Written by Lynne Yaeger
As soon as Alberto Morillas found out there was such a job as a perfumer, he wanted in. He was 18 years old, living in Switzerland, when he read an article about the house of Guerlain in French Vogue and suddenly realized, he says, “That this was a real job! Somebody actually had to make the perfumes!” By 20, he was well on his way to achieving his lifelong vocation.
The legendary Morillas, tonight’s first-time recipient of the Perfumer of the Year, Lifetime Achievement Award, is the author of a seemingly endless line of iconic fragrances, a staggering 284 attributed creations (at last count)—two and a half decades of stars that include CK One and Estée Lauder Pleasures, Carolina Herrera 212, Bulgari Blv, Cartier Panthere de Cartier, Marc Jacobs Daisy and literally hundreds of others.
Born in Seville, Spain, Morillas says his formative fragrance experiences include his father putting cologne in his hair and the delicious aroma of Femme de Rochas, his mother’s signature scent. In his late teenage years, he discovered the seductive power of L’Heure Bleu—”so sexy and French,” he laughs today. He studied at the School of Beaux Arts in Geneva for two years before joining Firmenich in 1970, but in truth is considered mostly self-trained in the art of perfumery. He was named Perfumer in 1977 and Master Perfumer in 1998.
All these many years after that teenage epiphany, Morillas describes himself as still “an atypical and eternal young man,” greeting each day with the same joie de vivre he felt decades ago. “Every morning I enjoy the same feeling—I love to create! It isn’t just a job, it’s my passion.”
It is a passion that nevertheless has its own intrinsic challenges—Morillas recounts cheerfully that he sometimes tries what he calls a hundred million different formulations before arriving at exactly the right scent. He is famous in the industry for his innovative combination of natural and synthetic elements, working with chemists to develop unique molecule combinations, and though his process is extremely complicated, he is not a computer guy, preferring to annotate all of his work by hand. “My handwriting is my emotion,” he says. “When I write the formula, I can smell the perfume.”
Unlike so many gifted individuals who have risen to the top of their professions, Morillas doesn’t wallow in what he calls, with just a hint of disdain, “nostalgia,” by which he means the tendency to insist that things were much, much better in the old days. He may have already created hundreds of fragrances, but he is always looking ahead: “When you smell the jasmine, the tuberose, the orange flowers, it is so beautiful—only God can make these beautiful things! And then you combine this with synthetics, it’s like the sun and the showers—you mix them together and create something new.”