Jacques Polge, master perfumer at Chanel, is rare among leading noses, both for his longevity and track record. Upon arriving at the house in 1978, he was only the third perfumer in Chanel’s history. A few years later, he produced Coco, which has since become iconic, and he’s followed with a string of other successes like Allure, Coco Mademoiselle, the Les Exclusifs range, and last year’s Bleu, which should keep the house in top-five sales seemingly for eternity. Perched on the highest floor of the company’s headquarters in Neuilly, where he rules an in-house lab— one of the few left in perfumery that both creates and manufactures—Polge shares his view from the top.
How have you seen the business evolve since you joined Chanel in 1978? Unfortunately, I’d say perfumes have become trivialized today. There are too many! It’s become so easy, everyone is launching one. But they’re also trivialized where they’re sold, or when you open a magazine now, it’s full of perfumes. We try to fight against that here, but we’re also directed by the waves of the market. That’s just how it is. Also, now we only speak of global perfumes. There used to be an American perfumery that had different criteria than in France. Traditionally in France, good taste meant having some discretion. In America, and I’m speaking in broad strokes here, the idea was more that perfume was something expensive, and so you should really smell it. Today, brands have replaced national traditions, and brands do their fragrances for the whole world. Has your creative process changed a lot? I’m not sure it’s changed, but I know more now about Chanel and where I think we’re going than when I joined. It’s something I feel much better about than I used to. Our creative strategy is always to look within the roots of the company, and when I started, the only fragrance we were really selling was No.5. Now we have Coco and Coco Mademoiselle and others, too, so that’s great. But here, every new fragrance has to be different, and occupy a space where there is no fragrance. So the process is always new. And we’re constantly trying to find better and newer raw materials, ones that only we have.
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