Mathilde Laurent Interview from Whitewall
MATHILDE LAURENT, CARTIER
If you want to read a fictional story of the intrigue and passions stirred by scent, there is, of course, Patrick Suskind’s international best-seller Perfume. Those who prefer a factual account need look no further than Google, where, among the hundreds of pages on the subject, there are several dedicated to the work of Mathilde Laurent, a renowned perfumer with dozens of bespoke fragrances to her credit. A truly modern woman with a classical education, Laurent studied chemistry and graduated from teh prestigious Institut Superieur International du Parfumerie, de la Cosmetique et del l’Arome in Versailles, then began her career at Guerlain, where she spent 11 years before rising to the prominence of being Cariet’s in-house “nose” in 2005. So who better to separate fact from fiction and explain what, exactly, is the art of perfume.
WHITEWALL: To begin, what is a luxury perfume, in your opinion?
MATHILDE LAURENT: First, it is creative. Nowadays, it’s not a problem of ingredients, it’s a problem of creativity. Many perfumes from luxury brands are not creative.
WW: Why, then, do so few luxury houses have in-house noses?
ML: It’s not because it’s expensive, but it sis a sign of courage, because when you have a nose, you have to follow their vision. When you have a creation in your brand, it means that you’ll take some risks, and today, many luxury brands are afraid to take risks. For them, creation is a risk.
WW: Does that explain why some houses showcase their nose while other houses hide their perfumer?
ML: THe only houses that have their creator properly in the house are Chanel, Hermes, Cartier, and Guerlain. And when the creator is really in the house, like Jacques Polge of Chanel or Jean-Claude Elena at Hermes, the house wants to show them because they are proud and they know that creation is wonderful. But at all the other brands, the creator is never the same, so they wont’ reveal the perfumers because it would show that the style of the house is not at the center of the creation.
WW: Let’s talk about your passion for art and architecture. How do visual mediums inspire your scents?
ML: Because my father was an architect, I was inspired by the theory of architecture, and even for art what interests me is to the painting giving me direction, but the question, What is art? What is it to be an artist/ And what did the great artists bring to art?
WW: Are you involved in every aspect of a perfume’s creation?
ML: Yes, I’m involved in the bottle, the name, the packaging, the blotter. I’m involved in every aspect because I consider it the only way to get clarity, to make the project very strong and emotional. Because if you don’t have this degree of clarity, you can’t create emotion.
WW: Speaking of, the way people write about perfume on the Internet reads like a cross between art criticism and a master sommelier discussing wine. Do you enjoy this new dialogue?
ML: Yes, because it used to be very difficult to have the space to properly explain all the information for people to read. And it was a way for people to do bad perfumery wihtout being judged. Also, for a perfumer, it’s wonderful because it’s very rare to receive these kinds of reactions—usually, we don’t meet he people who wear the perfume. So I think it’s very healthy that people can express themselves, criticize, and share in the culture of the perfume.
WW: Have you ever walked into a room and smelled a perfume you created?
ML: Sure! It’s very exciting, but when you smell a perfume on someone that you have created, you are immediately asking, “Is it okay? Is it perfect?” You are always discovering your perfume and checking if there is any fault. When I am on the street and i smell a perfume I have created, I feel like a little Ouse, because the person doesn’t know and I don’t want her to know. So I follow the person, smelling and s smelling, and it’s a moment of both joy and control.
WW: Can you share an example of how one fo your perfumes has been better than you imagined?
ML: Recenly I met a woman who told me, speaking of Baiser Vole, “My mother rally loved Lillie’s, and now she’s dead. So, for me, Lillie’s are very special and I m so moved by this perfume because I wasn’t sure I’d love it, but now I find my mother in these Lillie’s.” She was almost crying, and for me, it was the greatest compliment, because it was a pure emotion.
WW: Et voila! The architect’s daughter built a bridge? So that is the art of perfume?
ML: Exactly. With perfume you create bridges between someone, you create houses around someone, because you are stirring up memories and giving such pleasure in the memories that create those emotional reactions. Suddenly, you touch things you couldn’t imagine touching; you create things that nobody can create, and for me, that is the trut art of the perfume.