The Rise Of Womanity
Some people will always remember Thierry Mugler for his impact on eighties fashion—strong-shouldered, futuristic, Blade Runner-style frocks that received a bit of a revival last year when Beyoncé enlisted the reclusive designer to costume her I Am Sasha Fierce tour. But it’s really with fragrance that he’s made his biggest mark. Through a long-standing partnership with Clarins, Mugler revolutionized the perfume industry in 1992 by introducing Angel, a newly minted “gourmand” scent that blended foodie aromas with a strong patchouli base. Not content to rest on his laurels, he did it again in 2005 with Alien. “Thierry wanted to create something that was the contrast to Angel,” olfactory consultant Pierre Aulas recalls of Alien, an amber eau. “A feminine Buddha” is how Mugler actually described the concept for Alien to Aulas—”a woman who arrives on the earth with a positive message.” Right. “Sometimes [Thierry's] wishes are very hard to translate into perfume,” Aulas admits. “But the way I work with him is never to present a final fragrance but to present ideas—rough ideas,” like, say, devising the world’s first sweet and savory scent. Womanity, Mugler’s latest olfactory effort, which launches in August, combines fig and—wait for it—caviar for a surprisingly unique blend that you need to smell to fully understand. (Luckily, a limited-edition 10 ml bottle of the pink juice goes on sale today.) We caught up with Aulas to talk Womanity, a little thing called molecular distillation, and why mango chutney just may be Mugler’s next source of inspiration.
So first things first: What exactly does an “olfactory consultant” do?
I’m essentially an evaluator. I worked for five years at Firmenich and five years at Mane and I have a background in marketing and fragrance. So I can speak with noses because I smell accurately, but I’m also a good driver for marketing because that’s my background—I started at Danone!
From yogurt to perfume—an unlikely journey. How did you get involved with Mugler?
I’ve been working with Thierry for about ten years now and am responsible for the olfactive development of his fragrances. I first worked with Vera Strubi [president of Clarins Fragrance Group until 2007], who created the Thierry Mugler fragrance division. She’s the one who developed Angel, but she had no time to develop future fragrances so she asked me to help. The first meeting I had with Thierry was about Cologne de Thierry.
And what was it like meeting the man behind all those power suits?
He’s a real artist. Sometimes it’s easy to work with him, sometimes it’s not. But he trusts that I will be able to develop his ideas through perfume. He is surprising and sometimes he just comes to me with an idea. Like with Womanity. He came to me and said, “We created an edible gourmand with Angel. Then we modernized amber with Alien. And now I want you to explore what a sweet/savory can be.”
So…he’s a big-picture kind of guy then, eh? Where did you even begin?!
Well, I wanted to avoid marine notes because it’s been done, so evolving these two things was a challenge! I worked with [Mane perfumer] Fabrice [Pellegrin] to find ideas as to how to express this, and the combination Thierry liked best was caviar and fig. And then we had to make the fragrance. I also presented mango chutney—it’s sweet and salty. It was a contender, too.
Why fig and caviar?
The idea came from Mane’s new molecular distillation technology. There was a technology called “Headspace” that IFF created 20 years ago that allowed you to analyze the air around the ingredient you wanted to capture, which gives you top notes. But with this new technology, you can capture the top, mid, and base notes of something.
Whoa. And how exactly does it work?
You put a secret, liquid gas into a vial with the ingredient you want to explore, and then you can analyze it, capturing 90 percent of its natural smell. Also, you can capture something very tiny—like fig, for example. It’s not very aromatic, but with this technology you can compact the volume and get closer to the actual aroma. This is actually the first time fig as a fruit has been used in fragrance. In perfumery, you usually use the leaves. But we were able to use the fruit which is quite milky.
What about the caviar?
Among the ingredients we tried with the molecular distillation process was caviar. I said, Wow, when I smelled it. It’s very animalic, very iodine—very Mugler, because it was so different and strange. And I was looking for something strange.
Photo: Courtesy of Clarins Group