Featured Fragrance

Sonia Constant & the Poetry of her scents

June 20, 2019

There is a phrase in Baudelaire‘s “Fleur du Mal” which has remained in Sonia Constant’ s mind and heart:  “Colors, fragrances and sounds answer each other”. «That’s exactly what I feel. Taking over the sounds, the colors, and the shapes and transform them into a fragrance is something that is almost magical and, for me, an infinite source of inspiration» says the leading creator of fragrances that has thrived at this year’s FiFi’s Awards as she welcomes us to her ethereal world. The fragrances she has created have been globally cherished, loved with passion and have won many awards (such as Fleur Musc for Her, Narciso Rouge, Narciso Rodriguez for Him Bleu Noir, Rose Musk and Santal Musk for Narciso Rodriguez, Orchid Soleil, Ombré Leather 16, Noir Extreme, Noir pour Femme for Tom Ford, Coach Eau de Toilette, Aqua Allegoria Tiare Mimosa for Guerlain and many more).  

The fact that Narciso Rodriguez Pure Musc has just been launched in Greece, is the perfect occasion for an interview and as I was so enthused over her new creation, it’s my favorite theme to begin with: «Pure Musc is a heart of musks surrounded by white flowers, Sambac jasmine, orange flowers, and woody notes of cashmeran. I wanted to create a very strong and very diffusive Musk, which is technically quite difficult… I have worked on this fragrance in order to be combined very well with the rest of the For Her line and in such a way that it highlights each main facet of the fragrances of the line. Of course, Pure Musc can be used alone as well and it became a pure addiction of Muscs!» explains Sonia Constant, Perfumer at Givaudan and Creator of Ella K Parfums.

Photo: Constantinos Lepouris

She decided she wanted to become a perfumer when she was 15 years old, when she realized it was a real job! Before, she wanted to become a fashion designer or an architect. Today, the creative process of “designing” a perfume is what she loves the most: «My favorite part of the creative process, is when the idea is coming out and when I start to smell it in my mind. I love the moment when my head starts to assemble different accords. When I am looking at something which inspires me, my head goes into an overdrive and assembles the formulae to create a perfume which echoes what I am seeing. But what I like the most, is to find the raw materials which will highlight one another by contrast. I enjoy the starting point of the creation when you begin with only 4-5 ingredients and create new accords: this is the most exciting part!».

The talented fragrance creator that works with famous fashion houses and has also  established her own niche perfume brand, Ella K Parfums, acknowledges that her main source of inspiration is her travels but also «cocktails and… desserts! Such as the famous Ispahan macaron by Pierre Hermé or Le Grand Cru Cacao and Le Grand Cru Vanille from La Pâtisserie des Rêves – in patisserie you come across some very interesting combinations like coriander and chocolate! When I work for a fashion designer or a fashion house  such as Narciso Rodriguez, Alexander McQueen, Viktor &Rolf, Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino, Jean Paul Gautier, Armani or Thierry Mugler I am of course influenced by the shape, the colors and the style of the designer, I try to immerse myself into the brand. I absolutely love this process and this connection with the style of a fashion designer’ s house!»

A moment of an inspirational travel (Courtesy of Sonia Constant)

But, how would she describe her own, unique style in perfume making? What are the elements that one would identify in a fragrance that would lead to her as its creator? «People say that my perfumery is like poetry, it is a very subtle balance between different accords. My palette is very large from transparent floral to more heavy oriental, Woody spicy or muscs. But for a longtime, people identified my perfumery with a distinctive rose accord. I have rendered rose in many ways from floral transparent musky to heavy orientals, gourmand or fruity, there are so many examples of my creations containing rose: Fleur musc, Narciso rouge (both for Narciso Rodriguez ) and in Bella de Nina Ricci» she explains and adds that her three most favorite materials are cardamom, vetiver and Sandalwood. And if she had to choose an olfactory family that she likes the most? «I really love all the families but my favorite one is the woody one, I love the mystery behind it».

Sonia Constant was also blessed as far as her mentors are concerned. Among them, there were some of the most important creators in perfumery (Dominique Ropion & Francis Kurkdjian at ISIPCA, Olivier Pescheux, Christine Nagel, Antoine Lie…). What was the most valuable advice she ever had? «Indeed, I was very lucky in my learning process as each one of my mentors taught me incredible things. I think the best lesson I received was from Christine Nagel, my sister in Law. At the beginning of my career I lost a very important project. The client said it was too creative, too different. I was very sad I lost that important project for such a big house. But Christine told me she preferred that I lost it because I was too creative than to have won with a commercial but not innovative fragrance. I was very young and she told me that I had a lot of time ahead to create commercial fragrances. At that stage, it would be better for me to concentrate on innovative accords. I would also give this advice to a young perfumer today!».

What is it that makes a perfume truly great? I always prefer this question answered by perfumers themselves and not by lyrical reviews, so I just had to ask! «A great perfume needs to bring an emotion first, be memorable and to have a great trail. It also needs to be long lasting» comes the answer, almost laconically. And when I ask what her personal most favorite perfume is and why, she says: “My favorite fragrance is always the next to come but I am absolutely crazy of ‘Lettre de Pushkar’ from Ella K Parfums! A rose Safran oud because it is really unique, qualitative and extremely sensual. Its trail and its longevity on the skin is amazing».

ELLA K Parfums Baiser de Florence

Of all the perfumes that she has created so far which is the one that made her heart beat fast with excitement? «It’ s, no doubt, Baiser de Florence, a tribute to iris, and the true story of a divine idyll… Among my collection, this perfume is the one that has been most influenced by a very personal experience – a romantic promenade full of surprises». It’ s a narration made of scent but Sonia Constant also narrates it beautifully and movingly with words: «Imagine that you are on a romantic journey in Florence, in Italy! Wherever you go in Florence, and wherever you look, the eyes light upon beauty. Outside with the gardens, the monuments and the streets, but also indoors with the museums, art galleries, churches and palaces. There’s so much beauty there! You decide to take a cultural turn and let yourself fall under the spell of the wonders in the Uffizi Gallery. The mandatory visit to one of the Florentine churches whose mystical scents lead inexorably to pushing open their heavy doors… Once inside, the nose is treated to an eternal aroma as it is assailed by the aromatic fragrances from incense, sculpted wood, ancestral stone and, yes, even raw concrete. The surprise of a stolen -oh, so sweet!- kiss interrupts the contemplation and allows time to pass again…».

Giardino dell’Iris, Florence

«That wonderful day, early in the morning, I was guided blindfolded through the streets of Florence to the Giardino dell’Iris. When my blindfold was removed the picture before me was unforgettable – I saw myriad butterflies swirling in the breeze. In fact it was the iris petals twinkling in the sun. So, for this fragrance I used iris and cepionate to represent the petally, transparent effect».

Bird’s eye view of Florence

«Then I wanted to reflect the spiritual atmosphere of Florence’s churches. For this, I used a hydrocarboresine/incense accord – a wonderful ingredient prepared with labdanum – to evoke the mystical aroma of burning incense. At this point, as I visited the churches, in my mind I still had the picture of all the sculptures in the Uffizi Gallery. And the scent of incense was mingled with that of the sculpted material, the cold of the concrete and my brain started to sculpt the invisible. For that, I created a mineral accord using Ambroxan and myrrh which I highlighted with the almost peppery notes of the incense. And then, contrasting completely with this almost spiritual aroma, a sudden, stolen kiss, with my lips still sprinkled with the vanilla and almond sugar from the Florentine pastries. Here the kiss takes the form of a sensual powdered-vanilla note associated with a beautiful iris heliotrope accord. I had the desire to immortalize the memory and to provide an indelible mark I surrounded it with a Musk R1 composition, a captive musk among the most fixative in the perfumery world. Here, it gives the whole a softness which nevertheless shows plenty of character. 

The story behind this perfume is deeply personal, it is about my personal love story and about my first kiss with the man who is actually my husband today» Sonia Constant confides in me, closing this first part of our conversation in the most touching way…  

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