As Guerlain relaunches its L’Art & La Matière Haute Parfumerie collection we meet the man behind these special creations
For almost two centuries the house of Guerlain has seen fragrance as an art form. More than just scents, Guerlain’s luxury perfumes are works of art, and the artists behind them are the perfumers that bring them to life. Working with raw materials in the same way that an artist would work with paints, each fragrance creation brings together the finest ingredients in a unique way to create something truly special.
This Fall, Guerlain is relaunching its L’Art & La Matière haute Parfumerie collection. First introduced in 2005, this collection of rare and exceptional compositions was designed for fragrance lovers and informed connoisseurs. Using the best raw materials these exclusive perfumes elevate the concept of fragrance to the next level. The eleven iconic scents are joined by four of the House’s beloved fragrances, which have been renamed for the occasion — Frenchy Lavande, Herbes Troublantes, Oeillet Pourpre and Épices Volées, as well as two new additions to the family in the form of Rose Chérie and Santal Pao Rosa. The fragrances are housed in a new refillable bottle which was inspired by an iconic bottle from the House’s heritage.
Thierry Wasser, Guerlain Master Perfumer was responsible for bringing the modern-day collection together and creating the two new fragrances that complete the family. We find out more.
What is the message you want to share with the L’Art & La Matière high perfume creations?
When the collection first launched in 2005, no one besides Guerlain had a collection like it. Previously, the Aqua Allegoria collection which was introduced in 1999, was the only thing that came close, so in 2005, L’Art & La Matière introduced a more Haute Parfumerie feel which is today interpreted as “niche”. At the time this collection was mind-blowing, but the reality is that to create something like this is our trade and so it makes sense for Guerlain because we have been doing it for 200 years. After the success of the collection, other brands started making similar offerings, but they are not Guerlain – our legitimacy in creating and promoting a collection like this is our trade and that’s very important.
Before COVID-19 we decided that we would relaunch this collection but the pandemic actually helped us, as it gave us plenty of time. It was a process that needed to be matured until we refined it so that we express the true meaning. In 2005, the meaning was to showcase our craftsmanship and our trade and today we want to consolidate that. Firstly, we have changed the bottle, going back to our roots with a design inspired by a bottle from the 19th century. When it comes to the fragrances, many of them are the same as the fragrances we had in 2005, but since it is a collection it is alive, like a family, and as it matures, some products come out and some come in. So we now have two additional babies: Rose Chérie and Santal Pao Rosa. We also took fragrances from other parts of our catalogue to bring them all together into this family and that family idea is the philosophy of the collection. It’s not something that is frozen in time, there is a circle of life and this is a true reflection of that circle. That’s why it is relevant.
Furthermore, this collection is about raw materials, underlined by our craftsmanship. I am responsible for manufacturing the products and in the world of fragrance, when you say manufacturing it means sourcing. And what do you source? Raw materials. Raw materials are a true reflection of what we do and the artistic part is truly the inspiration. We can be inspired by whatever sparks our imagination. What I love about this collection is that very often there is a contrast within the scents and when you put a contrast of ingredients together they play off each other – everything has a purpose and a meaning and that’s what this collection is about.
What can you tell us about the two new additions to the collection, why did you decide to add them at this moment and how do they complement the others?
The future will tell us whether these two fragrances fit or not and that is the beauty of a collection. A fragrance is the result of a perfumer telling a story, so when you have the freedom of telling whatever story you want, it makes your life much easier. These two new fragrances are coming into the collection like part of the family. Much like a family needs to have balance in its members, I don’t think romance was really expressed before and that’s what I wanted to add. Rose Chérie is a light rose that expresses the romance of Paris, but if you are looking for more depth that’s grounded; then you have Santal Pao Rosa. Every member of the family has something to give to the whole collection.
When you begin to create a fragrance do you start with the emotion or with the ingredients and the emotion comes later?
There are no rules. Sometimes you smell something and instantly the magic is there and you start going on an internal trip because of that scent. And then by association, you connect an idea to this journey and you build on that. On the other hand, however, very often the feeling comes first. For me, smell has texture, colour, sound and it expresses something. And this is why I cannot explain it. I once told someone “raw materials talk to me”. And they thought I was crazy! But you have to understand that smelling something can transport you to another world. So if you are engaged in the moment which you should be, you can go to the next level. Every fragrance collection begins with a sparkle and by association, you build on that.
Is there a favourite ingredient that you love to work with?
When it comes to choosing ingredients I can only compare it to the way you could be craving chocolate after not eating it for six months, then suddenly this craving comes from nowhere, you eat two bars, and you move on to the next thing! Raw materials are like this. Suddenly you have the crazy willingness to work with Bulgarian Rose for example, and once you have exhausted yourself with that rose, you remember something else and you move on to that. I cannot say there is one favourite ingredient but I have a lot of cravings!
During the past 18 months it has been difficult to travel – how have you gone about sourcing raw ingredients when you can’t physically go to the source?
Yes, thirty per cent of my time is spent going around the world, sourcing ingredients. Those sourcing routes are very secure so you don’t just buy the ingredient, it is also about the people you buy it from. And that’s why I travel because I want to know these people. So when you cannot travel you find other ways. Because of the relationships that I have created, we can continue sourcing in the best way, even when I cannot travel. These are relationships that need to be cherished and nourished even when you cannot physically be there.
Which fragrances from the collection do you think will particularly resonate with people in this region?
I wish I knew – but that’s the beauty of a collection! My advice would be not to intellectualise fragrance or overthink it. Pretend there is a big vacuum between your ears and go with your emotion and what it draws you to. Who am I to say which fragrance will be popular in the Middle East? You have to be free to allow people to like whichever fragrance they want and to wear it in any way they feel. So I cannot answer as it is not something I think about when I am designing them. It’s similar to how I don’t believe in fragrance for day or night, or fragrance for summer or winter, or even fragrance for a specific gender. If you travel as much as I do, you understand that you can’t put things in boxes.
What do you think people are looking for from fragrance today?
The motivation for people when buying a fragrance is a mystery to me, but I do wish that people would experience their approach to fragrance in a more honest way. Sometimes they can easily be drawn to the image of a brand or a concept and I think that can distract from the purpose of fragrance which I believe is for the wearer to express something about themself. It’s like invisible clothing, it gives you a way to present yourself. And that’s what I mean by honest – because a scent should appeal to you and so you want to own it and for it to become you. That’s why I don’t like to express too much about how I design a fragrance because a bottle coming out of my factory is not mine anymore, I want each customer to truly own it. I think that people need to have an approach in which as little thinking as possible is involved. Once you have that freedom of mind, you can approach a collection. The point of a collection is to give you the freedom to choose, in order for you to own it. With these fragrances, you should not be intimidated you should see which you are drawn too and then you can narrow it down and make a choice, but you have to be open-hearted and open-minded – and stop thinking!