JACQUES POLGE

PERFUMER AT CHANEL

WRITTEN  BY NATHALIE HELAL
TRANSLATED BY EDWARD SIDDONS
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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…

Read the full feature in the ART issue

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