Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sylvaine Delacourte on the Open

"I used to be a dedicated make up artist but knew I wanted to do something different. I decided to take up a job at Guerlain. After a while, I realised I knew nothing about fragrances and underwent training in fragrances. This changed my life. I trained for two years in the only school in Europe: Isipca. Soon I joined the marketing team of Guerlain. From make up, marketing and plenty of other profiles I have now become the nose of Guerlien.[sic]"

Sylvaine Delacourte, the artistic director of parfums Guerlain, is opening her cards on the table in an exclusive phone-interview on occasion of the introduction of the Guerlain brand to India (Why did it take them so long? Ah, but judging by Dior's Escale a Pondichéry, India seems a hot spot market-wise now!) Among interesting opinions such as flowers being a universally liked scent and her faithfulness to one signature fragrance (that one, not revealed in the article, is L'Heure Bleue), Sylvaine Delacourte also reveals that she made Cuir Beluga taking herself as the starting point and main aim. She credits Thierry Wasser as the new nose in the house and gives a few practical rules for perfume wearing.

Read the rest of the article on the Hindu Mail here.

Edit to add (15 June): Mme Delacourte had the graciousness to personally address Perfume Shrine (in English no less) and clarify the following points for our readers and I quote:

"for Jicky , it is a fougere , but in the base notes you can find the harmony of shalimar!for my title , in the past I was director of the creation , it means i was in charge of finding a new idea , and the perfumer who will be able to tranform the idea into a perfume,(it means also evaluation) each time I have mentionned the names of the creators, Maurice Roucel, Olivier Polge and many others...NOW, Thierry wasser is our internal nose, CREATOR, successor of Mr Jean Paul Guerlain, and I am helping him , in the development of some fragrances. I am also the ambassador of the brand!"

Our thanks for those most interesting comments and since the venue is officially read by Guerlain headquarters, I invite you, my readers to pose/mail me with your personal questions on matters pertaining to Guerlain so that we could perhaps establish a constructive dialogue!

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: the Guerlain series, Guerlain news

pic credit from previous article on


  1. I'm utterly confused:

    first she became the new nose for Guerlain, creating Cuir Beluga in the process, and then she credits Thierry Wasser as Guerlain's new nose?

    Methinks miss Delacourte and Guerlain need to get their heads straight on who exactly is the house's nose!

  2. Anonymous11:10

    Goodness gracious! Second Merlino's comments on confusing the role of an Artistic Director with a nose (totally different aspects of the development process even when one does both). While to be fair she has been named as the co-creator of at least L'Instant and Insolence I didn't think that Roucel would be left out completely (then why was he featured in the initial wave of interviews?). And then there's Guerlain Homme, which even at the first web interview Ms. Delacourte discussed to and fro with Wasser who had the inspiration (it was fully documented by Kevin from NST so I won't repeat here).

    Look, while I know my place in the world I just want to point out that the who-did-what statements are becoming very, very confusing to a customer like me. Either Wasser created Guerlain Homme, co-created by Wasser/Delacourte, or created by Ms. Delacourte. Pick a story and stick to it. That's all I'm asking. If Guerlain wants to catch up to Chanel at least in terms of modernization (let's not be coy here) I would expect Guerlain to get at least this correct. Sigh.

  3. "Guerlain launched the first perfume called Jicky in 1828, marking the first-ever creation of an oriental perfume."

    There are several things wrong, or at least confusing, about this sentence--I'm just going to point out that la maison Guerlain was founded in 1828 and Jicky went on the market in 1889.

    I couldn't say whether the inaccuracy is the fault of Ms. Delacourte (the creative director who doesn't know anything about her company?) or the Hindu Mail (the newspaper that doesn't check anything before publishing it?). I will say that it strikes me as sloppy, given that these are not difficult facts to investigate.

    But enough ranting for one Sunday afternoon--thanks for providing the link!

  4. Rappleyea00:04

    Thank you for the link Helg - an interesting read (in more ways than one!).

    Have you ever interviewed her? I think THAT would be a great interview for your readers. To say nothing of more accurate and enlightening!


  5. Well that was interesting Helg.

    I told you they are mad at Guerlain! LOL

  6. Merlino,

    thanks for commenting!

    Yeah, this is why I chose to quote that part. ;-) It's quite interesting that there seems to be some misunderstanding as to who does what in the house. I had commented for some time that TW had been mysteriously absent from the latest releases, which was odd given the vast press coverage his appointment had received.
    I hope this confusion is alleviated in the future.

  7. A,

    I am totally with you! There was a long interview of Thierry Wasser along with Jean Paul Gaultier in Wallpaper recently, which I had linked some time ago. There was also the long Basenotes article when the appointment was initially made, quoting several sources on his position.
    To be fair, I believe ms.Delacourte is not exactly blurring the lines, as she is talking about a tight group of people working on the creations, and I assume she means she art directs them and also evaluates them, thus acting as a fragrance evaluator (which is sometimes referred to as a "nose") so I am starting to think that a large part of the misunderstandings has to do with the Hindu Mail inaccurasy and things lost in translation. However, having said that, I would venture that there is a proof-reader in place for that sort of press (I mean from the GUerlain house, not only from the paper, as is my experience with another prestige house who check those things!)with which they should have checked first for errors and misconstrutions, then publish!.

    As it stands it makes for a confusing article...but I didn't want to personally embarass ms.Sylvaine Delacourte, as she is soooo targeted from hardcore Guerlain fans, so I left it for your commentary. Perhaps if she sees this she might elucidate things, or she might not. In any case, I leave the window open for anyone to defend their position or correct errors, as is journalistically ethical and plain fair.

  8. A,

    thanks for pointing out the inaccuracies. And not to miss that Jicky is technically a fougere, not an oriental (even though it might have some orientalised elements!) There were so many that I didn't have the heart to correct each and every one of them. I think it's mostly the Hindu Mail's fault here (it's not the first time journalists are sloppy, I have encountered this many many times and it always makes an impression on me; oh well, we act differently in academia I suppose!).

    There is the interesting point that Guerlain is branching in India though: for a house so ingrained into the oriental and what's more Indian history (Shalimar, jasmine sambac, ylang ylang etc) one would have expected that would have been much sooner! :-)

  9. D,

    indeed, in more ways than one!

    I haven't interviewed her yet, but you're giving me ideas! It would make for a good read and I would ask what every perfumista wants to learn so If ms.Delacourte is willing to grant an interview to Perfume Shrine, I am more than willing. :-)

  10. M,

    hello darling!
    Well, they do seem to have veered off course, don't they. I wish them all the best, but I can't close my eyes on what seem like missteps on their part.

    HOpe you're very well! :-)

  11. Anonymous12:04

    Hi E,

    You have a point that Ms. Delacourte has been singled out in many instances, and that it might have been the editorialism of this particular news agency. Still, after observing the various Guerlain PR activities all I am asking is a definite story on who created what--not a truth at the headquarters level and then another story at the local boutique level. If you go back to my first message that was all I asked for (and I do consider it a fair request).


  12. Oh, it IS a fair request and I think it's shared by many Guerlainomaniacs! I wish mme Delacourte would issue some sort of "guidelines" for future interviews/articles/whatever, so that journalists and sales people are crustal clear on what to broadcast: makes for a coherent brand image too!

  13. I am wondering why in this funky interview noone mentions "Indian" aspects in the long history of Guerlain: the Shalimar legend, Samsara, with or without a discussion of it's naiming, the legendary Vetiver, the grass that originally comes from India and Sri Lanka, jasmines, sandalwood and orientals in general that have their heritage in the Far East and of course South Asia. I as a marketing spokesperson would have announced my sympathies and relations to the economy i would want to make new friends with!
    In fact i wonder why she explicity recommends Champs Elysées, of all? Because of the mimosa? I don't know too much about Indian tastes, nor am i a trained nose, sadly, only that it might be difficult to recommend a few Aqua Allegorias for a nation which consits of 35 states and union territories and which is a multiethnic, completely pluralistic society with a history that takes our breaths away! I would have expected her/them (who is it now that sniffs, produces and launches??) to launch a lotus (national flower) or mango (national fruit) aqua, at least! ;-).
    By the way, poor Maurice Roucel who wasn't mentioned with L'Instant at all! reading the interview you think she was the nose for it!

  14. N,

    you cruxed the essence of the matter: it sounds like a very sketchy approach to a new market, although judging by Dior's recent effort (linked in my post), one is at a loss as to what India stands for brands nowadays (let's not forget Un Jardin apres la Mousson by Hermes!)

    I think the relationship with outside perfumers was quite ambivalent for a long-time, even before JPG's announcement of retirement (and yes I am referring to Maurice Roucel, but also to Annick Menardo) therefore it doesn't phase me. Perhaps it's a directive from those above Mme.Delacourte herself: Present a uniform face to the outside world, that of SD, instead of numerous coming & going outsourced perfumers. This is a theory on my part, mind you!

  15. Anonymous14:00

    for Jicky , it is a fougere , but in the base notes you can find the harmony of shalimar!
    for my title , in the past I was director of the creation , it means i was in charge of finding a new idea , and the perfumer who will be able to tranform the idea into a perfume,(it means also evaluation) each time I have mentionned the names of the creators, Maurice Roucel, Olivier Polge and many others...
    NOW, Thierry wasser is our internal nose, CREATOR, successor of Mr Jean Paul Guerlain, and I am helping him , in the development of some fragrances. I am also the ambassador of the brand!

  16. sylvainedelacourte14:01

    the last comment has been post by sylvaine delacourte , sorry i made a mistake of manipulation

  17. Dear Mme. Delacourte,

    I am honoured you chose to respond directly and I thank you for it! It is good of you to do so, so as to clear any misunderstandings which I realise the Hindu Mail article created. In my humble opinion, the article was not conductive to highlighting the prestige of Guerlain.
    If you would like, as suggested by one of my readers above, we could conduct a respectful and amicable interview here on Perfume Shrine with the questions on the lips of every Guerlain lover. You can see the level of interviews conducted on this link. Thanks!

    Chere mme Delacourte,
    merci de l'honneur de me repondre directement! C' est bien fait alors que ça soit plus claire pour nos lecteurs, car l'article en Hindu Mail etait pauvrement effectué de mettre en valeur le prestige de la maison Guerlain.
    Si vous le vouliez, nous pourrons conduire un interview respectueuse et aimable en Perfume Shrine, comme une de mes lecteurs l'a proposé, avec les questions qui sont à la bouche des aimants de la maison Guerlain. Vous pouvez constater le niveau d'interviews en ce lien, s'il vous plaît.

  18. Rappleyea15:44

    Helg - I really hope this happens!

    Mme. Delacourte - merci beaucoup!

  19. Thanks Donna! Hope so too, it would be most enlightening.

    By the way, I invite all my readers to suggest what they would like to ask to mme Delacourte if her busy time schedule ultimately allows her to go through with my tentative suggestion.
    So, fire away your questions, people!!

  20. Thanks for an interesting link, Helg.

    And I do really appreciate the fact Sylvain Delacourte has personally come to clarify some misunderstandings.

    The problem is that perfume houses put too much effort on creating an abstract legend around a fragrance and tell us too little about the fragrance creation itself. Very few people know the nose behind a fragrance and even less understand the role of creative director. May be perfume houses should do more in this direction as well?

    Well, Helg, I really hope that you'll be able to interview Sylvain Delacourt. I think that the role of creative director is fascinating and Sylvain has many interesting stories to tell, so people will be able to build more affinity with perfume creation.

  21. gautami16:16

    I am a long time Guerlain fan but have found most of the recent releases to be a little lack-lusture. Most of them smell alike to me; fluffy, cakey, floury stuff. I have not been able to take my card out of my wallet for any since L'Instant.

  22. Thanks Gautami!

    I have found some good, some less good fragrances lately. But I guess this happens with all brands and they are issuing quite a lot, which statistically speaking is harder for them.

    I am inviting you then to post your requests/questions to the maison Guerlain, as the artistic director herself agreed to listen to our questions and respond. :-)

  23. Max,

    thank you for the most interesting comment: you have a good point there! There is a legend, a dream surrounding each perfume, perhaps due to its evanescent nature and the secrecy of the "metier", so perhaps they're acting simply following a tradition or they don't to shatter illusions. :-)
    I believe Sylvaine will be most interesting in her replies, it's something that should be enlightening. Ask away what you want, as I am amassing the best ones.

  24. Helg, I bow to your charm and powers of persuasion.

  25. What a nice surprise, Mme Delacourte joins the disussion - thank you! I didn't mean to be harsh in my comment, i also had the impression that the Hindu Times interview wasn't really led by an expert like Perfumeshrine is one!!! ;-))

    I am looking forward to the interview here and the answers of course with great anticipation! It's not every day that we get that chance!

  26. At the House of Guerlain, it hasn't been easy, because Jean-Paul Guerlain is the latest "nose and creator" in the family.
    Sylvaine Delacourte has already done wonderful work for Guerlain, creating on her own or in coörporation revolutionary new fragrances. As I may say so, Sylvaine is really the person to manage the artistic department of the fragrances. Maison Guerlain at 68, avenue des Champs Elysées has had sych a wonderful transformation, offering back again almost forgotten creations, and has launched the "Art et la Matière" range and "Les Parisienes" ... . It is not easy to bring a etablished perfume house into a new era, when it is owned by LVMH, to compromise between old values and being up to date. Sylvaine Delacourte has done this flawless. Guerlain is still one of the best perfume houses in the world, innovative, creative and daring to change. Her position at Guerlain is clear. Thierry Wasser is taking over the position of Jean-Paul Guerlain, but he still is very close to "La Maison". He can't get enough of keeping on creating, like "Double Vanille Spirituese", ... . Blogging is not made to discus this little issues but to see the proces. And Guerlain still stands! A lot of that is thanks to Sylvaine!


Type your comment in the box, choose the Profile option you prefer from the drop down menu, below text box (Anonymous is fine too!) and hit Publish.
And you're set!

Blog Widget by LinkWithin