Master perfumer Barnabé Fillion has been crafting the chemistry behind some of your favorite scents. For Fillion, crafting scents is very similar to what he learned in his years studying photography. He looks at the process as a visual one involving texture. It usually starts with a texture he envisions, which he then works to translate into scent. He's had some practice, having worked with notable noses like Victoire Tobin-Dauge and Christine Nagel. But how exactly did the perfumer end up with a notable nose of his own? Fillion shares with us below.
Now, where did this all begin?
I was actually educated in photography very early. I was assisting great photographers like Helmut Newton. Then I started to work with an architect, a poet, a cook and then, a perfumer. I was all about discovering the special language of the textures in perfumes.
You’ve worked with a few noses. Who are some of them?
I was working with Victoire Tobin-Dauge. She was independent and she made her own brand. She knew from the beginning exactly the direction I wanted to take in the world of perfume and she really stimulated that the most. My second mentor is Christine Nagel. She's the one to have really taught me how to relate to the industry of perfumery. I still don't have a male perfumer mentor but I have many male experts in distillation.
Did you even know that a ‘nose’ could be a career?
Yes, because there's a movie Fanfan, with Sophie Marceau where in the movie, she's studying at the school of perfumery, and I was looking at that movie when I was maybe 10 or 12. I was so affected by the perfumery itself, by sense so much, but I was never attracted by the industry. The only thing that really gave me insight was the world of Serge Lutens, and his first shop in Paris.
How did you decide to go out on your own?
My intention was never to really develop a business out of this. It was really to continue the narration that I had when I was doing photography. One of the biggest contracts was to make a perfume for Paul Smith. And one of the things that I worked on with him was really to capture his life, which is full of travel and his love of photography. We really looked at all the moments in his life that were impactful in terms of scents but related also to who he is. Hence, we called it ‘Portrait’ – a picture into his life.
You’ve worked with so many incredible brands – Aesop, Le Labo, The Broken Arm, Les Foins and so on. Where does the creative process begin?
Everything that I'm doing in perfumery is very visual. I'm always running after a blurry image that becomes more focused with the time. My creative process is basically to make them feel this texture that I have envisioned. It's quite a long process, and depending on how intimate I get with the people, the time varies. I love it so much though – I never want it to end.
How do you push the limits of scent making?
I am always on a quest for the best ingredients in terms of sourcing but also in terms of distillation. Once you have sourced the best, maybe you want to do co-distillation, you want to distill ingredients together and try to have a different result from a normal distillation. That’s just one of the ways I push the limits.
I'd love to know. What fragrances do you wear?
I always wear different files that I'm working on. I have this attachment to scarves and textiles and the way they smell over time. I'm just trying to re-understand in a different way so I can smell that scarf again and again. The way that perfume is on the scarf while you're traveling, and the way it moves, is amazing. That’s what keeps me inspired.