Oud is a fabulous raw material and I love its richness, power, character – Alaïa's Marie Salamagne

Oud is a fabulous raw material and I love its richness, power, character – Alaïa's Marie Salamagne

At the heart of fragrance

Interview: Farouk Chekoufi

Image: Alaia

Alaïa's scent is as distinctive as the threads used to design the brand's signature style as Farouk Chekoufi discovers...

S he's been under the nose of Tunisian-born fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa for years and now Marie Salamagne, the French fashion house's parfumeur, speaks exclusively about parfum, Paris and why "finding a signature fragrance is like finding true love"...

What's your Alaïa parfum love story?

Working with Mr. Alaïa is a privilege, a sheer joy. Rather than a love story, I have a true professional admiration for his work. Mr. Alaïa deeply respects creatives, he shares his point of view, but then steps back to give you complete freedom. That makes him unique. He instills a real trust and invites you to enter his universe. There is a huge mutual respect. It was so critical to understand his vision, and how that vision became enriched over time thanks to our numerous talks. The more I sit by his side, the more I learn from him.

Why is finding a signature fragrance like finding true love?

Falling in love with a signature fragrance is instinctive. It happens just like love at first sight, you have no control over it!

Perhaps the house's latest signature scent is the Alaïa Eau de Parfum Blanche. Can you tell us about the inspiration and construction of the fragrance?

The first Alaïa Eau de Parfum was born from a childhood memory: "A bucket of cold water thrown against a wall of scorching chalk". Eau de Parfum Blanche is anchored in another episode rising from Mr. Alaïa's labyrinth memory, a visit to The Alhambra of Granada. The Alhambra Garden and its light and shade effects fascinated Mr. Alaïa who recognised in it a striking relationship with his own world. For Mr. Alaïa white remains a concept referring to light, architecture and rigor. Like white light, his white shirt imposes itself as an essential, substantial white. Eau de Parfum Blanche translates the contrasts between light and darkness. I played with animalistic notes while preserving certain purity in it during the one-and-a-half years to design Eau de Parfum Blanche.

How many ingredients did you actually put into Alaïa Eau de Parfum Blanche?

A white impression features almond, a floral impression shows heliotrope and a bare skin impression is composed of animal and musky notes, softly blended with vanilla absolute. But what matters more than the number of ingredients is their quality and the emotion that they bring to the fragrance. 

Are Alaïa stores still essential to the luxury experience?

Alaïa boutiques offer a unique luxury experience and have played a part in opening my eyes to Mr. Alaïa's universe. I like to regularly visit the two Parisian places in rue de Marignan and rue de Moussy. Each single piece of art results from a quest for beauty. Down to the details, the garments themselves offer a real luxury experience. And when meeting with the designer, himself, in the heart of Paris, in the industrial space of his "kitchen" illuminated by a large skylight, I can feel the emotion. In this legendary space of so many encounters, creations, and debates, white are the flowers, white are the chairs and white is the table.

What has made Alaïa fragrances so unique today?

Alaïa fragrances are unique because they embody the soul of a unique designer. Azzedine Alaïa is very much involved in each and every element of his brand's creation.

Is the Alaïa brand a new luxury label or an old one re-styled?

Mr. Alaïa's amazing feat with creation lies in his timeless collections. It is impossible to put an age on any of his dresses. Connected to his Instagram I am often very surprised to learn the year that his collections were created.

Mr. Alaïa doesn't belong to a single era. None of his creations age.

What do you think about oud?

Oud is a fabulous raw material. I love its richness, power, character. We recently started using it a lot as its luxurious signature became very trendy outside of Arabian countries.

Which perfume do you wear?

I wear the fragrances I'm working on at the moment, but I do have a preference for the original Alaïa perfume.

How did you start in the world of perfume?

I learnt from my parents that work and passion are inseparable. I had just started medical studies when I heard about the ISIPCA School of Perfumery in Versailles.  I followed my intuition and the path of fragrances. Since then, scents have always intrigued me. I felt immediately at ease in the world of perfumery.

What's your first olfactive memory?

My parents are anesthetists. As a child, they would come to kiss me at night and I could smell the scent of the anesthesia, mixed subtly with my mother's fragrance, Shalimar from Guerlain.

Why is perfume a good vehicle for storytelling?

Scent and memory are both linked to emotions. Scents stimulate our memory to reconnect to our past emotions. This is the reason why they can provoke such intense emotions, waking up clear olfactory images from our best memories.

What are you working on next?

We are always working on a few different projects that we must keep confidential until they are launched on the market.

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