PRESS REVIEW | TIME
Alberto Morillas: “My house is as fragrant as an Orthodox church”
He refuses to wear the perfumer's white coat and writes each of his formulas by hand. He owns dozens of Klein blue suits, his lucky color, and values his cufflinks as much as his socks, which he always buys in Rome.
Alberto Morillas is, at the dawn of his 70th birthday, a contemporary dandy, the likes of which you rarely come across. Of Spanish origin, he self-taught the workings of perfumery in Geneva at Firmenich in the 1970s. Always faithful to this company of creation of perfumes and aromas, he imagined for his customers some of the most beautiful fragrances of over the past forty years, such as Acqua Di Gio by Giorgio Armani, Pleasures by Estée Lauder, Flower by Kenzo and most recently Gucci Mémoire d'une Odeur.
At the same time, this father of three created with his wife Claudine the family business Mizensir specializing in artisanal scented candles. One of them will now represent the spirit of our newspaper. Alberto Morillas took up the challenge of translating the identity and values of Time into smell. This candle will be marketed next week. Proceeds from sales will be donated to Race for Water, an NGO that works to protect the oceans.
If you had to sum up your childhood in two smells.
In Seville, our townhouse had a patio closed by a gate. I spent all my time there. Between the solar scent of orange blossom and the fresh smell of water from our well. This contrast is very present in my perfumes.
You are proof that good taste is not linked to social class...
When you have a sensibility, it doesn't matter whether you're poor or rich. My father was an epicurean. He knew how to recognize a beautiful blue or a beautiful brown. He wore two-tone shoes and put cologne in his hair. One of his first jobs when he arrived in Switzerland was a dishwasher at the Lausanne Palace, but he proudly specified that he was in charge of the silverware! He always saw the positive side of things. My mother wore Femme de Rochas, she wore gloves. I was an only child, in a suit and tie, rather lonely, raised by my elderly parents and my grandmother. Much loved and pampered. My father called me "my king".
What memories do you have of your first years in Geneva?
I suffered at school. Just the smell today bothers me. It was hard. In addition, I was the only foreign child at Onex.What saved me was that I became friends with the son of a wealthy family of builders who lived like in Hollywood in a flat American house, with poodles, Cadillacs, staff, a gigantic swimming pool with all sizes of swimsuits available and endless parties
Perfumery was not a vocation, however.
I first tried Fine Arts. I would never have thought of Firmenich. I passed by bus in front of its headquarters in La Jonction and never imagined working there one day. It was the portrait of Jean-Paul Guerlain in the Vogue of my wife Claudine that made me want to become a master perfumer. Except that you don't become like that if you're not from Grasse or a doctoral student in chemistry. I was hired at the age of 20 in the scientific research department where the work consisted of studying natural essences to reconstitute them synthetically. Little by little, I learned to create formulas. One of my first notes was sold. But the road has been long. I was sent to New York where I had more creative freedom and bought my first and last Cadillac. Firmenich's true recognition came when I was appointed master perfumer in 1988.
What image could sum up your approach to perfume?
All my creations have something fluid, impalpable. The perfume must settle on the skin like a breath, a ray of sunshine. I seek power in lightness.
The formula for your ascent?
Maybe the fact that I never set myself limits. And that I have always claimed a certain freedom to be and to create. Firmenich was in the 1970s a universe with strict codes that I managed to overcome. I also believe that I have the ability to capture people's souls, to enter into a relationship with others, whether they are financial or laboratory technicians. By wanting to be loved. I will be 70 next year and I continue to think like a child, to hold nothing back, to seek emotion in everything I create.
What is it like to live with over 500 perfume creations in your head?
A lot of emotions. When I smell them in the street, I turn around to see the features, the look, of the person wearing them. If the trail is heavy, I avoid it, for fear of falling on a red angora sweater and a face with too much makeup. Sometimes, coming across a masterpiece like Shalimar by Guerlain, which dates back more than twenty years, I am surprised at the timelessness of the perfumes. I rediscover some of my perfumes on others too. Coming home recently, I kissed my wife, in white cashmere, sitting in the living room, it was sunny. She smelled so good. I asked her what she was wearing. It was Bloom by Gucci, one of my latest designs! Beautiful perfumes always have a mysterious power of seduction.
Is wearing perfume an art?
Of course. In private clinics and luxury boutiques, people almost always smell good. They know the importance of scents that perfect the look and reassure in a certain way. I particularly like the Hermessence collection from Hermès or the Bulgari fragrances, which are lightly scented. The olfactory imprint is discreet, chic.
Some perfumes are more invasive than others…
Yes, at one time too heady perfumes were forbidden to the staff of certain New York gourmet restaurants. The way we wear perfume says a lot about us. Women and men who no longer feel are the most dangerous. They put a ton. Good taste implies very delicate perfume, a pschit or two. Certain symbols like the handbag have become almost as strong as perfume. But this has not always been the case! Twenty years ago, we wore a lot of perfume under a mink coat to go to the theatre.
You have been very faithful in love, in friendship, to Firmenich, to the commune of Vandoeuvres for forty years...
Perhaps out of fear of insecurity. I'm basically anxious. The stability reassures me. I never improvise. I always go to the same shops, the same hotels and restaurants regardless of the country. These landmarks calm me down and keep my mind always open for creation. On the other hand, the true friendship of the heart, I take time to offer it. I'm afraid of being disappointed, and if I'm disappointed I can ignore the person for three generations.
Apart from your laboratory, do you try to create a vacuum or, on the contrary, to surround yourself with odors?
Each room in my house in Vandoeuvres is scented differently. Looks like an orthodox church. Even the dogs smell good. I change morning and evening. I sleep scented… Always from my creations.
Does your nose help you outside of perfumery?
I usually go into zero mode to stop feeling. The only smells that I perceive in spite of myself are urine and fire. And it was life-saving during a flight from Geneva to New York, shortly after the crash of Swissair flight 111, which I took three times a month. I am comfortably seated. We are starting to cross the Atlantic. Suddenly, I think to myself “ouch is it going to be my turn?”. At the second, I see the stewardesses take off their shoes, take flashlights and leave for the baggage hold. I make a sign to them that it comes from below! They run to see the commander. He calls me and tells me that Zurich wants to talk to me. Over the phone, I tell them what I smell: an overheated hair dryer, no smell of smoke. They deduce that it must be the heating for the animal compartment. They stop him. The smell goes away soon after. The beasts must have been cold!
Today everything has a smell. More and more shops and hotels have an air freshener. You are regularly commissioned by companies to imagine their olfactory signature, i.e. an identity fragrance created to measure. How to explain this new volatile dimension of perfume?
Over the past ten years, the development of scent marketing has proven that smell plays a role in the positive or negative experience of a place, be it a spa, a boutique or a hotel. In this sense, companies seek to associate their image with a distinctive smell that embodies their value, their history, as may be the case of a bank or a watch brand.For example, I imagined that of the Bongénie stores, combining the smell of precious woods with that of toasted bread that arouses an emotion, like a Proust madeleine
What were your leads for imagining the smell of “Time”?
I went in two parallel identity directions. First of all, its historical dimension as a reference paper journal, serious, reliable, with velvety woody notes that are intended to be reassuring, serene. Next, I wanted to evoke the digital, high-tech, audacious and innovative era of the newspaper with a luminous beam of Calone-type synthetic molecules, rather fresh, sparkling, floral.
These molecules are one of Firmenich's technological strengths.
Yes, we are the leaders of these nuggets that we keep "captives". Our palette of ingredients is unique in the world! It ranges from the most authentic natural notes to the most advanced innovations in biotechnology, including sustainable synthesis; all to ensure biodegradable creations, with a lot of naturalness. They are reserved for Firmenich perfumers, we only share them with large luxury houses that have integrated perfumers. They make it possible to develop perfumery and create new emotions. Writing takes on another dimension, notably with a whole range of aquatic, musky, sandalwood or praline notes. Without them, perfumery would have remained sad!
An intoxicating morning scent?
Coffee. Even if I regret the standardization of taste since the advent of capsules, I find the experience of the perfect elixir magical. But the smell of coffee already floating in the air spoils all the fun. I set the alarm clock at 6:30 a.m. to be the first to get one.
The musical notes that awaken your senses?
Those of Mozart, in all circumstances. I find the fluidity of my perfumery there.
The space in your home that you find most refreshing?
The terrace of our chalet overlooking the peaks, from the Aravis to Mont-Blanc. Unlike the valley, they pull me up. I like endless views, the sky, the sea, if possible with a landmark, a cloud, a sailboat, otherwise it's the abyss.
Your worst nightmare?
The last flu that made me lose my sense of smell. After three days of depression, I found her again, I was like a dog, eyes closed, sniffing as far as possible.
A smell that bothers you?
The smell of other people's barbecues. When you're in the garden in summer, after dinner, contemplating the flowers, and the neighbors are grilling sardines... it ruins the evening for me!
A country where you could create a new perfume?
Rajasthan. I stay in a sumptuous palace. Even the poorest are beautiful. Women sweep the street in colorful sari. More than smells, it's emotions that inspire me, a kind of serenity, even if it honks all the time, everywhere.
1950 Born in Seville, Spain.
1960 Settling with his parents in Onex, in the canton of Geneva.
1970 He joined Firmenich as a laboratory assistant in the chemistry department
1981 He created Must de Cartier, the first perfume that would mark his career.
1990 Medal of the city of Paris.
1999 With his wife Claudine, he founded the Mizensir brand in Geneva.
2003 He received the François Coty Prize for best perfumer.
2019 First perfumer to receive three Lifetime Achievement Awards, consecrating him as the perfumer of his generation.
Written by Emilie Veillon - Le Temps.