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 a symphony of music that is received smoothly and comprehensible. 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.
A “nose” that is revealed
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.
A booming sector
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.
Creator of emotions
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.
Transmitting Perfumed Expressions
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)