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Olivier Cresp, the man by whom Angel appeared

November 30 2017

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Thierry Mugler's Angel perfume was launched on the 1992 market. With its famous notes of chocolate patchouli, it was an olfactory revolution. So much so that it gave rise to a new family, that of gourmet perfumes. Back on the career of a man who began to compose perfumes at the age of 7 years. - Isabelle Cerboneschi.

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Olivier Cresp's perfume is a family affair: his great-grandfather, his grandfather and his father were raw material merchants in Grasse. Some children learn the piano, he learned the smells. Piano against perfume organ: to each his scales ...

In January 2012, the perfumer received the insignia of knight of the order of Arts and Letters. A first step towards the recognition of an artist status for the perfumers he calls for.

I had the chance to meet him several times during perfume launches and this interview is a summary of our meetings.

His signature is greed. In perfumes means, because he does not eat dessert. He is the only master perfumer able to claim the paternity of a family of perfumes,  les gourmet notes, invented following the launch ofAngel, by Thierry Mugler, in 1992. An olfactory success that took the world backwards.

IC: How did you get the idea for that greedy note that became Angel?
Olivier Cresp: I started working on this project in 1989 with Vera Strubi, who was then the president of Thierry Mugler. She had just left Montana and was hired by the Clarins group. A president without a team: at the time, she was alone in the service. Little by little, she set up an empire, created a success story, and allowed the company to generate a phenomenal turnover. She had asked a handful of Quest perfumers, including me, to present her our best idea, our most beautiful jewel hidden in the drawer. She did not give us any specific project.

And what was your beautiful idea?
I showed him a nice note I was working on called Patchou. It was a very vanilla patchouli. This is the project she wanted to focus on: Patchou OJC (for Olivier Jacques Crest). We worked hand in hand for several months on the development of the new fragrance. She had not spoken to me about the name, the bottle, or anything: she just wanted to develop a very large female juice. I knew it was for Thierry Mugler, but that was all. She found my perfume extraordinary, because very powerful, but lacked femininity, he was too androgynous and he would need to be brought flowers. Adding flowers, that's what I tried to do between the note 50-52 and the note 120-130.

What is the 52 rating?
It's a modification: every time I make a formula, I give it a different number. For Angel I did 620 tests so 620 different formulas.

Is it a lot for a perfume?
Yes. Sometimes I do 40 to 50 changes on the theme, but I can go up to a thousand or two thousand, it depends. Today, we work much faster than there are 20 years because we have robots available that weigh our formulas. But the process remains the same. Between the test 50 - the one that had pleased VeraStrubi - and the 120 essay, she said to me, "Add femininity!" She wanted me to try with rose, jasmine, peony, etc., but every time I tried to add these flower arrangements in my perfume, it did not work. We were at the foot of the wall.

What was the triggering factor that allowed you to bring the project to life?
Vera Strubi had the idea to make me meet Thierry Mugler. He came to my office one afternoon, he stayed 3 or 4 hours, and he told me about him, his life, his grandparents, his parents, his travels. He told me that he liked carnivals, that hewas Alsatian. He told me that he was greedy and that when he was a kid, he drank hot chocolates that his grandmother prepared for him, in which he dipped raisin cakes. We talked a lot about Russia. He photographed roofs with stars because he loves stars. I made him feel my tests and when he left and I told myself that I was going to create an agreement that is his madeleine Proust, around the chocolate of his childhood.

How did you get the idea of ​​adding aromas in a perfume?
Life is a succession of circumstances and crossings. I did my training in the United States (Biddle Sawyer, ed) where I had asked to do an internship in food flavorings. Americans were avant-garde in this area. I came across an aromatic engineer who told me from the first day: "Here, take all my notebooks and look at everything." I looked at everything, noted that some raw materials, some synthetic products, some molecules were recurring. I created a lot of caramel, honey and chocolate chords ... And when I came back to Europe, I started to make perfumes.

And how did you incorporate chocolate into Angel?
I told myself that I wanted to make a gourmet patchouli with honey, praline, chocolate. I knew I had a very good juice. I took out my food flavor notebooksand I took my little recipes to see if these facets worked on my vanilla patchouli. The idea started from there.

Oh, it's not because you were a chocoholic?
Not at all… (to laugh). In the south, you never eat dessert.

How did Vera Stubi react to these agreements?
She wanted a confidential juice. She did not want to run it in perfume shops all over the world, just in the best outlets. I had the impression of making a niche perfume before they even existed. She wanted a blue juice, because Thierry Mugler loves blue, but it is not a marine smell. She liked the idea of ​​the contrast between blue and greedy note. With a name like Angel, we expect something nice and romantic when in fact it is a sensual juice, hot, hot, double-reading.

Have you imagined that this fragrance would give birth to a new olfactory family?
We just knew that the juice was very good: everyone turned on my wife who was testing to ask him the name of his perfume and when it is on sale. I knewthat I had a nugget but it is involuntarily that I created the family of greedy.

These Veltol notes, which smell of caramel and are now found in many perfumes, were they already used in perfumery before Angel?
No, you can not find it in any fragrance before 1992. The perfumers knew it but did not use it. Today is commonplace.

How would you define gourmet perfumes?
They are appetent, we want to eat them, they make you want to eat. They are greedy because they are sweet, vanilla, opulent. Take for example Loverdose of Diesel: he is greedy because he smells liquorice. And then it's a regressive genre. I like to draw my perfume in childhood memories related to cooking recipes. I made a perfume called Kenzoki for Kenzo who smelled of rice steam. I went to Geneva, at Firmenich to get some ideas from the food flavoring department and I asked an aromatic engineer how he made the muesli. I went back to Paris and I wrote my formula with notes of vanilla, milky, milky, a little musky, with departures a little nutty, a little apple and rice, I added a nature-print basmati rice.

What is Nature-print?
It is a small device that allows us to capture the odors and restore them. It's like ahead space. What is important in perfumery is to have ideas, and to realize them.

How do you explain that the gourmand family is at the top of all rankings?
Because they appeal to early childhood, at a time when we were all happy. It was a protected world, where we knew our grandmothers, our moms who made cakes and succulent dishes. And every time you feel this kind of notes, you feel good. The odors that we have known in the past and that re-emerge, is like hearing old music that makes you want to buy the CD. It's the same with milky, creamy smells, those that smell like skin, a carnal skin ... A sociologist or a psychiatrist could explain it better than me.

How do you create a perfume: do you leave a visualization, the desire to work with certain notes, a story, a vision?
In perfumery, as in painting, we always start with a great idea. And it's hard to find great ideas!

Do you prefer short formulas? Yes, I still think a perfume while remaining minimalist. The longer and more complicated the formula becomes, the more difficult the subject is to master, and the more I risk losing myself.

If I have the pleasure of interviewing you it is thanks to the perfumer Edmond Roudnitska, who fought for a perfume to be recognized as a work and the perfumer as an author. At the beginning of your career, like all other perfumers, you worked in the shadows of groups and brands and your name never appeared ...
Yes, but things change, they evolve. We created a committee of wise men at the French Societyperfumers, where we are 30. We will work more and more closely with the Ministry of Culture so that our profession is recognized as an art. And if we could even make a charter, like architects, that would be enough.

Can we hope that perfume will one day be subject to intellectual property law? No. It's dangerous terrain. First of all, when you create a perfume, you do it for a house. Then this house sells it to a customer. Who is the holder of the formula? I think it's the customer. There is a legal vacuum on this. Our claim today, and there is still work, is to obtain the status of artist. We are artists, we are not technicians of la mouillette ...

You are the father of a family of perfumes. It's a rare privilege!
I do not know any other living perfumer who can claim this kind of paternity (smile). What is interesting is to have opened the ninth family of perfumes. You realize? Take the example of Chanel No 5. It is the source of aldehyde floral notes *. After him, everyone is engulfed in this breach. With Angelit was the same thing. But we can not reproduce this phenomenon each time.

I read that you started composing perfumes at the age of 7. That is true? Yes. But it was normal for me. In Grasse, there were 20 000 inhabitants, at the time, whose 7000 worked in perfumery. So all the people my parents were with were in the perfumes. We went to the pool Chiris. We went to the gym club Chiris factory. My world was a bubble of perfume. And since my parents had a big garden with fruit trees, tuberose, jasmine, I was going to harvest flowers in the morning. I had bought alcohol in a pharmacy and I was doing my extractions myself. I let macerate. It smelled good. I bought pipettes, I put small drops, it was my first tests. Afterwards, I went to my father's factory, feeling everything from A to Z. All the raw materials he made or bought, all the synthetic molecules. I knew them all!

It was sort of your vocabulary ...
Yes. When I started working at 18 years, after the bac, I was told: "Go to the lab and the first six months you will spend your time feeling the organ and learning all the products." told them, "I have already felt everything. I know everything! "I knew pure products, beautiful raw materials. I thought everyone was learning that (Laughter).

If you were given the necessary means to realize the scent of your dreams what would it be?
I still have frustrations about some perfumes. There are notes that we can not capture. We discover very few raw materials. In Firmenich, for example, there are about five new synthetic molecules per year. If tomorrow I wanted to create a scent that feels hot sand, I would be frustrated. The rifle stone ... A match that we will scratch ... The sulfur side. I love that! Hmmm! The fireworks ... These are interesting notes to work ...

You would give birth to a tenth family: explosive perfumes!
I feel that you are making fun of me! (Laughter). You see, the smell of a big block of ice. That too, we can not restore it.

* Aldehydes are synthetic molecules that enhance the diffusion power of perfumes. The first great perfume to have opened the aldehyde route was Chanel's No 5, created in 1921 by Ernest Beaux.