They were born to create
Jean-Paul Guerlain, Jacques Polge, Jean Claude Ellena... For a long time, the profession of perfume designer was the preserve of men. One might think that creation was a question of sex or gender, and that a female nose wasn't worth a male nose. So many prejudices that have been shattered in recent years. A new generation of women, determined to take power and move the lines, is imposing its signature, a subtle blend of delicacy and pragmatism. Still few in number to exercise this talent, but majority in schools, women are indeed the future of perfume!
Before them, a few pioneers had shown the way, such as Germaine Cellier, who died in 1976 in Paris, author of Vent Vert, Bandit and Fracas, among others. Or Françoise Caron, from Grasse, sister of perfumer Olivier Cresp, who created Eau de Cologne Hermès, her first success in 1978, later renamed Eau d'Orange Verte, a timelessly fresh fragrance. On a more international level, Sophia Grojsman, who created Paris for Yves Saint Laurent, Trésor for Lancôme and Calvin Klein's Eternity, is undoubtedly the one who made the women's revolution possible. This Russian immigrant living in New York, a feminist with extraordinary talent, was committed to training women. Among them, Aliénor Massenet, author of Viktor & Rolf's Antidote, Diesel's Only The Brave and the recent Run Wild Davidoff.
Today, parity is on the march. Even if, as perfumer Sonia Constant admits, women often have to do twice as much as men to get the same consideration, the list of women's noses keeps getting longer and longer. There are about fifty of them in France, and some of them hold the prestigious title of house perfumer, like Christine Nagel, Hermès' exclusive nose, to whom we recently owe Un Jardin sur la Lagune, Twilly and Twilly Eau Poivrée. « After training as a chemist, I was working in the research lab at Firmenich in Switzerland, when I wanted to go to perfumery school. And then I was told no: because I was a woman, because I was a scientist, because I didn't come from Grasse, from the seraglio. That didn't discourage me, on the contrary. This refusal pushed me to do otherwise. Small project after small project - and thanks to a few mentors, including Alberto Morillas and Michel Almairac - I broke through the glass ceiling, and it's thanks to my difference that I was able to succeed » says the woman who succeeded Jean-Claude Ellena at Hermès.
The sex of the nose
The observation is edifying but it asks a good question: does the nose have a sex? In other words, men may not be more talented than women at creating fragrances, but what about women? Is there a typically feminine olfactory writing style? The answer isn't obvious. Regularly questioned by the press, women perfumers are formal: creation isn't a question of sex, let alone gender, but of sensitivity, personality, universe. In the same way, they work on both male and female juices. Pushed into their entrenchment, some of them recognize, despite everything, that men are less doubtful and go straight to the point more easily.
Especially Isabelle Doyen, who composes all the fragrances for Annick Goutal, who has made her difference: « I think a woman creates a fragrance differently from a man's nose. For instance, men love certain ingredients that we're not sensitive to, like notes reminiscent of ambergris. Maybe that's their macho side. They think it gives strength to the fragrance, whereas we think it's a bit dirty. On the contrary, on vanilla notes, women may be more comfortable. »*
More measured, Sidonie Levasseur, to whom we owe 303 from Bon Parfumeur, doesn't classify fragrances according to gender: « I've already had some surprises, and that's why I don't want to present them as either feminine or masculine. For example, I know lots of women who wear Terre d'Hermès, just like I know men who wear rose scents. If I can avoid generativity. »
Maybe the final word goes to Coco... It was a man who created the mythical n°5 of Chanel, but he formally respected Coco Chanel's order for « a woman's perfume with a woman's scent ». A way to put an end to this War between men's noses and women's noses. What if the nose was gender fluid?
* Elle magazine