I am currently reading Jean-Claude Ellena’s fascinating Journal d’un Parfumeur and wishing that more perfumers would share their thoughts on the creative process as generously as Ellena does. After all, understanding the creative intent behind fragrances makes one appreciate them even more. While I am on this topic, I would like to share an excerpt I loved from another book by Ellena, Le Parfum. The excerpt comes from the section “On Certain Perfumes,” a title derived from the last piece written by French author Jean Giono.
“In order to judge perfumes that have outlasted time I use the nose of today, whereas for new perfumes I use the nose of yesterday. And I realise that memory works in such a way that perfumes which are not experienced with excitement and passion, which are not linked with a personal story or, in our business, with the training of the nose, are devoid of meaning and leave no trace in the memory… In order to discover a perfume, I have to enter into it, grasp it from the inside…
Osmothèque [perfume conservatory] enchants me with L.T. Pivert’s Trèfle Incarnat (1905) which smells of progress in its massive use of amyl salicylate, its steely odour, and with Guerlain’s Après L’Ondée (1905) and its audacious use of anisic aldehyde, evoking mimosa and frangipani.
It is a great surprise to discover the perfumes of Paul Poiret (1910-1925), his early use and abuse of aldehydes, from the most metallic to the most fruity, from the abstract odours in Arquelinade to the figurative fragrances of Fruit Défendu; and whilst these forms sometimes lacked balance, harmonies, they all have chutzpah, which delights me.
Pleasure is the keynote of the perfumes of my generation created between the 1950s and 1970s. They have names like Bandit, Fracas, Air du Temps, Diorissimo, Eau Sauvage, Fidji, Calèche, Habit Rouge, Calandre, Chamade, Chanel No 19. They have a smoothness, a thickness, a roundness, a complexity, a richness, a softness, a collection of values that I call “greasiness,” which comes from the deliberate use of natural products, which envelope them, create a “material” effect and give them their signature.
The pleasure becomes sensual, almost carnal, when I smell Guerlain’s Shalimar, Estée Lauder’s Aromatics Elixir or Youth Dew, Miss Dior, Eau d’Hermès, and Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium…
As regards the novelties of the 21st century, they can sometimes delight through their audacity and their capacity to surprise the nose.
So each generation builds its roots and its sense of identity, whether in clothes, music, scents, etc. Perfume is a product of society and, in this sense, is condemned to die if its myth and its memory are not maintained, not in the past, but in a message that is constantly renewed, recomposed, sometimes–most often–through advertising, through a discourse that emphasises neglected aspects, but also by the renewal of existing themes. ” (70-72, Le Parfum, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2008.)