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Gil Clavien

Firmenich

Ask Gil a direct question about herself or her work, and she glides gracefully out of the spotlight, murmuring something about the quiet pleasures of the creative process. But take a few minutes to touch upon a favorite subject – fragrance creations, fashion, travels, dance – and she illuminates from within. With a broad smile and dancing eyes, she invites you to share her passion.

Raised near Switzerland’s graceful Alpine pyramid, the Matterhorn, Gil describes her hometown as “a very warm part of the country: the people are so caring, and trusting.” She recalls her childhood in vivid moments of heightened awareness, especially the sensual pleasures of the garden and of the magnificent surroundings. Her mother, blessed with green thumbs, bestowed upon the family her great love for nurturing garden flowers, and for touching, smelling and tasting sun-ripened fruits and handpicked vegetables. Her father, a vintner, introduced Gil to the art and science of winemaking… surely an early influence that led to her simultaneous passions for beauty and for science. By the age of fifteen, she knew her career would lie in perfumery: “I desired something really creative, but with structure. I love beauty, but I also need to feel very prepared, very organized, and I love lists!”

Travel has been a lifelong passion for Gil, both professionally and personally. Trilingual (French, English and German) and formally educated in Geneva, she earned a master’s in biology, followed by an intensive education in perfumery at Firmenich. She then spent three years as a perfumer in Germany, followed by four months at Firmenich’s office in Japan. Highly sensitive and astutely observant, Gil thrives on the cultural exposure of working internationally: “You work for so many countries and you have to understand people’s way of life, the smells that make them vibrate.” She lights up again: “I love that!”

Before the birth of her two children, Gil and her husband backpacked all around the world. She remains deeply moved by the warmth and generosity she encountered in Mexico; the sight of Nureyev dancing in an ancient amphitheatre in Greece; the religious customs of Thailand; the gardens and shrines of Japan and Indonesia; the immensity of the landscape in South Africa.

Perfumery is not Gil’s only form of creative self-expression; she also takes pleasure in the game of self-invention through fashion. A guiltless pleasure, she revels in the thrill of the hunt for great clothes, bags and shoes. Never one to take fashion too seriously, her personal style is a blend of designer and fun treasures, sourced from the secret haunts of the New York fashion crowd, and from around the world.

When asked how she would spend some free time, Gil immediately responds, “I’d take weekly dance classes.” A life-long devotee to the discipline of ballet, she describes dancing as a “real need, just like smelling or moving. If for a while I cannot attend my class, I long for it.” Ballet’s influence is obvious in Gil: in the way she listens, the way she moves, and in the originality and grace of her fragrance compositions.