Guerlain master perfumer

Guerlain’s master perfumer says fragrance should be like an “invisible cloak of protection”

Stylist’s senior beauty writer spent an hour with Thierry Wasser, one of the most influential names in fragrance.

I still remember the first fragrance that changed my life. Shalimar, the iconic scent created in 1889 by French perfumer Jacques Guerlain and worn by royalty, was a heady blend of bergamot, iris and vanilla. Aged 13, I wore it with casual abandon, not realising the first seeds of my beauty education were beginning to take root. 

Then, as I entered adolescence, I veered towards sweeter Guerlain scents, such as Insolence and My Insolence, drawn in by the sugary blends of jasmine, honeysuckle and vanilla. 

When my mum wasn’t looking I would sneak spritzes from her bottle of Mitsouko too – a spiced woody Guerlain scent combining rose, ylang-ylang, vetiver, oakmoss and warm amber. It was sophisticated and luxurious and I revelled in it alone in her bathroom. 

So, when Guerlain master perfumer Thierry Wasser visited the new Guerlain pop-up store in Covent Garden recently, I was quick to jump at the chance to sit down with him and cycle through my long list of questions. What I didn’t foresee was my opinion of luxury fragrance changing entirely. 

Guerlain Master Perfumer
Master Perfumer

Guerlain master perfumer Thierry Wasser and the Rose Chèrie fragrance from the new L’Art et La Matière fragrance collection.

Associating luxury beauty houses with exclusivity and prestige is understandable – it’s a large part of what makes them the centuries-long pillars of taste. 

However, Wasser, the person at the helm of Guerlain’s fragrances, isn’t precious about perfume. In fact, he’s something of a populist. 

“There are no rules. You think I’m holding the power of the law but I’m not; the use of a fragrance escapes its creator from the moment the bottle is finished and leaves the factory. It belongs to you,” he tells me over tea.

“When people say ‘I’m not an expert’ – good for you. Fragrance is about you. It’s about your own take. If you feel good, with that fragrance, or that beauty product – whatever it is,  then it’s there to empower you, to boost your self-esteem and help you be strong.”

Wasser tells me there’s no right way to wear perfume. The things we’ve historically been told not to do (misting it into the air and walking through it or wearing “too much”, for example), are to be ignored. It’s up to you. Completely.

Guerlain Fragrance
Guerlain Fragrance

“Fragrance is an invisible cloth that allows you to do stuff you couldn’t without it. It transforms your behaviour and your mood. It’s your shining armour and it can be something that gives you great power to protect yourself when faced with the reality of the day – which can sometimes be grim. Your self-esteem can be challenged several times a day; fragrance is your barrier, your protection, your ‘invisible cloak’.” 

Wasser’s final words on perfume strike a chord: fragrance is the visceral, magical way we’re able to bring the people we miss back to “life”. 

“Unfortunately my parents are gone but scent is a way to keep them immortal and recall them on demand,” he tells me. “It’s how we call on our loved ones, even those who aren’t among us anymore.”

For the last 10 years, I’ve sprayed my dad’s cologne whenever I need courage or comfort. And, if I shut my eyes and suspend the reality of over a decade without him, it really is like he’s still here. 

There’s something strikingly wonderful about that, isn’t there? 

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Main image: Guerlain