How do you work with Alessandro Michele?
It's a really unique relationship. He shares his emotions, putting me on the trail of a new scent, a new sensation. He gives me indications, but not exactly a precise direction. He has a very rich olfactory culture, he collects perfumes, and wears a lot. He also has a very precise knowledge of the market, but doesn’t let this data enter our exchanges. For example, when I created Gucci Guilty Absolute, he wanted to capture the smell of Gucci's leather shops. He did not mention perfumes already in existence, but emotions. I offered him my views, and he said, "That's exactly what I experienced when I was working in the studio." Afterwards, we worked on Gucci Bloom, and he asked me to create an imaginary garden, so I worked with French-style, English-style, and Italian-style garden fragrances. I had in mind strange flowers, with a slightly venomous, mysterious side. Gucci Bloom gives the sensation of entering an imaginary fairy world. Working with Alessandro goes very fast; once he’s over an emotion, he considers it finished.
How did Gucci Mémoire d’une Odeur come about?
The process was much more complicated, because he asked me to build a smell around chamomile, an ingredient that has always been used in perfumery, but with slight traces or small inflections. It took a year and a half, because he always wanted more chamomile, and it's difficult because in perfumery, it's complicated to impose a smell, an emotion, a memory. So I asked all the teams to do research, because chamomile must have a special quality here. We had to make sure there was enough material to compose the perfume.
Gucci Mémoire d’une Odeur has a marked olfactory presence, but it does not bother Alessandro. In the world of perfumery, everyone is talking about it: finally a product that is off the beaten path! Everyone copies themselves by adding a little bergamot here and there. We were driven by the desire to be different, but never went overboard.
The first five minutes, after having tried it, people sometimes find it strange, but once the chamomile has evaporated a little, people really like what is left on the skin and the clothes, because there is a mineral dimension and the scent is very sensual. On the skin, the floral, jasmine and musk have a very mysterious connotation. You’ll want to know more, you are very intrigued. The scent is here to create an impression of mystery. Each skin reacts differently, because there is a lot of musk, and there is a very floral dimension.
Who would you say the scent is for?
It expresses freedom, and it is not exclusively for this or that genre. I worked in all directions to find a balance, so that chamomile does not crush everything. It's a very Gucci fragrance, which really represents Alessandro. He makes decisions when he creates a collection, and similarly here, we cannot please everyone. This perfume breaks many codes.
Were you aware that Harry Styles would be the face of the campaign?
When I create, I don’t know much about the communication that will accompany it. I knew more or less who would be the muse, but it was not yet certain. When you see the whole campaign, you understand the perfume better. Communication can be as intriguing as the perfume itself. There is no precise rule.
Do you follow Alessandro's collections carefully?
I attend all his shows. But the world of Alessandro is not in his collections – it's his style, and it's mostly in his studio in Rome. Each time, he gives me almost an hour of his time, which is a lot for him, and I'm in his world, surrounded by very strange, unusual objects. Because perfume is not like a collection, it is not stuck in a specific moment. When you create a perfume, it's everything in Alessandro, his personality, that you capture in essence.
How do you work? Alone or in a team?
I live in Geneva, and it's my base. I built my laboratory there. I have collaborators in Paris and New York. For Gucci, I work alone. The perfumes are really the fruit of my work with Alessandro, the chosen subjects are validated by him, because one cannot work with an entire marketing team around. It is necessary that our link is very intense, and that makes the strength of our creations. If we take the advice of 50 people, we would have 50 perfumes. When he created Gucci Bloom, everyone thought that the floral is "very extreme". But that's exactly what he wanted.
Does he provide you with scent samples?
Never. He offers me associations – flowers, perfumes he wore when he was younger, or scents of his mother or aunt. It's like looking for a stone for jewellery. You are trying to find an emerald different from all the others, for example. It is a construction that requires a lot of work.
What is your favorite moment in the process of creation?
When he calls me with new ideas. It's very exciting to see what he wants to do, what research he wants me to do. He evokes memories and emotions. He does not give a very specific subject, but usually, he already has ideas for colours of the bottle and all the other small details.
What’s the very first scent that ever struck you?
I'm Spanish, so maybe the first was the smell of water. In Seville in the ’60s, there was the smell of the patio in the morning, this aquatic smell of cleanliness and renewal, and the smells of orange blossom and jasmine. What I always looked for in my perfumes, for 50 years, is this kind of fluidity. Even in scents that are very dense or dark, there must always be a freshness inside.
What kind of scent scares you most?
That of your neighbour's barbecue! Besides that, there isn’t really a smell that bugs me. Maybe the smell of dirt, yes. But a person can also close his brain, and choose not to feel these.
First seen in the December/January issue of L'Officiel Hommes Singapore