Sniff just a few of the fragrances IFF Master Perfumer Anne Flipo has composed, and you’ll immediately detect a bold, questioning, and sensitive personality behind them. A very thoughtful perfumer, Flipo is known for her quiet rigor—including a dedication to hand-written formulas—and for her outsize talent and expertise. Over the course of her now 35-year career, Flipo has created sensational scents for houses big and small, from history-making blockbusters such as Lancôme La Vie Est Belle to vibrant masterstrokes such as Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Synthetic Jungle to nuanced niche works such as L’Artisan Parfumeur La Chasse aux Papillons. Whether working alone or collaboratively, on feminine, masculine, or universal scents, Flipo’s process and goals are constant, and an inspiration for all who encounter her—and her fragrances. “My quest remains the same,” she says. “Signature, impact, pleasure!”
What initially drew you to perfumery?
I grew up in the North of France, surrounded by a wonderful garden kept by a gardener, full of flowers year round. Maybe it was that garden, or my father working in sugar, or my grandmother who lived in Laon and who excelled in the art of entertaining, the art of living, cooking: When it was time for me to choose what I was going to study, I opted for the ISIP, the French perfumery school, which offered a three-year program in flavoring, cosmetics, and fragrance, against the wishes of my parents, who wanted me to prepare the entrance exams for engineering schools.
What are the earliest scents or fragrances you can recall?
From that life growing up in the North of France, I vividly recall the flowerbeds, the orchards, the smell of tennis courts, lilac trees, lily-of-the-valley, weeping willows, ornamental cherries, peonies, and poppies. Funnily enough, American perfumery also made a lasting impression on me, as the small local perfumery carried American brands which became the staples of my mother and aunt, who wore Estée and Youth Dew. My sister also used to wear Alliage and Cinnabar by Estée Lauder as well as Charlie by Revlon.
What was your experience at school in Versailles like? Did you have a mentor?
When I started learning to smell, it felt like second nature to me. I was lucky to be trained by Michel Almairac and Jean-Louis Sieuzac, perfumers with an outstanding track record.
How would you describe your style as a perfumer?
I don’t believe I have a style per se, as I make it a point to blend myself in with the brands I create for.
However, there is a common denominator which I try to bring into all my creations: the immediate recognizability of a signature, the immediate pleasure it provides. It needs to be readable, impactful, recognizable: that is my style!
What are your favorite materials to work with?
Orange flower is my personal favorite, but I also love green notes which I’ve used in many different ways.
What do you personally find most fascinating or absorbing about perfumery?
I love to listen to people who come to see me and to translate their words into perfume. I also love challenges, working on brands I’ve never worked with before, and with people I don’t know, taking risks, approaching things from a different angle. I like to win as well! Today, my greatest ambition is transmission. I don’t worry about going down in history; being forgotten is of no importance. But I am keen to be a mentor to young people, to help them win and to think outside the box, to let go without letting go while letting go without letting go . . . In a word, to find themselves; because in the end that’s what it’s all about, and it can bring as much joy as pain, sometimes. It takes a lot of self-sacrifice. Perfume is hard work.
Which of your perfume creations have you been most proud of, and why?
I’m sure most perfumers will give you the same answer: it’s hard to choose between your children! I’m proud of having created the world blockbuster La Vie est Belle with my colleagues Olivier Polge and Dominique Ropion, but there are so many I’m proud of: Libre for Yves Saint Laurent, the shockingly green notes of Synthetic Jungle for Frederic Malle; the sensuality of L’Interdit; the countryside laid back feel of Jo Malone Basil & Neroli; the sexiness of Jimmy Choo; the immediate femininity of Lady Million for Paco Rabanne… and many others!
Were there specific moments or opportunities you believe were crucial or especially formative in your career?
In the 2000s my career took a new turn when I joined IFF, an exception in the male-dominated world of perfumery. When I started out, I was told, “a woman perfumer: no way.’ Luckily when my mother was raising us she was obsessed with telling my sister and I that we had as just as much opportunity as boys, if not more. At IFF, it was a relief; it was more open, there were women who had beaten the odds, like Joséphine Catapano, and Sophia Grojsman, who came up with some of perfumery’s finest fragrances. IFF was also the first company to encourage collaboration between perfumers. You have to be able to work with other perfumers: it’s a challenge, you learn from it; it’s helped me a lot. Curiosity, honesty, respect, emotion . . . That’s what takes you to the next level: humility and pleasure.
What inspires you most?
Meeting new people. The people I work with fuel my creative energy!
How do you define success?
How does it feel to be named TFF Lifetime Achievement Perfumer?
Saying it is a dream come true is an understatement. It gives me so much pleasure, since I was informed that I would be this year’s recipient, I’ve been walking on clouds!