Pierre Guillaume’s personal appearances in London are rare – as indeed is hearing him speak in English about his work, so it was a unique opportunity to learn more. The perfumer began by telling the audience a little of his early olfactory life. Pierre’s father was a business man, and also a wine collector and wine producer, with a love of cigars and the fine things in life. His mother is an exceptionally good cook.
"I was lucky because my father liked good restaurants and would take me to some very fine places as a child. He always encouraged me to experiment, to take risks, but not with unusual dishes like ‘liquorice and fish’, which could be very nice. He told me to experiment by trying things I already know so that I can compare, for example beef Bourguinon. I know this dish very well, my mother is a very good cook, who also makes the best beef Bourguinon." Guillaume, told us that for him, the learning process isn’t about going towards the weird and wonderful, but rather to learn the basics and learn them well before you move on to develop those basics into something more unusual. It was an interesting point, which he tied in beautifully to perfume-making later on:
“There is so much dishonesty in perfume. People say that there is 25% tuberose in a perfume, but it’s rubbish. Have you ever smelled tuberose absolute? It smells horrible! People say it because tuberose is expensive and it makes the perfume sound expensive, but to make a tuberose perfume you need ylang-ylang and a few other things. If you understand tuberose, you understand that it’s about the ylang-ylang. It is the same with beef Bourguinon – if you understand this dish and you know this dish, you know the important thing is the wine not the beef!”
Guillaume was in London at Les Senteurs (the second shop near Marble Arch has a space for perfume events) to promote his ‘Huitième Art
’ Line. Although launched in 2010, the line has not had the same impact as his main selection, Parfumerie Generale
(PG - a play on the perfumer’s initials). He described his main line as “very complex and talkative – by that I mean something that tells a story, that grows in the mind, something linked to a psychological phenomenon, about emotion and memory.” He said he devised the line to be “something that could tell you about your own memory.” For example “clearing out your grandmother’s things in old house after she has gone and the house is to be sold, opening a draw and finding an old perfume, unused, you open it, it smells of her, but it also smells of another time, maybe the 1920s or the 1930s.”
On the theme of vintage and ageing, Pierre gave a fascinating insight into the ‘photo-affinage’ process, a patented technique that uses ultra-violet light to give what he described as a ‘patina’ to perfume, used in two PG fragrances (Coze
and L'Eau de Circe
What exactly does it do? “It’s like giving a perfume wrinkles” he explained. “You see a beautiful young woman, then you see her again at 30 she is still beautiful and has a few wrinkles, then 40 again lovely, then 50 and 60, more wrinkled but still very beautiful, a beautiful old woman. Normally heat and light are the enemies of perfume, but sometimes when perfume is a bit aged, it is beautiful too, but you can’t get that effect from chemicals or materials, you can only make the ageing process in perfume by exposing it in this way – it is more a thing of physics than of chemistry – you break some of the chains, some of the links, then you stop it and you have a perfume that feels a bit aged, like it has some beautiful wrinkles.”
In his naming of perfume, Guillaume shows he has a playful way with words – he loves cerulean blue (He was tickled by the reference to the colour of Anne Hathaway’s dowdy sweater in the movie ‘The Devil Wears Prada’) and was experimenting making candles with one of the fragrances in an amber perfume - one of the elements turns blue when heated, so he named his fragrance ‘Ambre Céruléen
, also in the newer line comes from a play on the word naïve and iris ‘because you would be naïve just to think that it just contained iris!”
In contrast to his earlier work, The Huitième Art line has been devised to be “more linear, but in a good way” he says.
We returned to the topic of olfactive memories with a personal favourite of mine from the whole collection – Cozé No.2 Guillaume said he was inspired by the ebony humidor that his father kept his cigars in – both he and his mother loved it whenever it was opened and would put their noses to it. He tried very hard to duplicate the sensation and the complexity of the smell, but wasn’t completely satisfied until one of his suppliers brought to his attention an ingredient that is used as a booster in sunscreen, allowing less to be used (it's an acidic, fatty acid that is an ester from hemp oil). “It allowed me to go deeper into the reality of the fragrance” he said.
Guillaume still clearly has a great fondness for his ‘baby’ Cozé. “It is the DNA of my company. It was the first fragrance I made and showed to my friend, [perfumer] Francis Kurkdjian. Actually, without his encouragement I would not have become a perfumer. I gave him and another perfumer the Cozé to smell . The other one didn’t like it and said “it’s too strong and has too much nutmeg”, but Francis said “No, It’s really good, you should at least try to become a perfumer” (Guillaume was trained as a chemist).
There then followed an interesting experiment in which Guillaume asked for volunteers: we sprayed Cozé on our arm, he then asked us to wait until the alcohol had dried off, when we were invited to lick the perfume off our skin to experience it in another way.
Like his perfumes, it was one of the most extraordinary experiences I have ever had – it felt as if the molecules really had entered your whole body, a sensation lasted a few hours. Pierre stressed that Cozé is the only perfume in his collection which would be safe to try this trick with.
About the author
Lila Das Gupta is a London based journalist. She runs Perfume Lovers London with the support of Basenotes.