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Perfumers Step Into the Spotlight

From their own fragrance lines to boutiques and books, scent makers are gaining star status.

PARIS — It’s a magic moment for perfumers.

After years of creating fragrances behind the scenes, largely out of the public eye and in the shadow of brands commissioning their work, they are increasingly stepping into the limelight.

From scent lines and stores to books and exhibits, such projects are proliferating — especially in France — allowing perfume makers to become stars in their own right.

The steep rise of the trend today can be credited to numerous factors, not the least of which is the popularity of niche scents. Niche fragrances generate an estimated 10 percent of the total fragrance category’s sales, according to an industry source, and have posted strong year-over-year growth in an otherwise lackluster category.

There is also consumers’ desire for authenticity. How better to sense the soul of a scent than to know who created it? And fragrances direct from perfumers — since they’re still few and far between — feel almost made-to-measure, quenching the rampant thirst for all things personalized.

The Internet has also broadcast information on perfumers further afield than ever before, and in-house fragrance makers at fashion labels such as Chanel, Guerlain, Christian Dior, Hermès and Cartier are very much in the public domain.

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Frédéric Malle was the first to elevate perfumers, when in 2000 he launched a line of fragrances touting their names on the bottles of scents they concocted. His edition de parfums is a veritable publisher of them.

“When I did it, it was at a time when perfumers were hidden from the public. I remember, for instance, Edouard Fléchier, who did Poison [in 1985] was not even invited to the launch…and the public was never told about perfumers,” said Malle. “I think the only perfumer that a few people had heard about was Mr. Roudnitska in the Sixties. But that’s it. And even companies that had their own perfumers in-house did not put them forward so much.

“The reasons why I did [Editions de Parfum] was that one, I thought it was justice. Two, I thought it was a more interesting story than what perfume companies were talking about when putting their products forward,” he continued. “And it was a way to talk about the products themselves, and a way to show to the public these very interesting characters.

“There is this whole movement in the world now, which is trying to celebrate people’s know-how and people’s art,” explained Malle. “Artisans of every trade are being put forward a bit more, and it’s a way to say that ‘this is luxury, art,’ and it’s a way to explain that there is a person and not a machine behind these creations.“

Malle’s business model caught the eye of the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., which purchased his brand in 2014. And LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton snapped up another fragrance lined signed by a perfumer, Francis Kurkdjian, in 2017.

Here, a smattering of recent perfumer projects popping up in France.

Sonia Constant’s Ella K

Perfumer Sonia Constant in December 2017 launched her own perfume label, Ella K, and with it a 67-square-foot Palais-Royal boutique by that name in Paris. Her day job is at Givaudan, where she’s worked on fragrances for brands such as Tom Ford, Narciso Rodriguez, Burberry and Kenzo.

“When I answer a brief, I am in the universe of the designer or the universe of a brand,” she said, of an approach she loves. But Constant also wanted to create her own universe.

She and her husband travel extensively, and the perfumer based each of the seven scents now in the collection on a place they’ve visited.

“The brand is all about synthesia,” she said, referring to the phenomenon of one type of stimulation invoking the sensation of another — in this case making an olfactive creation interpreting sounds and sights. For the scent Brumes de Khao-Sok, for instance, she had in mind the Thai national park, where gibbons cry and there’s mist, spider lilies and gardenia.

Ella K is, as well, a nod to past women travelers, such as Karen Blixen and Alexandra David-Néel. “They were not afraid to live their dream,” said Constant.

She named it Ella K in reference to Ella Maillart, a multihyphenate traveler in the USSR and China starting in the Thirties.

The brand, which also sells in markets such as Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Russia, as well as on ellakparfums.com, will enter Japan in June.

Dominique Ropion By the Book

Dominique Ropion, a master perfumer at International Flavors and Fragrances, just published a book, called “Aphorismes d’un parfumeur” (or “Aphorisms of a Perfumer”).

Dominique Ropion's book
Dominique Ropion’s book. Courtesy Photo

“I wanted, with all humility, to explain the métier of a perfumer, his environment and tools,” he explained. “I wanted to give readers the possibility to discover what goes on in a perfumer’s head and to share the reality of the context a perfumer is in: economic, industrial, research and development — far from the ideas that one can have about the métier, which are often really contrary to reality.”

The main themes of his books include how education plays a fundamental role for a perfumer, as well as the transmission of his craft and sources of inspiration.

“To make the book very concrete and didactic, I also gave examples of stories of the creation of some of my fragrances, so as to explain the daily life of my job as perfumer,” he explained.

The scents of Jean-Michel Duriez

Jean-Michel Duriez, formerly the in-house perfumer at Jean Patou and Rochas, launched the first scent under his eponymous label in December 2016.

He aims to make perfumes that spark emotions. “I say very often that at the end of the day I’m not creating perfume, I produce memories,” he said.

Duriez’s brand launched in a Paris-based pop-up shop that remained open through yearend 2016. “There was a limited edition of 168 perfume boxes with the first fragrance, called L’Étoile et le Papillon,” he said.

Next, it and six other perfume extracts were sold as a line, called Paris-sur-Seine, exclusively at Le Printemps starting the end of February 2017. Then the second collection, Paris en mai, with three eau de parfum scents came out.

Today Duriez’s range, with 11 scents in all, is carried in nine Printemps doors in France, two Belgian retailers and one in Geneva.

Jean-Michel Duriez's Ombres Furtives scent
Jean-Michel Duriez’s Ombres Furtives scent. Courtesy Photo

The rollout includes opening in Saudi Arabia and in Harrods in London at the end of May, while Russia is slated for the second half of the year.

Parle Moi de Parfum

Parle Moi de Parfum celebrates the savoir-faire of perfumer Michel Almairac. Launched in September 2016, the brand — whose name translates to “talk to me about perfume” — came out with a boutique located at 10 rue de Sévigné on Paris’ Right Bank. The location sold the eight eau de parfum scents he initially created. These include Une Tonne de Roses, Flavia Vanilla, Totally White and Cedar Woodpecker, with prices ranging from 95 euros to 155 euros.

Parle Moi de Parfum
Parle Moi de Parfum Courtesy Photo

Parle Moi de Parfum was dreamed up by Almairac’s son Benjamin Almairac, who worked with the perfumer’s other son Romain and wife Elisabeth on creating the shop that includes a working fragrance lab.

Subsequently, more products have been added to the range.

 Givaudan Perfumer Project in Hyères

Over the past five years for the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography, Givaudan perfumers have collaborated with 10 young artistic directors on perfumes, often focused on translating olfactively their fashion collections.

“For our perfumers it is interesting because it allows them to really work hand-in-hand with designers who are rather avant-garde, and the idea is to see what these young people want to create in terms of perfume,” explained Fréderic Walter, creative marketing director of Givaudan.

Givaudan perfumes in Hyères
Givaudan perfumes in Hyères. Courtesy Photo

After the designers’ fashion gets displayed on catwalks, they are presented in showrooms along with the associated fragrances.

“It is always very enriching for us to be in contact with young people,” said Walter. “We want to accompany these designers at the moment that their talent emerges.”

IFF Speed Smelling Coffret

IFF perfumers annually since 2009 have been given total creative license to concoct a perfume based on a given theme.

“The origin of the project was really to provide creative playgrounds for our perfumers outside of the usual constraints of working on commercial projects and having to win briefs and respond to particular demands of our customers,” said Judith Gross, creative director of fine fragrances for Europe, Africa and the Middle East at IFF. She said it’s almost as if each perfumer becomes a brand unto him- or herself.

This year, the postmodern artistic movement served as the springboard for fragrances made by 14 of the suppliers’ perfumers. These included Anne Flipo, Sophie Labbé, Alexis Dadier and Caroline Dumur.

Speed Sniffing coffret
Speed Smelling coffret. Courtesy Photo

In early December 2017 their perfumes were shown to journalists and influencers, and starting in April they were sold in coffrets available on shop.auparfum.com, luckyscent.com and in the bookstore of the Grand Musée de Parfum in Paris. Each one including 14 10-ml. bottles goes for 150 euros.

The limited-edition boxes have been retailed over the last four years. “There’s not a single on that is left…which shows that there is an interest for creative exercise completed by extremely expert perfumers when they are allowed to express themselves fully,” said Gross. “The purpose for us is not to generate sales, but really to increase the visibility, the notoriety of our perfumers.”