The Nose Knows


We spoke with Dominic Ropion, master perfumer and the olfactory mind behind YSL’S new fragrance, Y, about how he found the sweet smell of success.

How do you start work on a fragrance?

I began work on what would become this new YSL fragrance 10 years ago. When you first learn about perfume, you start by recreating classic scents like Chanel No. 5, just to understand how they’re built. During this process, you make a lot of mistakes, and those end up being what you keep. Sometimes you create without knowing it.

So where in that process do you find your initial inspiratio­n?

For me, you are inspired and you are not. When I go to a museum or when I listen to music, all of this offers inspiratio­n. But finishing a perfume requires hundreds of modificati­ons. You have a raw material and you work with it, as when you’re creating a sculpture.

How do fragrance styles shift over time?

Perfume is such an old tradition. A fougère has existed already for many years. But you can add within those boundaries — maybe to something very sweet, very sensual, very warm, you add an explosion of freshness, and suddenly it becomes new. That’s where you see the style of the perfumer.

How does modern technology play a role?

Now we can use fractional distillati­on, which lets us extract certain unpleasant parts of a raw ingredient. The result is actually something closer to nature.

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