Monday, 8 September 2014

GUERLAIN CHRONICLES PART I: "Who the **** is Frédéric Sacone?!"

It is the second week in August when our plane touches down in Paris. Of course, it is pouring with rain. There had been unnerving turbulence on the 2 hour jaunt from Bratislava, and my nerves are shot; my stomach a writhing pit of serpents. For this fellow - whose fear of flying often gets the better of him - the feeling of terra firma underfoot as we briskly cross the tarmac to reach the main building, is nothing short of a blessing. My wife and I push through the passengers at the baggage carousel, skim past customs and exit the arrivals area. Frédéric Sacone, Junior Parfumeur (and assistant to Guerlain master perfumer, Thierry Wasser) is there to meet us. He snakes through the crowd and greets us warmly before his eyes drop to the bulky case I'm wheeling. I can see a crease forming in his brow. We have never met, and a few awkward moments of silence hang in the air before we make our way through the rain to his car. "Zees way", he says with a spectacular French accent, ushering us toward a parked navy blue Beetle convertible.
"Oh!" I exclaim, measuring the size of my case to the size of his trunk with my eyes. The same wrinkle I'd seen on Fred's brow earlier, I could now feel criss-crossing my forehead. But in the deluge the three of us work fast to stow it in the back seat, with a few grunts and laughs. As we pull out of the car park, the car windows have fogged as a result of both our physical exertion and the rain in our clothes. With wind-screen wipers thrashing to and fro, Frédéric navigates the spiralling roads and roundabouts around the airport and I begin to feel giddy again. We curse the European summer and laugh as we enter the freeway and make our way towards his home in Picardy. We chatter all the way.
The ice had been broken.

It has stopped raining and the sun is struggling to press through the clouds. As we turn off the main freeway, the blue beetle trundles down small streets that are lined with stone cottages. Mrs Sorcery of Scent and I revel in the French-ness of it all. We pull away from the main road and enter the emerald grounds of a 16th century chateau. It looks charming and majestic. A sweeping driveway which is partly flanked on both sides by leafy trees takes us to a gated side entrance that opens onto Fred's garden. I notice it is teeming with flowers which, after the storm, release their pretty perfume on the air. His home - a two-storied section of the mansion - backs on to a dense forest. For a moment, as we exit the car and reach for our luggage, my eyes are lost in its green. Frédéric's two long-haired felines - one with eyes of amber and the other of sapphire blue - welcome us with a rub across the legs and a friendly mew. My wife and I find it hard to contain our appreciation of Fred's home which has been decorated spectacularly with furniture and objects from his travels. Our guest room is revealed through floor-to-ceiling glass-paned doors, and Fred insists we make ourselves at home. Around us, the heart-hammering perfume of all things Guerlain... the scent of Eau de Cashmere hangs above the bed, and unseen pockets of perfume suddenly reveal themselves as we pass Guerlain candles resting on side tables and windowsills. Two exquisitely-wrapped gifts lie at the foot of the bed, swathed in a familiar crimson ribbon. I pinch myself, astonished that this man would open his home to two strangers with seemingly few things in common - except of course - for our love of Guerlain.

* * * * *

Frédéric Sacone - the youngest of three brothers - grew up in the Montparnasse district of Paris. A  happy child, albeit somewhat withdrawn, Frédéric nurtured a love of animals and plants, and was intrigued by the healing properties of aromatherapy. As a young adult, this urged him to take on studies in Pharmacy and Biology so that he could learn how aromatherapy functioned on a cellular level. Finally as a new graduate, in 1993 his studies into biochemistry opened the door at Takasago, an international corporation that develops flavours, fragrance and aromachemicals. There, he spent over 8 years as a laboratory sample coordinator and perfumer's assistant... time spent arming him with the experience and practical know-how that would see him transition to the global giant Firmenich in October of 2001. There, he worked just a few months before he met someone within the organisation who would impact upon the course of his career forever: Parfumeur Thierry Wasser. By January 2002, Frédéric had become Wasser's assistant, and the pair struck a special working relationship that has endured to this day. In October 2008, when Wasser was invited to leave Firmenich to step into the shoes of iconic nose Jean-Paul Guerlain, Wasser insisted Frédéric join him.
Fred didn't have to think twice.

Frédéric possesses an artistic soul. Had he not pursued a career in perfume, he acknowledges he would have become a painter, sculptor or pianist. He studied piano for seven years at the conservatory in Paris, and if he weren't able to channel his creativity through fragrance, he would have certainly taken up studies in the visual arts. In his down time, he enjoys painting, baroque music, and films by Woody Allen, Pedro Almodovar and Jacques Tati. He also has a keen interest in the religious literature of the great philosophers Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, and as a result, he relishes the opportunity to travel and experience other cultures. He holds a special place in his heart for India, which he has visited 8 times since the mid 90's. Fred's travels have taken him to far-flung landscapes such as Morocco, Madagascar, Vietnam and Indonesia.
"Travel stimulates my olfactory creativity", he affirms. "But more important than beautiful postcards of these places, are the people there who've touched me the most".

When one comes to know Frédéric as a person, one has a greater understanding of how he approaches his work: with integrity, passion, exactness and love.

* * * * *

In the days following, Fred proves himself to be the most exemplary host. My wife and I sit at his kitchen table with perfumed mouillettes under our nose whilst he bakes a fresh mango / coconut tarte tatin and we discuss which smells more exquisite. We drink plenty of wine, sample delicious regional cheeses, and carefully dissect tasty salad dressings he has made which dance on our palate. We take the blue beetle to Paris and enjoy her sights with the top rolled down... tearing around the Arc de Triomphe with the wind in our hair (much to the envy of the Japanese tourists caged in their coaches). Fred ensures our tummies are filled with enormous cocktails and traditional French cuisine from hole-in-the-wall bistros known best for their food and not for their decor. We are shown jaw-dropping castles in Chantilly, visit quaint antique stores in Pierrefond, and are chaperoned through dense jade-coloured forests whose odours simply enchant us. My wife and I feel humbled and spoiled silly. But before we leave Paris, there are two more very important stops to be made on this trip to the French capital... one of course being the newly renovated Maison Guerlain on the Champs-Élysées; and the second, a very special visit to the Guerlain laboratories to meet with Thierry Wasser.  
(These experiences will be detailed in parts 2 and 3 of this Sorcery of Scent series).

* * * * *

If the truth be told, Frédéric's name was virtually unheard of until earlier this year when Thierry Wasser decided to retrace the steps of Aimée and Jacques Guerlain by reprising a series of vintage perfumes that are now featured exclusively at their flagship store in Paris. Wasser and Sacone spent many hours leafing through the antique texts, resurrecting old formulas so that we, the public, might peer through a small window at 'the golden age' of Guerlain. Their tireless efforts have resulted in the recreation of 27 scents to date, each of which appear precisely as they would have up to 134 years ago.

If asked "Who the *** is Frédéric Sacone?", I have the honour and privilege to respond:

"My friend. A man whose loyalty to his boss and mentor is unwavering, and whose efforts in his role as Junior Parfumeur and support to Wasser at Guerlain are nurturing faithfulness, beauty and luxury for the brand".

A figure who would likely rather avoid the spotlight than step into it, Fred is as humble as one can imagine. 
"Scent creates an emotion. For me, it's not the perfume but the people who smell and enjoy our creations that move me the most."

NEXT WEEK: GUERLAIN CHRONICLES Part II - "Maison Guerlain - A Paradigm in Retail Exactitude".


JEM said...

A literary feast for all the senses; how wonderful an experience, rich and emotive. Thankyou for sharing x

md187 said...

Great storytelling, look forward to the second part ��

Redlily10 said...

Sounds like a wonderful dream...too good to be true, but it is�� I hope I can write as well as you one day��