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Marie Salamagne, perfumer of the supernatural

February 21 2018

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Marie Salamagne. A name that many are currently talking about in the perfume world. We owe him the latest perfume Alaïa. The last Mugler too: his name is Aura. A predestined name for a young woman a little druidess whose forest is the muse. - Isabelle Cerboneschi.


There is something supernatural about Marie Salamagne. It is imagined to perceive the spirit of the trees and plants that surround the Perigord family property. Nature is its refuge, the forest its home port and its muse.

The force of the Earth, she could express it almost ceremonially in Aura, the last opus of Thierry Mugler. Another perfume that we love or hate. No wonder: this duality of the I love / I do not like applies to all the fragrances of the brand since the launch ofAngelIn 1992.

This fragrance is enshrined in a green heart, designed like a crystal. By a disturbing phenomenon of paréidolie, and according to the angle where we look at this heart, we perceive a face that could be that of a robot or an alien: we are in the world of Thierry Mugler, aka Manfred.

Will begin on a green note a little medicinal, which rounds with time, between the flower and the sweetness, like tonka bean. It is difficult to define this scent, because it refers to ingredients that the nose barely discern.

Under the artistic direction of Pierre Aulas, Thierry Mugler's olfactory consultant, four perfumers participated in the development of Aura's composition: Daphne Bugey, Amandine Clerc-Marie, Christophe Raynaud, but it's Marie Salamagne who gave the "the", the original idea.

IC: How do you capture the aura?
Marie Salamagne: (Laughter). When we were introduced to the story behind the perfume, it was to draw a new Mugler woman, belonging to the singular universe of the creator. Mr. Mugler was looking for the aura of a female character, with a slightly animal facet. There must have been some "vegetality" in this fragrance. Every woman has an aura of its own and the fact that we were given these few key elements - I say "we" because we were several perfumers to work on this perfume - allowed us to build this first idea, that of a very strong agreement, from the beginning.

You have indeed composed this perfume with several hands: you were four perfumers. Should everyone write a note, a facet of the perfume? How is harmony born, how do you give a signature to a perfume when you are four?
A strong signature can only be born if it emanates from a single person, if it is inhabited. We were actually four to work on Aura's note, but there is a perfumer behind a strong idea.

And this perfumer was you?
Yes, but we are all here to serve the brand. We decide to call another perfumer because we think it will be rewarding, because these are projects that last 2 or 3 years, which are of the order of the marathon, and it is important to to have another look at his own formulas. Depending on the personality of each, the brand in question, we will appeal to this or that perfumer. In the case of Aura, everyone brought a plus, which happened at one time and was validated by the other three. It was a work done in communion of spirit and it allowed us not to lose the strong idea of ​​departure.

What was this idea?
I had the idea to reinterpret animality with today's codes. The tour de force was not to use the animal notes that we know: musk, civet, castoreum, ambergris, all these notes that take us to the past of the perfume very marked, to the time of the guerlinade for example. But the woman we were talking about in Aura was modern: we had to express a new form of sensuality. Luck of luck: in our palette, there was a material that had never been used and that possessed this strange scent, between the feminine softness and the animal. It was quite difficult to tame: it is a natural material called the tawny creeper. I wanted to combine its two facets and quickly enough, I associated with a note of rhubarb to find a vegetal side, to generate a vibration, a momentum of life, a bit like sap. This was the starting point.

You speak of the tawny creeper: does it really exist?
Yes, it is a natural raw material that has been sourced in China. It has always been used there in the pharmacopoeia. As perfumers, we did not use it. But there are people whose job it is to be a smell researcher and one of these people offered it to us. We found it a little odd because we did not have the codes, but we decided to add it to our palette by telling us that one day, someone would manage to exploit it. Later, during perfume development, we learned that this material was used as a heart regulator. But when we discovered that the bottle was heart-shaped, we told ourselves that there was no chance.

Does it have a peculiar smell, this tawny vine?
Yes, otherwise we would not have considered it. We do not choose products that have only medical virtues: our primary goal is that it feels.

How did you get that smell, by headspace?
No, by distillation: we got an essential oil.

How would you describe it?
She has a sensual vanilla note. When you smell a vanilla pod and rub it in your hands, a leathery scent emerges. In the tawny creeper, there is also this: a modern animality, never used in perfumery.

You evoke the image of a powerful, wild woman. A heroine of Avatar?
Although she seems to come from beyond, I find her rather anchored in our reality, this heroine. One can project oneself into her, no doubt much more than in the other female figures of Monsieur Mugler, be it that which embodied Angel or Alien. Aura has something shamanic, mystical.

In this perfume, I perceive notes of pink and violet, but very discreet. Now it is to this agreement that one recognizes the perfume of the saints. Is Aura a fragrance of holiness?
Yes, that's good! Or rather well felt! This is not a major agreement, which is why we do not talk much about it. There was in the brief that we have been given this notion of perfume of holiness: Mr. Mugler had mentioned it. When the creators are present to represent their brand, I am very humble and I tell myself that if he has chosen a note, it is because he has reasons.

Behind the green side of this fragrance, we feel a slightly milky note, quite addictive in this fragrance. A bit like the lactose and sticky substance that is kept on the fingers when you pick a fig.
This comes from the tawny creeper: it has a "dragée-amandée" facet, which is also found in the fig. This raw material is really very rich.

There is also something medicated, but not in an unpleasant sense. It's pretty hard to describe ...
It is the tawny creeper, again, which has this medicinal aspect. But since this substance has never been used in perfumery, there is no olfactory mark to recognize it. That's what gives him that little mole. It's important to create an accident in a perfume, not to do something too smooth. In memorable perfumes, you will notice that there is always a happy accident.

Your family home, the one in which you are active, is located in Périgord. Do these earthy smells have an influence on how you create perfumes?
Of course! They are very important. It's my oxygen bubble, my escape. As much as I love Paris for its energy, I need to get rid of it. As soon as I have a few days in front of me, I leave there. I am going to walk in the woods, smell the humus, smell the few roses that are still blooming on my rose bushes, pick up laurel, thyme. Yes it influences my vision of green, plant, earth.

Do you have a favorite smell?
I am a fan of patchouli. It's something that transports me. Beyond this attraction, in the writing of my perfumes, I like things rather refined, very direct, with a strong character. I like stories that tell stories. When I describe the tawny creeper, for example, I do not give you a word, but ten! I like to start from a material that inspires me, whether natural or synthetic, and I build around.

You say that patchouli transports you: does it take you into the undergrowth of your childhood?
Perhaps… But I think it's in the realm of the subconscious. It is a sublime raw material. It's a fragrance all by itself that I rediscover each time. It is fresh and intense, full of duality. For twenty years, I perfume my interior, my clothes, with patchouli and I do not get tired.

You are the first person I meet who associates the word "fresh" with "patchouli"!
Ah yes? I think there is a light in patchouli. Everyone sees it dark, but if it is beautiful, it is precisely because it is not only that. For me, an Atlas cedar or an oud wood is dark, but not patchouli. It is vertical: the roots in the Earth and the head in the Sky.

You did the school of ISIPCA of Versailles. How do you choose to become a perfumer? Is it a child's dream or an adult's dream?
Each perfumer has a very different background and in my case, this job was an adult dream. I destined myself for something else. I started studying medicine, then I went to chemistry where I was deeply bored. I felt that it did not fit with the one I was - at the time I was doing a lot of dance, I drew, I needed to create - and this situation was desperate for me. I heard about this school quite by chance, by a person I met for five minutes and I have never seen again in my life. I have trouble explaining the flash that occurred: just when she spoke to me, I knew that I was going to do this job. The doors were not easy to open, I struggled a lot, but it was obvious. Every step I took made me feel better about my decision. It came to me and I thank Heaven because I'm well aware of this chance: it was like marrying a tailor-made suit.

A perfume for you what is it: a story that is told without words, an invisible architecture?
I like the idea that this is a story without words. When a perfume is beautiful, I like not having to dissect it, but let myself be carried away by emotion. I have been wearing Shalimar since I was little, I had the chance to know it before the formula was changed because of European standards, and I keep this emotion in mind. Even being a perfumer, even if I have the technicality to do it, I do not try to analyze it. I do not care. When you get a perfume, when you put something in it, you do not need words anymore ...

* ISIPCA: International Higher Institute of Perfume, Cosmetics and Food Aromatic.

"In our palette, there was a material that we had never used and that had this strange scent, between the feminine softness and the animal. It was quite difficult to tame: it is a natural material that we call the tawny creeper. "