Interview with the Perfumer Anne Flipo

Mention some of the biggest fragrances of the last decade and chances are that Anne Flipo was behind them. The French perfumer is highly respected in the industry and by her many fans for her accomplished and distinctive work across the niche and designer fragrance categories.  

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Some of her standout creations and co-creations during her career include: 

  • L’Artisan Parfumeur La Chasse aux Papillons EDT (1999)
  • Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gioia EDP (2010)
  • Lancôme La Vie est Belle EDP (2012)
  • Paco Rabanne Invictus EDT (2013)
  • Chloé Love Story EDP (2014)
  • Jimmy Choo Illicit EDP (2015)
  • Paco Rabanne Olympéa EDP (2015)
  • Jo Malone Herb Garden Collection (2016)
  • Givenchy L’Interdit EDP (2018)

Anne Flipo has also produced several successful fragrances for YSL, including L’Homme EDT (2006) and Manifesto EDP (2012). So it’s no surprise that the luxury French fashion brand sought her expertise to create their new fragrance, YSL Libre, which was released in 2019. See our review of it at the end of this interview.

Flipo originally wanted to study flavours, but changed direction after falling under the spell of perfumery. Her work has been recognised through several awards, including the Cosmetique Magazine Perfumer of the Year award in 2014, Cosmetic Executive Women France Achiever Award for Creation in 2016 and Fragrance Foundation Awards for Jo Malone London Honeysuckle & Davana Cologne (2018), among others. 

In this interview, she talks to us about her career, the creation of YSL Libre and the joys of orange blossom. 

Where and when were you born?

I was born in 1963 in Laon in the north of France.

What fragrance are you wearing today?

Today I’m working, so for better evaluation of the fragrance I am working on, I prefer not be perfumed.

When did you know that you wanted to become a perfumer?

The Aromi Perfumes and Colognes

I have always been strongly attracted to scents and olfactive materials, especially flowers. Later, when I was a student, I was a trainee in a fragrance house. It was obvious to me that I belonged in this world. I enjoyed discovering essential oils and trying to associate them so much, I thought being a perfumer would suit me perfectly. 

Besides, at that time, someone told me that being a woman would make my project “uneasy”. This strengthened me in my conviction I would become a perfumer one day. I am quite obstinate in a way.

You studied at ISIPCA in Versailles. What was the most valuable thing you learned while studying there?

I had a lot of time to learn about raw materials, smelling and evaluating.

What didn’t they teach you while studying that you had to learn for yourself through experience?

Everything! I really began my training when I worked with my mentors such as Michel Almairac [the creator of fragrances such as Christian Dior Fahrenheit EDT, Gucci Rush EDP and Le Labo Ambrette 9 EDP]. 

How would you describe your fragrance style?

Difficult question. I’d say I have a very intuitive style, so I compose my formulas around a strong idea I have in mind. 

Orange blossom takes a huge part in my signature too. It is the ingredient I would never be fed up with. I could create a thousand perfumes around it, without it ever being redundant.

What was the brief for YSL Libre?

The Aromi Perfumes and Colognes

The initial brief was to revisit the [often masculine] fougère for women.

How did you feel when it was announced on the same day in 2019 that IFF [the company she has worked for since 2004] were recognising you as a master perfumer and that your Libre proposal had been accepted?

I felt overwhelmed with emotion. It was a double recognition of my work and my career as a whole.

YSL Libre was a collaborative project with Carlos Benaïm. How did this collaboration work? Did you meet while working on this project?

I came up with the original idea and asked Carlos to step in. We worked separately and at each step we chose the best version as a new starting point while keeping the vision.

I fell in love with Carlos’s orange blossom absolute, because it brought opulence while maintaining its freshness.

During the seven years of development, Carlos and I were constantly in touch. We met several times during these years. We each brought our own arrangements to the formula. We smelled them together in order to choose the best of our “mod” (in perfumers’ language, it’s an olfactory trial).

Libre was a true four-handed creation between Paris and NYC. The fruit of a beautiful collaboration on both sides of the Atlantic.

Apart from its seven years of development, YSL Libre apparently took more than 1 570 tries. Why did it take so long for it to eventually to come to fruition?

Fragrance creation is generally a long-term endeavour – a long and fascinating journey. Indeed, Libre took us more than 1750 trials, maybe because both Carlos and I are perfectionists. We worked hand in hand from each side of the Atlantic to achieve the perfect balance for the formula.

The Aromi Perfumes and Colognes

The fragrance has intriguing masculine and feminine aspects. How did you achieve that?

Libre is a freestyle take on the fougère to reveal its original feminine facet. We revisited this masculine structure by insisting on details that could turn it into a very feminine scent, just like Yves Saint Laurent re-tailored the tuxedo for women.

Lavender from France embodies the spirit of the fougère structure. We decided to blend it with orange flower from Morocco to obtain a gender-bending heart playing with both masculine and feminine facets.

Looking back at your impressive body of work, do you have a particular favourite?

I don’t have a favourite, because all of my creations are unique. I treasure all of them, as I created them with passion.

What other projects have you just completed? 

I completed YSL L’Homme Le Parfum this year and the other projects are confidential for now. 

EVERFUMED’S VERDICT ON YSL LIBRE EDP

When two top perfumers collaborate on a project, success is not necessarily guaranteed. But then Anne Flipo and Carlos Benaïm are no ordinary “noses”. Both come with major credentials and their experience is displayed to great effect in YSL Libre.

The EDP opens with the distinctive character of fresh lavender. A special variety grown in Provence, diva lavender, was used by the perfumers. It’s warm, slightly sweet and unmistakably floral, instead of the clean and cool customer many of us may be used to. It’s strengthened with the addition of lavandin heart. So there’s no getting away from the lavender profile of this scent. There’s a bit of fresh citrusy action too, courtesy of notes of mandarin orange and neroli.  

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The fresh aspect is further developed when the orange blossom comes through. And boy, does it shine in a rich and most sensual way! Another white floral, jasmine sambac, is present in the mix, but it knows its supportive place in the scheme of things. 

The drydown is dominated by a special extract of vanilla from Madagascar, thankfully not the sickly sweet kind. This deep one has quality written all over it. It works particularly well together with the musk and amber.  

Kudos to the creators for this fragrance with a twist that doesn’t smell like everything else on the market. While it’s clearly intended to be a best-seller, not everyone will like its play on the masculine and the feminine. Whether you like it or not, expect to see several flankers over the decade.

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