Twisted Lily got a rare and exciting opportunity to sit down for an exclusive interview with Aurélien Guichard, Master Perfumer and founder of MATIERE PREMIERE. As we deep dive into the creative mastermind behind some incredible fragrances centered around raw materials, we got to learn about the methods, the challenges the perfumers face, and surprising facets of the ingredients that make the perfumes we love so much come alive.
TWISTED LILY (TL): You come from a long succession of perfumers, actually the 7th generation! Can you give us a glimpse into growing up as a child around some of the most exquisite flowers?
AURÉLIEN GUICHARD (AG): I was born in Grasse, the capital of perfume but more so the capital of ingredients. I remember my grandparents growing flowers such as verbena, roses, and jasmine. I remember we had pickers that would come and harvest the flowers in August and May. My mother was a sculptress, and I remember our house was always filled with many artists. And for me, perfumes have been a form of expression through nature and art. I grew up in a very creative, light-hearted environment.
TL: What helps you get into your creative zone?
AG: People. It's the people who help me to get into my creative zone. People I collaborate and work with. In my life as a perfumer, I collaborated with so many amazing people, such as Narciso Rodriguez, Issey Miyake, and Diane Von Furstenberg, among many others. People from different backgrounds, but I found they all have the entrepreneurial mind and the strength to believe in their convictions in common. Desire to create. And I find it very inspiring. I have enormous respect for these people, which also helps me create for MATIERE PREMIERE. It gives me the strength to do my own thing. It also helps me find ideas. When I work for designers or couturiers, I work at their service. The best work I can do for them depends on how inspiring they are to me. When I work for MATIERE PREMIERE, I work at the service of the raw materials, and I try to turn this ingredient into a perfume—a different approach.
TL: When you design for other houses, you work with them on a vision as a team; how different is it compared to working on your brand starting from a blank canvas?
AG: When I created MATIERE PREMIERE, I didn't create it because I was frustrated with not having enough freedom. Creating perfume is like a game you share and play with other people. When I create for designers, I create with complete freedom. It's only a matter of whether this is a happy collaboration, whether we are a good fit, and whether we continue with the project together. When you create, you need to stay light-hearted. You can't think of all the consequences. You create something beautiful and hope that people will understand it. And with MATIERE PREMIERE, it's the same thing. I am lucky enough to have two amazing partners, and I always start with an ingredient. And I hope that whatever I find beautiful about this ingredient, I will translate it into a fragrance. The starting point is always the raw material, the ingredient, sans the brand's name.
TL: Was there ever a raw ingredient you found challenging to work with?
AG: Every ingredient is complicated in its way, and you never quite master them fully. Even if today I would work on a specific theme in a certain way, in a few years, I may find a different approach to that same ingredient; there are hundreds of possibilities. That's why I love perfumery. When I started perfumery school, I had to learn the ingredients by heart. You learn, forget, and learn again but eventually learn to understand them, and you're tested on them numerous times; in the end, it becomes a part of you, and you know them all by heart. Your vision becomes more precise, but that can have a downside. Precision is essential, but you need to keep your mind open, so you aren't stuck in a specific vision or way.
TL: You once described the Givaudan perfumery school teaching style as learning another language, and to become a perfumer is to become fluent in that language. It was a unique perspective. Do you feel like different teaching methods and schools affect the creative work of every perfumer?
AG: Yes, I think there are as many perfumers as there are styles. I believe everyone can be a perfumer like anyone can be a painter or an artist. There are many ways of creating. Learning the technique and believing in what you do is a matter of learning the method. What makes all the difference in your preconceived idea of the raw material. If we take Radical Rose, for example, it's the idea of the ingredient that many people have used before, but we did it radically differently. The formulation, the simple idea to create a fragrance with the highest concentration ever of Rose Centifolia, is wonderful and a breakthrough. It's quite a challenge; however, when you make a fragrance with such high concentration, it also comes with many drawbacks, but these life challenges help create a perfume's personality.
TL: You own two farms where you grow your own natural ingredients. Please dive deeper into the experience of being able to use the raw materials from your own farm. Would it affect each collection similarly to how terroir and climate affect wine seasons?
AG: It's incredible because it gives more dimension to my work. Before becoming a farmer, my days would be dedicated only to formulations when I was only a perfumer. But you need to get food for your creativity, and being close to the land, the people who grow ingredients, changes your perspective a lot. It's incredibly fulfilling and inspiring for me. I didn't imagine the amount of work that went into farming when I started, but I never did anything alone; I'm lucky to be surrounded by people. And that's why things are possible.
Some ingredients will be sourced in Grasse, but not all. In the Grasse region, the flowers grown there are particular due to the terroir, the climate, and the weather conditions. Mimosa, Jasmine, Roses, and violets, for example. That's what makes every region so unique in sourcing raw materials. You can find these ingredients elsewhere, but they won't smell the same. And it doesn't mean they are better or worse; they are just different. Like wine, different regions may produce the same grapes but won't taste the same.
That is a concept at the heart of MATIERE PREMIERE, the fact that we believe in the uniqueness of the ingredient's origin. From one year to the next, the ingredients will smell the same. Rose produced last year will smell the same as the one made this year; for example, the reason for that is that all the harvest is mixed together, and for 30 days, all the flowers are processed and turned into wax.
TL: Why did you specifically choose enfleurage, an ancient method of scent production for French Flower?
AG: I used enfleurage only for the Tuberose, the pillar ingredient in the French Flower, because the olfactive profile is unique, and I wanted to capture this magical smell of the tuberose field at night. When you use tuberose absolute, the scent is beautiful, but it doesn't smell the same, and it does not reproduce the smell of the flower in the air in the field in the heart of the night. The aromas are wonderful but never the same; enfleurage achieves exactly what I envisioned. We produced enfleurage with the local company Robertet using vegetal wax that allows us the organic ingredient. All the flowers on our plantations are grown organically. When you use the enfleurage process, you get to keep the organic quality since you aren't using any solvent, which is very important.
TL: Which are your top personal favorites from the collection?
AG: Radical Rose would be my first pick because of what we discussed before, and Parisian Musc comes in second. It was the first perfume I finished when I started MATIERE PREMIERE, and I got a lot of good feedback from my American friends who came to visit me at the time. It embodies modern coolness, the idea of vegetal musk as its foundation—an urban modernist approach. Crystal Saffron, our latest release, is incredibly special to me. It's the idea of how you approach the ingredient and formulate the fragrance around saffron, a spice usually represented in a very dark, sensual way. We did the opposite. We thought, why don't we bring the brightness of it forward, its modernity, its unique, almost metallic identity at 20% concentration. The result is something I feel very proud of. And of course, the French Flower, which is a very modern unique floral using the ancient method of enfleurage.