Interviews Demands of Perfumes - Interview with Melissa Ceria

Demands of Perfumes - Interview with Melissa Ceria

11/02/11 15:01:31 (4 comments)

by: Elena Vosnaki

Talking to people in the fragrance industry is often revealing to more than just perfumery secrets. The people that keep the wheels of the industry running smoothly are usually lovely to talk to as well, providing insights which span several different subjects which enhance the experience of smelling a delicious fragrance.

Among those chosen ones is Melissa Ceria, director of Art de Vivre Programs at The French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) in New York City, to whom I talked about their upcoming Series le Parfum: The Power of Fragrance.. Melissa is a joy to talk to, generous and forthcoming with information and someone who really "gets" what makes a perfume lover tick.

This series of events, strategically placed within the month of November 2011, explore secrets of the trade never before releaved to the public at large and give you the chance to meet up with several prominent big name perfumers who will cater to your specific questions. But let's let Melissa Ceria, curator of the Le Parfum series, do the talking.

Melissa, how did the idea of the perfume exhibition Art de Vivre, Le Parfum, came about?

Melissa Ceria: The French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF)
has always promoted France's cultural heritage and serves as a bridge between France and the US. Fragrance is to a very large degree a cultural heritage for France  and initially the project was conceived as a fragrances & flavours combined approach. But the material and scope is so large that we concentrated on fragrances for now.

We have a diverse audience for FIAF's Art de Vivre programs, a real cross-section of New York, I guess [she laughs heartily]. These are culturally engaged New Yorkers who love fashion, beauty, the art and design. That includes art students, fashion editors, bloggers, writers, artists, academic and business types, you name it. There is no way of classifying our audiences into one "type" and so hopefully the broadness of our scope will spark interest from all groups.

What was your background on curating this particular exhibition?

Melissa Ceria: I started my career in journalism as a fashion writer for WWD and W Magazine, and then Harper's Bazaar. I've also written for Time Style & Design, the NY Times Style Magazine, Departures, Elle Decor, etc. Fragrance and fashion have often been combined, so it wasn't a big stretch. But for the Series I asked myself: "Who are the creative leaders in the field?" Who's innovative today?

These are the people I am interested in. I really approach this work as a journalist and I love to give our audiences access to these great people and their ideas. FIAF is really an excellent platform for this.

What do you mean by "leaders"?

Melissa Ceria: I turned to people who are absolutely passionate about perfumery, such as perfumer Christophe Laudamiel who is extremely contagious in his passion about perfume. He's supremely good in communicating this passion to the public.
He's the one who presents "A Scent of History" on November 3rd. Not only has he worked for major perfume companies, is an Osmocurator with the Osmothèque, but he is also the founder of the Academy of Perfumery & Aromatics in New York and co-founder of  Dreamair, a NYC company that introduces new means of communication via scent.


So what will Laudamiel do exactly for the Scent of History part of the events?

Melissa Ceria: He will introduce samples provided exclusively by the Osmothèque, therefore rare and covetable by all serious perfume lovers, letting audiences discover an array of scents and their stories. The journey begins with Eau de la Reine de Hongrie, going through Eau de Cologne de Napoleon, all the way to the original Chanel No.5. He will give a trajectory in time, giving an historical presentation, but also a cultural approach.

Sounds incredible! Who are the rest of the leaders and which is their contribution to the exhibition?

Melissa Ceria: For our second event, a panel discussion on "The Power of Fragrance," held on November 10, 2011, we have an eclectic group: Jane Larkworthy (beauty editor of W Magazine and a veteran of beauty editorials), Olivia Bransbourg (founder of ICONOfly, an art publishing house focusing on the history and craftmanship of fashion accessories, perfume included in their latest issue), Dr.Stuart Firestein (Chair of Columbia University's Department of Biological Studies, a true expert on smell), Arnault Montet (Global Director of Consumer Science at International Fragrances and Flavors) and Fabrice Penot (co-founder of Le Labo fragrances). How is memory triggered by scents?

The focus is the influence of fragrance on identity, memory and desire. How does our sense of smell affect the way we respond to people and places every day? To what extent are we conscious of its impact? We also examine how perfumes allow us to transform ourselves and step into different worlds. How is memory triggered by scents?

Our panel is multi-disciplinary: Jane, an incredibly inquisitive and open-minded person, communicates with her readers every month on what's new and important in beauty, as does Montet who studies consumer sciences and the response of the public and gives a visual-olfactory viewpoint. Olivia is so creative and entrepreneurial and has created her own very successful fragrance; Dr.Firestein is a specialist in the since of olfaction, while Fabrice has built this fabulous perfume company… everyone brings a very interesting perspective to the table!

Do you think that there is a common language for all these different approaches, though?

Melissa Ceria: This is actually something that I wanted to tackle. What is the language of fragrance today? We're looking at fragrances and each expert is giving their own input, but how to describe fragrance? One example of a powerful communicator of perfume is perfumer Jean Claude Ellena.

We always come back to the audience, though. There are different categories of how to view fragrances and cultural aspects built into the process, it's an emphemeral thing, but it has a lasting effect on people.

I find that perfumes do create potent impressions that tend to last. This is something that all perfume aficionados will tell you. Are you one of us, Melissa?

Melissa Ceria: Well, I collected minis and samples as a little girl, with a real passion. I was 11 years old and amassing all those little bottles and picturing myself wearing them and understanding my cultural identity through fragrances. I later paired that interest with fashion and to this day I find that women actually derive a lot of enjoyment out of pairing outfits with fragrances or choosing a specific fragrance to represent how they feel.

I do that a lot, personally! Sometimes I change a fragrance to reflect my mood or sometimes I choose a fragrance to change my mood. Do you find that applies to a lot of women?

Melissa Ceria: There is that and of course there is also a very aspirational angle in wearing perfume. Who do we become when we spray on our favorite perfume? Does it help us project a certain image of ourselves? (We make demands of perfumes.) Women want to get inspired by perfumes, to dream a bit. Advertising images especially cater to that, but also the whole experience of packaging and names and presentation, all these things inspire responses from women.

There is an inordinate emphasis on sex in fragrance advertising lately, isn't there?

Melissa Ceria: I suppose so. It's a reflection of how images are generally created nowadays. But not everything is presented through that lens. There are still images that are very feminine, romantic, or upbeat.

What about the third part of the exhibition, called "Speed Smelling" (held on November 16, 2011)?

Melissa Ceria: "Speed Smelling" is a really great way for the audience to get to experience the work of great perfumers working today. They will have the chance to see what inspires a fragrance (Anything from grapefruit to graffiti, we say!) and meet with no less than 9 renowned IFF perfumers (the noses behind Ralph Lauren’s Polo, Estée Lauder’s Pure White Linen, and Coach’s Poppy, for instance) as they unveil personal creations composed around elements that have inspired them.
Each perfumer will sit at a table with guests, talk about their sources of inspiration and then reveal the perfume they created around those ideas. None of these fragrances are available on the market, so there's a surprise element to this that's fun. Attendees will be able to smell, ask questions, interact with the perfumers. Each session with each perfumer lasts for 5 minutes and then attendees will hop to the next table and meet the next perfumer! This is the first time this event has been presented to the public, so we're very excited.

It will be highly enjoyable for those attending. Who are the perfumers participating by name, Melissa?

Melissa Ceria: Here they are (roll over pictures for more info):

ART de VIVRE LE PARFUM exhibition by FIAF


November 3 (at 7pm) • A Scent of History
November 10 (at 7pm) • The Power of Fragrance: Panel Discussion
November 16 (at 5pm and 7pm) • Speed Smelling


FIAF • Le Skyroom; 22 East 60th Street, NYC

Tickets: (from $20 to $45): 800 982 2787
Information: 212 355 6160


Many thanks to Melissa for agreeing to give me this exclusive interview!


Author: Elena Vosnaki is a historian & perfume writer from Greece and a Writer for 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 recognized at the Fifi Awards for Editorial Excellence in 2009 and she has been contributing to publications around the world.



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Elena Vosnaki
Elena Vosnaki

Thanks for your nice comments, it's been a wonderful interview to conduct. Hopefully the events will stand as an invaluable source to the perfumistas attending too.


Great read, on the parts of both Elena and Melissa. I agree that fragrances have a connection with memories and sometimes some fragrances bring back some vivid memories to our olfactory senses. Speed smelling is something I would love to experience once.


I loved to read about the previous event.
My favourite fragrance was the one Carlos Benaim created.
The grapefruit one. THE grapefruit one.

I imagined that one to be just divine.
I have found an incredible grapefruit scent by Parfums de Nicolai, L'Eau Mixte, which is... my replacement for THE grapefruit scent I will never even smell but L'Eau Mixte is now setting the standards. :)


Thank you, Elena! It's really interesting event to participate. The previous year, Speed Smelling was organized only for beauty editors, but now everyone can talk to perfumers and smell their perfumes.

Click on their pictures to read about the previous event.


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