Photography by Ma Récréation. Top, François Demachy sprays perfume on strands of card he wanted me to smell. Bottom : the hundreds of unfinished formulas on his desk.
From the jasmine fields to Grasse where he was born, François Demachy has managed to preserve a slight sing-songy accent. And an obsession with beautiful materials. Already Perfumer-Creator for Dior Perfumesfor 6 years, he actively defends the use of exceptional ingredients as witnessed in every opus of theCollection Privée Christian Dior he launched in 2010. Besides, he never travels without bringing back local materials : spices from Zanzibar or rare citrus fruits from Italy that will then perhaps inspire his future creations. Busy all year-round, he agreed to meet me in his workplace in the eighth arrondissement in Paris so I could visit the nooks and crannies of his laboratory. A privilege I’m sharing here today with you.
At what moment did you know you wanted to become a perfumer ?
François Demachy : I became a perfumer by accident. But being born in Grasse, it seemed quite logical. If I were born in Romans-sur-Isère, I imagine I would have ended up in shoes (NDRL : the city of Romans in France used to be the place where all shoe factories were). I grew up surrounded by smells, in direct contact with materials, fields of flowers like as well as solvent vapors. When I was a child, the town-life of Grasse went to the rhythm of harvests and the extraction of raw materials, whatever the neighborhood. I guess that that had to have a big effect on me.
Photography by Ma Récréation. The notebook where François Demachy classifies all his materials by family. Here, the spice family...
As a result, did you study to become a perfumer ?
François Demachy : Not at all. My father sent me to the factory to work during the summer holidays. I started at the very bottom of the ladder since he couldn’t stand the idea of me doing nothing with my days. He was a pharmacist and he made his own Cologne, the Eau de Grasse impériale Demachy, of which I keep a precious bottle in my study. He had a still and a lot of chemical products that I got used to tidying up and playing around with when I gave him a hand. At the time he was quite strict and hoped that I would go on to study some form of medicine. For him it was a logical step after my elder brother had succeeded in it so well. But I loved having fun and frankly I wasn’t really into the idea of becoming a dentist. Working at a perfume factory allowed me to see all the jobs involved in its extraction, and to learn about raw materials by working with them very closely. I saw how to distill them, how to fabricate certain products. I also learnt a lot by observing the whole hierarchy of a factory.
Did this experience affect your relationship with materials ?
François Demachy : Absolutely. I’m able to follow through the extraction of a flower from its collection to getting it’s concrete and it’s transformation into an absolute. From working in the factory, I’ve always had a particular taste for beautiful materials, the natural and the artisanal aspect of the job. I spent several summers there then I found out that the companyCharabot was looking for perfumers. So I left my dentist studies to go study under Jean Cavallier, father of Jacques Cavallier, who was born in Grasse like me and who has just moved into the study next to mine (N.B. Jacques Cavallier-Belletrud was named as Creator for the future line of Louis Vuitton perfumes at the beginning of 2012). It was very difficult at the beginning. You had to learn to place every scent by family according to their highly hierarchical classification. I still have this logic when I make formulas. I also continue, in the same notebook, to make a note of the names of synthetic and natural products which evoke the palette I need in order to express what I want in my creations.
Photography by Ma Récréation. Real pieces of grey amber
When did you create your first perfume ?
François Demachy : I loved August because there were a lot of workers on holiday, we had more freedom. I remember the first study they asked me to do : I had to create a perfume to make animals hungry. I read a few books which said they liked licorice. And so I made a licorice scent. For three years, the briefs were all linked. We made formulas using our nose. We had to create duplicates and I was even asked to fabricate Un Mille Fleurs (A thousand flowers). It’s a pretty name but it’s a real nightmare when you’re asked to reproduce a perfume that has so many olfactive components. However, this experience got me into chromatography and to use my small bag of scientific knowledge.
Can you explain to us what chromatography is ?
François Demachy : It’s a device that can provide an overview of the key components in a formula. Originally, it was a bit like blotting paper. Halos are formed when you drop a bit of perfume onto the paper. They have different diameters when they dry which indicate the most representative molecule groups in the perfume. More recently, this technique has evolved with the pharmaceutical industry. Today, the results are more and more precise. But it always requires elements of deduction and analysis. You have to get out of your head the idea that a computer is genius because it can decode a formula as if it knows all the secrets of its creator. The scientific approach only makes sense when it is translated by the subtlety of a human being.
Photography by Ma Récréation. The Eau de Grasse Impériale Demachy, created by his father, a pharmacist in Grasse.
And what did you do when you left the Charabot school ?
François Demachy : Henri Robert, Chanel’s perfumer at the time, knew all the factories in Grasse. He was looking for young perfumers and I took an exam. I stayed at Chanel for 26 years and in 2006, I joined Christian Dior perfumes as their Perfume-Creator. It’s already been 6 years this year !
Talk to us about the creative process. What are your sources of inspiration ?
François Demachy : For certain lines like theChristian Dior’s Private Collection, I don’t work with a brief, nor a deadline or budget limit. I get inspired by Christian Dior’s heritage. For Dior’s les escales, I let myself be guided by my travels and the materials I like. For other projects, the demand is a little bit more specific and the time limit is set in advance. I’m the kind of person that doesn’t know how to stop himself. I’m never satisfied with my creations. So it’s good to have a few deadlines. 80% of my time is devoted to Dior. I spend the rest of it doing a few projects for LVMH that I really want to do, such as my collaboration with Givenchy’s Prêt-à-Porter Artistic Director, Ricardo Tischi, for theDalhia Noir creation or contributing to the creation of theAcqua Di Parma perfumes, a house whose values I appreciate. I always work on several perfumes at the same time. Firstly because it’s necessary to have a big number of perfumes to launch each year. Secondly because it means you can leave and come back to unfinished formulas at the opportune moment, once it has ripened in your head. I always think about the relationship between perfume and the skin.
Photography by Ma Récréation. One of the many paintings by Maurice Ehlinger hung in his study
Is that perhaps why you have so many nude women hanging on the walls of your study ?
François Demachy : (N.B. he smiles) I admire the works of the painter Pierre Bonnard for his ability to represent extreme sensuality of the skin. I like a lot the work of the painter Maurice Ehlinger, you can see a few of his works in my study here too. The dancer with her fluffy and light tutu inspired me during the whole creation ofMiss Dior Eau Fraîche. I wanted to olfactively reproduce this lightness. This innocence. And I always try to keep at heart the idea that a perfume doesn’t come to life until it touches the skin. Without it, they are only mute bottles waiting on a desk.
Do you have any favorite materials which you can’t live without ?
François Demachy : I will forever like patchouli because it’s used a lot. It can even have a bit of an underground facet, a bad reputation. I also like grey amber, I keep a few blocks on this shelf. (N.B. grey amber is an evacuation of sperm whale that dries for months in the seawater, and comes together to form a grey stone when you find it on the beach. Nothing to do with non-scented amber stones that you put round your childrens’ necks in order to help them avoid tooth aches). I am very happy to have convinced Dior to start using them again in their perfumes. It’s a fascinating material because it’s just as daring as it’s subtle. It’s warm, iodized, baked, completely addictive. And you dont need to kill animals to harvest it. On the contrary, the more sperm whales there are, the more they produce grey amber. However, it’s still a rare and precious material. You only have to breathe in the vapors from a small piece and you are taken to another world. And since I was born in Grasse, I obviously have a strong inclination for rose and jasmine.
Besides that you often say you can’t imagine woman’s perfume without flowers.
François Demachy : Yes, it’s difficult to make a perfume without using them. Also it completely goes with Chistian Dior’s life. He cultivated his roses in his Normandy garden. He adored them and launched his first prêt-à-porter collection at the same time as his perfume line. It was definitely a visionary thing to do. But I don’t only like flowers. I have a passion for the spices I discovered in Zanzibar, where I have been several times. I love smelling perfumes in situ, in their original environment. The jasmine in Grasse which I pay hommage to in Grand Bal(N.B. : a creation that’s just been released in Christian Dior’s Private Collection). Indian incense that you can buy in big sachets at the market. (N.B. : he takes out a sachet of highly-scented incense from a cupboard). I brought it back from one of my trips. A product like this is absolutely magical. Once you have memorized its quality, you can never forget it. It’s why a large part of my work consists of checking the quality of the ingredients used in my formulas. A way of going back to my beginnings at the factory…
Photography by Ma Récréation. The laboratory where Dior Perfumes are created. A photo of Mr Christian Dior in the lab, hundreds of perfume bottles and formulas being prepared right under our noses...