New Delhi: Thierry Wasser has been the perfumer for the House of Guerlainsince 2008 and before this he worked with fragrance firms Firmenich and Givaudan. At the Mint Luxury Conference, Wasser talked about the history of the European perfume industry and dispelled the myth that you have to be born with a discerning nose to become a perfumer.
“I don’t have a special instrument; it is not different from anyone of yours. It is just that we do not use our sense of smell for survival any more and hence it is blunted. Besides, it’s just that I have trained my nose to recognize more than 3,000 smells,” he said.
The House of Guerlain, part of the LVMH Group now, is more than 100 years old and has over the years created about 800 fragrances (of which Wasser says 175 are still in production). It appointed Wasser as its fifth-generation perfumer after Jean-Paul Guerlain.
Wasser spoke in an interview about why the creation of every perfume is really about an emotion, what stops him from selling as much as he would like to in India and why he believes in long-term business practices. Edited excerpts:
You say scent has no sex, yet companies sell men’s and women’s fragrances? Why don’t we have unisex perfumes?
When you say unisex you put sex again in it. Male or female or unisex, it’s a fragrance and a fragrance should be an aspiration; you should feel good about it, but it is reassuring for a man to buy a man’s cologne and for a woman to buy a woman’s perfume. It’s a cultural thing. I don’t think people will be happy to give up this distinction. Sure, a lot of ladies do wear men’s fragrances, but they are no less a lady because of this. Actually, I think more girls wear guys’ scent than men wearing women’s scent.
Does this change from continent to continent?
The true love for scents comes in the Middle East. It has nothing to do with the rest of the world because they are bold enough to take pleasure out of scent for what it is. They don’t look at the labels. They smell. The Middle Easterns are my dream customers because they love fragrances. They do their own mixing of different perfumes together. And why not? There are rules for everything, thank the lord there are none for fragrances.
What about Indians?
The flowers are everywhere here, but I don’t smell a lot of fragrances on people. People here do not seem to wear raw material such as oils as perfumes either. You go to the Middle East and some people just put on rose oil and that’s it. Culturally, I don’t think people use fragrances that much in India. But in the south of India I see ladies are fragranced thanks to flowers in their hair. I don’t know how to compete with this
You have talked about sourcing from India. What are you looking to get from here?
Jean-Paul did start sourcing jasmine from India. I will be buying jasmine, jasminum sambac from near Madurai, tuber roses, mimosa. My partner in that region is Raja, who is a new entrepreneur mainly producing flower extracts. One day he made me smell the oil of vetiver. I thought the quality was so amazing. I will sign a contract this year which will have a lock-in period of 10 years.
You don’t ask people to grow something and then change your mind after two years. You have to be consistent in sourcing. It is most important thing if you are in manufacturing, too, which we are.
The perfumer for the House of Guerlain on where the true love for scents comes from and what he plans to source from India for his collection.