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For Givaudan perfumer Olivier Gillotin, high-quality raw materials are everything. In his Manhattan office, he carefully selects ingredients to blend some of the world’s most famous fragrances, including last year’s hit Taylor Swift Wonderstruck. At his estate in upstate New York, he’s consumed by perfecting a very different type of raw material: alpaca wool.
“There is so much we can do to improve the fiber,” says Gillotin, standing on his six-acre farm in Warwick, N.Y., called Shalimar Alpacas. The name, as fragrance aficionados may guess, nods to the oriental scent created by Jacques Guerlain.
Gillotin and his wife Patricia began breeding alpacas—a fluffy South American mammal related to the llama—a decade ago, after they laid roots in Warwick, a town marked by farmland and rolling hills that lies about 55 miles outside of New York City. Today, the farm is home to 30 alpacas, each named after a perfume, some of which Gillotin created, others that he simply admires. For instance, on this day, Red Door, White Linen and Allure are grazing nearby. But Gillotin makes it clear this venture is not a hobby, it’s a business. Last year, the farm sold five alpacas.
Gillotin is determined to improve the quality of the alpaca fiber (known for its softness and slight sheen), a process that takes years and a solid understanding of genetics.“You improve one generation after another,” Gillotin says, much like the process of creating a perfume. An alpaca’s gestation period for one cria (or baby) is about 11 months and it takes a year for the animal to grow five inches of fiber, which is sheared each spring.
“As a perfumer, you are always trying to improve upon what you are doing,” says Gillotin. “You have to work hard to succeed.” Simply tending to the animals is hard work. There are pens to rake, hay to spread, competitions to attend and wayward dogs to scold—Gillotin had to stop mid-sentence to fetch the family’s Portuguese Water Dog, who was chasing a one-week-old alpaca named Amazone (as in Hermès).
Gillotin, who grew up in Brittany, much prefers green acres to concrete city blocks. “I recharge my batteries here, and am more inspired after that.”
Now, much of his free time is consumed by alpacas. The Gillotins even seek out alpaca farms to visit during their travels, including during a recent vacation to France and Ireland. “In perfume, you never stop learning,” he says. “Here, it’s the same. There’s still a lot I don’t know.”
Gillotin says of alpacas, “They are very curious.” So, it seems, is this perfumer turned breeder.