Cookie-cutter scents found in duty-free aisles at airports around the world might be ubiquitous and instantly gratifying, but there is one French perfumer that is bringing back the tradition of formulating, by hand, perfumes that are crafted exclusively for their wearer: Henry Jacques. We were invited to immerse ourselves in an olfactory adventure in Paris, and discover the legacy of this perfumer who seeks to elevate the intimate art of adorning oneself with a scent.
If you, like me, spritz on your perfume almost as an afterthought just before you step out of your house, it is time to stop and smell the roses—literally. Undertones of rose, jasmine and oud tantalise the olfactory senses at Henry Jacques, and only natural ingredients are harnessed for their wholesome aroma. Most of the scents are finished with a drop of ambergris, a fragrance fermented from whale semen that develops a sweet, earthy aroma over time and helps the scent last longer.
The key to a Henry Jacques fragrance is that the maison never compromises on its ingredients. For instance, so exacting are its standards that it only plucks ingredients such as jasmine and saffron in the morning to harness their full aroma. This stringent quality control underlies the maison’s identity, as each bespoke scent is exquisitely crafted in its laboratory in the south of France, and housed in elegant, handblown crystal bottles that are specifically created for the brand.
Wearing an Henry Jacques perfume is a personal and intimate experience, for many reasons. First, it is crafted based on the client’s needs—it could simply be a scent that he or she finds pleasant, but more often than not, it evokes fond memories. After all, the olfactory memory is said to be the strongest.
Moreover, its crystal bottles are all fitted with stoppers. Instead of spritzing the perfume, you delicately dab it on your neck and wrist, and it becomes part of your ritual, an intimate secret known to you and you alone. As Henry Jacques artistic director, Christophe Tollemer, poetically puts it, “It’s personal, emotional, and almost as if you’re protecting yourself in a bubble. It’s sensual, seductive and elegant.”
Furthermore, Henry Jacques holds a personal significance to its CEO, Anne-Lise Cremona, as she is the daughter of its founder Henry Cremona. He established Henry Jacques in the south of France in 1975 as a counterbalance to the mass‑produced perfumes pervading the market. Today, the Henry Jacques laboratory has about 3,000 formulas in its archives, and has hired a fifth-generation nose who learnt the vocation from his ancestors.
Apart from its bespoke scents, Henry Jacques also boasts four main collections, of which two caught our attention: Les Caves à Parfums and Collection Joaillerie. The former houses the bottles in 19th-century wooden chests that were carved by Jean Pierre Alexandre Tehan. As an architect and interior designer, Tollemer is currently renovating the Château de Versailles hotel, and has access to an incredible treasure trove of antiques. The Collection Joaillerie is perhaps the most emblematic of the brand’s decadent aspirations: the crystal bottles come embedded with gold and precious gemstones such as diamonds and turquoise. They were sold in London for £200,000 each, and a special collection is currently being made for the perfume house’s new boutique in Singapore.
Should the wearer wish to, he can also customise the bottle. It is a crucial part of the sensory experience, and Tollemer tells us that the new crystal bottles from the Les Classiques line took almost a year to perfect according to his stringent requirements, as he was adamant that the stopper should reflect light. He enthuses, “Your perfume is a part of life, a part of you. It’s the most intimate adornment, and what people remember of you. We live in a brutal world, and when you hold this, it creates an invisible shield. The small bottles go with you everywhere.”