having studied literature and English, I intended to become a teacher. At the age of twenty, I returned to school in Grasse, the one run by Jean Carles, the greatest perfumer of his time. The beginnings of the trade are daunting. You don’t know what you’re doing: you memorise scents, good or otherwise, you classify, smell, and sort through. It was a bore, and I didn’t know much about perfume. I only really knew my mother’s. By chance, I was a good student, and I performed well in English. That opened doors for me into the perfume scene in New York, which was everything I dreamed of. There was only an ocean separating my intuition and my future vocation…