Marc-Antoine Corticchiato founded his house, Parfum d’Empire, in 2002. Even if his lab is based in Paris, this plant lover looks to the south – towards the hilltop town of Grasse on the Côte d’Azur, where he sources his natural raw materials, and Corsica, his native island. Two of his recent creations, Corsica Furiosa and Tabac Tabou, were voted ‘best fragrance from a niche brand’ in 2015 and 2016 at the Fifi Awards, the Oscars of the profession. We chat to him.
The perfume know-how in the Pays de Grasse has just been inscribed on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. What an accolade!
Marc-Antoine Corticchiato: “It’s well deserved! There are ancestral houses in Grasse that have unique expertise in the cultivation of perfume plants, their transformation and the creation of perfumes, and to have this recognised is a source of great pride for everyone involved in the perpetuation of this unmatched global reputation.”
Are there still flowers in Grasse produced locally?
MYC: “Yes – young farmers have revived the cultivation of the famous Grasse flowers: the centifolia rose, the jasmine, the violet, the iris, the lily, the tuberose, the orange blossom. However, it’s true that most of the production comes from elsewhere. Today, the houses of Grasse own or exploit thousands of hectares of fields around the world, in India, Morocco, Egypt, Indonesia and Madagascar. Plants are mostly processed on the spot, except for those that can survive transport such as frankincense or myrrh resins, seeds, and dried flowers.”
You create your perfumes in your Parisian lab. What place does Grasse occupy in your activity?
MYC: “An essential place: Grasse has the best houses in the world to stock up on natural raw materials, with catalogues of incredible richness. To make perfumes, we need products that are not only high quality, but also reliable and reproducible. The houses of Grasse have this savoir-faire. And the whole area is a mecca of perfumery!”
Are your perfumes exclusively made from natural raw materials?
MYC: “Not at all. Since the end of the 19th century, the so-called modern perfumery developed by Ajaccien François Coty consists of mixing extracts of plants or animals with synthetic molecules, which can either exist in nature – such as menthol or vanillin – or be molecules ‘identical to nature’, invented by chemists to create new scents. All creators use synthetic molecules to enlarge the main perfume organ at their disposal.”
How do you go about creating your perfumes?
MYC: “To create a perfume is to tell a story, which is about the skin. At the origin of my creations is often a life experience – something personal, sensory, intellectual – which I try to transcribe onto a sheet of paper. I start with a few simple raw materials which will form the soul and skeleton of the perfume and its main notes, and then I’ll introduce dozens of others – a bit like a music composer who has a symphony in his head that he’s trying to capture on manuscript. Then I put my formula on a computer and make a sample in the lab.”
From this initial formula, are there lots of tests to be done?
MYC: “Hundreds! After each session of olfaction, we modify the formula, then we feel, then we compare, and we start again, again and again, creating a perfume. It requires a lot of thought and testing, in a bottle, on the skin, alone, with others, before you arrive at the final perfume. According to brain specialists, those who use their noses on a daily basis – such as oenologists and perfumers – develop very special brain abilities.”
Do perfumers end up disconnecting from plants?
MYC: “Some, yes, but not me! Before founding Parfum d’Empire, I worked for a long time in a research lab analysing perfume plants and their methods of extraction. I also detoured via aromatherapy. I have an intimate knowledge of the natural plant. Since childhood, the scent of plants is what’s truly intrigued and excited me.”