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An Interview with Caron Perfume’s Nose: Jean Jacques

Good things come to those who wait, it is said. And after several months of delays and apologetic emails, my Jean Jacques interview, Caron’s in-house perfumer, came to be. Not that the man needed to apologize. It’s been a “crazy few years” since he joined the house in 2018. And it’s only now that he’s getting a chance to breathe and do some interviews in between.  

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First, some essential background to Caron perfumes and Jean Jacques. The house was founded in 1904 by Ernest Daltroff. Together with creative director Félicie Wanpouille, the self-taught perfumer produced numerous all-time classic Caron perfumes, including Caron Narcisse Noir Parfum (1911), Caron N’Aimez Que Moi Parfum (1916), Tabac Blond Parfum (1919) and Caron Pour un Homme de Caron EDT (1934), that established the house’s impeccable credentials as one of the greats of French perfumery.

As a Jew and with the rise of the Nazis, Ernest Daltroff escaped to America (he died in 1947), leaving Caron in the capable hands of Félicie Wanpouille until 1967. And while the house never quite disappeared and continued to produce standouts, it certainly lost its way and allure for quite some time. 

This brings us to the acquisition of the brand in 2018 by Ariane and Benjamin de Rothschild through their investment firm Cattleya Finance. A savvy businesswoman, one of Ariane de Rothschild’s first decisions was to employ Jean Jacques as an in-house perfumer. 

Jean Jacques was on his way to a career in music when a friend told him about ISIPCA, the renowned perfumery school in Versailles. That career change eventually took him to Japan where he worked for the fragrance and flavour company Takasago.

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While Jean Jacques can’t quite recall his fine fragrance debut (probably Mariella Burani Amuleti EDT in 1999), there’s no doubting his admiration for his mentor Pierre Bourdon, the great perfumer behind classics such as Yves Saint Laurent Kouros EDT, Davidoff Cool Water EDT, Montblanc Individuel EDT, Frédéric Malle French Lover EDP and Creed Green Irish Tweed EDP.

Before joining the Caron perfume house, Jean Jacques had notched up several successes of his own, including Christian Lacroix C’est la Fête! EDP (2007), Kenzo Eau de Fleur de Soie EDT (2008), Oriflame Love Potion EDP (2011), Givenchy Gentleman Only EDT (2013), Courrèges Hyperbole EDP (2016) and Davidoff Cool Water Wave EDT (2017).

If you want to know just how busy he’s been since joining Caron perfume house, look at the company’s website. Through all the recent releases – “perhaps too many,” he admits – and various collections, the message is clear. Caron perfume house is back in business. 

When we get to chat, he’s at home and animated about all things Caron perfumes. Even though English is not his first language, Jean Jacques speaks fast, eloquently, and with much knowledge about the house and ingredients. In the Jean Jacques interview, we discuss his dynamic with Ariane de Rothschild, the challenge of making the Caron perfume house relevant to the contemporary market, and various fragrances. 

Your relationship with Ariane de Rothschild is an integral part of Caron. What can you tell us about her?

She knows everything that’s nice in the world, art, she’s a collector. She’s in contact every day with beauty in terms of art, photography, sculpture, and painting. Yet she has the ability to say, “Wow!” and, “C’est magnifique!” [“It’s magnificent!”] 

She’s obviously very passionate about Caron. Something you both have in common… 

Oui, oui, this meeting of passion is something that really excites me. There’s a lot of energy, creation, and experimentation. Perhaps we did launch too many fragrances in the four years. But now we come back with less, we take more time, but we still have the same passion and energy. 

There’s a magnificent heritage to the Caron perfume house, which started with Ernest Daltroff in 1904. One of your challenges must be to make Caron relevant to a contemporary market. Some might think Caron is old school, old-fashioned. How do you get that balance? It can’t be easy.

No, you’re right. I often start from the legacy to make new creations. 

For example, in the Caron perfume collection of Tabac, because there’s Tabac Blond, we make Tabac Noir EDP, then Tabac Exquis EDP, and last year Tabac Blanc EDP.

Because of the first one, Tabac Blond Parfum, which is more than 100 years old, I start with the idea of creating a collection of modern tobacco fragrances. 

The same with Poivre Sacré EDP. Caron perfume house launched a fragrance called Poivre in 1954. Because of that, I make Poivre Sacré EDP, pushing it even further – the level of oils, the balsams, the cumin, the saffron, the spices – to make an explosive fragrance. Starting from the heritage, I created something totally new.

Also with Caron Pour un Homme de Caron EDT, lavender and vanilla, which was created in 1934. I take the lavender but create something new with Caron Pour Un Homme de Caron Le Matin EDT and Caron Pour Un Homme de Caron Le Soir EDP. For the morning, Le Matin, I use lavandin oil and the latest technology, CO2 ginger extract.  

For the evening, Le Soir, I use a very nice essence of lavender from Provence. You know, we now have our very own field of lavender in the south of France for Pour Un Homme, but I mix that oil with oakwood extract, which is a totally new ingredient. So once again the legacy but mixed with new ingredients. 

Sometimes, though, I make something totally new that’s not directly linked to the history of Caron perfume house.

For example, Caron Musc Oli EDT, which I did with Oliva de Rothschild, features the synthetic ingredients Cashmeran FF and Javanol. Normally at Caron, we use lots of natural ingredients but for this one, we still used the best synthetics.

The link with Caron is the adventurous spirit. And now Musc Oli is one of our best-sellers. This means this brand can go far in terms of modernity, as long as the story is good. 

I haven’t tried it yet but have tried Tabac Exquis and Rose Ebène de Caron, which have a gourmand aspect… 

Those are also good examples of how I mix history and modernity. 

Caron Tabac Exquis EDP

Tabac Exquis, for instance, is a natural extraction of tobacco, cacao, and a chocolate accord, which is not natural, but we can recreate the smell of chocolate through molecules. 

I love the way you haven’t done obvious gourmands. Are you a gourmand man yourself? 

Non [smiles]. But one of the first fragrances we launched was Aimez-Moi Comme Je Suis EDT [2020], a masculine mix of vetiver and hazelnut. I used hazelnut because it’s gourmand but not sugary. There’s too much sugar on the market. It’s important to find our way to gourmandize. 

I wanted to ask you about the one I’m wearing now, Caron Pois de Senteur Parfum, originally created by Ernest Daltroff in 1927 and inspired by the floral sweat pea. How did you approach this recreation?

Oui, oui, it’s more the name that’s important here because sweet pea doesn’t smell strong. Pois de Senteur is an olfactive bomb. There’s a huge amount of natural jasmine and honey molecule in this fragrance. It’s very popular in the Middle East. 

Of course, as with all our classics and masterpieces, I had to make a new formulation that respects the IFRA regulations. What I did for this one and Tabac Blond, Pour un Homme, and Narcisse de Noir, each time I worked with the technical support of IFF, the big fragrance creation company, I ask them to analyze the original fragrance. 

So I took the 1927 one to make sure it’s legislatively okay. Instead of going with the last version before Caron was bought by Ariane, which had been adapted several times already, I preferred to start with the first one of Daltroff to make sure it’s as close as possible. 

For Tabac Blond, natural oakmoss extraction had disappeared from the formulation. A chypre is not a chypre without oakmoss. I brought back the oakmoss absolute in the formula of Tabac Blond.

With IFRA regulations, you must be so careful with ingredients like oakmoss… 

Oakmoss is permitted, but you need to make a change to the extraction because the molecule in the ingredient, atranol, is forbidden. So you have to use natural extraction of oakmoss, what we call low atranol, to decrease the concentration of the molecule. If you do that, using oakmoss absolute is not an issue. 

The last few years have been intense for you. Do you get time to yourself? Or is perfumery all-consuming?

Oui, oui, you know, I love my job, I think perfume 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But I still have time for making music, my family, and golf. I’m just back from England for a big golf tournament, as I’m crazy about the sport. It’s a busy week, I would say, but okay, I’m a lucky guy.

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Music is one of your great loves. Have you ever regretted not following that career path?

I decided to give my life to perfumery and it gave me back a lot more. I have my piano over there and play it with my daughter. I can still do my music, and I do, so I’m very happy to give so much energy to perfumery. 

One last question, the new collection, Les Colognes Sublimes, which has just been launched…

In fact, last year, but we’re focusing on it now. It’s a collection of five really nice colognes. Five[he emphasizes and laughs]. 

We love their names, inspired by French poetry, even if they are a bit complicated. Champ Bleu du Ciel [from Georges Bataille’s poem of the same name] is not easy to say, especially if you’re not French. L’Invitation Au Voyage comes from the poem by Charles Baudelaire. 

Olfactively, they’re really good. L’Invitation Au Voyage, for example, combines violet leaf and cinnamon. It doesn’t sound like they should work together but they do. 

Are they eaux de cologne? I haven’t tried them but from what I’ve read, they’re stronger than conventional colognes.

You’re right. We called them colognes to explain there’s a lot of freshness, but it is not eaux de cologne in the historical sense of being concentrated at four to five percent, lots of citrus, and not lasting long.

Ivre de Liberté Cologne Sublime, for example, is concentrated at 18%. So there is freshness at the concentration of eau de toilette or eau de parfum. They last longer and are real fragrances with real signatures. 

Our Top 6 Caron Perfume Picks to Try Right Now

This selection will give you an idea of why the house continues to conjure up all sorts of fragrance history and contemporary refinement. 

Caron Rose Ebène de Caron Edp

Caron Rose Ebène de Caron Edp

Wake up and smell the coffee – and roses. For this 2019 release, Jean Jacques gives the queen of florals a modern (and stimulating) interpretation. 

The spicy leatheriness of saffron opens proceedings. It doesn’t take long for the Turkish rose essence to come through. Its floral freshness is complemented (but never dominated) by natural coffee extract. All dark deliciousness. There’s more rich spiciness from styrax (both essence and resinoid) and Indonesian patchouli essence.

It says a lot about the skills of Jean Jacques that the birch wood essence (a key element in creating leather accords) adds just the right amount of smokiness, with earthy support from Haitian vetiver.   

Although on the darker side, it’s easy to wear and I love how the rose-coffee combo keeps giving all the way through to the end. 

Caron Narcisse Blanc Edp

Caron Narcisse Blanc Edp

Originally created by Ernest Daltroff in 1923 and recreated in 2020 by Jean Jacques, it begins with the citric tones of essences of Italian bergamot, sweet orange, Tunisian neroli, and Tunisian petitgrain. It’s fresh and slightly green. The quality of the ingredients is evident. 

It moves into more heady and honeyed territory with Tunisian orange blossom absolute and narcissus absolute. 

They are given a delectably creamy infusion with Cashmeran and vanilla, while another popular synthetic, Ambroxan, ensures it doesn’t collapse into heaviness. 

Superb stuff! 

Caron Santal Précieux Edp

Caron Santal Précieux Edp

The brand’s website provides a timely reminder of why this wood is so precious: after waiting for 25 to 30 years for a tree to grow, it takes one ton of heartwood to obtain 50kg of essential oil. 

There’s no doubting the perfumer’s reverence for this raw material and he treats it with the utmost respect it deserves in this 2021 release.

The opening is brief but impactful. The freshness of rose and geranium is amplified by the spiciness of elemi and pink peppercorn. 

Two varieties of sandalwood, from New Caledonia and Australia (both sustainable alternatives to Indian Mysore sandalwood), bring on the creaminess with assistance from a warm milk note. Ceylon cinnamon essence gives it a touch of powderiness. 

Cistus labdanum and papyrus take it in a leathery direction in the drydown. 

I love how it changes from fresh to creamy to dry during its evolution. It joins my list of best sandalwood fragrances forthwith. 

Caron Tabac Exquis Edp

Caron Tabac Exquis Edp

From the all-time classic Caron Tabac Blond Parfum created by Ernest Daltroff in 1919, tobacco holds a special place in the Caron canon. So it’s not surprising to see an entire collection built around the theme, Luminous Tobaccos.

For the 2021 release Caron Tabac Exquis EDP, Jean Jacques gives the ingredient a gourmand spin.

The grown-up yumminess starts with the spicy powderiness of Ceylon cinnamon bark essence. 

Balkan tobacco absolute, its richness supported by the musky spiciness of labdanum, myrrh and coumarin, is dipped (sorry, couldn’t help myself while under the influence of this treat) into a thoroughly and not overly sweet (but appropriately addictive) chocolate accord, with dark cacao particularly prominent.

Siamese benzoin and coumarin add vanilla tones to the blend.

Tobacco might be dangerous for your health, but this interpretation is just what the olfactory doctor ordered. 

Caron Fleur de Rocaille Edp

Caron Fleur de Rocaille Edp (2021)

Originally released in 1933 and recreated by Jean Jacques, this 2021 release is described as “an orgy of flowers” on the brand website. 

While there are certainly many floral participants – including gardenia, Tunisian orange blossom absolute, jasmine, Comorian ylang-ylang essence, mimosa, lilac, Turkish Rose Essence, and lily-of-the-valley (which one will catch your eye/nose?) – this seductive proposition that concludes with the creaminess of sandalwood never degenerates into an all-out, seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time mess. 

Caron Poivre Sacré Edp

Caron Poivre Sacré Edp

A 2022 release from the Explosive Peppers Collection, Caron Poivre Sacré delivers olfactory thrills from top to bottom.

Taking its inspiration from two of the brand’s classics – Caron Poivre Parfum (created by Michel Morsetti in 1954) and Caron Parfum Sacré (a 1991 Jean-Pierre Bethouart creation) – this EDP opens with a big, glorious bang of Madagascan black pepper.

Its freshness is complemented by more spice, including nutmeg, coriander, and cumin (don’t worry, not the sweaty variety). The leatheriness of saffron and aromatics of elemi is distinctive in the blend but give the olibanum space to reveal its rich woodiness.

The drydown, a pairing of resinous labdanum and earthy patchouli, completes this scent that deservedly bagged the 2022 Professional Award of the Best Niche Perfume from a Major Brand Collection at The Fragrance Foundation France Awards.

Caron perfumes are available in the United States from the website.

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Richard Goller is a fragrance and grooming blogger. His blog is called Fragroom. A senior editor with 20 years' experience, his blog allows him to combine two of his passions: engaging content and the always-intriguing world of fragrances. When he isn't blogging, you'll find Richard indulging in his newly found passion for balcony gardening.