Simplicity. It is the perfume that one breathes at Lucien Ferrero. There, we can see simple gestures, precise words and a generous heart for the Grasse country’s child sharing his story with perfumery. By chance or predestination, he carries us away in a succession of tableaux and privileged moments which give us the image of the scents such as a symphony of music that is received smoothly and in a comprehensible way. A special moment; for a perfume tells about life, as fleeting as it is precious, marking our relationship with the world in every moment with an olfactory imprint.
Lucien Ferrero was born in Grasse, the capital of perfume. “My maternal grandparents were growing the flowers and I grew up, my sister and I, among roses and jasmine flowers”. In his family, the olfactory sense was privileged and his perception of these fragrant moments was happy, especially the journey every year with his grandfather, to carry whole baskets intended for processing in the factories. “But I have always wanted to be an engineer of Forest Sciences and Water Resources !” To achieve that, he did scientific studies and was destined for the preparatory classes of agronomy, when his destiny changed because of a ministerial decision. The profession was changing and the Barres Forestry School disappeared at the dawn of his 18th birthday. “I was disgusted and during my holidays I went back to work in a family business in Grasse that dealt with aromatic raw materials. There the boss said to me: You feel very small, why do not you do your job?” At Christmas, his decision was made and he started working there for two years until his military service in 1968. Then, on the advice of his company tutor, he moved to the prestigious Givaudan Perfumery School in Geneva. He will pass successfully the entrance exam and will quickly be among the 3 finalists. “I was very happy because I learned a lot of things and it confirmed to me that the job of perfumer could please me.” At the end of the 3 years where he studied the raw materials and the technique of composition, he was appointed as assistant perfumer to work with the General Perfumer Manager of the Group. “I was the only one selected and it was an incredible chance for me because every morning, I went to see him and we received requests from all over the world.” He will begin his creations in shampoos, cosmetics as well as toilet waters, and practiced his talent in the most varied fields. Three years later, the Group launched a new branch in luxury perfumes and offered him a position in Paris. This market was still small at that time with only a few names emerging like Guerlain and Chanel. He accepted as he was 22. This is how the young perfumer entered the very closed circle of Luxury, working with Fashion houses and some of the greatest names in French perfumes. A cyprus, patchouli green, moss and bergamot, will win a prize. Then another. “Luxury perfumes were accessible only to an elite 50 years ago !” And that is how he entered the perfumery business.
The boom of the fragrance market
It is important for Lucien Ferrero to outline that the perfume market is booming, as he has gone through these developments in his 50-year career. First, there is a growth in consumption. “In 1916, a very limited number of people had access to perfumes and the distribution was limited to large cities. There were also few needs, apart from the unavoidable Marseille soap. Today, everyone has access to it within a radius of 4 km, or even 0 km with Internet !” and the areas of use have become very wide. Alcoholic perfume first, with toilet waters and luxury perfumes. Then cosmetics with creams, milks and shampoos. Then the soaps and detergents, “everything that cleans and scrubs”. Also aerosol supports, with ambient fragrances and deodorants, and finally, very specific technical supports, which can be incredibly diverse and which represent the majority of the turnover of the perfume industry. For example, the one that one feels in a new car, or the one that covers the sizing oils’ odors of a shirt. There are also perfumes for de-stressing pigs or even olfactory alarms. “In extremely deep mines (up to 2000 m), where audible or visual alarms cannot be set, a foreign odor to the mine odor and the employee will feel it instantly while breathing. You can evacuate a mine in 20 minutes whereas before it took 1h30 !”
The perfumer gives an insight on the latest trends. First, the return to niche fragrances, because people wants to have their own personal perfume. The pioneer of these tailor-made fragrances is Jean-François Laporte with his mythical fragrance Mûre et Musc. There is also a great need to protect oneself from bad odors. But Lucien Ferrero insists that there are really neither good nor bad smells, and a perfumer treats them all equally. Finally, there is lot of hype, for the perfumes themselves have become perishable. “I started in 1968. A perfume that was created lasted 20 to 30 years. Nowadays, if it lasts 2 or 3 years, it is a maximum”. And without citing them, the great nose of Grasse recognizes some exceptions among its creations which have become unique and timeless fragrances, always selected today.
How do you do that ? The discreet perfumer of Grasse smiles and gives again a masterful presentation. “The secret is in the emotion that one is going to create and how it interacts with our personal experience.” Perfume becomes an art that relies on the relationship between a designer and a receiver, for which the olfactory sense is stimulated in order to create an enjoyment that crosses all the senses at once. The perfume will rekindle memories, some like those of our childhood being etched in the depths of our memories, and there are even those inscribed in our genetic heritage. “I had visited Cannes with a Russian representative in Soviet times. She saw the sea for the first time in her life and she exclaimed: “I think I know this smell. Thus, one can imagine that from an ancestral point of view, there are odors that are genetically inscribed.”
The creator then uses all the olfactory elements at his disposal in order to make tableaux linked to emotions. The sources of creativity are endless because it draws on his personal experiences updating them with more than 3,000 referenced raw materials, whether they are natural or synthetic fragrances. In an emotional or a programmed creation, we will determine the olfactory form by using raw materials with different facets, depending on what we want to create. For example, if there is a rather low form of power, if it’s not something that is going up, we will go to the notes like the humus and use patchouli.
The starting point is always a crystal and from there, one structures the perfume like a piece of music, a painting or a sculpture. “For example, the fragrance will initially be very vibrant or very shrill. It will have nobility and a background that brings a certain respect and we will define the set of objective elements that will constitute the perfume.” And Lucien Ferrero, known as “Lulu” in the profession, admits that he loves above all to express simplicity, in the sense of revealing the essence of things. For example, for a perfume he created recently, “the idea came simply by crumpling a lemon leaf in my garden”. The composition is however a complex science, and a perfume can require one to 2 years of work, with more than a hundred tests.
After years at Givaudan Group then Lautier Florasyth, Lucien Ferrero continued his career in a company founded in Grasse: Expressions Parfumées, which now comprises 14 perfumers and 275 employees. He will in particular launch the ECOCERT certified natural perfumes for the organic market and design the “Atelier du Parfumeur” at the European University of Sense and Flavor. With nearly 50,000 fragrances to his credit, he has recently retired but continues to bring his know-how with creations on demand, and by intervening in international conferences on perfume. His next will take place in Turin on the 12 senses, “from the Egyptian mummy to Trans humanism”.
“What I like is to make a perfume that is sophisticated, but that brings a simple happiness.” Thus can be summed up the passion of Lucien Ferrero, who has become perfumer to reveal to the world the importance of these passing moments which are yet present forever. He is also at the highest level the ambassador of the sense of smell, which he would like everyone to learn to know and use, to capture the beauty of the world and to revive all the other senses in a timeless sonata.
Interview held by Carine Mouradian on September 9, 2017, at Cabris (Grasse)
Link to Lucien Ferrero Parfums website
“ What is life ? Is it finally the memory of passing time ? I have often asked myself this question by observing the events of our existence in which everything seems fleeting and at the same time eternal. Because as soon as a thing disappears, it will still exist in our memories and feelings. Isn’t this true luxury? Contrary to what we may believe, it doesn’t lie in a mercantile possession, but in the emotion that people can have with an impression given by their senses. Thus, a luxury can be a clear mountain that one discovers the last day of his holidays, or words spoken by his grandson during a fishing game. There is nothing exceptional. It is an inner possession of very simple moments, and we will always keep these images, moments and words engraved in our memories. For smells, it’s the same thing. The creator of perfumes can thus draw on thousands of situations, emotions, facts and privileged or unhappy moments. Everything can be a pretext for creation! If I take the example of my last perfume, I was in my garden and I wanted to reproduce the luminosity of the lemon tree.
One can still meditate on relativity. For example, one sees the lightning before hearing the roar of thunder. But for an blind person, he will only hear the sound, when the storm has preceded him. The value of existence of a fact, an event, an odor or a vision is therefore extremely relative and the truth is not unique. Another example is the observation of stars in astronomy; This light that has come to us has existed in the past and these phenomena no longer exist today. So there are several truths. This is why two perfumers will have totally different approaches, the perception of reality not being the same according to the senses of each one. It varies even according to the time of observation, the environment or the mood. All this leads us to great humility. Thus, in my trade, one cannot know in advance how the public will receive our creation. One can believe that a perfume will be a success, when no one will want it. And vice versa ! We are in total close to 200 perfumers in the world, and no-one is infallible. Personally, I stop testing when I feel that what I perceive and what I have imagined, converge towards an end result. But this is not what those who are going to receive it have imagined, for they already feel the world with 12 different senses. When presented with a determined image, they will perceive the perfume with surprise, and in this perception they may have emotions. If they have emotions, the perfume is then successful.
I grew up among flowers, which is why for me, a perfume that would be authentic and true, it would be something that has an aspect of nature in the broad sense of the term. It would be raised as a feeling, perceptible as a leaf, with the richness of sound and to lead to a form of enjoyment. There, I think I’ve reached my goal. Make all the senses work together so to create a resonance that leads to joy. Moreover, there is the temporality that illuminates these moments. It happens to all of us to have flashes, visual or auditory, which disappear immediately but which are of an incredible enjoyment. One has the impression that this moment will never be repeated again, but we have it in us, that is to say our evolved brain has stored it forever but for a determined moment. In any field, we have these extremely short moments that come back and that are embellished. Then, the other senses will add events or actions to this little crystal, and that will give him joyful proportions.
All this contributes to reveal emotions, which is the goal. To tell a story. This luxury is therefore not necessarily something very sophisticated. Of course the realization in itself will be complicated, but the starting crystal will be something very simple. Like the perfume of verbena that I created, closer to the scent of the plant. I have always been keen to exalt this simplicity. Simple does not mean “insignificant” because for the purity of a perfume, the simpler it is and the more understandable it is.
Smell this! It is of the heliotrope and its smell recalls the gingerbread. And here are the emotions of childhood that go back. I have developed for a society dozens of ambient odors that recall the memories of childhood. The smell of the Petit Lu, for example, that one eats at 4 o’clock … And today, my biggest desire is that everyone can participate in the knowledge of the world of perfume. Not in an intellectual way, but in practice, and so that, in their daily lives, they can go towards smells in order to have fun.”
Interview held by Carine Mouradian on September 9, 2017, at Cabris (Grasse)