Lifetime Achievement Perfumer: François Demachy

Anyone who has watched the documentary NOSE: The Most Secret Job in the World, which follows François Demachy on his travels around the globe, is unlikely to forget witnessing the master perfumer’s passion for selecting exquisite raw materials—just as anyone who has smelled his creations, including Dior Eau Sauvage and Dior Joy, is unlikely to forget experiencing their olfactive magic.

Raised in Grasse, where his father was a pharmacist, Demachy studied medicine before turning to perfumery and embracing the bounty of his native soil. He spent years as the Director of Research and Development at Chanel, and in 2006 became the Perfumer-Creator for Dior, where he dreamed up imaginative and evocative fragrances for the Maison until retiring in 2021.

From meticulous perfume craftsman to somewhat reluctant—or at least very humble—movie star, Demachy is a true legend in the industry. He is known for his gentleness and thoughtfulness, and for his dedication—especially through his relationships with raw material producers in Grasse—to making sure that beautiful ingredients will be available to perfumers for a long time to come. “Maybe in the future I could be a producer of raw materials myself,” he says, speculating on what he might do next. “Who knows? Perhaps I will try. It would be a nice way for me to complete the circle—to be at the very beginning of perfume.”

What does it mean to you to be awarded TFF Lifetime Achievement Perfumer?

It’s hard to say, because there are two feelings. On the one hand, it means it’s the end of my career in a way. On the other hand, I am delighted, of course! I am so proud to receive this award. It is a real honor.

What made you want to be a perfumer?

As the French say, when you eat, you get hungrier: Your appetite comes as you eat. I would say that I didn’t really feel a calling or anything like that to be a perfumer, but my one big advantage is that I grew up in Grasse. And when you are in Grasse, you are never very far away from perfume. Apart from that, it was because I failed in all my efforts to become a doctor or join the medical field in one way or another. At the time, my father was extremely desirous that I should become a doctor, so I tried to obey him, but at the same time I wanted to do something different. So, I decided to try perfumery.

You are known for your love of naturals and your engagement with raw materials. How has that passion shaped your career?

When you learn something in your youth, it stays with you. It leaves a stamp in your mind. And that’s what happened to me. I was lucky because I had the experience of working early on with some very technically knowledgeable and well-established perfumers, even though they were not well known because they remained on the sidelines. They showed me how to use raw materials, particularly those from Grasse, and flowers especially. There is no perfume without flowers—that’s what I learned—and it became part and parcel of who I am. So, when I am making a formula, it just comes out instinctively. It is innate.

How would you describe your style as a perfumer?

I tend to be extremely fussy. I am very fastidious. Perfume for me starts off with an idea, and then I give that idea a shape, and then I put that shape into practice and work to improve it. That’s how l like to proceed. I go into the nitty gritty. As I mentioned, I had two great professors. One was Jean Cavallier, the father of Jacques Cavallier, who taught me that in a mixture of items no one product should stand out. A balance is required. My other professor was Henri Robert, who at the time was the perfumer for Chanel, and he trained me on certain features of raw materials – not the raw material as such, but certain characteristics – and how to use them properly in a perfume. It’s all this knowledge that left its stamp on me and on my formulas. Like everyone, I have my preferences—there are certainly ingredients that I like to use. Patchouli and amber, in particular. I can’t say I have a style, exactly. But it’s true that I like to give perfumes a feeling of roundness, if that makes sense.

You created a modern classic with Dior Eau Sauvage. What do you think is the secret to its success?

I don’t know if there is a secret to it. If there were a recipe, I would have used it again and again. I think most of all it’s about continuity. You start off by choosing your ingredients, and I was very lucky because I was able to select my own raw materials, which was a huge advantage. It’s like in a restaurant where the grand chef selects his own ingredients, and more than half of the end result comes from the quality of those ingredients. And then of course there are certain characteristics of the raw materials. Amber, for instance, is very animal-like. It has a sensuous effect that is deeply and profoundly appealing to us even if we are unaware of it. It’s not something you distinguish, but you feel it, and you want it. So, there you go. Sauvage appeals to the unconscious—that’s how I did it.

Having lived in New York and Grasse and traveled so extensively, what have you observed about the way that people engage differently with fragrance around the world?

There is not really much of a difference. When you talk of perfume, it is a universal language. In fact, that’s the specialty of perfume. If I were to draw a parallel, the closest would be cooking or cuisine. You may not be Chinese, for instance, but you might still love Chinese food. It’s a similar quest for different tastes, for different experiences. Think of our love of spices, though they are used differently around the world, or lavender, rosemary, aromatic herbs—they speak to a universal desire for pleasure. I think that is what this whole thing is about. It’s a story of feeling, of emotion. That has always intrigued me. I have tried to make perfumes that are a source of pleasure for all, that have a universal appeal.

What do you consider to be your greatest legacy?

What I am most proud of is that I actively participated in the renewal of certain very exceptional raw materials from different countries, and particularly from Grasse. I can see the results of the effort today. There are so many perfume houses, so many companies that want to come to Grasse now. Ten or fifteen years ago, Grasse had lost its role, but now it is coming back, and I am so proud of this achievement. I would take that as my legacy.

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