Dear M. Robert

Mals of The Muse in Wooden Shoes recently posted about people who seem to gravitate to the work of certain perfumers (Nose Pickers) and while she didn’t think she had a favorite perfumer, I found that for years, I did, and it was the late Guy Robert.

That was not very unusual.  Millions of women wore his compositions; perhaps the largest number wore Caleche, as I did for years.  But this perfume has since been reformulated to meet modern standards, and one of the things lost in that process was the old Robert touch.  His perfumes always had something warm and worn about them.  Yes, even things like Dioressence which was quite animalic until sometime in the 90’s.  I was not surprised to learn that this sense of the broken in scent was part of his technique as a perfumer.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise either that Guy Robert was a pragmatist.  “A perfume must before anything else, smell good,” is the quote most frequently attributed to him, and it encapsulates this native common sense, so often missing in the vaporous, some might say, downright foggy world of commercial perfumery.  Too many perfumers working now, whether on their own or as employees of the big firms, are apt to forget that one simple dictum, and the results are predictably bad.  Nothing will sell for long, that isn’t worn, and nothing will ever be worn if it doesn’t smell good on skin.  So, one hallmark of the Guy Robert style was his attention to “wearability”.

The second was beauty pure and simple.  I don’t know how it is that so many perfumers and consumers end up, the first creating, and the second group wearing things that just aren’t pretty, but they do.  I still cannot understand the success of various perfumes on the market now that smell of chemicals. It’s quite bad enough that so many people smell of their laundry detergent, or bad quality mass produced soap.  Guy Robert at least, tried to make sure that the products he made were actually beautiful.

He was not, however, snobbish.  He took his inspiration where he could and it did not have to be high end.  The story of Dioressence has been told on Bois De Jasmin and in The Emperor of Scent, and it would seem typical of Robert.  So is this point from one of his talks to perfumers*, that you could take inspiration for a new perfume from the effect of two perfumed women sitting next to each other.   Call it layering for the industry insider.

From the same talk he advised perfumers on how to begin with a new scent.  You could, he said begin with an accord, I’m guessing that this is how Caleche came about, with its very golden note.  You could also create using impressions of existing fragrances, and that was how Dioressence was done. You could alternatively use an existing accord and exaggerate one component of it.  This was the method favored by the late Jean Carles and resulted in such emphatic perfumes as Tabu.  Then again you could use a new perfume product, such as the magnolia leaf extract used in Tocade for Rochas.

It’s all very practical and not very mysterious at all, but maybe Guy Robert was aware that the real mystery of perfume is not in its ingredients, nor yet its composition, but the alliances it forms with human skin.  That’s where the mystery comes in.

* This came from Biogenesis of a Perfume, a talk delivered in 1998 and re-printed under the Guy Robert section of Now Smell This, to which blog I’m indebted for finding it.

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