Perfume, like so many industries, is one dominated by men. During my time as a beauty journalist, I've interviewed over 20 perfumers – none of them women. All were men, and all of them were creating perfumes for women.
'Where were all the female perfumers?', I used to ask my boss. Why were only men creating scents for women? It felt outdated to me, particularly when in fashion, women have been championing female-driven brands like Celine, Chloe and Stella McCartney for years now. A woman designing women’s clothes lends a different perspective than a male womenswear designer – a perspective that is often more utilitarian, practical and less romanticised. Does that same idea not spill into fragrance?
During a recent trip to Venice, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the first group (yes, more than one!) of female perfumers I had met. Assembled by Bottega Veneta as co-creators of their beautiful new range, Parco Palladiano, these perfumers shared their thoughts on feminism, fragrance and fashioning a female-led future.
'When I started many years ago, there were very few female perfumers,' agrees Sophie Labbé, co-creator of Bottega Veneta's Castagno perfume. 'Recently I’ve noticed there has been an uprise of women in this industry, which is wonderful.'
Perhaps this rise can be attributed to the diversification of schools, which were previously limited to sons of perfumers and french families of connection - shocking, but hardly uncommon in the 19th and 20th century.'Now these institutions allow different people from various backgrounds and with different stories to explore perfumery,' says Mylène Alran. 'It is no longer aristocratic or gender-oriented. The glass ceiling is gone.'
In every way this diversification has allowed perfume to become ‘richer’, benefiting from the subtlety and understanding female perfumers can often bring to a scent.
It's ‘not really about gender’ though, as the collective keep trying to express. 'It is about experience and skill. The only difference is that now far more women can rival the experience and skill of their male counterparts, which was previously quite limited.'
Even when creating female fragrances, the perfumers insist their gender is irrelevant. 'It just doesn’t translate - we never think about gender when creating a fragrance,' says Sidonie Lancesseur, which makes sense - the very origins of fragrance and colognes were gender-free, created predominantly to promote good health and to prevent illness.
'What’s super cool about this collection is that it’s a return to that gender fluid ideal,' continues Sidonie, 'which meant we had total freedom in our creations as opposed to being limited by marketing concepts.'
Sex-free scents have been dominating the industry (just look at cult fragrance brands like Byredo or Le Labo), which feels appropriate in an age where gender is becoming less and less defined, and in many ways, less relevant.
'It is so outdated,' agrees the group, which is why they all jumped at the chance to work on the project with Bottega Veneta.
The scents, of which there are now fifteen, pay homage to the rich gardens of the Bottega Veneta atelier. Each fragrance represents an ‘olfactory trompe l’oeil,’ composed from raw materials of native flora & fauna. Bearing the name of the key note in each composition, along with a simple Roman numeral (to honour the classical heritage of the Palladian villas) the fragrances are assorted into four botanical families; flowers, woods, herbs, and fruits, corresponding to different parts of the garden.
There is an ease to the fragrances that is reinforced by the simple names. 'Simplicity doesn’t mean it has no complexity,' the group tell me. In fact each fragrance seems painstakingly created, with over a year in the works and going so far as to specify the time of day in which each scent is inspired. For example, the morning dew on a rose, the early afternoon in an orange orchard or the violets in the evening - each fragrance takes light as seriously as the ingredients.
Parco Palladiano XII Quercia brings to life the intense energy of the oak tree, from its earthy roots to it’s calming green canopy. 'I would describe this fragrance as a heart of wood, both suave and strong. It is the soul expression of a majestic Oak, a quiet yet mysterious strength in a Palladian garden,' says perfumer Quentin Bisch. It is deeply alluring, particularly when worn on a woman as the notes are traditionally more masculine.
Parco Palladiano X Olivo conjures the powerful presence of the olive tree. 'Olivo is a woody green composition—strong and charismatic, grounded on the earth and rising to the air. From the bottom of its roots, climbing over the centre of its trunk to the top of its leaves, it liberates its green strength,' says perfumer Amandine Marie.
Parco Palladiano IX Violetta calls to mind the end of the day when the violet flower grows, radiating a gorgeous musk. 'I wanted to create a contrast between the delicate and elegant violet and the prestigious enveloping woods that surround it,' says perfumer Sidonie Lancesseur. It is one of those rare scents that perfectly combine floral and woody notes for a layered, luxurious perfume.
This story first appeared on ELLEUK.com.