Thierry Wasser: "There are Zero Rules in Perfume - It's Empirical" {Fragrant Readings}


In a particularly free-thinking interview, Guerlain in-house perfumer Thierry Wasser reveals unknown sides to his personality - like his admittance that he's a 12-year-old really - as well as his idiosyncratic method for composing fragrances...

He organizes ingredients by alphabetical order, does not think in terms of an evaporation curve and in the end, uses his intuition.

What appears in this long and rich interview in particular is how he's evolved as a Guerlain perfumer. He qualifies himself as "naive" when he looks back at who he was in 2008 when he entered the house. His experience sourcing ingredients and manufacturing perfumes from A to Z has been instrumental in influencing how he conceives what a Guerlain fragrance ought to smell like. What has solidified therefore is his interpretation of Guerlain although he's quick to point out that perfume is a moving thing, a dance, which can be explained discursively but which in reality is dancing away from you.

And then there is the part of mystery, the unexplained, the charm that make some perfume endure while others which were also full of qualities die. For Wasser, the off-the-top-of-his-head list is easy to give: Mitsouko, L'Heure bleue, Shalimar, N° 5 de Chanel, Pour un homme de Caron, those are fragrances that "have something that others don't have" although he notes a strong advertizing policy does not hurt either. But we all know that good adverts are not enough.

The most "prolific" of the Guerlains was Jacques. He composed 400 perfumes. His masterpieces survive today. Perhaps, you can imagine, there will be new interest in the future for the forgotten Jacques Guerlain perfumes.

Wasser squarely refuses to see perfume as something too abstract and intellectual although here again, it's a matter of nuance. Perfume for him is a mental projection but it is essentially made with guts, love and passion.

He also explains how instransigeant he is with the Guerlain formulae even more so perhaps because his surname is not Guerlain. He gives the example of having had his way over marketing execs who suggested buying just one kind of cinnamon for Jicky. Going back to the Guerlain black book, he insisted you need both the Ceylon and Chinese cinnamons.


Wasser has had more time since 2008 to internalize the styles of all the Guerlain perfumers before him, which he says allows him to find his own style like you drape different layers of folded materials on a Stockman dummy as he borrows the new in fashion metaphor that the house of Guerlain has "held-up" according to his own words.

Jean-Paul Guerlain's style for instance is that of a seducer bent on possessing women, and this reflects in his perfumes like Nahéma, Chamade or Samsara.

His familiarity with the house is constantly evolving. The launch of L'Homme Idéal is a creative turning point for him. He's never felt freer to play with the Guerlain codes.

Let's hope that Thierry Wasser will one day write his memoirs about being the first non-Guerlain perfumer at Guerlain. It is bound to be full of personal reflections, insights and anecdotes.

Read the interview at Le Temps

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