Olivia Giacobetti : Perfumer, Nose

Giacobetti

Speaking of the Post-Impressionists, Roger Fry, a well-known English critic noted that they did not merely intend “…to imitate form, but to create form…. [not] to imitate life, but to find an equivalent for life… In fact, they aim not at illusion but at reality.” The same can be said about Olivia Giacobetti’s creations, with their marvelous precision combined with dream-like expression. The fig leaf, the iris blossom and the scent of Chinese tea are not just perfect renditions of these scents as found in nature, but they attain a whole new layer of light and movement that cannot be captured merely by reproduction. Experiencing Olivia Giacobetti’s fragrances is like starring at the bright light through gauze, with the sharpness and burning sensation muted, while the glow is more underscored. Her approach is not so much minimalist, as focusing on the essential, whether she is trying to ornament a lilac note or present a milky sappiness of a green fig.

Olivia Giacobetti was born on April 9, 1966 in Boulogne, France. Her father, Francis Giacobetti, a well-known photographer and a director of film Emmanuelle 2, encouraged Olivia in her desire to become a perfumer. At 17, she started studying at Robertet, and several years later she created her own company Iskia.

Her creations

L’Eau del’Artisan for L’Artisan Parfumeur (1993)
Premier Figuier for L’Artisan Parfumeur (1994)
Thé Pour Un été for L’Artisan Parfumeur (1996)
Drôle de Rose for L’Artisan Parfumeur (1996)
Philosykos for Diptyque (1996)
Ofresia for Diptyque (1996)
L’Eau du Fleuriste for L’Artisan Parfumeur (1997)
Navegar for L’Artisan Parfumeur (1998)
Hiris for Hermès (1999)
Ofrésia for Diptyque (1999)
Dzing ! for L’Artisan Parfumeur (1999)
Passage d’Enfer for L’Artisan Parfumeur (1999)
En Passant for Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle (2000)
Fleur de Carotte for L’Artisan Parfumeur (2000)
Tea for Two for L’Artisan Parfumeur (2000)
Thé des Sables for L’Artisan Parfumeur (2001)
Un Bouquet en Mai for L’Artisan Parfumeur (2001)
Opôné for Diptyque (2001)
Andrée Putmann Préparation Parfumée (2001)
Iunx for Shiseido (2003-2004)
Jour de Fête for L’Artisan Parfumeur (2004)
Costes (with Rami Mekdachi)
Cinq Mondes Eau Egyptienne(2005)
Extrait de Songe for L’Artisan Parfumeur (2005)
Le Petit de Guerlain for Guerlain (2005)
Idole de Lubin
Candle for Bottega Veneta, Essence of John Galliano candle for Diptyque, Costes candle

As Giacobetti says about creation of perfume, perfume is a mystery, “a language, a world of symbols which touches the unconscious, a mode of communication that is both emotional and fundamental” (Interview with Olivia Giacobetti). She is inspired by everyday things in creating her fragrances, the scent of quince, fig tree. “Traveling is how I find my sources, I’ve broken the bark of a yellow wood that smelled like quince, gathered sand with a sweet scent I’ve never smelled elsewhere, and even stolen incense from a temple so as not to forget it” (Frederic Malle’s interview). Emotional response is what happens upon experiencing the scent, with the analysis taking place afterwards. When asked about her most mystical perfume, she responds that although she was baptized when she was 10 years old, she did not have religious upbringing. At the same time, she loves the scent and the peace of the church. Her most mystical perfumes are those that are not deliberate. Iunx L’Ether Eau de Parfum and L’Eau Baptiste, an orange blossom scented fragrance water, are the fragrances she names.

My first introduction to Olivia Giacobetti was through L’Eau du Fleuriste, a 1997 limited edition fragrance from L’Artisan Parfumeur. Its combination of mint, rose, cucumber, violet leaves, camomile and beeswax created a beautiful floral that conjured images of a traditional florist shop, where the scent of stem cuttings mingles in the air with the scent of newly delivered flowers. Its sheer interpretation combined with a unique radiant quality led me to discover other Giacobetti creations that surpassed even L’Eau du Fleuriste in my mind. While Giacobetti is an expert at interpreting the scent of rain on flowers and sunshine on leaves, her more daring creations such as Dzing! and Tea for Two are just as interesting. Delicate precision and misty radiance are executed perfectly, whatever theme she undertakes, and this fingerprint marks all of her perfumes.

Photo: L’Express.fr.

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21 Comments

  • MC: Hello Victoria! Libération had an excellent interview with Olivia Giacobetti last year. Unfortunately it is in the pay archives now, though perhaps one of your readers has saved it.

    What I like about her is her use of materials I can only describe as “pre-Socratic”: Rice, ash, steam, maize, rainwater and so on. There is something that borders on the mystic about adding these ancient elements to very contemporary perfumes. June 27, 2005 at 4:53am Reply

  • LaureAnne: I am so intrigued now by all of the scents you’ve listed. I had not, heretofore, liked the l’Artisans I’d tried, but it seems I’d not tried the OG ones. Of course, as you know, I got the Songe one, but now will go to one of the boutiques and retry and try everything! The aesthetic and philosophical dimensions of her scents, as you describe them, are compelling. I’ve got on Extrait de Songe today, prompted by this excellent article of yours! June 27, 2005 at 8:47am Reply

  • Robin: Wish I had smelled L’Eau Fleuriste! That was “before my time”, e.g. before my interest in perfume.

    I think my favorite OG is still Thé Pour Un été. It is simple, but perfection. It is probably the fragrance I wear most frequently in summer.

    And, BTW, on top of everything else, she is gorgeous. June 27, 2005 at 9:21am Reply

  • Atreau: I really want to seek out more of her fragrances. Early on I wasn’t impressed by L’artisan fragrance and for the most part I don’t test them enough. However, I was incredibly impressed by Extrait de Songe! I really adore it! June 27, 2005 at 9:41am Reply

  • Victoria: Mike, I have not come across that interview, but I will try to locate it. I love when perfumers are in the spotlight for a change, because just as knowing about a painter helps to understand the work she produces, the same goes for a perfumer.

    L, I only wish Iunx will be available in the States soon. I really enjoy some of her creations for that line. Enjoy your Extrait de Songe!

    R, I agree. She is gorgeous. Proves that a woman can be everything, despite what backward convetions like to claim! I do not have L’Eau Fleuriste anymore, but it was lovely. I wish she would make another fragrance in the same vein.

    S, I find many L’Artisans she made wonderful, a departure from some of the heavier classics I prefer. Definitely try more and then report! 🙂

    M, thank you for your kind words! I loved that reference too, and it made me want to meet her even more so. June 27, 2005 at 10:30am Reply

  • MC: Victoria, here is the link.

    http://www.liberation.fr/page.php?Article=261353

    You must pay 2€ to read the profile. I believe it is worth it – as I recall she discusses some of the perfumes she has “in progress” including a scent she composed for her father, the photographer (and director of Emmanuelle 2, soft porn fans) Francis. Apparently it was inspired by the scent of a beach on a wintry day and her father’s mac. I presume she means his raincoat rather than his computer;)

    I saw her in Iunx a few months ago and can confirm she is gorgeous! June 27, 2005 at 11:01am Reply

  • Tania: I think I remember reading someone describing her as sort of insufferable–because she knows she is so talented and so gorgeous! She really has a signature, doesn’t she? The most animalic thing on that list that I know of — Dzing! — manages to smell *ethereally* animalic. June 27, 2005 at 11:33am Reply

  • Victoria: Oh, thank you so much! I will have to look into it. A scent of the beach in winter (your comment on mac really made me laugh)–sounds very Olivia Giacobetti. I love the notes she tends to use in her fragrances, and I agree with your specification–pre-Socratic is the right word. June 27, 2005 at 11:34am Reply

  • Victoria: You are right, Tania. I have Dzing! on right now, and I am amazed how she managed to render this cardboard and rubber scent on an animalic accord as something quite enchanted. June 27, 2005 at 11:35am Reply

  • mreenymo: V, I was out late last night at a party, so when I flipped on the computer and dashed on to your site, the first thing I thought was, “Why is Victoria profiling Melissa Gilbert?”

    I think my late nights should be kept to a bare minimum!

    Olivia is a wonderfully creative perfumer. I think I have a stash of L’Eau du Fleuriste somewhere. I will have to look for it.

    Hiris is probably my favorite of her creations. I love the way it develops, from that very rooty, earthy orris, to something sweet and ethereal. It smells like angels’ wings fluttering in the misty dawn.

    Hugs! June 27, 2005 at 12:37pm Reply

  • Miriam: Olivia Giacobetti as pre-socratic! I love it. One could classify all the noses and perfume houses based on philosophical or theoretical movements. Guerlain would be Platonic, very much concerned with form; Comme des Garcons and Demeter Existentialist, or perhaps Utilitarian. I’m still waiting for a Marxist perfume to pop up. . .

    My favorite OG scents are the ones that aren’t too sweet, Hiris and Preparation Parfumee, where OG dares to make Hiris smell like an iris pushing up out of the frozen earth with a sharp icy, soil note (top note of carrot and coriander) blending with the dark orris of the iris rhizome.

    I am still waiting for her to create the perfect etherial lily scent, velvety, spicy, and cool hauteur. June 27, 2005 at 12:51pm Reply

  • Victoria: Rbbin, this made me laugh so much!
    I love L’Eau Fleuriste for OG’s ability to recreate a florist shop scent perfectly. Your description of Hiris is wonderful, capturing it so perfectly.

    Miriam,
    Oh, this is great! I would then specify Caron as Stoic with the element of darkness and slight austerity in their compositions.

    As for Marxist fragrances, I would agree, although for me Krasnaya Moskva is the essence of Leninism. However, this association is more circumstantial than essential.

    I also would love a lily scent from OG, however other than Ofresia, she has not touched upon any members of lily family so far. I would also love something with a scent of quince that would not be sticky-sweet. June 27, 2005 at 1:04pm Reply

  • mireille: Beautifully written; her intensity about the work is so appealing … and I loved the reference to her most mystical perfumes being those that were not deliberately so — as if made through her if not by her. Thank you for this, V. xoxo June 27, 2005 at 9:51am Reply

  • Tara: OMG, what a jolt! I’ve always loved OG’s creations but now I feel a cosmic connection with her – we have the exact same birthday! Wow.

    Tara June 27, 2005 at 2:30pm Reply

  • Victoria: Oh, I love discovering connections like this too! Fascinating. June 27, 2005 at 3:15pm Reply

  • julien: A great perfumer,and a very beautiful woman too.
    Because she’s a woman in a world of men(it’s incredible to see how fashion,perfumes and everything about luxury remains jobs where only a few women succeed to enter).
    Thanks for remembering us how great OLIVIA is in her work.

    J. June 27, 2005 at 4:43pm Reply

  • Victoria: J, I agree, she has an amazing talent. I enjoy her creations very much! June 27, 2005 at 9:03pm Reply

  • julien: I went on the Frederic malle shop today and they told me they never wanted to make a leather fragance,it was only a rumor…
    The next one will really be a Tubéreuse as near as possible from the natural scent of the flower.
    It is not a great revelation,but it is a proof that sometimes wrong things(the leather fragance) can be so developed and have no true base.
    Kisses to everyone and special hello to Victoria,it’s such a pleasure to read you… July 9, 2005 at 4:20pm Reply

  • songscent: Hi, V. Wow, she made Premier Figuier and Dzing; those are among my favorite L’Artisan fragarnces. Ofresia’s beautiful, too. Her works have moved me for a long time–thanks, Olivia! November 21, 2005 at 11:17pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Sali, even before I knew that she made all of those fragrances, I was moved by all of them and suspected that the same nose was responsible. Her fragrances are quite special for me. November 22, 2005 at 4:47pm Reply

  • Winnie: Would anyone be able to help me find a source for Hermessence Osmanthe Yunnan? Many thanks. July 10, 2007 at 8:14pm Reply

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