Is this the world’s greatest perfumer?

Meet Master Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena. He just may the world’s finest living perfumer. Ellena demonstrates a craftsmanship and creativity unrivalled in perfumery today.

jean-claude ellena hermes

He composes his perfumes as he would writing a song. On sheets of white paper facing the Mediterranean. For him, fragrances have form…vertical..round.

The visionary:

Jean-Claude Ellena, Master Perfumer

  • Born in Grasse, France, the birthplace of French perfume – the son of a perfumer himself.
  • Studied at the Givaudan School of Perfumery in Switzerland, the most prestigious fine scent curriculum in the world.
  • Created numerous perfume classics including: First by Van Cleef & Arpels, Eau Parfumee from Bvlgari and Eau de Champagne from Sisley. Appointed exclusive perfumer for Hermes where he worked for many years.
  • His style is minimalist and simple. He’s known for ruthlessly eliminating the surplus and redundant. His own style fully emerged in the 1990s after 20 years of concentrated work
hermes jean-claude ellena perfumer

The Interview:

I create all my fragrances in a small village called Cabris which is near Grasse. It is a beautiful place, I live in a designer house. There is a tranquility and peace there with no one overlooking me. I am wholly immersed in the world of perfume, which is essential to my life. From my office, I see the Mediterranean. Outside, it is rocky, with tall Aleppo pines. The design of the house is very modern, a little Steve Wright.

I arrive at 8:30 in the morning. I feel the compositions of the day and I start writing with just a sheet of paper and a pencil. That is all I have I my office. When creating perfumes, one must have as little as possible around you because the slightest variation will cause you to feel differently. I have a big room that is my office and the laboratory is at the end, as far as possible from me, so I am protected from the scents.

I’m very disciplined. I can write 10 to 15 times per day. I write the formula, I give it to my assistant, who carries out the mixing and brings it to me half an hour later depending on complexity. Then I feel and start again. If I am working quickly, it means a hundred trials. On slower days, it can mean 300 versions.

Perfume compositions are all in my head. This is the same intellectual process as writing a text. You will read and tell yourself, no, it’s not exactly what I mean. And you rework your sentences. It ends when you think you have said everything.

I am a watercolorist and I enjoy doing watercolors of Irish landscapes.

I live with scents. These are building materials. I know them well. I know their character, their looks, their apprehension and possible combinations. That’s how I handle the smell. For me, the sandalwood, the wood is voluptuous, caressing, soft. I see them physically, I touch them. Then you need to stage them, clothe them, there is a relationship that is both emotional, loyal and disloyal.

The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky best describes some of my scents.

I often choose Atlas cedar notes with its smell of churned, wet clay but also of human skin, of bodies after lovemaking. I like putting something human into a perfume.

When I compose I think neither man nor woman. I write for the pleasure of the smell. We need the smell to trigger an emotion, a feeling that is personal.
If I had to pick a muse for this scent it would be jazz pianist Bill Evans. I am a fan. And his way of composing is still in the tight side.

Bvlgari Eau Parfumeé Au Thé Vert: Jean-Claude’s masterpiece

This clean citrus-aromatic fragrance for her or him was created a to relax and soothe guests at Bvlgari’s luxury resorts and spas. He skillfully blends notes of green tea, refreshing bergamot, beeswax, Bulgarian rose and sandalwood. The result is a calming, gentle scent.

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  • Liz Howard
    August 7, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    Such an amazing profession and so interesting!!!

  • Cynthia Sacks
    August 3, 2021 at 6:19 pm

    Great read. Loved his reference to The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky. And best of all — His name is Jean-Claude, which is the name of my almost 14 year old Stand poodle (tho my J-C was named after skier Jean-Claude Kiley!)

  • September Dee
    August 1, 2021 at 9:45 pm

    Wonderful interview! I was captivated by him after reading Chandler Burr’s The Perfect Scent which beautifully describes one of his creations,

  • Angela Citrigno
    August 1, 2021 at 1:56 pm

    Writing formulas, I never thought of it that way. The statement 100 formulas and some days 300 formulas blew me away. One molecule off and you start from the beginning. Does one protect your sense of smell when your the king of Perfumery? So interesting, I love articles like this. @959angela

  • valerie
    August 1, 2021 at 12:34 pm

    It sounds quite complex to make a scent, so much goes into one.

    • LInda L
      August 5, 2021 at 11:26 pm

      Knowledgable, disciplined and dedicated to his profession. Superb traits for a master perfumer! Its in his genes! Bravo JCE!

  • Roberta
    August 1, 2021 at 11:00 am

    Wow, what a glimpse into his life! I would love to see his house and lab. The process seems daunting. He certainly is passionate about his work!

  • Daniela
    August 1, 2021 at 9:30 am

    Can you image 300 versions!!! Wow that takes alot of patience to get the exact version you want and something different than you already made

  • Anna Roszak Robinson
    August 1, 2021 at 9:06 am

    Great interview.
    I love it.

  • Trisha Pedros
    August 1, 2021 at 7:43 am

    Fabulous read! He is an artist!