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Fabrice Pellegrin Interview: The Discreet Perfumer

Fabrice Pellegrin is one of the most accomplished perfumers of our time. Considering his expertise and achievements, he’s probably also the most unknown outside the industry, in that he truly prefers to be behind the scenes and let his creations speak for themselves.

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The list below of perfumes he has produced is just a snapshot but will give you an indication of his ingenuity:

  • Mugler Womanity EDP (2010)
  • Jo Malone Blackberry & Bay Cologne (2012)
  • Roberto Cavalli Just Cavalli EDT (2013)
  • Parfums de Marly Safanad EDP (2013)
  • Salvatore Ferragamo Vendemmia EDP (2013)
  • Kilian Smoke For The Soul EDP (2014)
  • Maison Martin Margiela Tea Escape EDT (2014)
  • Valentino Valentina Pink EDP (2015)
  • Atkinson’s Love In Idleness EDP (2015)
  • Lalique L’Insoumis EDT (2016)
  • Azzaro Wanted EDT (2016)
  • Giorgio Armani Privé Vert Malachite EDP (2016)
  • Lancôme Oud Bouquet EDP (2016)
  • Van Cleef & Arpels Bois Doré EDP (2017)
  • Issey Miyake L’Eau de Majeure d’Issey EDT (2017)
  • L’Artisan Parfumeur Au Bord de L’Eau Eau de Cologne (2017)
  • Penhaligon’s Belgravia Chypre EDP (2018)
  • Moschino Toy 2 EDP (2018)
  • Kenzo Flower by Kenzo Eau de Vie EDP (2019)
  • Bentley Momentum Unbreakable EDP (2021)

Born in the spiritual heartland of French perfumery, Grasse, and from a family immersed in the industry, Fabrice Pellegrin paid his dues over several years.     

His fine fragrance career commenced with Mäurer & Wirtz Eruption Man EDT in 1997, followed by perfume projects for brands such as Hermès and L’Occitane. 

He’s also the man behind several Diptyque classics. His 2005 creation for the Paris-based niche brand, Do Son EDT, signaled he was a major talent to watch and was followed by Eau Duelle EDT (2010), Volutes EDT (2012), Eau Rose EDT (2012) and Oud Palao EDP (2012), among others.

Fernweh Editions Fern & Petals Candle

So it’s no surprise Fabrice Pellegrin was awarded the 14th François Coty Prize by his peers in 2021. This prestigious accolade recognized his creative and technical expertise, which reflects his love of naturals.

He also bagged Cosmétique Mag’s Perfumer of the Year 2017 and his creation for Roos & Roos, Mentha Religiosa EDP, won the Fragrance Foundation’s best independent perfume award in 2017. 

It took several months for this interview to come together and although conducted via email, the Frenchman’s sincerity and humility are evident throughout in his thoughtful answers.

He talks about the role of the perfumer, the beauty of simplicity, and why naturals are such an integral part of his life. 

Congratulations on your 14th François Coty Prize. It’s not the first time you’ve been recognized for your skills. Do awards matter to you?

Receiving an award is always an honor and, of course, a pleasure. However, being rewarded by the public is far more important.

When you compose a fragrance, you don’t think about what you’ll get in return, you think mainly about the pleasure you have in creating it.

How did your family background influence you to become a perfumer?

I was born in the hills around Grasse, my home and heart town, and where my family and my vocation come from. I am the son of a perfumer and the grandson of a jasmine-picking grandmother, and a grandfather who was a supplier of naturals. 

I have a very personal relationship with the flowers of Grasse. Centifolia rose and grandiflorum jasmine are two wonderful flowers I’ve always lived with, and they are essential to me today.

Where did you study? And what do you remember most? 

I did all my studies in Grasse. I learned the job of being a perfumer at Robertet. There is no better education than learning on the job.

Direct contact with professionals allows you to discover all their little secrets I would not have known otherwise.

Tell us a bit about your fragrance debut.  

From 1989 to 1995, I concentrated on my classes, learning raw materials, chromatography, distillation, extraction, and weighing.

From 1995 to 2008, I was with Mane as a junior perfumer. I worked on shampoos, shower gels, and soaps, which helped me develop a certain kind of technicality. 

And then I won my first fine fragrance project, for Mäurer & Wirtz Eruption Man EDT. I owe this first success to the brand’s chief perfumer, Gerrit van Logchem, who gave me my chance.

In 2008, I joined Firmenich, and I am still here today.

Compared to some “celebrity” perfumers, you seem to be more content keeping a low profile. Is that a correct assessment?

People often say I’m discreet. For me, the perfumer’s role is about being generous, exchanging, sharing, and transmitting passion. Nothing more.

You’re the Director of Natural Product Innovation at Firmenich. What does that position entail and why are you particularly fond of naturals?

I am from Grasse so, of course, I learned the art of perfume through natural products. Perfumers have always been used to working with natural ingredients, which bring richness and opulence to their creations.

Beyond their purely olfactory qualities, natural ingredients also bring stories to perfumes and reinforce their poetic dimension. 

I very much enjoy collaborating with local producers in Grasse and in other parts of the world. Through their savoir-faire, they allow us to offer the epitome of nature.

My role as Director of Natural Product Innovation enables me to travel and meet our producers, for whom I have infinite respect in the creation process.

In my role, I also work directly with our teams in Grasse on new techniques and processes.

One good example of our innovation capabilities is our FirGood: a new process that allows a solvent-free treatment of fresh biomass, never before used in the natural ingredients industry.

Its 100% natural extracts offer new olfactory signatures, such as FirGood pear, ginger, or lily of the valley. 

Another example is the technique called Nature Print. In the latest Paco Rabanne fragrance, Fame – which I contributed to, alongside my colleague perfumers Dora Baghriche, Marie Salamagne, and Alberto Morillas – we incorporated a Sicilian mango that has been processed in Grasse, using this technique.

We captured the scents of the mango and the mango leaf, analyzed them, and reproduced them as close as possible to their original scent, using only natural ingredients.

Fernweh Editions Candles

With your passion for naturals, what are your thoughts on synthetics? 

The basis of my creation is natural, but I also use synthesis to facet the natural, to enrich it, to give it a new hue. Synthetic molecules allow me to create an opening toward new olfactory territories. 

Synthesis is directly inspired by natural scents (rose, jasmine, etc). Chemistry does not invent anything; it only reproduces what already exists in nature. We must stop believing that natural and synthetic are opposed when the subject is precisely how they balance each other in a formula.

I am also a firm believer in the immense value of biotech products, such as Firmenich ClearWood or DreamWood, which are derived from the fermentation of natural sugars. This union of science and nature to transform sugar into patchouli or sandalwood notes is truly fascinating.

Which perfume project did you find particularly challenging?

In fact, all projects are a challenge. 

Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Scandal EDP [2017] is one I remember well. The project lasted five years and required a lot of resilience and stamina. We started developing it with one company, BPI, then continued with Puig when they bought the brand.

Another instance was Jo Malone Nashi Blossom Cologne [2016] because, in perfumes, nashi blossom notes have often been worked in facets, rather than as the main olfactive idea.

As a perfumer, I was inspired by this challenge to tell the story of this unique fruit. Exploring the whole ingredient, from fruit to petal to tree, was indeed a challenge.

More recently, for Penhaligon’s The World According to Arthur EDP [2021], my challenge was to create a magnificent incense scent. To do that, I selected different qualities of incense.

I was searching to obtain the freshest, most resinous, and most dazzling facet. In total, I selected three types of incense, whose olfactive profiles are complementary. Then I was able to unify the different treatments to create a scent that was coherent with my initial idea.

Which perfume do you admire the most? 

I have a strong admiration for Serge Lutens Féminité du Bois EDP. I love its structure – a very short, yet precise formula – the fact that it’s so recognizable and that it’s without a gender. We’re celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

I also adore Miracle from Lancôme. Alberto [Morillas] knows how to work around musks in a sublime way. Among my favorites are also [Issey Miyake] L’Eau d’Issey, man and woman, [Davidoff] Cool Water, and [Dior] Fahrenheit for their simplicity and singularity.

Roos & Roos Mentha Religiosa EDP is one of my favorite creations of yours. In what ways is it typical of your style?

Mints have interesting olfactory asperities. I like to use them as they come up as quite unexpected in fine fragrance creation, for instance in Eau de Minthé for Diptyque. 

In Mentha Religiosa, I used a fresh and intense mint, accompanied by a dark incense blended with patchouli and vanilla. Both are two difficult notes to work with; mint being often associated with technical perfumery for oral care, and quite antagonistic.

The equilibrium of this perfume lies in the unexpected combination between the tiny green leaf with a powdery, ambery drydown.

This is typical of my style in that I’m convinced there is beauty to be found in the simplest of ideas.

In my fragrances I often try to create with simplicity – I always say that designing something simple is in fact very complex! What I like the most is crafting simple, direct fragrances that are well-architectured. 

For each perfume I create, I start with a raw idea, then I work on it for months, sometimes even years, to make it totally appealing.

One of your recent creations is the EDP version of the classic Diptyque Eau Rose. Apart from its concentration, what makes this release different from the original? 

It is a more intense version, richer, in the generosity that this rose has and in the fruity elements, with accents of lychee, which give addiction to the perfume. 

It is also a soliflore but enhanced with woody, ambery, enveloping notes. I used an innovation, the FIRAD rose, because it brings a different patina to the products we have on the palette. This is one of the first times I have used it in a perfume.

Fabrice Pellegrin Creations - Diptyque Eau Rose EDT + EDP
Fabrice Pellegrin Creations – Diptyque Eau Rose EDT & EDP

Second, the olfactory profile. The FIRAD rose is upcycled because it comes from the distillation water of the rose that we recover and concentrate to keep only the aromatic molecules that remain in the water.

It is less heavy, syrupy, and fresher, fruitier. This freshness and this fruity tone brings a smile to the fragrance. This unique and responsible process is one that we master and develop in our laboratories in Grasse.

Does work dominate your life, or is there time for yourself?

Work is predominant in my life, but there’s time for my family, for sure. I live between two cities, Paris and Grasse because this is the right balance for me. 

I use the time I have to transmit my knowledge because I’m interested to know that future generations will continue this savoir-faire. Whenever I can, I talk to perfumery students. 

I also have the privilege of sharing my passion with my sons, Florian and Romain, both set to become perfumers.

Fabrice Pellegrin Interview: The Discreet Perfumer
Writer

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.