Maurice Roucel is a perfumer whose work I admire for its originality, boldness and unapologetic sensuality, which are clear even in his “big brand” creations. He is the author of Hermès 24, Faubourg, Frédéric Malle Musc Ravageur and Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist, among many others. The following is an excerpt from a fantastic book by Clara Molloy called 22 Perfumers: A Creative Process. It features in-depth interviews with 22 perfumers such as Calice Becker, Dominique Ropion, Olivier Polge, Alberto Morillas, Annick Menardo and many others. The book is available in French and English editions and can be found on Clara Molloy’s website.
How did you enter the perfume industry?
At the time, when I started out in 1973, there were only people from Grasse in the perfume industry. I was born in Cherbourg. I arrived in Paris with my parents at the age of 5 and I stayed there. I was passionate about organic chemistry and theoretical physics. In 1973, Henri Robert, the creator of “No 19” by Chanel, hired me to develop a chromatography laboratory. I spent 6 years with Chanel. While I was there, I learned the profession of perfumer by myself; I was self-taught. But I still love organic chemistry, which I find extremely creative! For me, creation is everywhere. Anything can be creative. In my career, I’ve even found myself working on a shampoo. I find it refreshing to have a look elsewhere. There are also surprises in soaps and detergents. Today, it’s clear that in fine perfumery there are more resources, time–sometimes–and a broader scope.
What inspires you?
I love people. I work for living beings–that’s what inspires me. For example, the “L” by Lolita Lempicka launch event was held in Montmartre. I gave the stage designer a fragrance as a thank you gift. I made a tree with roots of vetiver, a woody trunk and lavender flower foliage. It became an “Eau d’Aurelien.” Everyone deserves to have his own fragrance!
And then, the city also inspires me. It stimulates me and constantly surrounds me with smells: there’s no need to hunt for blue lotus in Tibet!
When I come to France, I rent cars and they smell like apricot osmanthus–I love that! One day I’m going to ask them what they diffuse inside the car. If I had to work for them, I would start with osmanthus! Even when you’re getting gas at the pump, it’s intoxicating. Something happens. For me, “Fahrenheit” [by Christian Dior] is the stylized smell of exhaust fumes; it’s dense. It’s a great achievement to have pulled it off.
What is the difference between French and American perfumery?
The big difference comes down to the timeframe. In New York, the development time for a fragrance is nine months. In Paris, for “L” by Lolita Lempicka and “Insolence” by Guerlain, three years of work were required in each case; there was a lot more toing and froing. The French have a fragrance culture. They [he is talking about the clients, the perfume brand managers] are able to take a formula apart and thus find its faults. In the United States, they are much more conciliatory. They accepts things more easily, but when they have a problem with an element, they reject the complete formula. They reject the forest if they don’t like a tree. The French will wag their finger at a tree, but they will also pick out the beauty of the undergrowth, the play of light… There is a real difference in perception.