In the expansive world of perfumery, there are a select few who possess the ability to captivate our senses. At Grace de Monaco, we’re proud to work with a growing roster of renowned artists and designers across the fragrance and design realms. One such luminary is perfumer Xavier Blaizot. Known for his artistry and expertise, Blaizot has carved a distinguished path in the industry, pushing boundaries and redefining luxury fragrances. In part one of our interview, we had the privilege of delving into the creative mind of the CEO at PCW, a leading multi-faceted fragrance business in Grasse, to discuss heritage, legacy, and finding harmony in the fragrance world. This exclusive look into our collaboration is in anticipation of the launch of Ombre Sereine, the provocative third chapter in Grace de Monaco’s fragrance portfolio.
Your journey in the perfume industry is quite impressive. Can you share some insights into your background and what initially drew you to the world of perfumery?
Xavier Blaizot: I'm the seventh generation of perfumers. You can almost trace our history as far back as the French Revolution. I believe my family is one of the oldest families of Grasse. My great grandfather, grandfather and father were very important people in the perfume industry. For me, perfume has always been very natural. I always thought, way before getting into perfumery, that it was commonplace. It’s only later that I realized how unconventional it was compared to other professions. Discussing the perfume industry and creation has always been something very normal to me. Looking back at some early habits, I can really understand that my sense of smell was something very potent. For example, when visiting a place, I would pay special attention to a smell and follow my nose as a means of exploring. Still, I wouldn't say that I have a stronger sense of smell than anyone else - we'll both smell something at the same time, but I will analyze it faster.
Xavier compares his ability to decompose the notes of a fragrance to someone listening to music and just focusing on the guitar. In a similar manner, he’s able to isolate the floral part of perfume and concentrate on one singular component. “This is a perfumer’s trick where we're able to just listen to one of the ‘instruments’ of the perfume and concentrate on what makes it so particular. How is it built? What makes it special? And this comes with practice. There are people that have that kind of natural ability, but for me, it came with work and practice - I developed it over time.”
Xavier knew he wanted to work in perfume, but he didn’t necessarily want to be a perfumer. He wasn’t interested in studying chemistry, but he was interested in exploring the other side of the industry: sourcing. “I wanted to visit the ylang-ylang fields in Madagascar, the vetiver crops in India, and the oak trees in Vietnam. I wanted to get closer to the raw material, but that is even more of a niche job than that of a perfumer.”
After completing a master’s degree in economics, he was certain he wanted to pursue a career in perfume. The next step was “learning how to smell.” Simply stated, he wanted the expertise and credibility. “I really wanted to know what I was selling.”
He was hired by Robertet, a global flavors and fragrances manufacturer, as a Fragrance Evaluator. It was in this role, analyzing raw materials, that he discovered how much he loved perfumery. He says it was akin to rediscovering a sense. “It’s like if you’re not used to listening to music, but then you discover your favorite group and you cannot stop listening to their music. I really found in perfumery, sort of a whole new universe. I know it sounds a bit naive. But it was really like this that I felt it.” He’s quick to clarify “It's not that I had this special talent or anything, but I had the passion. Realizing that I was passionate about it, was enough for me, and I wanted to learn more.”
The Creative Director at Robertet recognized his skills and offered to send him to perfume school. After graduating, he worked in Mexico and then New York where he specialized in natural perfumes. “In Grasse, we're very careful with our naturals. It’s what we’re known for, it’s our know-how.” Natural perfumery is where Xavier excels, and he considers this his signature, his point of distinction.
Speaking of Grasse, it’s often referred to as the perfume capital of the world. What makes it such a hub for perfume production? What makes it so special?
XB: Historically, perfuming in Grasse came from something completely different. Initially, we were specializing in leather production. The process of treating leather can give off a very unpleasant odor that can linger on the final product. When Catherine de Medici arrived in France, she wanted her leather to smell nice. She asked for a perfume to cover the foul scent of her gloves. This was the start of perfume production in Grasse. In fact, it was discovered that it was an excellent place where flowers grew naturally. There is sort of a microclimate where we can grow roses, tuberoses, and jasmine that doesn't grow anywhere else. Grasse really became a hub because it has the perfect environment for growing flowers. In the early 1900, new perfumeries like Chanel, Dior and Piguet all came to Grasse. Soon, Grasse became synonymous with French perfumery. It makes sense since French perfumery was advanced compared to other perfumeries. Fast forward to the late 70s and there was this boom on synthetics. Because Grasse was very known for its naturals, we lost our edge for a while. But this last decade, naturals have become trendy and in demand, and everyone came back to Grasse. Lancôme opened a creative Center last year where they cultivate their own rose and jasmine fields. This is where Grasse really has an edge. To characterize Grasse more accurately, I would say it is the capital of Occidental perfumery. Because if you ask South Asians if Grasse is the world capital of perfumery, they will strongly disagree. But they have their vision, and Grasse has its own. I would say that Grasse is the birthplace of new perfumery as we know it today.
As a family business, how important is it to you to uphold the family legacy? The practice of nepotism has come under fire recently, how has that impacted your approach to the business? How do you see yourself in the perfume space?
XB: There’s a transition that happened from my grandfather to my father to myself. I have a full box of my grandfather's formulas that date back to the early 1900s. So, it really is a family legacy. But there's a downside to it. For me, for example, it’s imposter syndrome. It stems from having access to knowledge more easily. It raises questions of legitimacy in your position, your success, your talent. My philosophy is that time will tell if you were right or wrong. I feel legit enough in my position, but you always have this doubt.
Xavier has three sisters, none of whom have joined the family business. “Even though I have the passion for perfumery, I would have felt some guilt in not taking up the family flag. In addition to being a good business, I’m comfortable in this industry and I’m proud to continue our family tradition. It’s also a bit of French pride. I'm happy to continue participating in this industry. There's my family and there's also national pride.”
You must have a unique approach and style to perfume creation and development. How would you describe your signature style and how did it manifest itself in Ombre Sereine?
XB: I would say that because I don't have a chemistry background, I have a bit of an “out of the box” way of thinking. I like to see myself as a disruptive creator where I can follow a crazy idea and just see if it works or not. For example, lately I have been working on an ink accord. So just trying to recreate the ink and trying to make it work with something else. That’s kind of my style – to take something that you don't think necessarily smells good and trying to find an olfactive beauty inside of it. This to me is the real perfumery. It doesn't necessarily need to smell good or straightforwardly to have an impact on your emotions and your feelings. I think if you can connect with something, and then have something beautiful next to it, it's already some sort of a personality. Human personality is not all beautiful. There's yin and yang. I like to think about this duality in terms of perfumery. I like crazy associations. Lately I’ve been working on a formula with cotton candy and pear, with a bit of a cooked rice effect. The natural response is that it makes no sense but when you think about it in an olfactive way, it does make sense. In my mind, it makes sense, and I must see it through to the end. To see if it works. Not everyone will understand it, not everyone will want to proceed with the formulation, but I like to say that I'm a creator and that I want to do something new.
But also living in the world. We encounter these different scents all the time - this mix of scents so it does make sense what you're saying about blending different notes/accords together.
When speaking about blending different notes and accords, Xavier talks about synergy. He’s always looking out for the synergies in ingredients. Not unlike combining flavors in cooking. He analyzes the ingredients closely to find the olfactive harmony and the effect he wants. “Let’s take cardamom. To me, cardamom, smells a bit like the metallic part of the sardine can. So now I've got a bit of this fishy metallic effect. This is very interesting when you think about it, because then you can now look to combine a fishy metallic effect with something else, for example, black pepper. When you understand that synergy, then you can combine them naturally, and this is where it becomes interesting.”
He talks about each person finding their own impressions, recordings and memories. “We can go a bit deeper with what we are smelling.”
In part 2 of our interview with Xavier Blaizot, we’ll delve deeper into his collaboration with Grace de Monaco and the inspiration behind our enigmatic third fragrance: Ombre Sereine, available as of June 22.