Written by Pauline MALLAT.
"I will make the stones bloom and the birds sing" is the message that greets us as we enter the gate of this composition house located on the heights of Grasse and founded by Edmond Roudnitska, author of this motto and first independent perfumer creator of legendary juices such as Dior's Eau Sauvage, Rochas's Femme, L'Eau d'Hermès... To take us on a tour of this mythical place, which today brings together some fifty independent perfumers, including Bertrand Duchaufour and Jean-Denis Saisse, creators of Alex Simone's French Riviera collection, we meet Olivier Maure, who is now the owner and a fervent defender of Edmond Roudnitska's vision: perfume as a work of art.
Art & Parfum, 1650 route de Saint-Vallier 06530 Speracedes - France
A writer of scent
The Sainte Blanche story began in the 1940s when Edmond Roudnitska chose this fallow land and transformed it into a wonderful garden in the heart of which, with his wife Therese, a chemical engineer, he created the company Art et Parfum, thus becoming the first independent perfumer. A place as a declaration of love to art, in all its forms. Thanks to his wife Thérèse, he became aware of aesthetics. By opening the doors of museums to his attention, she allowed him to make the link between art and perfume and to imagine a theory, new at the time: perfume as a piece of art. From then on, he will never stop defending it and fighting for recognition of the perfumer as an artist, a writer of scent, capable of conceiving a scent that does not exist and creating it with the raw materials, like the notes of an olfactory score.
"He was the first to consider perfume as a work of the mind. Today, I am in charge of defending this aesthetic vision of perfume, of fighting as he did so that the perfumer-author has ownership of his formula and that it benefits from a legal status", explains Olivier Maure, who joined the company in 1990 at the age of 19.
Raw materials as a palette
The Sainte Blanche estate consists of a production center set in the heart of a magical garden, a source of inspiration. "If Edmond Roudnitska did not choose to create a garden with perfume flowers, that' s because he did not like to put the raw materials in the foreground. For him, they were like a painter's color palette: a simple tool at the service of the artist," says Olivier. However," he adds, "if the raw materials do not make the artist, they nevertheless have the capacity to sublimate his work. The motto that can be read at the entrance of the domain: "I will make the stones bloom and the birds sing" offers, in my opinion, this second reading: "I will use the most beautiful raw materials to create, in complete freedom, the most beautiful perfumes".
And that is why this garden - a reflection of his aesthetic vision and in which art is everywhere - has by definition been the place of inspiring encounters, of production of inspired juices. He welcomes his friends, with whom he shares the same values of aesthetics, creation and emotion. Finally," concludes Olivier Maure, "Edmond Roudnitska, whose first wish was to be an opera singer, has made his estate his Scala!
At the heart of manufacturing process
To talk about manufacturing, the journey continues in the laboratory. A multitude of bottles with precious containers line the walls, scales and machines with articulated arms call for precision. No stills or old copper containers - and yes, times have changed, even though people often like to make us believe the opposite for the sake of the "postcard" effect... - perfumery is done here with sincerity under the seal of high technology, but always according to the strictest rules of art. "We are perfume artisans: our job is to play, like an orchestra, the score written by the perfumer author, taking care not to make any false notes, and this, year after year, with the same precision and the same quality", explains Olivier.
It all starts with the "pilot", a sort of test sample that validates the formula but also ensures that it meets European cosmetic regulations, the most stringent in the world. Once validated by the customer, this pilot is then sent to a manufacturer for the production of a perfume in alcohol or a candle in wax. For each production," Olivier continues, "we ensure perfect traceability and quality control. There are perfumes that we have been making for over 70 years! And this, with the same suppliers, the same processes and the same quality. Producing the same scent year after year is not easy. It requires real know-how - in terms of maceration, maturation and ageing of raw materials - which we are happy to pass on to the young generation we are training to continue the adventure and keep this idea alive: perfume as an art.
A perfumery that is shared
It is here, in the Sainte Blanche domain, that Eric Rousseau, founder of the Alex Simone parfums, chose to create the French Riviera collection with Olivier Maure. Meeting.
Eric Rousseau: To think that my perfumes are developed in this temple of perfumery makes me particularly delighted. I don't know if I would have jumped into the adventure if I hadn't met Olivier and Sylvie (editor's note: Sylvie Armando, Olivier Maure's partner) who continue to offer a perfumery of emotion, authentic.
Olivier Maure: It's all about the joy of sharing that drives us: sharing the same vision of perfumery, the same love of aesthetics. And to live this, we need a place where we can gather, like a family home where everyone likes to meet. This is what the Sainte-Blanche domain is all about: a place where perfumery is shared. We listen to each other, we understand each other and we build together. This place continues to exist thanks to brands like Alex Simone, which allow us to keep Edmond Roudnitska's vision alive.
Eric Rousseau: It's true that we are in a legendary place and at the same time, it's not a museum. You have succeeded in keeping intact this philosophy that allows for total creative freedom and has given us this beautiful French Riviera collection of which we are truly proud. A perfectly balanced perfumery, the result of a great sincerity, in the discourse, the know-how and the work of the raw materials.
Olivier Maure: Indeed, we are not in a museum. It is obviously a place full of history but nevertheless in constant evolution which has undergone several developments, notably with the creation of Accords et Parfums in 2004, opening the laboratory not only to one perfumer but to all those who are driven by the same desire for freedom and creation. Today, we have 50 independent perfumers - who can take advantage of this garden as a source of inspiration and of the 1000 exceptional raw materials that we put at their disposal - including Bertrand Duchaufour and Jean-Denis Saisse to whom you have entrusted the creation of your collection. The magnificent result of a perfumery that is shared.
And the story seems to be far from over as Olivier Maure explains the future developments of the estate. In addition to the eco-pasturing already in place and the reception of 150 beehives, the construction of a lake for storing rainwater is planned as well as the installation of photovoltaic panels to ensure sustainability. "We are a small company making its happy revolution. Edmond Roudnitska was driven by this desire to pass on his work, and he has written a great deal about it. Today, it is important to me to pass on to my two sons who will take over and to all the young generation around them, a tool capable of evolving, allowing them to take in hand the world of tomorrow. It's up to us to work so that this wonderful garden is also the garden of future generations", concludes Olivier, not without emotion. The story continues.
Jean Denis SAISSE, perfume designer for Alex Simone.