Epicurean Master Perfumer, author of best-selling Acqua Di Gio by Armani, and CK One by Calvin Klein recalls his fragrant Andalusian childhood.
This photograph was taken in 1955. It was the winter of my fifth birthday. There was an unchanging ritual at home: twice a year my parents and I would go to have our photographs taken by a professional.
I loved this appointment with Gomez Teruel; his shop was full of strange objects, furniture with different styles. There was a whole ceremony, we were allowed to choose the setting for the photo.
I was an only child. My father didn't want to obey Franco, who demanded that families have many children (in the same way, he categorically refused to wear the thin moustache, a Francoist attribute).
At the time we lived in Moron de la Frontera, a small town 60 km from Seville, in what is now called a "town house". With loving parents, I spent most of my life within the walls of the patio, watching the clouds in the blue sky and dreaming. In the photo, you'd think I had slicked back hair. In reality, I had spikes and my mother used to pour cologne in my hair to tame it.
That's probably where my taste for fresh water as a perfumer comes from. I grew up surrounded by all kinds of smells: the incense of the churches (there were no less than 25 in the town), the smell of the carnations in front of the altar,
but also the scent of orange blossom from the Corpus Christi processions. After the siesta, we used to draw water from the wells to sprinkle the tiles of the Patio and refresh the atmosphere, and this impression has remained with me. Today I realise that I am looking for the smell of this raw naturalness mixed with an aquatic freshness. One scene comes back to me: while my aunt was swinging in the Rocking Chair, making little movements with her fan (noises that had a soporific effect on me), my grandmother was putting jasmine flowers on long bars that she was putting in her bun.
I remember as if it were yesterday the smell of the slightly oxidised petals. There were not many distractions and I would watch for the prickly pear merchant to pass by with his cart in front of the house. I would call out to him through the window and he would cut up his fleshy berries for me, which gave off a fresh, watery and tasty smell. From Andalusia, French perfume was a luxury out of reach; my parents made do with local products. The bestseller of the time was Varon Dandy, a 1920s perfume that was all the rage. The label featured a moustachioed man in a barber's chair. I remember an unpleasant balsamic note that my father associated with the Franco regime to the extent that he refused to wear it. He preferred cologne, which he bought from the local pharmacy, each with its own exclusive recipe. This happy childhood allowed me to store up a host of scents that reappear from time to time in certain creations, but my attraction to perfume came much later, at the age of 17 or 18, when I entered the Beaux-Arts in Geneva and discovered an article on Jean Paul Guerlain in Vogue magazine. My destiny was sealed.
Interview by Lionel Paillès for Le Monde Magazine.
Comments collected by Lionel Paillès for Le Monde Magazine.