Jean-Claude Ellena

House Perfumer, Hermès

What is your most memorable fragrance experience?

When I created my first perfume, First for Van Cleef & Arpels. Such an apt name…

What inspires you?

Inspiration is such a portmanteau word; it doesn’t illuminate anything for me. I think every kind of creation obeys some sort of impulse, an urge to say something, and that urge is realized in the work. It’s not the idea that’s important but the way it’s executed. But if it were just one thing it would be my love of life.

Is creating a perfume like creating a work of art?

Creating something doesn’t follow a set process; it’s first and foremost a need, a necessity, an impulse manifested in the realisation of an idea. There are lots of ideas and their starting point might be a text, a word, an image, a smell; everything constitutes an idea. The problem is choosing. Choosing is creating. Then the time comes to make it happen, to write it in olfactory terms, in other words to tell the story in a smell by taking my own personal route. Perfume is a profoundly artistic and poetic act.

Is there a particular scent or aroma you dream of capturing in a perfume?

The smell of the wind.

From a philosophical point of view, how would you describe yourself…nose, perfumer, composer?

I like to describe myself as a writer of smells. Smells are words, perfume is literature. By defining perfumes like this, I define myself as a writer. I tell stories, perfumes; my words are the raw materials I use, juxtapose and offset.

What is your favorite smell?

A smell with the resonance of a perfume, or a perfume with the resonance of a smell, either way: the smell of my children’s and grandchildren’s skin.