Passion. Obsession. Pursuit. I am not writing about a perfumista hunting for the latest ‘lemming’ or vintage fragrance; I am alluding to my own desire to interview perfumers who are change agents in contemporary perfumery.
It took over two years for Ms. Calice Asancheyev Becker to agree to do this interview. Ms. Becker is the nose behind two fragrances that are Top Ten Finalists in this year’s Fragrance Foundation Awards May 25th, 2011– Rose Oud (Specialty Luxe Men) and Love and Tear, surrender by Kilian Specialty Luxe Women. This is her second trip to the Fifi’s in as many years;
Remember the famous line from the movie Jerry McGuire when Tom Cruise said to Rene Zellweger, “You had me at hello” (Ha and you were thinking 'Show me the money'!)? Ms. Becker ‘had me’ at Tommy Hifilger’s Tommy Girl in 1996 and again in 2000 for J’Adore by Christian Dior. I often quote Chandler Burr . . . He regarding perfumistas with a superiority complex about any fragrance marketed as niche; he said this regarding Dior J’Adore by Ms. Becker in 2007’s NYT Scent Notes: “A perfume’s becoming a wild financial success seems to engender the assumption that it is inferior. This is snobbery”. A true olfactive artist can do both..
A special interview …on many levels; it’s one of (if not the first) granted to a blogger, Ms. Becker has created some of my personal favorite perfumes, we both believe in creative ‘collaboration’ share a mutual love of ALL the Arts and of MOVEMENT.
Courtesy of Calice Becker
Describe yourself in your own words:
Calice Becker: I am curious and eager to learn, a care giver and a doer. But quite impatient and can become anxious when things are not moving along!
I developed my curiosity for scent at a very young age- when I was about 4 years old; I wanted to know how flowers got into a perfume bottle. So funny, that now I can actually answer my own question! I am a French perfumer and like to think of myself as one of the "cooks in the kitchen." I say this because there are so many people involved in the development of the fragrance- and my job is to write the recipe.
Your Perfumed Path?
Calice Becker: As a young child, I was the one in the family to smell if something was burning in the oven and noticed if two women were wearing the same fragrance. It was my mother though who encouraged me to become a perfumer. This was not easy -especially being a woman in a male dominated profession. At that time, a woman was not especially welcome. I was rejected by several companies I approached. One CEOs got me so upset that I told him, “With or without you I will become a perfumer!" And, I left his office. The story goes that he ordered someone to go after me stating, "We need a perfumer with guts." I was hired that day.
Courtesy of Yann Vasnier: Calice Becker,Yann Vasnier Rodrigo Flores- Roux
How do you feel about creative collaboration?
Calice Becker: Like a chef and cooking, some dishes are enhanced by teamwork. It is very important to have a circle of friends and creators with a critical nose. Collaboration with my fellow perfumers is so valuable and is an integral part of the fragrance development process. We rely on our colleagues to give us their insights and this allows us to focus on the creation and the consumer, so we can get to the final design much faster. Of course there is always one creator -the one who had the main idea-but there is always the reality the final creation would not have been possible without outside touches. I participate very often in helping to finish my colleagues’ creations but I don't consider them to be mine. If one of these creations wins, I am proud of my colleagues, who deserve all the praise.
Kilian Hennessy : From our 2007 interview
Commercial vs. haute niche perfumes … differences?
Calice Becker: It takes the same amount of knowledge, craft and care to create for a more commercial brand vs. a niche one. It comes down to the end user and who you are ultimately creating for- the consumer. When creating for a more commercial project, I am mindful of the tastes of many, of designing with a more broad appeal and the need to please a wide spectrum of tastes. When working on niche projects, I have the ability to take more risk with a creation that is truly craft and that can eventually become a trendsetter- but it doesn't start out that way. A niche brand can build slowly over time in terms of achieving commercial appeal. While a commercial venture does not have the luxury of time for the masses to understand. My customer becomes my muse, and so my work for example with Kilian, he is like a muse to me and more in tune with the emotion of his vision. We have more time to collaborate and there is space to listen to you and to think of the person who will wear my creation.
Courtesy of and all rights reserved to Yann Vasnier: Yann Vasnier and Calice Becker at the 2010 FiFis
Marc Jacobs LOLA…..L-O-L-A
Calice Becker: You know, perfumers are artists. And, just like at the Oscars, when the winner is announced, that moment of hearing your name- it is almost an "out of body" experience to hear your creation… that your work is recognized and valued. This was very emotional for me. And, especially to hear this from your peers, from your industry- there is nothing like it and it is both exciting and humbling. Lola was a very special project and process – and to collaborate on this with my colleague, Yann Vasnier, was a wonderful shared creative experience.
Your favorite city to travel- and olfactive memories
Calice Becker: My favorite city is Paris. More for its historical appeal and visual beauty and the smells from the patisserie!
Pierre Auguste Renoir: Landscape 1902
But, I am truly my happiest self when in the countryside. My country home in the western corner of France is a place that I cherish. It is family time and time spent outdoors with nature and my horses. It is in many ways a true peasant lifestyle ! The olfactive memories here are so rich for me and are all about nature: the hay drying in the sun before we bale it for the horses; the scent of Hawthorne blooming in the early winter and early summer with its subtle, light coconut,(suntan oil note) ice-cream expression- transports me to the seaside. Passionflower that grows like wild vine and the scent of it at dusk- it is invasive, but not pungent with a light, soft watery effect (but not marine) salicylate character, redolent of a gardenia. The elusive Belle de Nuit also is a flower of such rare beauty. Nothing brings me more joy than to cook for my beloved family and add touches of aromatic herbs from my garden. I love the smell of my horses, their skin. They are vegetarian, so their skin has a soft scent that combines hay with leather- but soft and enchanting to me.
Which of your six senses do you rely on most..
Calice Becker: For me, it is my sense of smell. As the sense of smell is the strongest sense connected to the brain, I am always on alert for smells. I am extremely hard wired for scent- and my sense of smell is super heightened for scent signals. The scent messages that go to my brain are very very sharp- and I am very in tune to receiving them!
Basket of flowers:Pierre-Auguste Renoir
The Calice Becker signature…
Calice Becker: Of course, it is flowers. Always flowers have inspired me and have become a signature for me. I am endlessly fascinated by flowers. They are the original "perfumers" (!) as for millions of years Mother Nature has put together molecules to achieve the most perfect formula. Compared to flowers, perfumers are super beginners in creativity ! The most perfect natural smell of flowers is my personal quest, and one that never ceases to excite me.
A Kilian Anecdote?
Calice Becker: Kilian and I work so well together, truly simpatico! Our creations take a lot of development time and trials, to achieve the results we both want. During the development of "Beyond Love," there was this moment that was most amazing. It was my first trial and Kilian smelled it and proclaimed it was "the one." It was love at first sight.. or smell! He said to me, "Leave it. Don't ruin it. It is perfect." This was a magical moment.
He is the only one in my career that has ever done this and I imagine the last!
Child French of Russian parents... Cultural influences
Calice Becker: I have lived an international life; I’ve lived in Brazil, Los Angeles, New York, Germany and France. All of these cultures and regions have informed who I am today and how I work as an artist -it comes through in my work.
But I am probably most in touch with my Russian roots. Russia is a cultural of aesthetes, where tastefulness is so valued… even it has no commercial value…or maybe, especially if it has no commercial value! The details are everything. When you think of the great Russian writers, like Pushkin and Chekhov, with their very elaborate, rich writing about the details you can get an idea. My mother has always inspired me in this way and growing up I was surrounded by beauty and to find the beauty in the everyday… to always think of pleasure & beauty, no matter how simple. I can remember her serving tea outside in the garden, and she would cover a simple wooden table with an ornately embroidered cloth and place a shiny samovar of tea to serve from. And, of course, flowers in a pretty vase. The aesthetics were everywhere. My work is aligned with this aim to make everything a pleasure.
I don't like to shock with my fragrances. I want people to feel comfortable and smell the beauty.
The scent your mother wore?
Calice Becker: Shalimar
Adam and Eve: Albrecht Durer
The first fragrance you bought?
Calice Becker: My mother bought if for me when I was 16, the fragrance was Durer, named for the artist. It was a fruity Chypre fragrance and I wore it when I met my husband, so it has a very romantic attachment for me.
Chandler Burr- MAD. Is perfumery an ART?
Calice Becker: Yes, I do believe perfume is an art. And, I am very excited about Chandler Burr's new venture as curator of the Center of Olfactory Art at MAD. It is a first. It will be amazing to see fragrance exhibited in the same way as the visual arts. Our industry really needed it and most especially perfumers. Chandler has such a passion for perfume and the opening of the first exhibit this fall will bring great recognition to the artistry of scent- to the art world and our industry as well. I am very much looking forward to the opening and to Chandler's plans for future exhibits. The public awareness and appreciation for perfume as art is so important.
Calice Becker: Michelangelo– for his strength. Renoir– for his tenderness and care with depicting children and family – softly and beautifully
Last Book Read?
Calice Becker: La Carte et le Territoire, by Michel Houllebecq
Not for story but there are several pages on art and very well annualized passages on how one define's the artistic value of a masterpiece, that I often go back and re-read.
Jean Baptise Lully left , Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart bottom, Jules Massenet top, Joahnn Sebastian Bach right
Calice Becker: JB Lully for his talent to recreate figurative music "air des trembleurs d'Isis", JS Bach for his prolific creations of perfect harmonies. Rossini for his fun. Mozart for his depth in the Requiem, and perfect use of instruments in the orchestra (Horn concerto….) Padre Antonio Sollers, the fun monk.
Prokoviev knows how to dramatize a situation. Paganini for his violin virtuosity. Schubert and Chabrier … I would have loved to spend the happy hours together around a piano! Jules Massenet who was inspired to write one of the most beautiful arias (Meditation de Thais)
Oh my God! I almost forgot Beethoven… everything is good, just pick… etc etc… I couldn't live without music!
Calice Becker: Le Grand Bleu- Luc Besson. This film transports me.The underwater photography of dolphins completely moves me. When I first saw it, I was enchanted and Molière-Ariane Mnouchkine, a historic trailer filmed as a theater piece, all the historical details were so real it was almost a 4 hours documentary filmed with an extreme feminine sensibility.
Frequent Flyer miles?
Calice Becker: Not too many as I don't enjoy the experience of flying anymore. And it is sooo polluting for our planet!
Best song for Karaoke
Calice Becker: I will spare you the embarrassment- no one wants to hear me sing!
Calice Becker: Extrovert
Perfumers you admire
Calice Becker: Maurice Roucel because he has a quality that I do not have: boldness. Even if he can shock, his formulations are sharp, short and with strong meaning.
The Three Graces: Rapahel
Apprentice to a painter:
Calice Becker: It would be Raphael. He painted with an easiness- beauty with ease. The result looks effortless, yet I always imagine what he as an artist poured into his work. To be touched by his grace!
What century to live and why?
Calice Becker: NOW! I love the amount of knowledge we have access to today and the exciting discoveries in science which is incredible. The knowledge we have of the human brain is endlessly fascinating. So maybe next century to discover more…
Next project- hint
Calice Becker: I always have a mix of projects on my plate that emotionally involve me- from more commercial ones to niche.
There is one project (I can't say with whom!) that is in development. I am working with a beautiful quality of orange flower blended with a special Benzoin material from Laos, which is one of our ethically sourced ingredients. This special benzoin has a sweet smell, but not sugary- somewhere between vanilla and caramel- a bit powdery and milky and I love it!
Did you create this for ME?
Calice Becker: (smiles)
–Michelyn Camen, Editor in Chief
Our FiFi 2011 draw is sponsored by Eau Yes! NY, a Perfumerie you will be hearing a lot more about over the next several months. EauYesNY.com will debut its e-commerce site and CaFleureBon will be the first to report on the many vintage, niche, luxury and natural fragrances that will be available (GUERLAIN! Bond No.9!!!!! By Kilian and so many more we are sworn to secrecy). Owner Sudhir, has one of the largest vintage factice and discontinued perfume collections in the New York (which will be on display in a museum within the shoppe). For more information and free samples with every order
MENTION CAFLEUREBON and call 1-888-3358 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Eau Yes! Sudhir ships worldwide…
One winner will be eligible to receive: Love and Tears Surrender: Purse spray and refills
One winner will be eligible to receive: Rose Oud by Kilian
Please leave a comment on ALL: your favorite fragrance by Calice Becker, a special quote from Ms. Becker that resonated with you, Your favorite 'artist' from this interview and which rare and hard to find INDIE or NATURAl brand you would like for Eau Yes! to carry. Draw closes April 8, 2011
Fragrances by Calice Becker:
Balmain Vent Vert – reformulation (1990), Balmain Monsieur Balmain- reformulation (1991),Tommy Hilfiger Tommy Girl (1996), Joop What About Adam (1997), Mulberrry (1997), Avon Women of Earth (1998),Christian Dior J’Adore (1999), Inez de la Fressange Inez (1999),Avon Dreamlife (2002),Donna Karan DKNY Energy for her (2002), Donna Karan DKNY Energy for him (2002),Estee Lauder Beyond Paradise for men (2004), Estee Lauder Beyond Paradise for Women (2004), Keiko Mecheri Mogador (2004), Keiko Mecheri Peau de pêche (2004),Tommy Hilfiger Tommy Girl 10 (2006, with Stephen Nilsen), Donna Karan Gold (2006 with Yann Vasnier and Rodrigo Flores-Roux),Estee Lauder, Beyond Paradise Blue (2006), Lancôme Cuir de Lancome (2007, with Pauline Zanoni),By Kilian A Taste of Heaven (2007),By Kilian Beyond Love (2007),By Kilian Liaisons Dangereuses (2007),By Kilian Love (2007), BBW chocolate amber (2007), BBW blackberry amber (2007), BBW Breath romance (2007), By Kilian Prelude to Love (2008), Davidoff Silver Shadow Private with Jacques Huclier (2008)Calvin Klein Secret Obsession (2008), Mexx xx by Mexx Wild (2008), Laura Mercier Pistachio Panache (2008), *By Kilian Back to Black: Aphrodisiac (2009) By Kilian Pure Oud (2009),Tom Ford Private Blend Jasmine Musk (2009), Mexx xx by Mexx Very Wild (2009), Payard Bergamot Truffle (2009), Payard Lychee Mousse (2009), Payard Pistachio Ganache (2009),Marc Jacobs Lola (2009, with Yann Vasnier), Dior J`Adore Collector Anniversary Edition fragrance Vera Wang Rock Princess (2009) Ed Hardy Born Wild For Women (2010), Avon + Hervé Léger Femme (2010)DKNY Delicious Ripe Raspberry (2010), Marc Jacobs Lola velvet (2010) DKNY Juicy Berry (2010),*By Kilian Rose Oud (2010), *By Kilian Love and Tears, Surrender (2010)
Special thanks to Yann Vasnier for allowing me to raid his Facebook Photos! And this quote about creative collaboration from your colleagues at Givaudaun Rodrigo and Yann:
RODRIGO AND YANN: Donna Karan Gold is actually the fruit of a "trifecta perfecta": Calice Becker originated the gorgeous lily accord,Yann made it wearable and domesticated it, and Rodrigo worked ad nauseam on the wet, dewy, lush top note. We three brought something important and priceless to this fragrance that unfortunately was overlooked. Too edgy for its time???