The Odour Of War: Jean-Christophe Herault At The London Launch of Boucheron's La Collection

27th April, 2017

Hefty-price-tag exclusives? Compositions inspired by geographical locations? An emphasis on high-quality ingredients? These aren't exactly original perfumery concepts, but then the stance that Boucheron appear to be adopting - as they launch their new La Collection scents - is that originality is less important than competence. They know full well that we've already got plenty of ouds, nerolis and irises. So their pitch is that these fragrances will impress us with the solidity of their execution.

That said, it's interesting to tackle the question of originality with one of the range's co-creators: IFF’s Jean-Christophe Herault, who hopped over to London for the perfumes’ UK launch. As it happens, the scent he's made for La Collection is Ambre D'Alexandrie, which suits my purposes very well indeed, given that the amber accord - that familiar blend of vanilla, labdanum and benzoin - is perhaps the most ubiquitous on the market. So, I ask him, how on earth does he put together an amber which is recognisably an amber but is sufficiently different from all the others not to come across as a mere clone?

Ambre d'Alexandrie

Jean-Christophe Herault: For this perfume I was inspired by a very personal experience - a trip to Egypt. I brought back a lot of feelings, a lot of memories of odours. The people there use very strong perfumes, a little bit like in the Middle East. When you're in the souq, you can smell things from the shops. When you're in the cities, you can smell the narguile tobacco. Very fruity. Very sweet. A little bit gourmand. All of that inspired me. The second part of my inspiration is that I'm really fascinated by old Egypt. I dreamt about a journey through ancient Egypt. I know that ancient Egyptians used a lot of perfume. For example, the kyphi, which is the oldest perfume recipe we know. It has a lot of incense and myrrh, benzoin, cistus. Old ingredients like that. All this gave me the idea to create an amber. And because it came from something very personal, I didn't play the amber accord in the usual way. For example, I added something from the narguile idea: a fruity, sweet aspect. And also, I played the vanilla a little bit gourmand, but not super-sweet or super-sticky, to keep the freshness of the amber.

Persolaise: Even so, were you concerned that your amber wouldn't be sufficiently different from all the rest?

JCH: When I studied perfumery, I learned what is a classical amber accord. There are some ingredients that I carefully didn't use in this perfume, to be sure that it wouldn't exactly remind us of a classical amber. So, in this one, there is no patchouli.

P: As you were making it, did you worry that perhaps it was veering too close to Guerlain's Shalimar or Lutens' Ambre Sultan or Hermes' Ambre Narguile.

JCH: Yes, it's something that we have think about when we create perfume. But my formula is very short. And when a formula is short, it's easier not to re-create something that has already been done. And also, I've added

some facets that are not usually used in the amber accord, like the narguile note. For me there's something very interesting - which isn't in the Hermes amber - in the sweet part of tobacco, which I created with a date note. There is no date extract, but davana extract can bring that kind of liquour, dry fruit aspect. When you add all these aspects together, you obtain something different. It's still an amber. It's like a painting. You can decide to paint a landscape. But a good painter will have his own personal interpretation of a landscape and paint it with different elements that make it unique.

P: When you started your career, did you ever think you'd be having conversations like this with journalists, explaining the fine details of your compositions?

JCH: No, not at all. I never thought I'd speak in front of hundreds of people. Younger perfumes are more prepared for this, because they know about it. People have said, maybe you should have a blog. I don't criticise anybody, but my personal vision of perfumery is of something linked to human relationships. All the social media can make you feel far away from other people. A few months ago, I participated in an event called La Nuit De La Poesie, for the Institut Du Monde Arabe. The event was one year after the terrorist attacks in Paris, to remind people of it. During the whole night, poets read poems in Arabic. And in this case, it was a book of poems written by an Arab writer and a Jewish writer. And I - a French, Christian person - created perfumes inspired by some poems. It was an amazing experience. I was so proud that people asked me to participate in it.

P: Tell me about the perfumes you made for it.

JCH: I had an opportunity to choose four poems from the book and to create perfumes inspired by them. One of them is called Horizon. It has just a few words. I imagined that this man, when he's looking at the horizon, is in fact looking for Baghdad. But where is Baghdad? I used cardamom and rose and a woody touch to re-create the Baghdad that I don't know and that I dreamt about.

Another one of the poems I worked on was also very interesting. It was written in two parts. The first part is about a man in his house, and through the window, he's looking at a very delicate tuberose flower. The second part is about a young Kurdish woman who is taking her clean clothes off the washing line because there's a smell of fire around her and she doesn't want her clothes to get the smell. The relationship between the two is that the guy at the window is in fact looking at the woman. And I imagined that the young woman smells fire because of the war. So I decided to create a tuberose mixed with a very strong smoky odour. And when I smelt it, I thought, "What is the odour of war?"

I imagined I was walking in a town, partly destroyed by the war, with some fires burning, but maybe also still with some trees and some flowers around. And I thought it must be very emotional to walk through your own town if it has been destroyed, with the odours of what reminds you of life and what shows you the effects war. The olfactive collision I created was very strong. And when I explained it to the people at the event, they were almost crying.


The other scents in La Collection are: Neroli D’Ispahan (Fabrice Pellegrin), Tubereuse De Madras (Christophe Raynaud), Oud De Carthage (Dominique Ropion), Iris De Syracuse (Nathalie Lorson) and Vanille De Zanzibar (Nathalie Lorson)

You can watch a YouTube video (in French) of Jean-Christophe Herault’s contribution to La Nuit De La Poesie here:


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About the author: Persolaise

Persolaise is a four-time Jasmine Award winning writer with a lifelong interest in the world of fine fragrance. His perfume guide, Le Snob: Perfume, is published in English by Hardie Grant and in German by Süddeutsche Zeitung. He has written for Sunday Times Style, Grazia, Glass, The Scented Letter and Now Smell This, amongst others.



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      • hednic | 27th April 2017 15:03

        Can't wait for this collection to launch Stateside.