Columns A Woman for All Seasons: Francoise Caron

A Woman for All Seasons: Francoise Caron

06/07/10 19:11:15 (4 comments)

by: Elena Vosnaki


Among perfumers firmly rooted in the grand tradition of French perfumery who are producing a classic portfolio of fragrances, Françoise Caron’s star shines very brightly indeed, even if her name isn’t brandished with the same rock-star adoration that some of her colleagues’ are.

Is it because she’s a woman among a crowd that is also mostly women, perhaps unconsciously fantasizing about those perfumer-poets who produce liquid beauty? Or is it because she’s a low-key person who lets her work speak for herself? It might be both of those things. Françoise Caron remains a little bit of an enigma; all the better for us to transpose our own expectations and associations to her many creations.

Without wanting to generalize, Françoise believes that men and women perform differently in perfumery as well as anywhere else.

Being a woman she perceives her work as more instinctive, quicker, and less competitive on the whole. “Men are greater perfectionists,” in her experience. But traveling, places, memories, the beauty of raw materials and even dreams can inspire and ignite passions which can be transformed into arresting compositions.  

Françoise Caron was born in the southern capital of essence, the magical town of Grasse. But her lineage is equally impressive: sister to master perfumer Olivier Cresp, but also daughter and grand-daughter to well-known raw materials distributors, her fate was sealed from an early age: “My father always dreamt of having his children become perfumers, because he thought it was a magnificent profession,” she reveals reminiscing. [1] 


Her three-year training at Roure is soon followed by a perfumer’s position in the company which later became Givaudan, where she creates her first triumph in 1979: L’Eau d’Orange Verte
The enthusiastic reception paves the way for other successful creations,  the “rosy shadow” of Ombre Rose most prominently. She collaborates with Quest, where she produces several mini-cult perfumes: Iris Nobile for Aqua di Parma, Tumulte pour Homme for Christian Lacroix and the innovative and mysterious Cuiron for Austrian designer Helmut Lang.
It was Francis Kurkdjian, with whom she had collaborated for Iris Nobile, who prompted her to follow him at Takasago in 2007. The decision was not that difficult to make: after more than two decades Françoise feels the need to question everything anew and get out of the rut of everyday routine.

Indeed her line of perfume creations reads like a diverse and stylish list of artistic accomplishment, with nary a misstep, yet always with the harmonious feel one gets upon wandering amidst a Greco-Roman glyptotheque: From one of the most enduring classics of modern perfumery, beloved  by anyone who comes into contact with it, L’Eau d’Orange Verte for Hermès, to niche offerings such as three Eaux de Cologne and four candles for Astier de Villate, all through the formula for the signature scent of the Angel body line (Thus befittingly augmenting her brother’s, Olivier Cresp’s, oeuvre, since it was he who composed the original Angel scent).

L’Eau d’Orange Verte began its career on the bathroom shelves of dandies and chic bourgeois girls as well as traditional men who just wanted to smell good, with another name: It was issued as Eau de Cologne d’ Hermès in 1979 (the name was changed in 1997) after a brief was issued to perfume-producing companies in which Jean Claude Ellena, current in-house perfumer at Hermès, had also submitted an entry.

Triumph ensued very soon: this was seriously good cologne; tangy, bright, and happy-smelling, projecting at a cool radius to everything it touched, remaining timeless and effortless to this day. Its panoply of classical arms is its success: the traditional Eau de Cologne weapon, the sour tang of bitter orange, cutting through heat like a scimitar; the herbal-green accord rustic and Arcadia-evoking. . . .
An eau de cologne needs to be simple, with top notes that aren’t heavy, that don’t purport to stay on long; yet simplicity doesn’t mean absence of personality either,” she notes, upon the 30th anniversary of the fragrance’s launch [2]. “It also needs to be cooling,” its alcohol content a major constituent of the refreshing feeling it produces upon evaporation.
The effect is reinforced through the secret inclusion of a little mint and that ace in the sleeve, blackcurrant buds, offering a fruity touch with a catty whiff. Françoise is still profoundly touched whenever she encounters her creation amidst the hotel toiletries offered at some of the world’s choicest hotels.


For Jean-Charles Brosseau’s Ombre Rose (1981), chance caught Françoise Caron by surprise. The composition, imbued in rosy hues like retro lingerie worn by fin de siècle heroines out of Colette novels, rests on a vintage-smelling chord: peachy lactonic notes blend with complimentary vanilla and the soft billowy “cherry pie” note of heliotrope, recalling romantic fragrances of the 1950s. The following stage, all new-mown hay under smooth flowers (rose and lilac) and expensive face powder spilled inside a mahogany drawer, is softness itself. 

The French accessories designer Jean-Charles Brosseau met this delectable macaroon of a fragrance with its touch of nostalgic melancholy while visiting Roure in search of a new perfume for his house. The formula had been sitting unclaimed on a shelf and someone showed it to him. Quelle revelation! A Proustian rush of his aunts, dusted with powder on Sundays, washed over him and the deal was set.

Funnily enough, the plush of the smell instigated the desire to call it Sofa. International reasoning prevailed and it was baptized Ombre Rose, i.e. Rosy Shadow. When Roja Dove claimed it for his Haute Perfumerie in Harrods droves of women stood in line to buy claiming it as “their own Ombre Rose”. Such is the identification with self which happens when you sniff a Françoise Caron creation!

The insolent, aloof and very elegant Michelle for Balenciaga is its complete antithesis, its sharp, characteristic of the 1980s vibe with its mega-sillage there, yet again that bone structure is a classic: A Faye Dunaway type rather than Renee Zellwegger; cutting cheekbones, haughty pose that doesn’t allow to come too close, impeccable style even when you can’t see anything from the neck down.

Escada Collection by Escada (1997) is probably the one redeeming formula within the German fashion brand’s portfolio of fragrances for perfume aficionados everywhere: The summer collections are often bypassed as too “flou” and mainstream. 

Yet the original, with its gourmand plum and caramel chord atop a refined flowery heart and familiar eastern balsams base has long held the interest of many a perfume lover, Françoise has seen to it, especially since its unfortunate disappearance from perfume counters.  

The ‘90s and ‘00s bring on more testament to Françoise Caron’s prowess: Comme des Garçons Palisander and Rose, Davidoff Echo, Apparition by Ungaro, Kenzo ça sent beau with its bottle with the flower cap, the alluring and discreet oriental Just Me by Montana now lamentably discontinued, the unexpected rosy Choc de Cardin, Le Labo Fleur d’Oranger 27, the flanker Angel La Violette, as well as Angel La Part des Anges, Rock n’Rose for Valentino…and one resounding commercial flop: the tuberose-laden Gio by Giorgio Armani.


With Iris Nobile (2004) for Italian firm Aqua di Parma, co-working with charismatic dancer-turned-perfumer Francis Kurkdjian, she ushers in the craziness for iris notes in niche perfumery. Iris can often come across as an impressionistic watercolor of existentialist purplish hues or rooty, like raw turnips and upturned earth.
And yet Iris Nobile retains the classical statuesque physique that we have come to expect from Françoise Caron, Parian marble chiseled to perfection: a clear, citrusy introduction via bergamot with a spicy accent of star anise, a woody vanillic coda and sandwiched in-between a beautiful bouquet including--but not solely comprised of-- iris (there is a hint of rose and timid violets too), singing melodiously.
 

It is obvious that we haven’t seen the last of this formidable yet humble perfumer. There will always be a reconnaissance with every new perfume created by Françoise Caron. May there will be many more!
 
 
References:

[1] Interview in Elle.fr
[2] Interview in L’express.fr
Roja Dove, The Essence of Perfume

Pictures:

Photo of Francoise Caron - Elle.fr
Photo of J-C Ellena & Francoise caron - L’express.fr


Author: Elena Vosnaki is a historian & perfume writer from Greece and a Writer to Fragrantica. She is the founder and editor of Perfume Shrine, one of the most respected independent online publications on perfume containing fragrance reviews, industry interviews, essays on raw materials and perfume history, a winner in Fragrantica Blog Awards and a finalist in numerous blog awards contests. Her writing was recognised at the Fifi Awards for Editorial Excellence in 2009 and she has been contributing to publications around the world.
 

 



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azild627
azild627

Excellent article and very much informative. Thank you!

Jun
09
2010
Furriner
Furriner

Excellent article! It's great to hear about perfumers I know next to nothing about! I love reading this kind of profile.

Jun
09
2010
pitbull friend
pitbull friend

Wow! How interesting! It's odd that Ms. Caron is not better known, since she certainly has created several memorable scents. It's amazing that Eau d'Orange Verte was her first effort - it's a masterpiece! Thank you for telling us more about her.

Jun
07
2010
aktp-iciook
aktp-iciook

Wonderful article Elena :)

Very well-composed ^.^

Cheers,

Jun
07
2010

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