Jean-Claude Ellena on Certain Perfumes : Perfumers & Creators


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.)



  • Ann C: Thank you for posting this fascinating excerpt. I wonder what future noses will think of Ellen’s body of work? I’d love to hear more about his thoughts as he works on a new fragrances. May 18, 2011 at 6:37am Reply

  • Uella: A lot of Ellena’s favorites are still on the market, I doubt Un Jardin sur le Toit will be around in twenty years. May 18, 2011 at 9:18am Reply

  • Vishishta: Thank you for this very well written article. I am going to send it around to friends who love perfume! May 18, 2011 at 10:17am Reply

  • Perfume Shop: Thanks for this extract of the book! just the information I’ve been looking for! Thanks for sharing May 18, 2011 at 11:57am Reply

  • Olfactoria: I wish my french was better, to be able to read JCE’s new book. Thank you for the excerpt. May 18, 2011 at 8:03am Reply

  • Victoria: That one was not my favorite either… May 18, 2011 at 9:24am Reply

  • Victoria: Jean-Claude Ellena's writing is always a pleasure to read. I'm glad that you liked it too.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 18, 2011 at 10:23am Reply

  • Victoria: You are welcome! Maybe, it will be published in English too.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 18, 2011 at 10:24am Reply

  • Victoria: Perfumers are a critical group on the whole. JCE's work receives lots of praise though, by and large.

    I also like learning how he works on new fragrances. He is so open to sharing, which is great.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 18, 2011 at 10:26am Reply

  • carrie: I used to work as a tester for instyle perfumes and i always admired the scents he created. I wish i could read his book, but i studied spanish in highscool 🙁 May 18, 2011 at 3:19pm Reply

  • vanessa: Oh, now is this the book on which the other book – The Alchemy of Scent – was based, that was going to be released and then there was a hold up in its publication? Because if the two are similar and The Alchemy of Scent is unlikely to appear, I should get this one in French instead, maybe?

    “Greasiness” is good! I think I call that particular “collection of values” “perfumeyness”, though it is perhaps a subset of what JCE is speaking of here – ie the viscous, motor oily way Joy is perfumey, or Fracas or Scandal. And I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, far from it. May 18, 2011 at 6:31pm Reply

  • Victoria: Yes, the Alchemy of Scent is the English translation, but who knows when it is to be released. The owner of the publisher Arcade passed away before the release could be accomplished. By greasiness, I believe he means richness, unctuous quality that naturals convey. It certainly is very true!
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 18, 2011 at 6:44pm Reply

  • Victoria: You are most welcome! I am glad that you liked it. May 18, 2011 at 7:48pm Reply

  • Victoria: Sounds like a fun job! 🙂 May 18, 2011 at 7:49pm Reply

  • vanessa: Found Le Parfum on Amazon for £8, so grabbed it. “Unctuous” – that is exactly what I was trying to say – rather badly – with viscous and motor oily! May 19, 2011 at 7:44pm Reply

  • k-amber: After reading this book , I like to read E. Roudnitska “L’esthetique en question” which seems to go out of print. Have you read that? I realized numerous wonderful fragrances, my favorites, were created in the 80s. (sigh)

    Kaori May 19, 2011 at 9:40pm Reply

  • Victoria: I read it, but it is a rather abstract discussion, focusing more on R's own philosophy than anything concrete about creation. I much prefer Ellena's writing—to the point and concrete.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 19, 2011 at 9:43pm Reply

  • Victoria: Good for you! Excellent price for this book (which seems to be unavailable on, other than the secondhand versions.) May 21, 2011 at 4:19pm Reply

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