Beauty

Portrait of a Perfumer

Living up to the legacy of one of the world’s most revered perfume and cosmetics house can be a daunting prospect for many. It’s a good thing then that Guerlain’s Exclusive Perfumer Thierry Wasser is not one to bow to pressure
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Near-50 is not the best age to be starting from scratch but that is exactly what Thierry Wasser did when he joined the house of Guerlain nine years ago. Nine years on, the perfumer continued the legacy of his mentor Jean-Paul Guerlain in creating some of the brand’s bestselling fragrances – a feat he attributes to his beginnings in botany. He tells us more about his path to creating Guerlain’s latest fragrance, Mon Guerlain.

What was the first fragrance you fell in love with?
When I was 13, I vividly remember my mother’s friend who wore Guerlain Habit Rouge and was, to me, the image of a man. I wanted to be just like him, so I bought Habit Rouge for myself. When I wore it, believe it or not, my attitude and posture changed and I instantly felt more powerful. That was my first experience with a fragrance and maybe my last because I still wear it to this day.

In the nine years you’ve been with Guerlain, you have created many iconic fragrances. Which one is your favourite? 
I have a special attachment to Idylle because it was the first one I created in-house. But it's difficult to choose a favourite. Every one of the fragrances I’ve created represent a moment in my life and hold their own memories. I love them all.

What was the high point of your time at Guerlain?
I joined Guerlain when I was 47. Usually at that age, you’re at your peak and there is nothing left to achieve. But there I was, starting at the bottom as an apprentice to Jean-Paul Guerlain [the last Guerlain family master perfumer], learning about manufacturing and sourcing from scratch. I felt like a kid again and it was an enlightening moment in my life that I’ll always remember.

What was the biggest takeaway from your time working with Jean-Paul Guerlain?
He once told me: “It’s not possible to speak about our craft in words.” The imagination needed to create fragrance, the concept, the creativity – none of it can be taught. So I learnt everything simply by observing him.  

Is it difficult to live up to the Guerlain family legacy?
I don’t let that affect me. Guerlain's third master perfumer, Jacques Guerlain, had his own style, Jean-Paul had his, and I have mine. I can’t be a copycat or manipulate my work to look like someone else’s. I simply have to feel strong and comfortable enough to express myself in my own way, knowing that the house of Guerlain has confidence in my abilities.

How did the concept for Mon Guerlain come about?
Next year, Guerlain will celebrate its 190th anniversary. I wanted to commemorate this milestone by creating a fragrance that celebrates all women. So 12 months ago, I started sourcing for ingredients that embody the ideal Guerlain woman. I chose lavender for its genuine attitude, sandalwood to represent resilience and endurance, sambac jasmine to represent warmth, and vanilla as an expression of maternal love. Angelina Jolie embodied my vision of the ideal Guerlain woman perfectly. We want to celebrate women and since Angelina is strong, passionate, and cares deeply about women's and children’s welfare, it was a perfect fit.

How does your background in botany come into play as a perfumer?
Sourcing plays a big part in what I do and it is all driven by vegetal matter: trees, fruits, flowers, roots, bark, leaves – it’s all vegetal. So my background in botany gives me a unique perspective of nature that not many other perfumers have.

Images of Thierry Wasser: Pol Baril

This article first appeared in the April 2017 issue of L'Officiel Singapore (out now on newsstands and Magzter).

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