A trio of olfactory-driven entreprenuers is helping to bring back perfumery as an art form.
Thibaud Perrin is all smiles. He believes that, with his year-old fragrance project, Smiley, he’s on to something different. “I looked at the [various fragrance] launches every year, but there wasn’t one thing that was very striking,” he says. “Smiley is innovative in perfumery because most brands are fashion, jewelry or celebrity.”
For Perrin, 26, growing up in Grasse, France, meant summer jobs in fragrance factories. Six years ago, he began working for his father’s company, Groupe Arthes, which creates, produces and distributes fragrances under the Smiley license. “Smiley is my own project,” points out Perrin, the managing director of Arthes.
He contends fragrance is a difficult business to get into, but feels fortunate to have had a family business as an entry point. “It’s costly to start something in the perfume business at present—it’s very difficult to enter the business on your own,” he says. “Everything is held by the majors, like Coty, L’Oréal and Procter & Gamble. I had the opportunity to start in an [existing] family business, which allowed me to do things my own way.”
The Smiley scent is billed as an olfactive antidepressant, given that it contains certain accords that promote happiness, especially extracts of cacao leaves. There are also notes of bergamot, orange, white musk and patchouli. The nine items in the collection come in pharmaceutical-style packaging with pipette applicators. On the white bottle is the ubiquitous yellow smiley face.
Perrin’s favorite raw material is one that comes from a substance found in the ocean. Ambergris is a waxy substance—believed to come from whales—that’s found floating in tropical waters. “It’s a very warm smell, something very unique,” says Perrin.
ETIENNE DE SWARDT
Where concept and formulation meet in perfumery, one might find Etienne de Swardt, creator of Etat Libre d’Orange, a playful and provocative collection of fragrances. “I’m between the ingredients and what the ingredients can create in terms of concept,” de Swardt boasts in a thick French accent, “at the crossroads of name, concept and formulation.” For de Swardt’s Etat Libre d’Orange (Free State of Orange), concepts and formula go hand in hand in a way that’s intended to create emotion for the perfumers who make the fragrances.
“The key word is emotion,” says de Swardt.
Still, while his aim is to stoke emotion among the creators of his scents, the Etat Libre d’Orange concepts also could be seen as provocative in the eyes of the general public. The brand’s fragrance names are full of suggestive dichotomies. They include Putain des Palaces (Whore of the Palaces), Jasmin et Cigarette (Jasmine and Cigarette) and Secretions Magnifiques (Magnificent Secretions). Nonetheless, the aim of Etat Libre d’Orange, de Swardt says, is “not to be provocative in order to provoke,” but to be provocative “to create tools for the perfumer to inject a [concept] into a bottle.”
De Swardt credits his former employer, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton—where he spent 10 years—with instilling in him a passion for perfumery.
So which olfactory accord is at the top of his list these days? “Oak moss,” he says, “because I’m a forest lover.”
Considering his love for woodlands, it should come as no surprise de Swardt finds inspiration among the trees—specifically, in a forest by his country home near Blois, France. “It’s an oak forest 200 kilometers from Paris and the best place for me to pick up concepts, new things,” he says. “It’s full of oak moss, soil and rain—so many aromas.”
For Robin Coe-Hutshing, perfumery is a state of mind.
Coe-Hutshing, who is owner and creative director of Studio at Fred Segal in Santa Monica, Calif., considers the best place for inspiration “anyplace I can close my eyes and think. ”
Her latest creation, Memoire Liquide is a store-in-store concept that comprises 160 scents to be blended or worn alone. They emulate the perfumer’s organ—myriad ingredients used to compose a fragrance. Prices for a finished scent range from $30 to $75 for a three-pack. However large the Memoire Liquide organ at Studio at Fred Segal is, though, it pales in comparison to Coe-Hutshing’s own fragrance collection. “I have thousands of bottles in my home—in a downstairs area that nobody wants to go into. It’s hermetically sealed,” she says.
Coe-Hutshing, who works with the fragrance house Cosmo International to produce her scents, has had a passion for perfumery since birth. And some of her earliest childhood memories are of aromas. She spent her childhood in Boston until she was “whisked” away from the urban environment as a teen to a 40-acre ranch in Oregon. To entertain herself, Coe-Hutshing practiced enfleurage by “sticking flowers in glass in the sun and extracting oils. I made a stinking, moldy mess, but I was motivated,” she laughs. “Everyone has certain proclivities. Mine are visual and olfactory. “
These days, Coe-Hutshing says she has tremendous respect for the art of perfumery and refers to houses such as Guerlain and Chanel as fragrance artisans. Particularly moving to Coe-Hutshing at the moment is an orange blossom olfactory note that was developed for Memoire Liquide.
“There is a resurgence in interest in the art of perfumery,” she says. “People are so fascinated about understanding the composition of fragrance. The customer is really moved by the artistry of perfumery and less so, perhaps, by the celebrity name attached to it.”