Scent Memories

Maison Martin Margiela’s Replica fragrance collection is about the personal: capturing a memory using the strongest sense. The names are direct references to the perfume’s provenance such as “Flower Market, Paris, 2011” and “Funfair Evening, Santa Monica, 1994.” In 2013, Margiela commissioned a photo series, #smellslikememories, to accompany the fragrances.

Among the standout Replica scents are the feminine “Tea Escape, Tokyo, 2008,” and masculine “At the Barber’s, Madrid, 1992,” created by perfumers Fabrice Pellegrin and Louise Turner respectively. In honor of their Margiela fragrances, we asked the industry veterans to tell us a little bit about their personal scent memories and process. Although they come from different backgrounds—the daughter of a chemist, Turner was always interested in science, whereas Pellegrin, whose father is also a perfumer, wanted to be a pilot as a child—the two have more in common that you might think. Both Pellegrin and Turner grew up next to fragrance factories: Pellegrin went to elementary school by the Roure factory in Grasse, France; Turner lived by the Quest factory, where she eventually trained, in Ashford, England. “When we grow up, we realize that these odors have permeated our olfactory memory,” says Turner.

FIRST FRAGRANCE: Louise Turner: It was a fragrance given to me by my aunt when I was about 11 years old, Fidji by Guy Laroche—a fresh green floral fragrance that I liked a lot. Then I wore Charlie by Revlon, like everyone else at that time. The first fragrance that I bought at the age of 16 was Eau de Givenchy, a fresh floral fragrance that smells of nature.

CURRENT FRAGRANCE: Fabrice Pellegrin: I wear perfume, but I am definitely not loyal to any one in particular. I change every day. Today, I’m wearing a scent with a patchouli base.

Turner: When I work, I do not wear perfume to not disturb me. However, when I am outside in the evening or on weekends, I wear my creations. I like to be confronted with reality, with the spontaneous comments of either families or strangers. I remember when I was working on the Glow by Jennifer Lopez, I wore a trial [fragrance]. I was shopping and a woman stopped me to know what I was wearing. I answered that it was not available on the market but I directed her towards a musky note. Her comments were very precious to me and helped me to develop the fragrance.

MOST OVERUSED INGREDIENT: Turner: For my part, ethyl maltol without hesitation. This gourmand and sweet note was too used in perfumery, so much that it trivialized and standardized fragrances. I believe that today we have reached the level of tolerance.

Pellegrin: In general, I don’t think there is one overused ingredient. I find that, more and more today, there are fashions in the industry. At the moment it’s iris, so everyone is making iris perfumes. Before, it was gourmand perfumes, so everyone was using praline. A few years ago, it was marine perfumes. I try to find a balance. When you work with a big fashion house, I think you need to follow the trends, but when you are doing something for a niche market, you can move away from them.

MEN VS. WOMEN: Turner: Creating a fragrance for a woman or for a man, it’s the same process for me. I think about the original idea and try to transpose the simplicity of this odor, both clear and pure.

Pellegrin: Creating a fragrance for men is different to creating a fragrance for women. There are certain scents that, for me, are typically masculine and certain ingredients that are typically feminine. Florals are very feminine, whereas spices are much more masculine. When creating a perfume, you’re going to choose a base note that will make it either a masculine or feminine fragrance. Then there are ingredients that you can use in both, the only thing that changes is the quantity: for example, with a wood note, you’re going to put a lot of it in a men’s fragrance and not as much in a women’s fragrance.

THE MUSE: Pellegrin: For my Margiela fragrance, I thought of a Mediterranean woman, but I don’t think of a woman every time I create a scent; it’s often about the label I’m working for.

THE POWER OF SCENT: Turner: My relationship with my mother’s scent is so special, a blend of admiration and childish respect. She liked to wear opulent fragrance, like Orientals and Chypres, Magie Noire by Lancôme, Opium by Yves Saint Laurent, and Ma Griffe by Carven affect me the same way as Proust’s madeleine. Ultimately, they are the first famous perfumes that I could smell in my work as a perfumer.

The smell of my father also influenced me. One of his passions was the wood. He used to work the wood, cut it into small pieces to create beautiful objects. I intensely remember the smell of sawdust, which mingled with the cigarette that he was smoking. Those smells fascinated me and continue to fascinate me.