Karine was born in the heartland of perfumery, in Grasse, where children grow up with their noses buried in the flowers the town is famous for – ‘so I decided I wanted to be a perfumer at the age of eight years old…’
She was essentially ‘apprenticed’ at the local perfume school (just three students a year were taken on). ‘They trained flavourists, too, but I decided that would be a dangerous job for someone who loves food as much as I do…’ By the age of 24 Karine found bestseller success with collections for Roger & Gallet, and went on to create for Lanvin, and Gucci (their Gucci for Men and Envy Me). Famous for her work with florals, she was taken on full-time by L’Occitane, creating the acclaimed La Collection de Grasse fine fragrance collection. ‘And I’m proud to be part of an industry that’s finally recognising women. It’s such an obvious feminine job, yet not long ago women in perfume companies were mostly washing the dishes or making the tea…’
When did you decide you wanted to be a perfumer/create your own perfume?
When I was a child growing up in Grasse, I loved the smells of the flowers, the plants and the fruits in my grandparents’ garden (mimosa, roses, jasmine, orange flowers, violets, lilac etc…). I also loved the smell of my mother’s cooking; she always used lots of spices and fresh aromatic herbs. I always knew I would have a creative job. One of my parents’ friends was a perfumer and she introduced me to this art at a young age. I always used to smell the new perfume creations she was working on and visited the labs regularly.
What are your five favourite smells in the world?
I have too many favorite notes. I love patchouli, Grasse jasmine, vanilla, lilac, bitter orange…
What’s the worst thing you ever smelled? (Honestly!)
The smell of rotten potatoes. It’s a memory I wish I didn’t have.
What is the fragrance you wish you’d created?
It is hard to choose one: Clinique Aromatics Elixir, YSL Opium, Courrèges Empreinte…
For you, is this one of the most exciting times in fragrance history, because of the creativity being expressed by perfumers? And if so, why do you think that is?
Rather than an intense period of creativity, I would say that the fragrance industry is facing some big changes. For several years, brands have been launching so many new perfumes every year, many of which are copies and variation of previous ones; they have now reached an economic and creative deadlock. In my mind, the only solution is a return to honest, artisanal perfumery with precious ingredients, distinctive character and personality. That is why in-house perfumers have become more prominent and starting to guarantee an olfactive ‘tone of voice’ for brands. Perfumers are placed again at the centre of that, which is a very good thing!
If you could have created a fragrance for a historical figure, who would it be?
It would be for Maria Callas. (*Karine is trained classical opera singer)
What’s the first fragrance you bought? And the first bought for you…?
I broke my piggy-bank to buy Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps for my mother. For me, I used to wear Monsieur Balmain, a fresh verbena and a precious fragrance, when I was doing a lot of classical ballet. And I would always remember the Eau de Cologne that my mother used in my hair after my bath when I was a very little girl.
Do you have a favourite bottle design, from those that have been used for your fragrance creations?
I really like the shape of L’Occitane Eau des Baux; it reminds me of old perfume flask.
How many perfumes might you be working on, at one time?
I might be working on a dozen different ideas at the same time.
How long, roughly, does it take you to create a fragrance?
It can vary greatly. In general, a perfume development lasts from 6 months to 1 or 2 years. In the current industry, this is a real luxury to have.
Does your nose ever ‘switch off’?
Hopefully, no! It has happened before when I worked for too long on a project or on the same note. Thankfully, my sense of smell still evolves; it becomes more developed every day, and when I smell raw materials that I already know, I can still discover facets that I hadn’t necessarily analysed before. When I am relaxing and socialising my mind switches off – but my nose still works and every now and then it will draw my attention back to something it picked up.
Is creating a fragrance ‘visual’ for you, as well as something that happens in the nose/brain? If so, in what way…? Is a mood-board helpful?
I do get inspiration from pictures, images and often memories. But my inspiration can come from anywhere and anytime. I might be inspired by a journey, by a delicious meal with wonderful and surprising flavours, by a garden or a walk in a forest… I usually begin by writing down what I want to create. Then I start thinking about the ingredients I’d like to use. So I might think about jasmine, which has many facets: it can be very fresh but also very strong, just like the flowers before they are picked. When I smelled the extract for the first time, I was so disappointed. I always want a fragrance to smell as natural as possible, like the living flower, which often is the biggest technical challenge for a perfumer.
What can each of us do to enhance our appreciation of fragrance?
The first step will be to improve your awareness of all the smells around you. Take time to quietly analyse and explore them and try to learn the language to speak better about them. Then, don’t be shy about smelling things around you; be curious! To train your nose, you should smell in a place that’s well-ventilated, but not too dry and quiet.
If you had one fragrance note that you love above all others, what would that be?
So, If I have to choose one, I would say patchouli.