Crossing the circular lobby of the Plaza Athénée on the avenue Montaigne is like diving into a cloud of baby powder: someone on the staff has had a heavy hand spraying the hotel’s benzoin-laden signature scent. Thankfully, none of it has seeped into the fabled chef Alain Ducasse’s restaurant, where IFF is staging one of the most exciting perfume-related events on the calendar: the annual Speed-smelling lunch, which already had its New York edition. One hour to discover ten free-style olfactory exercises outside the constraints of budgets, briefs or launches, but also some of the outstanding materials produced by Laboratoire Monique Rémy (LMR), the naturals branch of IFF, always a great source of inspiration. The event is therefore a unique opportunity for journalists and perfumers to connect directly, albeit briefly, to discuss their actual creative process.
I team up with the seasoned industry journalist Sabine Chabbert (who recently published the mouth-watering La Cuisine des Nez and is therefore the best possible companion for this sniff and savour sprint) and we are ushered to our first table by Judith Gross, IFF’s global marketing director for naturals and R&D.
Juliette Karagueuzoglou authored the gorgeous, woody-spicy Costume National 21 in 2007, a year after joining IFF. The jasmine and panna cotta accord she presented at last year’s Speed-smelling session has already made it into Ferragamo’s Signorina (due to come out in February). This year’s Incarnation is a tribute to her grand-mother’s L’Air du Temps, modernized by swapping the classic aldehydes with the fruitier mandarin aldehyde, paring down the eugenols (an IFRA no-no) and tweaking the jasmine towards a delicate tiaré-lily-salicylic feel. The result is soft, rounded and benzoin-powdery, with almond facets: the feel, if not the actual smell, is somehow reminiscent of the cosy, ambient-music accords of Kenzo Flower.
The olfactory game of musical chairs next drops us in front of Céline Barel (also featured in the New York edition), a vintage-loving fashionista with a bent for the trashy aesthetics of photographer David Lachapelle and 80s sillage monsters like Obsession and Giorgio Beverly Hills. Céline is still giddy with the excitement of having spent a few weeks at the avant-garde artistic director Bob Wilson’s Watermill Center summer program, a laboratory for performance in which dozens of artists from all over the world collaborate on various projects – this year’s edition, inspired by the Weimar Republic, was called “Voluptuous Panic”. Céline’s creative partner was the Argentinean artist Santiago Taccetti. For his Smoke and Mirrors installation (click here to see it) he asked her to alter the perception of space and time by adding an olfactory dimension – a scented mist pumped into the glass cube. Unfazed, Céline asked herself what the void would smell like, and came up with a scent both polar-cold and hot by combining aldehydes, oxides and a “spiky wood” material called Amber Xtreme. Smoke and Mirrors is tough, mineral and scary: being immersed in a mist-filled cube scented with it and glowing with the eerie stripes of neon bars could indeed induce space-time distortions…