Maurice Roucel Interview : Excerpt from “22 Perfumers” Book

Maurice roucel

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.

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12 Comments

  • Robin: So interesting about the time frame…did not know that, and would have thought it would have been more related to the brand than the nationality. August 16, 2011 at 10:23am Reply

  • Victoria: You are absolutely right. It has to do with the brand rather than the nationality (many perfume brands in the US are run by the French anyway,) but the brands working for the American market/in the American market seem to operate under the different time frames from their European counterparts. The French brands are much more willing to devote more time to the development, whereas the American clients want everything yesterday. There are some exceptions on both sides, of course, but generally speaking, the American brands tend to give less and less time for working on a perfume. August 16, 2011 at 10:30am Reply

  • Carla: Roucel has been one of my favorite perfumers from the start of my perfume interest, and this interview reaffirms that. (His love of creativity, inspiration from people and the city.) I wore Tocade when I took my daughter to the beach last weekend, and it was amazing. That perfume also works so well in the cold of winter. And Iris Silver Mist never ceases to delight me. Not to mention all the other beautiful perfumes he’s made that I love, like Missoni and 24 Faubourg. I will look for this book! August 16, 2011 at 12:25pm Reply

  • Victoria: I love his aesthetic! So rich, dramatic and sensual. His niche fragrances are certainly even more so, but even his big brand perfumes have these traits.
    And I am with you on Tocade–a gem! August 16, 2011 at 2:55pm Reply

  • Erin T: I swear that one of these days I’m going to spring for this fascinating book. Roucel has done so many gems: Envy and KenzoAir, in addition to those already mentioned! I like the little dig about Tibetan blue lotuses, and the shout-out to Fahrenheit and the smells of every day (rental cars, petrol fumes, etc.) August 16, 2011 at 4:09pm Reply

  • Emma: On Iris Silver Mist, it would have never been the same perfume if it wasn’t for Serge Lutens. Roucel and Lutens never worked again together after that. August 16, 2011 at 6:42pm Reply

  • Victoria: I love this book, and I even bought 3 copies at once (one for myself and two for gifts to some of my perfume loving friends.) It is really well done, and the interviews are interesting. August 16, 2011 at 9:19pm Reply

  • Victoria: It certainly goes both ways! August 16, 2011 at 9:19pm Reply

  • Suzanna: That’s it, I am abandoning Florida for France.

    And I love that he mentions “surprises in soaps and shampoos.” Probsbly French soaps and shampoos, but what the heck. August 17, 2011 at 9:09am Reply

  • Victoria: Florida has better weather! 🙂
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile August 17, 2011 at 11:21am Reply

  • Babette: I’m coming to France this winter … and I’ve a feeling I’ll never want to return to the states! I’d love to work in the industry in France, but I think I’d have to be in packaging/marketing – I simply don’t have the ability to deconstruct a perfume … I might be able to assemble one though! Can one learn to be a “nose?” August 20, 2011 at 11:47pm Reply

  • Divna Gogeva: Victoria, did you know that Maurice Rocel is a fan of your blog as well? He admitted so in his interview for CaFleureBon with Michelyn Camen in January 2011. I look forward to reading this book, thank you for sharing this excerpt! October 22, 2012 at 5:20pm Reply

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