Yesterday, I took the train from Amsterdam to Paris and had a very nice dinner with a friend from Basenotes. After a quick sleep, I was up at 5am to bring my journey to Clermont Ferrand, the home of Pierre Guillaume.
I met Pierre at Osswald in NYC during the January 2013 Elements Showcase. I liked a lot of his work from his PG and Huitieme Art lines, so I asked if I could visit him when I came to Paris. With his charming smile, he said yes.
The train from Paris to Clermont Ferrant is 3.5 hours, so I arrived around 10:30 am. Pierre was there at the train station to pick me up and we instantly got to talking about everything in the perfume world – from naturals, IFRA, concentrations, conflicts of interest, the blogosphere and more.
First stop was his lab, where I met his family, literally. Parfumerie Generale employs 7 people, including his mother. They do everything by hand – pouring the bottles, mixing the concentrates, labeling the bottles, etc. Pierre took me into the warehouse and let me smell raw materials, bases, and even explained how certain ones combined together made many of the biggest fragrances. He let me skin test his upcoming Vetiver scent (which surprisingly worked on me, since vetiver usually goes caustic on me). He explained to me about densities, concentrations and more.
Like many of the French perfumers, Pierre has opinions and isn’t afraid to express them. This was a refreshing change after 4 days of interviewing DJs and producers who are politically correct and don’t want to offend anyone. He spoke about how in his store, he discovers that people are not happy with mainstream fragrance and want something special that is still wearable. He appreciates the bloggers, but also notes that they often have extreme tastes and praise things that most people don’t like. I used the term “Joe Average” and he instantly locked in on that. I shared with him that the phenomenon he realizes is common to every interest – be it wine, food, or dance music – the people who are really into it dive deep and are fascinated by the strange or underground that Joe Average has no use for. While I appreciate underground grindcore noise, its not something I would ever play in a club set. It’s the same way I appreciate Smell Bent Accident; it’s a creative piece of art that expresses a point of view and is pretty amazing, but it’s not something that I (or most people I think) could wear on a regular basis.
Pierre went on to explain that the Huitieme Art line is meant to be an introductory line with scents that are pretty linear (same from beginning to end) to gradually move Joe Average from mainstream scents to niche. After experimenting with HA scents, they can move to the Pierre Guillaume signature line, which he is known for.
Yes, we spoke a lot and I managed to capture a lot of it in the interview which is forthcoming. He took me next to the store when it was time for lunchtime. Being a quaint small town, just about everyone closes their store/work for lunch and has an hour lunch with friends/colleagues. Lunch (and other meals) are quite important, and I enjoyed a delicious curried pork with the most charming waiter (who had fun with me in English and my broken French). Pierre and his partner were gracious hosts, and we spoke about life in Clermont Ferrand and how it is part of his being, something he doesn’t want to leave by moving to Paris. Also, that his family is very important to him and wants to stay close.
At the store Harimens, I explored the full lines of PG, HA and Phaedon (which he recently purchased back). He joked about how even though the new bottles are black, the Huitieme Art scents are the same – but customers will smell a difference and always think the black bottle is more intense. Packaging and conditioning, you’ve got to love it. In addition to those lines, the store also carries Len et Mad candles, Diptyque, and a few well-curated niche lines.
After a wonderful interview, I purchase a scent that I wanted along with a candle as a gift and headed back to the train station for the ride home.
Spending the day with Pierre was really educational – I learned a lot about how fragrances are constructed, the financial aspect, and what really goes into making a perfume. Then there’s also the personal side of balancing being artistic and fiscally responsible. It also let me get to know Pierre in a way that I think I understand him and the way he thinks. We all remember when Kurkdjian gave that interview about bloggers which everyone reacted to, well, I understand a little more from the perfumer side and that in our sound byte world we don’t get the full picture, just a few words taken out of context.