Atelier, a word that became popular in the 18th century, suggests “a room of their own” that artists need in order to create. For perfumers, it is more than that. A fragrance arises through a series of exchanges with colleagues and clients, and a space where such mutual inspiration can happen is different from the classical “solo artist atelier.” For Firmenich, it is a creative space for personal reflections and a place for the collective. With three new fine fragrance ateliers in Grasse, Shanghai and São Paulo, the aim was to design three locations to have a radical effect—to change the way perfume is created by connecting the team with culture and clients. The three cities for the ateliers were chosen deliberately, as they each have their own unique culture and history.
Grasse – Continuity and Regeneration
Grasse received its appellation as the perfume capital of the world for the fields of flowers that once spread out like a colorful quilt around the region. It has been renowned for its aromas since the Middle Ages when a pair of scented leather gloves from its ateliers seduced Catherine de’Medici. Since then, the town had seen its fortunes rise and fall, but its connection with plants and perfumes has persisted. Therefore, for Fabrice Pellegrin, Principal Perfumer and Director of Natural Product Innovation, the atelier called Villa Botanica in Grasse means both continuity and regeneration.
Born and raised in Grasse, Fabrice discovered his calling as a perfumer early on. Grasse still shapes the way he creates—being close to the farmers makes him appreciate the flowers and their essences. With every creation, he pays tribute to the work of the growers, and at the atelier he hopes to convey the same passion to his clients. “And also to the young perfumers,” he adds. “The naturals bring poetry to compositions. They set me on a journey. They stimulate my imagination. Sharing these experiences with the new generation of perfumers is another essential element of the Atelier in Grasse.”
Villa Botanica is set to open its doors in April 2021, and in Fabrice’s words, the atelier is significant because “it possesses the virtue of tradition and the passion of creative excellence. It is about listening, smelling, creating, innovating and sharing.” Villa Botanica will undertake research, develop ideas and allow Firmenich teams at creative centers in New York, Paris and São Paulo to finalize their projects in Grasse. Clients could visit the facilities, experience the famed beauty of Provence, smell aromatic plants and learn how flowers becomes essence.
Perfumers Fabrice Pellegrin, Marie Salamagne, Alberto Morillas and Dora Baghriche at Villa Botanica | Photo © Claude MUZZIN Photograph
Shanghai – New Opportunities
Shanghai is China’s financial, economic and trade center. At first glance, it resembles New York or London given its vibrancy and the style of its modern architecture. Yet, the city has a unique character with its beautiful temples, parks and tea houses. One can find the latest fashions in Shanghai’s glamorous boutiques, but in the residential quarters, vendors offering to sharpen knives or clean ventilators still make house calls as they’ve done in the past. The city combines the modern and traditional in unexpected ways, and this juxtaposition was among the many reasons that inspired the Fine Fragrance Atelier.
The idea belongs to Olivier Viejo, Senior Commercial Director of China. He noted that the Chinese perfume market was changing dramatically. Until recently, wearing fine fragrance wasn’t part of daily culture in China. On the other hand, like its neighboring countries, Korea and Japan, China has a sophisticated relationship with aromas via tea, gastronomy, and incense. Yet, people’s relationship to perfume is changing. According to Euromonitor International, the retail value of China’s fragrance segment will reach $1.81 billion in 2023, which means that between only 2014 and 2018 the market had grown by 48.2%.
Having worked in Asia for more than five years, Olivier already knew the importance of relationships in China—and also how different the scent preferences are from what is popular in France or the United States. In order to understand this better, to support his clients, and to learn from them, it was essential to create the atelier space.
Olivier noted that niche brands were becoming popular, which reflected the rise of GenZ and its interest in new experiences. While older consumers still pay more attention to the brand, because perfume is a favorite gift offering, the younger perfume wearers want novel scents. They are connected via social media, they are the voracious readers of blogs and magazines, and they’re open to experiment.
For Daisy Xiao-Jing Shi, Senior Marketing Manager at the atelier, the unique landscape of the Chinese fragrance market means freedom and creativity. “In China, we don’t have a tradition of using perfume every day, and because of that, we have no boundaries when it comes to creating fragrances and stories. The local brands and consumers want to explore and co-create, and through this they’re defining the future of the Chinese fragrance market,” she explains.
Firmenich Account Manager Angel Li-Hong Zhang with clients at opening event
Communication Director Olivier Viejo speaking with clients at Good Feels, Feels Good party
São Paulo – The Future and Society
São Paulo is Brazil’s biggest metropolis and a cultural center. It is so cosmopolitan that it has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan and the largest Italian community outside of Italy, not to mention more than 70 other diasporas from all over the world. São Paulo is passionate about soccer, art and food. It also loves perfume.
While China is a relatively new domain for fine fragrance, Brazil has already established itself as the vanguard. It’s the second largest market after the United States, and enjoying perfume is an important part of Brazilian culture today. Firmenich has had an office in São Paulo for over 70 years, but Marc Jourdan-Gassin, Vice President of Perfumery, Latin America, sought to offer a more engaging creative experience to his clients and team. So, he found a place in the bohemian district of Vila Madalena in São Paulo. “I thought of approaching our atelier from an artistic angle to help define the future of fragrances together with our customers,” he says.
Showcasing Firmenich’s artistry through the work of perfumers like Adilson Rato and Carmita Magalhães was one aim. Another was to engage the local players and to shape fragrance creation together. After all, Brazil with its sophisticated fragrance culture offers a chance to reflect on the evolving role of perfume for consumers and to implement positive changes that touch millions of people.
For instance, the new generation of perfume wearers in Brazil is interested in brands that make environmental and social stewardship a priority. Some local brands educate perfume lovers about ingredients, renewable resources and environmental issues. In a city like São Paulo that suffers from social inequality, increasing levels of pollution and drought, such conversations find an audience.
As Julia Franca, Marketing Director, observes, GenZ and Millennials can see past mere slogans, and if a brand chooses to promote itself as sustainable, it needs to take full ownership of the idea. “And we can help our clients to do just that, whether they focus on ingredients, being inspired by nature or striving to be natural. We truly believe in the power of scent for good!”
The concept of co-creation and collaboration as embodied by the ateliers in Grasse, Shanghai and São Paulo has gained new relevance since the start of the COVID crisis. Creating scents is about connections and emotions. As we find new ways to inspire each other, the inspiration is channeled into positive emotions and these positive emotions into beautiful fragrances.
Armand de Villoutreys at opening
Media Lab Director Felipe Azambuja and Senior Perfumer Carmita Magalhaes with clients