You could say that Yves has swallowed light and blueness – the blue of the sky in his eyes, the blue of the sea in his heart. He has a way of speaking that shimmers and ripples in waves. Yves spent his entire childhood on the shores of the Mediterranean and has lived by the sea ever since. Whether it’s the Atlantic Ocean bordering New York, where he has been living for 30 years, or the Caribbean, where he goes to recharge his batteries amid the reefs, surrounded by fish and colors, the sea is his passion. And his lifestyle speaks volumes about his relationship with perfume: “I have never been far from the sea. Wherever I have lived, I have lived close to it. I have always gone underwater fishing. Water is important – being on water and under water. I would like to have spent longer growing up in Algeria so that I could have explored the seashore more. It was very beautiful. Completely undeveloped. I loved listening to stories on the beach in the evening. As a family, we used to eat on the beach and the children would talk about their hunting and fishing exploits. Later on, I discovered Jacques Cousteau. He has always been an inspiration to me. I love his explorations of the depths of the ocean, places where man has never been before. I love exploration.” And that is Yves in a nutshell – he is an explorer. He is never content with staying on the surface of things. He likes diving deep down, immersing himself, search for things as yet unseen. That is how he encountered perfumes – through working with essences.
Born in Algeria, he grew up in his grandmother’s magnificent garden and on the beach, dazzled by the sensations, colors and odors. At age 8, Yves moved to Marseille. He has few memories of the city, other than the announcement of President Kennedy’s assassination. In Marseille, this announcement felt like a tragedy for this child who was so struck by the streets, the shouting, the dust, the very texture of sunlight and the news stories in the papers. Did this very strong impression contribute to his crossing the Atlantic? Maybe. After Marseille, Yves’s parents moved to Nice: “People would talk about perfume in Nice because Grasse was nearby. But even though, as a small child, I spent many hours in my grandmother’s garden, always smelling something – there are even a lot of photos of me as a child with my nose in a rose, I nevertheless discovered perfume by chance, after getting into the analysis of natural essences.” Indeed, it was while studying biochemistry at the University of Nice, during an internship, that Yves discovered a laboratory specializing in the analysis of raw materials for perfumes and, with it, the very wellspring of perfume: “By analyzing all of the essences used in perfumery and their quantities, I started to develop an interest in perfume. But it was after coming into contact with perfumers and watching them work, seeing how they expressed themselves through the raw materials, that was when I became captivated.”
After working as an intern, Yves was hired by Lautier Fils, a supplier of natural raw materials: “I began to develop a passion for understanding where essences came from, how they were structured. I worked on recreating natural raw materials for India, Russia and other countries. I made lavender and patchouli notes for these countries, which could not afford to pay the market prices for natural essences. I learned a great deal about the quality of the raw materials from an olfactory point of view and from a structural standpoint. I knew raw materials inside out. In parallel, I formed relationships with perfumers who were also sometimes looking for synthetic essences. I began working with Claude Ellena.” Ellena became Yves’s mentor: “I loved the way he told stories, he had so many ideas. I was 25 years old and he was a well-established perfumer. We smelled together. He trained me and gave structure to what was good or acceptable in me, and what was not good.” It was the start of an adventure. At the time, the perfume industry was being restructured as pharmaceutical groups shed their perfume departments. Lautier was acquired by Florasynth and Yves was sent to the United States, to work in the New York perfume creation studio. The acquisitions continued, with the result being that Yves ended up joining IFF in 1998.
New York made it possible for Yves to blossom as a perfumer. There, he created a garden again, by the ocean, developing his passion for flowers and colors: “I love flowers. In my garden, I always plant different flowers at different times of the year. At the moment, I have a gardenia that, very unusually, produced 13 flowers at the same time. I put my heart and soul into this garden, with its hibiscus and blue hortensias. I choose flowers as much for their color as for their scent. I also love birds with their incredible plumage. Ultimately, I love nature. I am lucky enough to live five minutes from the city, yet I see deer, small squirrels, coyotes and other animals. I am crazy about nature – it has always given me ideas.” A perfumer who explores raw materials, Yves loves the fine materials that are used to make the best perfumes, floral scents, and is thankful that he has the means to go prospecting for new ideas: “Developing an understanding of the deeper meaning of a material is itself a form of perfume creation.” And Yves happily admits, “I love the glamorous side of perfumes. Your work is on display. It’s a wonderful job. You get to meet lots of people.” The first time that Yves combined exploration, glamor and success in a creation was for Tom Ford. Yves was in Morocco for the orange blossom harvest. He was waiting in the Mamounia gardens one day: “I was struck by a scent. It was much like orange blossom but not really orange. So I got up and followed the scent. I found myself before a tree with flowers twice the size of an orange blossom. I asked the gardener about it and he told me it was a grapefruit tree. Up until then, the grapefruit had only been cultivated for its fruit. So I visited a plantation. A few trees were set aside for their flowers rather than for their fruit. We successfully extracted the essence, which was good. It has an almost aldehydic marine freshness combined with effects that are more citrusy than those of the orange blossom. I used it to create the first Tom Ford pour Homme, a fragrance that caused a scandal but was a big hit.”
Yves would go on to play various roles in perfumery. As well as being a perfumer, he is a raw materials researcher, ensuring their quality: “I work with LMR to find new products to develop or support the creation of the Ultimate product range, made from upcycled ingredients. We developed upcycled turmeric made from leaves that had been thrown away – usually it’s the rhizomes that are distilled. We also have an upcycled vetiver using distillation waste. I also like Ultimate patchouli made from patchouli residues. It has a strong animalic aroma, like civet, castoreum and Tonkin musk. Synthetic musks don’t have animal accents – they have other notes. This patchouli offers an animalic note derived from plants.” In addition to the raw materials themselves, Yves receives samples from suppliers all over the world. He is one of the analysts who decide whether or not IFF is going to include their products in its catalog. As he explains, “I also do olfactory quality control for orange blossom absolutes and neroli. I have always stayed close to raw materials. I really love them. It’s a journey. There’s also a strong human element. I know the names of almost all of our partners.”
For Yves, knowing about natural raw materials is not enough – he loves revealing them: “The modern quality of a raw material stems from the fact that the essences are treated. Extraction methods have evolved and offer a range of facets centered on the ingredient. Today, vetiver no longer smells of peanut, with the heavy, smoky style of the 1960s and 1970s. We’ve succeeded in revealing several facets of vetiver. Combining them with other ingredients afterward is almost child’s play. It’s the same for patchouli – today we avoid that camphor-like odor, reminiscent of polish. The same has happened for sandalwood and cedar, opening up new possibilities. That’s how I created that cedar for Tory Burch – Knock on Wood – a woody scent for women with a lot of cedar, vetiver and a touch of grapefruit and peony. It’s a perfume I really like. I combined Atlas cedarwood, which has a leather note as well as a woody one, and which comes from sawdust, with Texas cedarwood and Virginia cedarwood. These two cedar trees actually belong to the juniper variety, and the essence is obtained by distilling the wood as well as the needles.” Yves is an expert and a storyteller. He never tires of deepening his knowledge and passing it on, as well as his passion for everything that smells: “I am incapable of smelling something without wondering what I could do with it, like Espelette pepper. This summer, I was coming across it everywhere in the cuisine that I was eating. I can’t just leave it in cuisine. We’ve worked with black pepper and pink pepper, so why not this spice? We are looking into it.”
Today, perfumery is gaining a new lease on life with niche perfumery focusing on raw materials. Yves likes to let the raw materials express their inherent qualities, their unexploited, unknown facets. Once these have been revealed, he hones in on them: “In perfume, I love working with a raw material, allowing myself to be inspired by the colors. I adore everything to do with raw materials. I texturize them to try and find the subtlest emotions for consumers to experience. Raw materials, color, texture, emotions – when you’re creating a perfume, these are the kinds of things you think about.” Yves moves seamlessly between these exercises, giving expression to the hidden depths of raw materials, lending them color. He is inspired by flowers, birds and fish, by the endless visual delights provided by nature. To create texture, Yves withdraws into himself and tunes into the subtlest of his emotions, the ones he wants to recreate: “I recently had the idea of using a sexy evening tuberose that was leathery and animalic. I was delighted because I know the tuberose inside out and I love it. I also worked with vetiver for Fog by Henry Rose. Michelle Pfeiffer associated vetiver with this scent and with the impression created by the fog she encounters in San Francisco. That was a nice idea. It took us to Haiti! I also just finished Smith for her, a fragrance with green apple, musk and wood. There are lots of perfumes that contain apple or pear notes, but here it’s really intense.”
This experience with the Henry Rose brand enabled Yves to explore the whole issue of natural, clean perfumes. He likes to speak his mind honestly: “Making something that is 100% natural is not necessarily a solution. You have to use small quantities so that the raw materials don’t smell too strong; otherwise, if you use a dose of 20%, it doesn’t smell good because you don’t have any synthetic notes to bind the ingredients together. I worked extensively on the Cradle to Cradle list, which I think is more interesting. And I’m also helping IWG make their criteria for certifying fragrances more transparent.” Yves is thus at the heart of one of the key topics in the world of perfume. And that’s logical, because he loves nature and people. He doesn’t create for himself but does it “for other people for them to enjoy wearing my perfumes. I like to listen, while keeping a distance. That’s no doubt partly because I’m shy but also because I want to give them space so they can discover the scent and make it their own. I am shy about expressing my ideas, but I’m also generous – I do it for them. I always think about the person who is going to be wearing the perfume and the emotion it will bring them, whether it’s feeling good about themselves, being comfortable in their own skin or helping them retain an element of mystery. Creating an intriguing perfume that gives the wearer a unique identity is a wonderful mission. But I also like losing control, the alchemy with the skin that makes a perfume unique and unpredictable, the relationship that people have to the raw material, which is cultural or private, a kind of relationship with a terroir that challenges preconceived ideas. Alchemy and subjectivity. I love this and never tire of it.”