"When you invent a story about femininity, Angelina Jolie is the perfect character" – Guerlain's Perfumer Thierry Wasser
Notes of a woman
W hen Angelina Jolie announced her collaboration with Guerlain, for the launch of their fragrance Mon Guerlain earlier this year, people took note. Now in an intimate interview with the man behind the fragance Thierry Wasser, we discover his notes on the woman behind the scent...
Tell us about your arrival at Guerlain?
I was chosen by Jean-Paul Guerlain. He taught me his know-how for two years and through his teaching, I went back in time — I got to "know" Jacques Guerlain, Aimé Guerlain and Pierre-François Pascal Guerlain. This immersion in the family history and its creations did help me a lot and it still helps me today.
Speaking of today, you've just created a fragrance, Mon Guerlain with Angelina Jolie. Tell us about it...
First, the sourcing of raw materials and the initial quest for new scents is what guided me to imagine Mon Guerlain. I spent four months each year travelling around the world to find new ingredients, new inspirations. For this new product, I wanted to play with the "Guerlinade" (our scent seal) by reinventing it with lavender, vanilla, jasmine and sandalwood; a composition which is unique to the market. The "quadrilobe" bottle is likewise very iconic. Originally designed by Baccarat in 1908, we have modernised its lines, which are pure and classic, to conceive a timeless bottle.
To embody this new fragrance, we dreamt about a woman, Angelina Jolie, to portray today's femininity. But Angelina is not only the face of our new fragrance; she collaborated with us on the movie. We went to the South of France, Angelina's beloved region, to film this woman and her different emotions, with the help of Terrence Malick.
Why was Angelina the muse of Mon Guerlain?
Angelina Jolie became our muse for many reasons. When I first started to create the fragrance, my aim was to create a story to empower women. Then, it became obvious that no one could embody this woman better than Angelina; it was almost a natural choice. I found her personality very interesting. She genuinely embodies the 21st century women. Angelina is a free, independent, sensitive, authentic and sensual woman, with different roles: a mother, an actress, director, a humanitarian...
Another reason she became the muse of Mon Guerlain is her strong attachment to France. Her mother, Marcheline Jolie, was French and a true Guerlain lover. Angelina remembers in particular the "ladies in all climates" face powder that her mother kept. To her, Guerlain evokes a singular intimacy and is undoubtedly the most prestigious fragrance brand in the world.
When you invent a story about femininity, Angelina is the perfect character to personify this concept. I have been dreaming of this superwoman for a long time, and this dream came true.
Can you tell us more about your collaboration with Angelina Jolie?
Our CEO, Laurent Boillot, wanted Angelina Jolie for Mon Guerlain. He couldn't think of anyone else to become the face of our fragrance and indeed we actually didn't have another woman in mind, she was our only plan. He went like a salesperson with this hope that she would say "yes". And she said "yes", despite refusing the propositions of many prestigious beauty and fragrance houses before. She told us her mother was fond of Guerlain products and that the name "Guerlain" had always resonated within her childhood memories. But by this stage the fragrance was already finished and Angelina collaborated on every following step: the choice of the ad visuals, shooting of the film...
What about the production of the shoot? Where and when did it take place?
The film Notes of a Woman was set in France, and specifically in Provence, a region Angelina loves and knows very well. This is the place where the carla lavender, one of the most prominent raw materials of Mon Guerlain, is grown and harvested every July. We also wanted to pay a tribute to the profession by putting the perfumer in the spotlight for the first time in an advertising movie.
What was the ultimate ingredient in Mon Guerlain?
The most emblematic ingredient in Mon Guerlain is carla lavender, which is harvested in the South of France. The unique distillation process under pressure and cold temperature doesn't kill the soul of the flowers. When I first smelt it, I was really hypnotised. It's a special ingredient because carla lavender is commonly used in French gastronomy by starred chefs. This is the first time a perfume house has played with this type of flower for a fragrance formula.
When did you first meet Angelina Jolie?
I was in my laboratory when our CEO met Angelina in Asia. He had no choice but to travel to Cambodia where Angelina was shooting her new movie, "First They Killed My Father". Then I met her for the first time in the South of France when we were shooting the movie. I was really impressed by her beauty, her character, her humanity.
It's also said that Angelina Jolie donated her entire salary for Mon Guerlain to charity. How do you feel about this?
Indeed, Angelina Jolie has donated her entire salary to charity, for numerous projects dedicated to conservation, education and health. Her charity involvement always aims to protect the rights of women, children and refugees throughout the world, from Namibia to Cambodia. This is a beautiful initiative; it really shows how extraordinary Angelina Jolie is.
What makes Guerlain perfumes so unique?
I pay particular attention to the quality of raw materials, especially to jasmine, rose, bergamot, tonka bean, iris and vanilla.
Is your nose your only work tool?
Working for Guerlain doesn't only mean creating fragrances, it's way more than that and my work touches on other aspects: creating, thinking out a perfume, collecting raw materials and producing the fragrance. Learning to master all parts of the job allows me to finally express myself independently as an artist.
What is involved in your creative process?
I have no rules during the creation process. It just starts with an inspiration, an idea that grows in my mind. I am inspired by travels, encounters, discussions and impressions. Then I give life to my idea. To me, inventing a perfume is like telling a story.
Why is perfume a good vehicle for storytelling?
We choose a perfume for ourselves and it becomes our reflection.
We can associate perfume to a true love story.
Which perfume do you wear?
On special occasions I wear Habit Rouge. On a regular basis I don't wear perfume because I'm the first to try and test new perfumes.
What's the best way to preserve a perfume?
Perfume has two enemies: light and oxygen. It is better to protect the fragrance from these two elements.
Do you remember your first olfactive memory?
I grew up in Switzerland, in an environment where nature is predominant, so my olfactive memories are linked to being outdoors.
How long it takes to create a fragrance?
Between 12 and 18 months.
Your favourite perfume?
My favourite Guerlain perfume is, without a doubt, Mitsouko created by Jacques Guerlain in 1919, a marvelous chypre with, for the first time, a peach note.
Are stores still essential to the luxury experience?
When it comes to luxury houses, customers want an increased retail experience. We offer special services such as personalisation, digital perfume consultations and we make bespoke perfumes. The internet too has transformed the industry and changed consumption habits. Guerlain has now entered the digital world but without forgetting its roots and traditions.
And we hear you create made to order frangrances?
We do offer the chance to have a bespoke perfume made by me. It's one unique and incomparable fragrance that matches with someone's taste and personality.
Discover another new oud-infused fragrance by the perfume house now, Guerlain Essential.