A week or so ago, our class was granted the honour of a private visit with Jean Claude Ellena (a master perfumer in his own right and the in-house exclusive perfumer for Hermes) in his studio in Cabris. We were escorted by our chemistry teacher to the outskirts of the small beautiful village that is about 10 minutes drive up in the hills behind Grasse. M Ellena’s house and studio are of matching modern design, flat-roofed with lots of glass and stone. His studio and lab are separate from the main house and as we entered the space we were impressed by its comfortable and relaxed atmosphere. It is a living space really, with a narrow copper hooded fireplace dividing the room and the outer walls all glass looking out onto a lavender trimmed deck that is fringed with fig trees and shaded by parasol pines. The Mediterranean is visible here and there in the far distance. He took us into a small adjoining room that serves as his lab, where two metal carousels of glass-stoppered bottles filled with raw materials adorn the one table in the centre of the small room. There is a digital scale also and a refrigerator full of the more delicate raw (usually natural) raw materials. This is all. These are all the tools one needs. This is the room where his assistant works, weighing out the formulae he creates. M. Ellena himself works out in the living space at a huge wooden desk away from the smell of the raw materials.
We had a question and answer session with him and he talked about the creative process of this medium as well as showing us some simple accords. It was a wonderful experience and of huge significance for me since it is because of this man and his story that my idea of coming to France to study perfumery crystallized . Jean Claude Ellena is a man driven by his passion. He is an intellectual and an artist- creating delicate beautiful minimalistic perfumes. He decided that he wanted to have creative freedom, to not be controlled by the constructs of pure profit driven consumerism- and so demanded this when he was invited to join Hermes. Now he is sitting pretty- free to create as he likes for one of the most highly respected art/style/creation/ houses in the world.
When I asked him…’what is the most important thing for a student perfumer to know?’
He answered….” Passion “.
Bonjour! Just a quick note to say that life here is very busy these days and rather than not write at all due to the lack of time for essays, I intend to attempt mini entries just to keep you up to date….
It is definitely l’Automne now here, with the hills behind Grasse turning a rusty orange as the oaks turn colour and we’ve had some days of torrential rain, causing baskets of wild champignons to appear in the grocery stores. Yesterday, however, dawned gorgeous and sunny and was so warm that we had the sliding glass doors of our lunch room wide open as we ate. School is hectic these days as we hit the homestretch. We finish on the 21st of next month and tomorrow is the day for our final product submissions for the Mane & Fils competition that has taken centre stage for the entire Fall semester. My perfume formula is finished, although I am having some problems with the 10% solution made from the concentrate being different from the batch I made from raw materials that were in solution already. (and that I used while writing the formula) This is normal apparently, but today I must remake a batch from the 10%solution for the submission because it is subtly superior. Everyone at school is in full competitive mode now and there have been some bickering and territorial stand-offs along the way. It’s amazing how ‘highschool’ things can get! At this point, everyone has defined the direction they want to take once we are done and there is a slight desperation in the air because no one really has any idea if their plans will materialize. (or if they’ll have to pack up and go home- which, after a year, is a serious endeavour) Of course, the general ideal is a contract in one of the perfume houses, and at the very least an internship, but, being France, no one will know for sure until the last minute. Ok, must get to school…..a bientot……!
I just returned from Paris a few days ago- it was a short trip but one that was very specifically about perfume. We began at the Palais Royale, where we visited the ‘shrine to perfume’- the Serge Luten boutique. It is an oasis of purple calm, beautifully adorned, dimly lit and hosted by a lovely man who spoke just the perfect amount of English to mix with my increasing grasp of French. We smelled as many of the rich and floral, woody, leafy, earthy fragrances as was reasonable and I left wearing two of them placed strategically on little spots of our wrists and arms. We would have many more to try as the day progressed…. I wanted to sample the Silver Iris Mist that I have read so much about- and I was not disappointed. It is vegetal, cool, fresh, calm and full of true orris notes. It has a strong carrot facet that creates this cool wet clay aspect and to me, was the colour grey and an ultra-refined and elegant fragrance. The other I wore was Fleurs de Citronnier…a sweet candied neroli that made me see dappled sunshine and summer dresses with honeyed lemon-aid and parasols. For me, it is so summery, warm and delicious that I would like to wear it in the winter…. What I love the most about Serge Luten is that all the perfumes are for men and/or women. There is no division of him and her- it is about subjective taste and appreciation of perfume itself- without segregation.
Next we headed to the Rue Honore and to Colette, an amazing store filled with art and design- books, music, magazines, perfume, jewellery, and so on. Some of the unique and cool collections I’m sure you cannot find anywhere else. I could have spent hours there being inspired. However we rushed on to Annick Goutal (beware of a snooty and pushy salesperson) and then Jean Patou. This was another very bright highlight for me since the perfume JOY is a great and important perfume in the French traditon. As we spoke to the woman behind the counter, a man appeared and we were introduced to him (after making it known that we are perfumery students from Grasse). He was none other than Jean-Michel Duriez, the current Nose of Jean Patou. I asked him for advice- what are the most important things to keep in mind as a student/perfumer? And he generously spent some time explaining and sharing his thoughts- it was a great honour and a very special experience.
Our next stop was just across the street in a tiny little boutique called Jar- it took us three attempts to find it as there is no signage or indication of its presence outside. We were met by a gracious young man who sat us down at a round glass table table in a small and dimly-lit parlour and invited us to smell the collection. Each perfume was presented in a glass bowl off which he lifted a glass lid- and inside was a honey coloured piece of leather infused with the perfume oil. Our host refused to comment on the fragrances, leaving it entirely up to us to analyze and experience in our own way. The oils were all warm, earthy, heavily floral, animalic and very complex. The one I loved- called Golconda-, had rich JOY-like notes of rose and jasmine and an earthy wet note I can only describe as fresh potato peels. Being an oil, it lasted on my skin for the rest of the day. This boutique is an afterthought of the Paris jeweller Joel Arthur Rosenthal. who decided to create perfumes also. It is very exclusive and unique with one of the perfume in the collection without even a name- only the symbol of a bolt of lightening. Prices range from 220-395 Euro for one ounce of parfum. One of the things I enjoyed about this experience was the lack of a commercial approach- ie, no attempt was made to convince us in any way to buy- it was a personal experience, highly encouraged and we felt entirely comfortable leaving (with our heads in the clouds from such gorgeous heady full-of-naturals fragrances) and have our host graciously bid us farewell. It was a communion of sorts- a seance of perfume that was about perfume- and it’s experience as perfect subjectivity. The address is 14, Rue de Castiglione….
to be continued~