Professor, academic, author, and of course, a lifelong fragrance lover, Michel Gutsatz is at the heart of what we do. Carrying on his father’s work, and his name, without Michel (and Clara!), the perfumes you enjoy today might still be handwritten formulas in an archive, away from the light of day. Michel is a living witness to a childhood experienced by few. Growing up as the son of a master perfumer in a Paris townhouse with a lab upstairs is not a common experience. We couldn’t wait to uncover his scent memories and his vision for the fragrance industry. He took time out of his hectic day (trust us, we know!) to answer our nosy questions.
What question do you get asked most often?
My my…. Funnily enough, as I have made most of my career in the university, it is “Could you give me some advice for my son/daughter? What degree should they go for?”
When it comes to Le Jardin Retrouvé it is: “Did you reformulate Yuri’s original formulas?” and my answer is No. It seems reformulation has been done widely, even for some classics, and customers are increasingly aware of it. We have decided from the start in 2016 not to reformulate: Yuri’s formulas are beautiful and timeless. They do not need to be adapted to supposedly evolving tastes. This allows us to cater both to Western more mature customers and to Chinese millennials who both love these classic fragrances and are not into sweet scents for instance.
What’s your first scent memory?
Have you ever eaten fresh walnuts just off the tree? It is a marvelous feeling: getting your hands dark brown, eating the delicious walnuts, and smelling their extraordinary scent. That was me as a tiny boy in a small village just outside Paris where my parents rented a house devoid of water and electricity and where I discovered the extraordinary smells of nature, always linked for me with food: apples, pears, walnuts, green peas, tomatoes, fresh mint…
What was the first fragrance you bought?
Unfortunately (for perfume stores!) I have never bought a fragrance for myself. I always have been using my father’s Le Jardin Retrouvé fragrances, and among them, my favourite has always been Cuir de Russie, the most sentimental of all his creations. It was created as an homage to his own father David: during the Bolshevik Revolution, his father, son of a successful publisher, to save his bourgeois family, had enrolled in the Red Army. Yuri remembered when his father was coming home in the evening in his uniform, taking him into his arms, and when, cuddling against him (he was 3 years old), he pressed his nose against the leather strap. A first scent memory. Cuir de Russie….
What does fragrance mean to you?
Fragrance has always been one of my privileged links to my father and his art. He was a true poet and creator, and the most intimate words we exchanged mostly concerned his passion for perfume. His desire for perfumers to be recognized as true creators and his humble attitude when saying, “I am an artisan and never would compare to true artists like Michelangelo or Bach.” As he once wrote, “The perfumer has no message to convey. All he can do is create a moment of beauty.”
Fragrance has the same meaning for me: it is a “fleeting moment of pleasure,” BUT one that is linked to our deepest memories. Somehow, even if transient, this forgotten memory is there, and smelling a scent, a fragrance can revive it and bring it gushing back. Is there anything more beautiful, more emotional?
What do you think the fragrance industry needs in the future?
I will again start with what my father Yuri wrote in 1966: “Perfumers used to be craftsmen. The present-day perfumer is a technician who must act to meet the requirements of his time. He has to find an almost immediate answer to the problems submitted by salespeople, by marketing advisers, by export promotion specialists. He is no longer the master of his time or his inspiration. Always in a hurry, always sacrificing to the wishes of the public, after having sacrificed to the dictates of cost, efficiency, planning, and given due consideration to all the problems involved in launching a perfumery product on the market.”
Nothing much has changed in 2020. Except that new perfume brands (so-called ‘niche’ brands, a word I truly do not like, but that is another debate) have come to market resurrecting, in a way, the craftsman. I say ‘in a way’ because most fragrances created today in the premium or prestige category are cost-controlled: the former CEO of a perfume company (“Maison de composition”) told me recently that their briefs averaged 90€/kg of concentrate. At Le Jardin Retrouvé, following Yuri’s precepts, they cost from 150€ to 450€ per kilo… Why cut fragrance costs that represent but a portion of the final price? Cutting costs (if necessary) can be done elsewhere. For instance, in the packaging that all customers throw away once the bottle is bought!
At Le Jardin Retrouvé, we try to think ahead, and we offer a No Box option: why increase waste when our human actions endanger the planet? We also anticipate that the move to clean beauty – already significant in cosmetics – will become a fragrance driver. We are working on all our formulas and, for instance, are moving to organic alcohol denatured in a natural way. The fragrance industry still has many revolutions to come!
Michel Gutsatz was in conversation with Samantha Scriven.