Scent is a powerful thing. It can transport us to past memories and trigger a strong emotional response by tapping into our limbic system, the part of our brain responsible for emotion and memory.
What’s even more interesting: different scents evoke different emotions. While the smell of freshly cut grass may spark a child-like joy for many–a reminder of the start of a new summer marked by sweet midday heat– notes of cedarwood and vanilla can bring back memories of beloved books, old or new.
Sophie Guillon, the CEO of Valmont Cosmetics and ruler of the fragrance stratosphere, develops fragrances that express the emotions and memories of the world’s personalities. We caught up with Guillon to discuss the power of scent, her master nose, and tips for finding a great signature scent.
Where does your passion for fragrance stem from?
Ever since I was young, I have always been into chemistry. Whether it’s between people, how certain foods work or don’t work together, but most of all, the ways in which molecules and ingredients react in fragrances. It’s very much lifelike: things reject each other; others attract and fuse as one. One lifetime may not be enough to know exactly how things work, but I have made it my mission to try anyway.
Can you describe a time where a specific memory was brought back to you through smell?
I have a house on the French Atlantic coast with a wonderful garden. Many years ago, my parents and I planted syringa flowers there. They are fragrant, tubular white flowers that are close in smell to the lily the valley. No matter where I am, so is the olfactory recollection of my garden. At one point, I decided to bottle up that scent and I succeeded. I found a perfumer who helped me create Verde Erba, which means “Green Herb” or “Green Grass”. It’s earthy, but there is this hint of white flower that always takes me back to my garden on the Atlantic. It reminds me that everything is possible: liberty, freedom, freshness, and happiness; and that is my most precious memory to capture in a bottle.
How does scent trigger such a powerful emotional response?
There is something very biological about scent and our body’s response to it. Our nose is connected to our brain’s limbic system, which computes our memories and emotions. A scent will therefore trigger an emotion, which in turn sparks a specific memory. We may either like or dislike a certain scent because it reminds us of a place, person or thing. Our life experiences also play in our body’s response. The understanding and interpretation of a scent will always be very personal: where you come from, how you were raised, and where life has taken you will are all determining factors.
What memories or emotions do Valmont fragrances intend to evoke through the power of smell?
A good fragrance is one that successfully reminds you of a good memory. We aim for happiness to be experienced through every scent. In Valmont fragrances, I rarely use darker notes and play with a lot of florals. Whenever I think of a good memory or a good emotion, I think of flowers. I also tend to use a lot of spice notes in my fragrances as those can be reminiscent of cooking and add a kick to the floral backbone.
What does sensory pleasure mean to you?
The olfactory experience goes way beyond smell. A real reverie unfolds like a movie. It’s like your first kiss: If it was romantic and he or she wore a fragrance that you loved, when the same scent wafts through the air again, your mind will begin to put all the pieces together. Your boyfriend or girlfriend at the time, the tune that was playing, the meal you ate before the kiss, and the park bench you sat on during.
Valmont’s Palazzo Nobile collection is described as easy-to-wear gems that reflect emotions and capture life’s moments. What types of olfactory perceptions are experienced through these six fragrances?
I designed this collection with the different personalities of the world in mind. Each of the six fragrances has a personality that you can transform yourself into. The first one is Sea Bliss and it has a name that is quite self-explanatory. I was thinking of the waves crashing on the Atlantic coast when I created it. It explores freshness and reveals wide open spaces for lovers of freedom and nature. Secret Bamboo is all about mystery. It is pure and elegant but very simple. With notes of green apple, there is a certain spice and freshness to it. This fragrance reminds me of refined individuals. Blooming Ballet is very tender, sweet, and romantic. I thought of rose petals the whole time I was developing it. Bright Poppy is a dazzling star. This scent reminds me of a person who is funny, cheerful, and full of spunk. With a top note of citrus and a heart note of cedarwood, this is a colorful fragrance for a colourful personality. Satin Musk is a dreamy scent. This is for those who are filled with hope for humanity and a better world. When you listen to them, you forget about your troubles and worries. Casa Nova 2161 is for the charismatic and strong soul. As you know Casanova was a woman’s lover, a man always seducing and all about the chase. But, Casa Nova 2161 can be for men or women as women can bring another level of attitude to seduction and love.
When creating this collection, was it the initial goal to formulate fragrances that spark emotions and memories? Or was it the result?
I like to play with the mixtures and mix scents that you would not normally find together. I like to put pepper, ginger, and spices with flowers. Flowers are sweet and most of the time they go with fruit, but if you add spice it may disrupt the balance in the best of ways. This is my signature. When I created Palazzo Nobile, I was thinking of different personalities; the romantic, the idealist, the naturalist. But instead of naming the fragrances after these titles, I gave them different names in order for people to have their own take and interpretation of each fragrance. This can be based on their own emotions, memories, and life experiences.
What should someone look for in a fragrance to ensure that positive emotions and memories are experienced through scent and not negative ones?
It’s all in the notes that are being used. When you choose a fragrance, you are signing up for a projection of what you wish to become. This could be serious with wood notes, light with florals, or happy with citrus. You must choose what these notes mean to you and how your personal experiences will play into your memory and emotions of these notes.
Valmont focuses on fragrance neutrality and features many unisex fragrances. What makes a good unisex scent and why is it important for Valmont to be gender-inclusive in the fragrance industry?
A good unisex scent is one in which you smell something reminiscent of happiness. Most of the time, it’s pure, simple and it conveys a notion of freedom. Today, we want to live freely, we want to be inclusive and we want to narrow the gender gap that comes with decades of labelling. This is where I take inspiration from; I too do not like to be labelled or be put into a box. We have left the world of materialism, and instead, we are sharing emotions and moments which can all be bottled up and worn by anyone. Valmont ticks the box of gender-inclusive – we create for spirits, not for genders.
What’s next for Valmont in terms of fragrance?
There is a new fragrance being added to the Palazzo Nobile collection in the Spring: Fizzy Mint is a unisex fragrance with notes of fresh bergamot, mint, citrus, and verbena. This fragrance will take you into a world of tranquility, and classic elegance.
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