By Michelyn Camen
We are honored and pleased to have this opportunity to “gift” our readers with an interview with one of the fragrance world’s most influential master perfumers. Mr. Olivier Creed is the 6th generation of CREED family sons, and perhaps the most influential. The House of CREED has created some of the most experiential and classic fragrances of the past two centuries.
Olivier Creed was born and raised in a perfumed world. Following in the footsteps of his family’s previous generations, he was seduced early in life by the charms of perfume and the creation of exquisite scents.
BN: Do you believe your family has a gene that is passed on from generation to generation that enhances their understanding of scent and creates master perfumers? How much is nature and how much is nurture?
OC: Every generation feels fortunate to have this particular skill, the skill of comprehending and practicing the art and science of making fragrance. It is an innate ability. Yet like any ability, it must be developed. I started accompanying my father to the fragrance workshop as a child, to begin to learn the components of fragrance.
My son, Erwin, accompanied me to the fragrance workshop starting at eight years old. So there is talent, and there is the work to develop talent. It is also essential to be artistically well rounded. I learned painting in school, and I painted more than 100 canvasses before becoming master perfumer at CREED in 1975.
Painting by Georges Braque
Georges Braque was a neighbor of ours, and I was fortunate to paint with him upon occasion. I find people who are interested in fragrance are also interested in fine food, music, clothing, architecture, sculpture and so on. This was true of my father, of me and certainly of Erwin. Fragrance is a part of life. For example, we CREEDs are also physically active, especially in sailing, mountain and equestrian sports, and that has added greatly to the ability to create fragrance, if you think about the smell of the sea or the smell of a fresh, green playing field when you first step onto it.
BN: Please define the brand’s DNA for our readers. What are the core values of each and every scent under the Creed name?
OC: The DNA is the DNA, literally, of our family, of seven generations of crafters of scent. I think you are asking not a scientific, genetic question, but rather a question about philosophy. The philosophy is to create something beautiful and true. It’s a simple statement, yet it encompasses so much. There must be the correct ingredients, natural ingredients. So we meet with farmers of, say, roses in Bulgaria, to choose the roses with the best oil. We meet with farmers of lemons in Italy to find the best and most fragrant. So we gather the best and bring it back to the workshop. We apply then our own artistic knowledge and experience, to create something we consider beautiful.
We believe the old methods of fragrance making are best, the hand methods used at the founding of CREED in 1760. We still use these today. All CREED fragrances are made in a single location, a workshop in the woods of France, in Fontainebleau, by me, Erwin and a production staff of approximately 30 people who handle bottling by hand. That is all. No factories. No laboratories. No market testing. No testing on animals, of course. The master perfumer decides. I am the master perfumer today, and I decide.
BN: What fragrance are you personally the most proud of and how was it born?
OC:The master perfumer must have the courage of his convictions, creatively speaking. When I created Green Irish Tweed and the first bottles arrived at market, some proprietors said, “It is too grassy. It will never sell.” Today, the popularity of Green Irish Tweed is self-evident. It is an extraordinarily successful fragrance at market, and, of course, an artistic success. In any event, Green Irish Tweed was a custom fragrance for a private client before it was offered to the discerning public, so I knew it was something special as the client was always very happy. In any event, there are many examples of this. I have been fortunate to create not only fragrances that are pleasing aesthetically, but also the most successful in the marketplace of any CREED fragrances in our 247-year history. Imperial Millesime. Love in White. So many more. Each is a story and a success. I feel very fortunate to have my work acknowledged and embraced.
Mr. Olivier Creed and Mr. Erwin Creed
BN: How did you learn from your father and what do you do to school is Mr. Erwin Creed, your son?
OC: I was allowed great artistic freedom by my father, and I allow Erwin the same. I was always encouraged no only to study, but also to experiment. Criticism was helpful, never destructive. I take the same path with my son. Create and learn. Loving fragrance and learning fragrance are interrelated. But what is the method of father teaching son? Let us say that in more than two centuries we have developed a method, and it is ours.
BN: Is fragrance an art or a science, or a combination? Please explain?
OC: Both. Fragrance is an art like sculpture, like symphony, like cuisine, a creative endeavor. Fragrances changes emotion, certainly. Smelling a fragrance you love changes the way you feel, just as seeing a beloved painting or sculpture does. It is a labor the way sculpture is a labor. Can the creator say, “This is a perfect work?” Rarely. We work toward an idea, a subjective idea, of artistic perfection, fragrance by fragrance. When I am working on a new fragrance, I wear only that fragrance until I feel it is complete. That’s an artisitic judgment. But there is science, of course. If one does not know the proper temperature for the storage of a particular natural ingredient, one will be hampered at the most basic level. One must have a scientific insight into the melding of different essences. One must understand how soil and rainfall variations affect, for example, the quality of the orange crop or the irises. This is science. But without the artistic component, it is just science. So the artistry is the key.
BN: I am a huge fan of Love in White, can you tell me about how this fragrance was created?
OC: The very idea of Love in White is to be upon the high seas at the moment when the sails luft and fill with the wind that will move one not just in a physical sense, but also emotionally. Yet I wanted to communicate this on a global basis. So I chose ingredients from each continent: rice husk from Asia, magnolia from the Americas, orange zest from Europe and so on. The sea itself is a factor in the fragrance. And what is the result? A universal scent or a scent appreciated universally. I gave the first bottle of this fragrance to be sent to America to First Lady Laura Bush. Today, it is the best selling fragrance for CREED.
BN: CREED was and is a perfumer to celebrities. What do you make of this craze of celebrities marketing their own fragrance?
OC: CREED created fragrances for so many; Monarchs, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Sir Winston Churchill, and John F. Kennedy. For Grace Kelly’s wedding day scent, Fleurissimo, was created by order of her fiancé, Prince Rainier of Monaco. So began Hollywood’s love affair with CREED. Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Natalie Wood, Audrey Hepburn and others all wore CREED. I can go on and on…so CREED is an expert on celebrities. They do what they do, which is a particular activity of this moment in time. We do what we do, in our own way, generation upon generation, with a vast creative history to guide us as we create that which is beautiful and true. Everyone is free to make fragrance. It is an art. Art welcomes everyone.
CREED’s Fragrance Boutique in Paris
BN: What is your advice to our readers on how to use fragrance to explore their own distinctiveness?
OC: Within the context of CREED, the best way to do so is to explore custom blended fragrance. Many individuals — some world famous, some known only in their communities — have commissioned their own fragrance from us in our 247 years. It is a journey into self expression — your portrait in fragrance, created by CREED, to stand for all time. More broadly speaking, as not everyone can commission a custom blend, there are, of course, more than 40 CREED fragrances available to the discerning public. With 40 to choose from, you will find one that expresses who you are. I am confident of that. Allow yourself time and opportunity to explore.
BN: Is there anything in the works for 2008 and can you please give us ‘un petit gout’?
OC: There will be a new fragrance that follows Love in White. There is an additional idea I wish to express, continuing in the same philosophical and aesthetic direction of Love in White, but building and expanding the idea. Beyond that, yes, there will be more, always. This is a creative time for us, and we are enjoying it.
Editor’s Note: Special Thanks to Mr. Adam Brecht, Vice President of Corporate Communications for facilitating this interview. In his words, “Great perfumers are not made but born, and those instilled with this unique gift and passion live for the joy of bringing their creations to life.”
We are blessed to have CREED fragrances available to us. Happy Holidays and Bonne Année! Available at http://www.bergdorfgoodman.com and at Barney’s NY