Interview with a nose. What it’s really like to work within the fragrance industry.

Joëlle Lerioux Patris is a globetrotting perfumer with more than 20 years’ experience. She graduated from the ISIPCA (Jean-Jacques Guerlain’s prestigious institute in Paris) before training as a junior perfumer at the Mane Perfumery School.

In 2001, a desire to experience the wider world led Joëlle to China and Indonesia, before she returned to France eleven years later, landing at Expressions Parfumées and Fragrance Resources/IFF. In January 2019, Joëlle created her own company, Le Parfumeur Français, and is now a freelance ‘nose’, working on projects from all over the world.

We were lucky enough to meet Joëlle at a workshop held at Esxence 2019. Joëlle took a small group of us through three perfume bases which she had prepared, one coconut, one chestnut and one pistachio, explaining to us the different notes she had used and the concentrations they appeared in. Joëlle’s generosity of spirit in sharing the formulas with us, and her delight at our questions and curiosity was apparent. Here is someone for whom perfume is as vital as air. We couldn’t help but ask Joëlle when she discovered that perfume was her passion.

“I have not always wanted to work as a nose.” Joëlle explained,  “I only realised it in 1996! Before that I wanted to become a dancer in the company of Alvin Ailey in New York. But my parents were worried about me undertaking an artistic degree, and persuaded me towards a scientific one.”

“I began by studying cosmetology at the ISIPCA because I wanted to create a miraculous anti-ageing cream to keep my mother eternal…In the midst of this I discovered the world of perfume, the desire to create fragrances filled my veins and still remains with me to this day. The sheer pleasure of composing scents fills me with happiness!”

Joëlle has had the opportunity to work on some fabulous creations not least of which is her own personal triumph, Acqua Di Parma’s Mirra.

“It represents a personal conviction which became successful due to great teamwork and perseverance for a fabulous brand,” she explains. Indeed, a Fragrantica rating of 4.28 is testament to that success. 

“My personal style of fragrance is to dare! I always keep exploring. My style is surprising, catchy, generous. It is my job to then harness that energy and fine tune it into a wearable fine fragrance. I am convinced that the mastery of raw materials and perfumery techniques solidifies the process of creation. I consider my fragrances declarations of love and I often say that ‘creating a fragrance is turning heartbeats into scents’.”

With that in mind, we asked Joëlle about what ingredients she really enjoys working with.

“My favourite smell in the whole world is the scent of my children’s skin,” she says, “but in perfumery I’m captivated by patchouli, ambroxan, clary sage, pink pepper, ambergris, and bergamot. When choosing fragrances for myself, I like woody, ambery, spicy and chypre fragrances as well as cologne. I always choose my fragrance with my nose and not with my eyes.”

“My secret hope is that one day the perfumes themselves will be where the spotlight falls, instead of on the brand, the concept, or the perfumer. Only by appreciating scent in this way will we truly cheer the creator.”

“Among the new, more alternative brands, only a few offer real differentiation. J.U.S is the most avant garde one, letting perfumers express themselves and sharing their formulae. Sylvaine Delacourte offers olfactive treasures, extremely refined and well mastered. Not new, not so small, but offering great creations, Acqua Di Parma embodies perfectly the excellence of Italian perfumery. And Tom Ford always creates good olfactory surprises.”

Having met with Joëlle and watched her work, we can attest to the generosity and passion evident in her when she talks about scent and the fragrance community more generally. But as outsiders to the perfumer’s organs and workstations, hidden in labs and houses around the world, we asked her to walk us through what her day looks like when she is working, in an effort to better understand how this effervescent perfumer spends her time.

“I usually start my working day with an hour of sport to feel clean and strong in my mind and my body. Then, I create formulae for current projects or pro-actively make notes on ideas which I capture in my notebook.” 

“Next, I check perfumery regulations and weigh samples, preparing applications that I will only smell the next day, after they have macerated.” 

“I’ll have lunch with my family or with clients and then visit an art exhibition, or garden at home, to stock up on inspiration. I might have a conference call with my partner for the production of fragrance oils, have meetings with customers, control the stock of raw materials, or do an interview with journalists…No day is like another! I read and answer emails all day long, always organising my time to never postpone any tasks.” 

“In the evening, I join my family. I’ll check the homework of my children, and we’ll share a delicious dinner prepared by my beloved husband. I put my sons to sleep and always cuddle them for sweet dreams. I finally snuggle against my lover to read while he watches the TV.”

If that doesn’t sound like the most idyllic way to spend a day ever then we don’t know what is!

To finish, we asked Joëlle what her advice would be to someone starting out.

“Never give up,” she said. “Believe in your dreams. Build bridges to people not walls.”

Not only does this sagely advice capture Joëlle’s warm nature, but it’s advice that we could all do well to remember.

This article was published with Joëlle’s permission. We neither received, nor sought, any incentive for writing it.

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