Meet Perfumer Jean-Christophe Hérault
Jean-Christophe Herault may not be a household name but his creations sit on the vanity tables of millions of fragrance enthusiasts around the world. As the perfumer of the new Coach Open Road fragrance, a sophisticated vetiver-lavender fragrance for him, Herault brings an unbridled creativity and curiosity to each new project.
Born in France, he was introduced to the perfume industry early on as his father worked for a firm that produced concentrates for the fragrance industry. It was during his teen years when his father gave him a bottle of Joop for Men that sparked a passion for fragrance. He would go on to study chemistry at university where he landed an internship in a laboratory in Grasse where he became immersed in the industry. It was love at first sight. Through this position, he met legendary perfumer Pierre Boudon who he convinced to mentor him after much begging. Bourdon agreed to teach him the art of perfumery under one condition: that he study the wider world of art, culture, literature and visual art. His first assignment? Reading Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. “I learned that there are aesthetic forms everywhere that can touch and inspire us. An encounter, a feeling, be it love or sadness.”
“I was fortunate to talk with Pierre Bourdon. I told him I wanted to be a perfumer and about my emotions and my sense of connection with perfume. I expected him to point me in a certain direction – but no, he offered to train me. That was a gift from my god, from a man I admired as much for his talent and for his choices, his erudition, his intelligence and articulacy. He talked to me about perfumery in the most beautiful and impressive terms. I waited four years for him to train me.”
“I was doing quality control for Fragrance Resources in Grasse. Grasse is the cradle of modern perfumery, not only historically, with its tanneries and the development of the leather perfuming trade, but also because of its flora and climate. For me who came from the Oise and from Paris, it opened up my senses. It was fantastic to be able to smell the perfumery ingredients, the raw materials, and then the fragrances produced at the factory,” he says.
“To me, the relationship between the two was magical. There were ingredients that I found delicious and others I didn’t understand or didn’t really like. For example, the animalic notes of the 1990s, civet, castoreum, and so on. They really put me off. There were also raw materials I had difficulty picking up so I thought them insignificant. And yet, when I smelled the perfumes, the compositions created with those raw materials, I was enchanted, transported. Since then, I have learned to appreciate all raw materials for their intrinsic qualities.”
During his apprenticeship, Bourdon encouraged him to smell flowers in particular. “When you come from Paris, you don’t know the smell of mimosa, jasmine, centifolia rose, lavender and lavandin cultivars. Even aromatic herbs are a discovery when you smell them in the heat, in the Mediterranean garigue. It fueled my imagination and my passion.”
What was the most important lesson he learned about the art of perfumery? “Of course you can treat perfumery as a molecular combination of compatible molecules just as you can treat music as the science of sound wave phenomena. But you don’t have to.” He learned you can dream. You can be a dreamer and allow your creativity and passion guide you. “Perfume is a verbal form that tells stories. The story you have in your head is translated into words through the perfume ingredients. The ingredients become olfactive words and their combinations olfactive phrases.”
“With time you hone your technique, you store tons of information, which helps you make shortcuts. But you have to keep that technique on a leash, keep it at the right distance to preserve the freshness, and to preserve the time spent daydreaming about the simple pleasures of childhood which are so true and powerful and that resonate with so many people.” He says you have to force yourself to continue to see things with a child’s eyes, unencumbered by logic. And that is what I give in my compositions: that wonderment.”
Besides Coach Open Road, Hérault has composed fragrances for Canali, Ghost, Balenciaga, Lagerfeld, Atkinsons, Dolce & Gabbana, James Bond 007 and Paco Rabanne. He is one of the most in-demand perfumers working today.