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Master perfumer Nathalie Feisthauer, talks about making the best fragrances in the world

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Nathalie Feisthauer

Image: Courtesy of AMAFFI Perfume House

How did you get your start in perfumery?

My story is kind of a fairy tale. You know when I was 16, I didn't know anything about perfume. Until I smelled Opium in the store for the first time. And from the day I smelled Opium, the rest of my life was changed. It was a revelation, the start of a vocation. It was love at first sight. I could not believe a perfume could be so beautiful. And so, from this day, I was obsessed with perfume. And nobody around me knew anything about it. That was more than 40 years ago, we didn't have Google back then, there was no article, I couldn't find any information. I used to think it was Miss Chanel who had created the Chanel perfumes, I didn't know perfumers existed. I always say the most creative part of my life is that I wanted to do a job that I didn't know existed.

Nathalie Feisthauer

Image: Courtesy of AMAFFI Perfume House

So I went to the post office and I wrote to all the brands, saying, "Blah, blah, I love what you do." And in my mind, I would become the assistant of Mr. Cacharel, or the assistant of whatever perfumer they had. And they wrote back to me explaining that there was a whole industry behind and I had no clue. So I wrote letters again. And one day somebody called me saying that he loved my letter. During the conversation, he asked, "What is your favorite perfume?" And I replied, "It's Opium." And he said, "Oh, I created it," and he hung up. My first thought was that he was lying. "Oh, he's making this up, he's making fun of a young girl. He's not nice," I thought. And actually, it was true, it was Jean-Louis Sieuzac. Then I got to meet him, and I was actually the first person without any connection, without any background in this industry, no relatives that work in the perfume field, to go to a prestigious perfumer school. I was lucky to go to the south of France, to learn my job, my current work.

The AMAFFI brand is very special. Tell us what's different about the brand when compared to other perfume brands in the industry.

It's quite easy, because for me, there is only one AMAFFI and nothing else to compare it with. It's the most ultimate, the most luxurious, the most beautiful brand in the world. The level is so high that you cannot even compare yourself to its uniqueness. Not to say anything wrong about the other brands, but a lot of them claim to have no limit in means for luxury or whatever, but most of the time it's not true. AMAFFI is the only brand I know that has kept this vision of ultra ultimate luxury since the beginning, and nothing is spared to achieve this goal.

First of all, there is something that few brands have and that AMAFFI possesses. It has the most amazing pieces, it's like a museum of masterpieces level of boutique so that you can only buy AMAFFI on their website or in their boutique. And the price level is quite exclusive, I would say. But actually, it's worth it, because the quality matches the luxury of other items such as luxury watches that some people would wear together. The bottles, in some cases, like for Ovation, Tango Forever, and Arcanum, are made by the finest craftsmen in France. They can work on crystals and all sort of materials... That’s what makes them unique because it's so difficult to achieve. So this really is the level of luxury that they want to pursue.

Image: Courtesy of AMAFFI Perfume House

And beyond the perfume itself, AMAFFI is not just a brand about trend, about fashion, it's really about their own definition about what is best. And there is no limit about the best. You will not find the typical floral scent that is so popular, and that everyone wears, you will not find that with AMAFFI of course. But you will find something made with the finest ingredients in the world.

And sometimes, because it's very exclusive, they can also afford to have some ingredients that you cannot put in the mass market industry and products, [because] you won’t have the budget. But let's say you have the budget, you cannot use it even for, I don't know, Dior, or Paco Rabanne, or whatever, because the worldwide production would not be enough. So it's really about picking the best ingredient, but just the best ingredient is not always enough. You also need, to make it more beautiful, to make it long-lasting, so that the scent can linger throughout the whole day. Right now, I'm wearing Maracoca today, and it's very fresh. And usually, a fresh note, even the best one, fades away very quickly. But this one is so long-lasting, it keeps this crystalline, luminous, citrusy feel, aromatic, but yet the complexity of the woods. And even me, I'm amazed by this. You can smell and feel the quality.

What inspires the fragrances you make (as an individual and as a brand)?

Mrs. AMAFFI is maybe the best nose that I know. It's amazing. It's kind of a mystery even for me, because sometimes she has a better nose than anybody that I know. So this is something. And we really have a relationship of trust. When she proposes ideas, sometimes it works, sometimes she likes it, sometimes she doesn't. Sometimes I propose ideas, sometimes not. It's really like a collaboration, creator to creator. It's a common understanding of each other, trust, and it's really about aiming for the best. The only goal that I have when I work with AMAFFI is to pick the best, the most exclusive and limitless beauty. I work with a lot of luxurious brands, but I don't have this level of exclusivity, ultimate luxury that I have with AMAFFI.

AMAFFI Perfume

Image: Courtesy of AMAFFI Perfume House

What do you consider to be the qualities of a good fragrance?

Okay. You have the personal taste; some people love strawberry, some don't; some people love champagne, some don't. But if you like strawberry, you can tell if one is better than another one, tell their quality apart. But perfume is very personal. Even the best quality of perfume, some people won’t like it, because it's simply not their taste. But I would say that a good perfume, is a perfume that makes you feel confident, more beautiful, more seductive, more yourself. Also, to me, perfume is not just that, it's also a signature that you put on your skin. I’d hate to wear a common perfume and smell like everybody else, because for me, if it’s on my skin, it's like a tattoo. It's me. It's deeper. Because [with] perfume, you don't just use words to say what you smell like.

In a way, it's more powerful because you don't even realize that you're smelling the other people. To me, when I smell somebody else, I don't enjoy when they smell like Sephora, or commercial scents. To me, good perfume is something that you like, that looks like you. And when you wear it, you feel unique. It's your memory. When you don't wear it for a while, and then wear it back again, you usually get nice, at least I hope, memories that go with it. It's like a time of your life.

The process of making the perfect fragrance takes some time. Can you share some insights about that?

AMAFFI Perfume

Image: Courtesy of AMAFFI Perfume House

Sure. Famous painter Matisse used to say he could draw his famous bird on a wall in only 10 minutes. But these 10 minutes, maybe took 20 years of experience to achieve. Sometimes you work a lot on a formula, and you end up not keeping it because it's not so good. Sometimes you work a lot, you have a lot of back-and-forth feedback and it gets better. Sometimes you just do something and it's instant love. There is no typical rule, but I’d say that you need at least a year and a half, three years, sometimes six years to make a good fragrance. It takes time.

I’m usually fast, because I have experience and Mrs. AMAFFI also is very quick because she knows exactly where she wants to go. We both work hard; we go back and forth. But in the end the path is already set in our minds, so it's easier. Yes, it's easy.

You don't always find what you like, but I don't know. You get what I mean? It takes time, but there is a defined purpose.

What does picking the ingredients involve?

I live in Montmartre, and I have my lab a hundred meters away. And we compound ourselves, so we can prepare. All the unique ingredients are from Grasse, the capital and birthplace of perfumery. Because it’s essential to know how to source the best ingredients to compound the best creations.

What is your favorite fragrance today?

I still love Opium because it changed my life. Everything I have in my life is thanks to Opium, that's for sure.

What about one from the AMAFFI brand?