This month we had the privilege of meeting master perfumer Thomas Fontaine. A graduate of ISIPCA in Versailles, Thomas went on to work for some of the leading aroma companies before taking on the role of in-house perfumer at Jean Patou. Thomas has recently launched his own fragrance creation company, Pallida. He kindly agreed to contribute to our ‘Talking Fragrance with…’ series of interviews so read on to find out what he had to say…
What fragrance are you wearing today?
L’Heure Attendue by Jean Patou – it’s technically a female fragrance but I love it! You asked me whether I thought there was a difference between fragrances for men and women? My answer would be that in some ways yes but in others no. There are raw materials that are generally used for male fragrances, like woody notes, and for women’s fragrances it is often floral notes but I would say that this kind of separation between male and female is just a question of habit, particularly in the West. When you go to the Middle East, for example, people don’t make these distinctions.
And is this your favourite fragrance right now?
Not necessarily, it’s just a question of mood – one day I like to wear a certain fragrance and another day I might I prefer to use another one. Just because I feel like wearing something one morning, it doesn’t necessarily mean I will want to wear it the next morning!
What was the first fragrance that you bought?
The first fragrance I bought was Pour Monsieur Chanel – this fragrance was a real wake up call, it ignited the idea that I could become a perfumer! After I had first smelled it I went immediately to a perfume shop to buy some. I was living in the countryside and asked them for a bottle of Pour Monsieur Chanel and the woman asked me ‘is it for your father’ because I was only about 12 years old, and I said no it is for me! She said maybe we have something younger for you and I said no I want that, and I bought it and I still use it, sometimes.
What direction do you think fragrance is moving in at the moment?
Mmm that’s a tough one, you see there’s a kind of whirling movement in fragrances and for me I’m pretty sure that for example a family like floral-aldehydic fragrance will be one of the trends of the future. It was a style that first appeared at the start of the last century, then again in the 70’s then the 90’s and once again we can see aldehydic notes coming back. It’s the same with green notes too. I’m kind of hoping that fruity notes will disappear because we are a bit tired of that, but it will take time!
We know what you like in fragrance but are there any particular fragrance families that you don’t like or that don’t work for you?
Fragrance families that don’t work…not especially. There are certain raw materials that I love such as saffron, which is difficult to use but maybe that’s why I love to work with it. But there are no specific families that I don’t like to work with. And you know it’s interesting to try to bring your own sensibility to a fragrance family, your own way of working. It could be a cologne or a floral family – the challenge is to make it your own.
Who is your favourite perfumer?
My favourite perfumer, well Michel Almairac will always have my recognition and my affection. He created Eau de Gucci in 1982 and has created so many iconic fragrances since.
Where do you usually buy fragrance? Do you have a favourite store?
If I’m buying it is generally for my work and I go wherever is easiest – could be a Sephora, could be Jovoy, or anywhere, as long as it has what I want. Most of the time I am not buying fragrances for myself but if I was it would have to be a proper perfume shop. For me Sephora is not the right place to buy a fragrance, because there is a lot of noise, shoppers, people trying to sell you things but for me perfume buying is very personal. I like it to be calm and quiet when I smell fragrances, so places like Sephora and other big stores are not for me. But what is true of fragrances is also true of books, gifts…whatever. I like to be calm and even when I’m buying clothes I don’t like to be bothered by people saying “please sir may I help you” my answer is “no I’m just looking”.
Have you ever bought fragrance without smelling it first?
You mean have I listened to the fame & the hype and just bought something based on that? No! However it is true to say that when you are working on a project and the project requires you to smell a product you might select it without smelling it first. You are just buying it because you need it! However as a consumer I like to touch, to smell, to understand what I’m buying.
How many fragrances do you own?
I’m not sure I can answer that question! More than I can count…
When I smell Gin Fizz by Lubin it reminds me of my mother
Gin Fizz was originally created in the 1950’s, by Henri Giboulet, as a tribute to Grace Kelly and my mother used to wear it. I later worked for Lubin and the first part of the job was to re-create the fragrance exactly as it was in the past. It was a real challenge to find all the raw materials as some had disappeared but I had a very precise idea of the smell because of my mother so it was pretty easy for me. I had the exact fragrance in my head and it helped me so much.