Grasse may be the historical home of French perfumery but this sleepy town in the South of France does not give up its scented stories to everyone. The history of Grasse is told by a handful of perfume museums in the old town but the real work of perfumery takes place in the surrounding countryside, away from the tourists, behind securely gated factories and laboratories owned by the likes of Mane and Robertet. In addition to the industry having a culture of high secrecy, any real perfume making is an unlikely tourist attraction. Robots mixing perfume compound monitored by employees in lab coats isn’t the romantic vision most people have of the perfume industry after reading Süskind’s Perfume novel. Still, Grasse is where the magic of modern perfumery takes place.
Paris makes perfume much more accessible to the general public. The city may not have the same reputation for perfume making as Grasse but it is certainly the commercial capital of French perfumery. In Paris, the lab coats come off and the veil of secrecy comes down. The French perfume houses all have boutiques in Paris where they showcase their work to the world. It is a retail landscape that is constantly evolving and already, after less than two years since my last visit, my knowledge of what is going on there already feels outdated.
In September I stumbled across a French article on my social media feed about a new perfume house called Parle Moi de Parfum. The new brand was opening a boutique on Rue de Sévigné in Paris’ chic Marais district. Blending the contemporary savoir-faire of Grasse perfume making with the dynamic heartbeat of Parisian culture, Parle Moi de Parfum was one of my favourite discoveries in 2016. The brand’s founder is Benjamin Almairac, son of Grassois perfumer Michel Almairac, who is “the nose” behind the collection.
Michel Almairac is one of the great living perfumers. He is credited with the creation of over 200 perfumes. The diverse portfolio of international fashion and beauty brands he has worked with includes Chloe, Joop!, Le Labo and L’Artisan Parfumeur. Some of my personal favourites, which Michel Almairac created, are Gucci Pour Homme, a peppery incense fragrance with woody orris notes and his calming Essence Aromatique by Bottega Veneta. In the 1980s he co-created Dior’s hugely successful Fahrenheit with perfumer Jean-Louis Sieuzac.
When I read Benjamin Almairac’s story, how he worked with his father to create Parle Moi de Parfum, I was curious. I didn’t want to wait until my next visit to Paris to experience the collection. In no time I was in conversation with Benjamin and a set of samples arrived from Paris for me to smell. Benjamin talked about his background and his desire to make his own mark on the perfume industry, avoiding the pressure of walking in the crater sized footprints of his perfumer father. Benjamin explained, “I always wanted to follow my family tradition, but I wanted to make something new. I didn’t want to be my father’s son, as a creator, and this task would have been very heavy for me. It’s not easy to be as good as him.” Instead, Benjamin chose to create his own fragrance house inspired by the art of making perfume and its interaction with nature. Benjamin wanted to “explain to people how it works, how you create, how you extract. I want to talk to them as my father was talking to me.”
This simple ethos is reflected in the look and feel of Parle Moi de Parfum’s Paris boutique. Resembling a perfume laboratory one might see in Grasse, the clinical white room has walls lined in laboratory glassware and the brand’s logo is a fan of paper mouillettes or smelling strips, which perfumers use to evaluate their work. The perfumes are communicated without convoluted stories; really, it’s the raw materials, the perfume itself that tells the story. Benjamin says, “Fragrance is not a TV advertisement. Fragrance is a passion where nature is the boss, not marketing.” The perfumes are not described using typical marketing language or scent pyramids that describe top, middle and base notes. Benjamin prefers to talk about 2-4 raw materials that form the structure of the perfume. The title of each perfume gives some indication of what you smell, followed by a number to indicate the modification selected to be the final formula. Benjamin explains that only eight trials were made to finalize Une Tonne de Roses / 8. Michel “had a clear idea of what he wanted to obtain, so the eighth try was the good one.” Totally White / 126 was a different story and the complex formula required 126 trials before it was signed off as completed.
With smelling notes from Benjamin, I recorded my own impressions of the eight Parle Moi de Parfum perfumes. Benjamin’s personal favourite is Une Tonne de Roses / 8, which he describes as being “the magnificence of my father’s career working with roses. It’s not heavy or powdery, it is as light as nature can be.” The favourite of Benjamin’s brother, who works with Michel, is Tomboy Neroli / 65 and Michel’s favourite is Guimauve de Noël /31. I am also a fan of Guimauve de Noël /31 and Tomboy Neroli / 65. My other favourite is Milky Musk / 39, which, for me, continues exploration of a unique structure Michel used when he created Gucci Rush under the creative direction of Tom Ford in the late 1990s.
Une Tonne de Roses / 8
Une Tonne de Roses / 8 begins as an elegant soliflore then it evolves into a dry patchouli-rose. The rose bouquet is satin-soft, opening with crisp, dewy rose. Apple or pear-like green notes add freshness while solar rose notes show off the flower’s innocence. The patchouli note is subtle and does not interfere with the viewer’s appreciation of rose’s complex silhouette. At the end, patchouli’s camphorous note is more obvious and the rose accord settles into dry woods. Benjamin recommends this fragrance to both male and female clientele. It’s a homage to one of perfumery’s most respected flowers, which requires 3.5 tons of rose petals to extract a mere kilo of essence.
Guimauve de Noël / 31
In Provence, especially around Christmas time, pastry chefs bake Fougasette, a sugary brioche flavoured with orange blossom water. This Provençal baked good inspired Michel to create Guimauve de Noël / 31, a gourmand fragrance with notes of neroli, caramel and vanilla. The neroli note is green and watery. It cuts through the sweetness, creating a very attractive harmony. The quality of the vanilla used is spectacular. It’s light, delicate and very complex. Given Michel works for Robertet, one of the perfume industry leaders in natural ingredient production, it is no wonder the collection features moments like this where the beauty of nature is fully showcased.
Flavia Vanilla / 82
Based on a memory from his childhood, Michel created a perfume dedicated to a girl he once knew whose name was Flavia. Benjamin describes the perfume saying, “It’s like a beautiful Italian girl that everybody is looking to in the street, with both a fresh scent but a warm scent, very sensual.” Michel captures the essence of young love with warm notes of ylang ylang and vanilla. The fragrance also contains an uncommon note of michelia, a fragrant flower from an evergreen tree related to magnolia. This floral top note is breezy and fresh with a hint of fruit.
Totally White / 126
On my last trip to Paris I was staying in the city’s 8th arrondissement. My morning routine was to jog up Rue de Rocher, turning left to Parc Monceau for a couple of laps of the 18th century gardens. The park and its gardens are as tranquil and orderly as the joggers doing their morning laps, all running in the same direction. Totally White captures the park on an early spring morning when nature is reborn. It’s a delicate spring bouquet of lilac, syringa and wisteria flowers. The fragrance glows under a soft focus filter as it ends with delicate, slightly powdery almond notes. It’s a perfume that wears very close to the skin, finishing with clean musk and the ghost of spring flowers.
Cedar Woodpecker / 10
The name makes me think of bird-watching men dressed in tweed vests and corduroy slacks. It sounds like a plot from a Wes Anderson film and I love this quirky name. Cedar Woodpecker / 10 opens with a blast of Virginian cedar and zesty cedrat. This pairing creates an interesting harmony, which reminds me of stepping into a carpentry workshop where artisans are polishing their timberwork. The beginning is energetic and fresh before developing warmer facets powered by iris. I like it for all the same reasons I like Habit Rouge.
Milky Musk / 39
I still remember my first time smelling Gucci Rush. I was a student and on weekends I worked as a salesperson for a well-known New Zealand knitwear designer. One of the girls I worked with, who was extremely stylish, wore Gucci Rush. The fragrance followed her around the office and I remember basking in her perfumed trail. It was unlike anything I had smelled before and it was so distinctive. Milky Musk / 39 revisits some of the structures Michel created, which made his Gucci Rush such a seminal moment in perfume history. A creamy lactonic note with fruity (fig) undertones is washed over with musk and sandalwood. While Gucci Rush was electric and took over the room (I pity those who didn’t like it, because you couldn’t escape it) Milky Musk / 39 is far less invasive. I also recommend Milky Musk / 39 to male fans of the now discontinued Gucci Rush For Men, created by Givaudan perfumers Daniela Andrier and Antoine Maisondieu.
Woody Perfecto / 107
Woody Perfecto / 107 is a contemporary scent that Benjamin describes as being “a rock’n’roll perfume”. It kicks off with a top note of elemi, a spicy resin with citrus undertones. The fragrance then shifts to vetiver, which smells natural, earthy yet still with plenty of green freshness. There is a little bit of coffee in the background, which adds a gritty texture and enhances the subtle smokiness of the vetiver oil. I sense a subtle rockstar leather jacket reference in the closing notes as well.
Tomboy Neroli / 65
Benjamin wanted to include a “pure unisex” fragrance in his collection. He describes it as “a men’s perfume designed for women. Both can wear it, but we love it when women wear it.” Like the concept of the boyfriend jean, Tomboy Neroli / 65 is comfortable and easy to wear. It has a retro vibe that takes me back to the 1990s, when the American perfume industry was producing a lot of big successes thanks to designer names like Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. America’s obsession with cleanliness was reflected in their perfumes, similarly, Tomboy Neroli / 65 smells like fresh cotton and clean laundry thanks to the sparkling citrus notes accented with green. The neroli note plays up the grape facet perfumers sometimes use to enhance the narcotic floral facet of orange flower. This leads seamlessly into the breezy, woody amber note that takes over the fragrance, carrying it to its end.
For more information about Parle Moi de Parfum, visit the boutique in Paris at 10 Rue de Sévigné or visit www.parlemoideparfum.com (The website is written in French however international shipping is available).
Photos: © Parle Moi de Parfum, photo credit – Roberta Valerio
Samples provided by Parle Moi de Parfum for review.