When he looks back at his life in the future, 2023 will be a landmark year for Alexis Grugeon.
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- He got married.
- He turned 30.
- And created two fragrances for Amouage, Search EDP and Opus XV King Blue EDP. In perfume-land, bagging creations for the Oman-based niche brand is a very big deal.
Of course, anyone who’s being following the trajectory of the perfumer will see that Alexis Grugeon is only just getting going, with the “wins” (industry-speak for successful briefs) below attesting to his abundant abilities:
- Michael Kors Wonderlust Eau de Voyage EDP (2020)
- Bath & Body Works Dahlia Fine Fragrance Mist (2020)
- Avon Artisan Cherry Vetiver EDP (2020)
- Nautica Midnight Voyage EDT (2020)
- Ariana Grande R.E.M. EDP (2020)
- Ralph Lauren Polo Sport Fresh EDT (2021)
- Ermenegildo Zegna XXX Verdigris EDP (2021)
- Lancôme La Nuit Trésor Dentelle de Roses EDP (2021)
- Iman Love Memoir EDP (2021)
- Mercedes-Benz Woman in Red EDP (2021)
- Juicy Couture Oui Splash EDP (2021)
- Cacharel Yes I Am Delicious EDP (2022)
The boy from Beauvais has come a long way (apologies, couldn’t resist that rhyming opportunity). His love of all things olfactory started at a young age and was stimulated by visits to the heartland of French perfumery, Grasse, among other things. While some perfumers take an indirect route into the profession, Alexis Grugeon knew what he wanted and went for it with his customary determination.
Now based in New York, where he works for the Swiss fragrance and flavour company dsm-firmenich, there’s no doubt we’ll be hearing a lot more about Alexis Grugeon in the future.
In this interview, we chat about his colour blindness, working with Amouage and the importance of me-time.
Do you have any perfume memories from your childhood?
Yes, I have many scent memories from growing up in Beauvais, which is in the north of France, in the countryside. When I was younger, I loved going to the forest and smelling everything – the leaves, different types of woods and aromatic plants that I would find. As far as a specific perfume memory, my mom wore YSL Opium and Lolita Lempicka.
When I was eight years old, I discovered the métiers of perfumery through a trip to Grasse. From then on, every Christmas I would get a box of raw materials and have many memories of opening these in my bedroom to smell.
Why did your visit to the Perfume Museum (Musée International de la Parfumerie) in Grasse make such an impression on you?
During this visit I learned about the different métiers of perfumery and it was then that I knew I wanted to become a perfumer – I just knew that I loved to smell things.
This was why my grandparents took me to the museum in the first place, and it was there that I met someone who walked me through the world of perfumery. I also discovered literature that focused on perfumery and so I read and learned a lot about the industry over the next few years.
What did you enjoy most about your studies at École Supérieure du Parfum?
Right after high school I went to study there and it allowed me to continue exploring this industry. We spent a lot of our time smelling and creating – the highlight of my time there.
We covered all the different facets from creation to marketing. This gave me a good overview and provided all the tools to see what position would be the best fit.
Additionally, the networking aspect of my time there was key because I now know so many people in the industry both on the fragrance house and brand side.
What was your first fine fragrance creation? Your thoughts on it now?
L’Homme Emanuel Ungaro EDT  started from an accord that I did for myself with orris and some lavender. Very sexy, with a masculine background of leather and woods.
When I smell it now, sure, there are things I could change and make different, but I always think that the fact that it started from an accord that I personally loved so much makes it special to me.
In your bio on the dsm-firmenich website, you say your colour blindness has turned out to be an advantage. It couldn’t have been easy growing up with it, though…
Believe it or not, it’s easy to grow up with colour blindness because you are so young that by the time you discover it, you don’t know your world any other way.
For me, when a kid is colour blind and they hear a colour but it is not what they see, they almost work backwards to learn and recognise the colours they see, rather than the other way around, which is how others would learn them. I also do feel I have heightened sense of smell because of it.
There is a parallel between this way of learning colours and smelling raw materials because when you smell something it is subjective. You may not know right away what you are smelling in the blind – even if you know it – and you have to work backwards to think and link it to what it is.
Did you meet creative director Renaud Salmon during the creation process for Amouage Search and Amouage Opus XV King Blue? If so, please describe the collaboration process with him.
Yes, I met with him a couple of times. The collaboration is great because Renaud gives an overall concept of what he would like to achieve with the fragrance or collection he is looking to create.
For Search, he pictured something like a dark sky during a thunderstorm and so I had to find a way to represent this in a fragrance. That was what the smokiness in the scent represents to me and I paired it with the dark side of black lemon to find the right balance of all the elements to create the perfect storm.
For King Blue, he wanted an oud that was more modern and different with a very opposed and unique contrast like oud and orange. This was how I came to having a burst of mandarin and amber together with the oud and finding the right amount of oud because he also wanted it to be strong and powerful.
Did you feel any pressure or doubts creating fragrances for such a highly regarded brand?
With Renaud, it is such an enjoyable creation process because he has such strong, great ideas as to what he wants, but he allows me to create my interpretation of that vision and so it’s a nice balance. I am inspired to give my all and do my best to ensure we capture the fragrance he envisioned.
Will you be working on more Amouage creations?
I love working with the brand, so hopefully there will be more to come.
What can you tell us about what you’re working on now?
I am fortunate to work in the New York office, the global hub for dsm-firmenich, so I get to work on local brands for North America, in addition to working with global brands from France to Brazil to the Middle East. All that to say, I have several projects in the works that I am happy to share once they have launched.
Your career is on the up. Would you say you have a fragrance signature yet, or is that still a work in progress?
I am starting to define a signature, for sure, but also what I admire in master perfumers is that they constantly reinvent themselves.
I want a signature, of course, but I also want to be flexible and adaptable. Fortunately, I have been exposed to many clients in fine fragrance and so there is a signature that comes organically from working and creating for these types of brands.
It seems you’re quite the fitness enthusiast. Are you able to give the time you want to these passions? Or do deadlines sometimes have to come first?
Work always comes first, because I love what I do and because I am constantly smelling, so I want to ensure that all deadlines are met and that what I submit is strong and my best.
With that, it is important to give time to my other passions such as running. This allows time to just take care of me and my body and disconnect for a bit to observe and take in everything that is around me.
Part of the métier of perfumery is to be competitive, so it is important to keep this competition healthy at work. In both sports and fragrance my main thing is to always push myself to the extreme.
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.