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 “.