A perfumer has to be able to smell their imagination. They have to be able to smell something that doesn’t exist. It’s a rarified craft – so rare in fact, that there are more astronauts in the world than perfumers. While you don’t need a rocket ship to get to Grasse, the two endeavors are more intertwined than it would seem. Both exploration of space and scent demand rigorous training, fearlessness and a willingness to pursue the road less travelled.
In space you don’t breathe, but with scent you don’t think. You feel. Smell and emotion are so connected that, incredibly, odor-evoked memories are more visceral than any other memory-related experience*. It’s part of why we might associate Paris with bread and cigarettes; summer with salt and sticky Gardenia; university with instant coffee and fusty textbooks.
Perfumers then (or noses, as they are affectionately referred) act like gatekeepers of time, freezing moments, places, people and feelings into an olfactive experience. To say they are simply talented would be largely undervaluing the inventiveness and magic that goes into creating scent; creating something that occupies the space between people.
So what is the process? How does a perfumer – a nose – work? For one, it’s anything but linear. It might start with a muse or a raw material, a burning ache to turn reality into redolence. It might start at the end. It might start with one accord and finish with twenty. It might take them to a secret garden in Versailles and back. It might take years! It’s a process that’s fluid and open, one that often goes without rhyme or reason. But who better to tell the story than the authors themselves? Here, GRAZIA speaks to François Demachy, Dior Perfumer-Creator, in his own words, to explore the narrative behind perfumer and perfume – the greatest beauty biopic ever written.
*Cited in The Role of Odor-Evoked Memory in Psychological andPhysiological Health by Rachel S. Herz. Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Brown University Medical School, 190 Thayer St., Providence, RI 02912, USA – mdpi.com/2076-3425/6/3/22
“I come from Grasse, the birthplace of international perfumery. Being a Grassois is, at the very least, a determining factor in the destiny of a perfumer. Everything is based on perfume: the air is filled with different scents. Early on, I memorised a whole host of notes without even realising it. I could recognise moss and flowers. My nose educated itself. It practiced its scale, if you like.
If I had to remember the best moments from my childhood, it would be the miraculous blossoming of May Rose and Jasmine Grandiflorum. Jasmine blossoms from August until September, during the summer holidays. I remember coming out of a nightclub and riding home on my moped through huge fields of jasmine in the early hours. The smell was incredible, so powerful and so vivid that it made me dizzy.
I was lucky enough to start [in fragrance] when I was young thanks to student holiday jobs in the perfume-producing factories. I worked in every position, from handling in the beginning to composition at the Charabot School at the end. At each step I learned techniques that still serve me today. I remember admiring the skill of a man who could instinctively regulate the temperature of the distilling apparatus just by touching it. It was a simple thing, but so skilful.
Today, I’m lucky to be able to create all of the Dior fragrances at the Fontaines Parfumées site. Having a creative laboratory in the centre of Grasse, in such an iconic, traditional bastide building is already very inspirational. But I wouldn’t say that I have a genuine process of inspiration – I don’t have a recipe. My inspiration varies as I am really nourished by everything around me. I’m particularly sensitive to painting, and in fact Joy by Dior for me, was a fragrant translation of a pointillist-style painting. But then I am equally inspired by music. And a woman or a memory can also inspire me – it changes all the time. For Maison Christian Dior Spice Blend, I took inspiration from a childhood memory linked to my father’s pharmacy in Grasse. There was a bottle of ‘Spice Rhum’ ointment on his shelves that fascinated me. That was the starting point.
Today there are few perfumers in the world. I am incredibly lucky to be with Dior as the Perfume-Creator, with all the responsibility that entails in terms of heritage, but also with the freedom it provides. I have access to the finest raw materials, the most exceptional ingredients and the most expert skills. I can travel the world to find the precise variety of bergamot that I want for Sauvage, or the sandalwood I want for Joy by Dior. This no-holds-barred approach is something I enjoy every day at Dior. Oh, and my favourite raw material? Flowers, flowers, flowers! I’m from Grasse, and you can’t change your character!”
Dior fragrance is available via Dior Beauty Boutiques, shop.dior.com.au and select Myer and David Jones