An edited version of this article previously appeared on Ca Fleure Bon written by Megan In Sainte Maxime.
I had the pleasure of talking with Stéphanie Bakouche above the picturesque village of Cabris (near Grasse), in the Roudnitska gardens and home to Michel Roudnitska and the Art et Parfum and Accords et Parfums enterprises. Stephanie has recently created Rose Privée with Bertand Duchaufour for L’Artisan Parfumeur. This article is a result of our conversation at Cabris and additional written material from Stéphanie.
Stéphanie Bakouche is a young perfumer with a difference, as this is only one of her roles at L’Artisan Parfumeur. She’s 35 years of age and has a passion for working not only as a perfumer but also as a Fragrance Development Manager. In this sense, it could be said that her journey follows a different path to other classically trained perfumers. Stéphanie’s insights offer a unique and intriguing take on the road less travelled. Stéphanie’s English is certainly a lot better than my French and the conversation flowed. She is a passionate speaker and a lively conversationalist.
The Early Years
Stéphanie displayed an interest in perfume from a young age according to her best friend’s mother. Apparently when Stéphanie was five years old she stated that she’d like to create perfumes.
“I had always been unable to explain why I’ve always wanted to create perfumes; there is no perfumer or artist of any kind in my family. But moreover since my friend’s mother told me this, I don’t look for an answer anymore. I just believe we all have our specific angels bending on our cradles… That, we have absolutely no control on.”
She grew up in Paris and until her recent move to Grasse, has lived there all her life. For Stéphanie the influence of Paris resides in its “typical Parisian elegance and luxury.” However it was in Morocco where she spent her summer holidays as a girl, that has hugely influenced her in terms of creativity and the types of smells she is drawn towards.
“The scents of the souks, the spices, the woods, the atlas cedar wood, the craftsmen in the streets. … You walk there and you smell this smoky woody scent all around. I love spicy woody oriental scents.”
As a teenager Stéphanie discovered that perfumery could be a serious field of study at the prestigious perfumery school – Institut Supérieur International du Parfum, de la Cosmétique et de l’Aromatique Alimentaire (ISIPCA), and she tailored her studies towards the entry requirements. Her parents were content with her career choice, as it was backed by some serious study.
“My chance was to discover the existence of ISIPCA early enough to take the right direction in my studies, a scientific Baccalaureate and enter University for a degree in chemistry that would enable me to take the ISIPCA contest. That I did, without any question about my wills for the future, and without trying to take any other contest in case I failed in ISIPCA; it was an obvious fact. That was all I wanted to do…You have to obtain your degree first and then it’s a two-year school. It’s in partnership with the University of Versailles so you have some lessons in common with other students in the university. You also have to know that you spend two months in the school, two months in a company for every two months for the two years at ISIPCA.”
Interestingly it is up to the student to find a company for their apprenticeship. ISIPCA do not have places lined up for the students. She said that it could be very difficult to find a company for the apprenticeship and some students gain entry to the course but can’t find a placement. Stéphanie’s apprenticeship was spent at Givaudan in the fine fragrance evaluation department. Of this time she says,
“It has been incredibly enriching to understand the process of perfume-making and all the different steps to make it happen in collaboration with a brand.”
The teachers at ISPICA often come from outside the school and are working in the industry. Stéphanie did mention one teacher in particular who was the specialist for raw materials and synthetics and that was Isabelle Doyen. Everything she learnt at ISPICA from Isabelle, perfumer at Annick Goutal, is her reference bible today.
For Stéphanie her experience at ISIPCA has been a fantastic life changing experience.
“There are so many things to discover. It’s a passionate experience. You enter the world you have wanted to know for a long time and you discover everything.”
Working in The industry : The Interim Years
Stéphanie spent five years after graduation working in various short-term contract roles, often working for big name brands training staff.
“You don’t become a perfumer after ISIPCA. It gives you bases, and it’s even more true now… Needing to work and make myself a living, I worked for various brands on the sales floor, for the launch of their new fragrances. I learned the market, the story of all brands and their leader fragrances on the market, and slowly became quite a specialist in fragrance brands and in the perfume market in general. I began to be called for special missions as training the Sephora staff or elaborating training manuals for Marionnaud.”
Stéphanie highlighted one fantastic experience in particular that she had in this time. At Hermès, she worked alongside Bernard Bourgeois, (Director of the fragrance laboratory).
“I was in charge on quality control of all perfume fabrications for Hermès, Cartier and Lalique, and I was there at the same time when Jean – Claude Ellena joined the brand, so I’ve had the great opportunity to work on the Hermessences developments.”
She has only recently come to appreciate this period of her career, as it was very difficult at first as her key goal was to become a perfumer.
“I didn’t go to ISIPCA for this … I took a bit of time to understand the relevance. You do this in parallel because you have to earn your living but it’s a good thing I did this.”
First Perfume Creations
She met Claude Marchand from Parfums MDCI perfumes at an exhibition in 2005 and convinced him to let her make some samples for him. Claude received feedback on the samples and the unanimous decision was that Invasion Barbare was the standout and so good that it required no modifications.
“I always liked to work with beautiful natural ingredients. I wanted the strength to be very obvious and I never learnt to do short formulas but I wanted it to be quite obvious. I don’t like 1000 hints of everything. I wanted a modern fougère and I decided quite quickly to make it leathery and animalic with costus, and I used thyme, which is an aromatic leathery herb, very animalic and leathery. I used a lot of spices and aromatic herbs and a lot of artemisia, and an overdose of thyme and then I spiced everything up. It’s a daring fragrance, it’s very strong and that’s why it’s successful in Russia.”
Luckily for Stéphanie, Invasion Barbare was one of the fragrances, given a 5 star rating by Luca Turin in Perfumes The A-Z Guide.
“This is the first fragrance by Stéphanie Bakouche … clearly a talent to watch … After ten minutes I uncurled my toes and relaxed: this thing was not done on the cheap, and is in fact one of the top two or three fragrances in this genre on the face of the earth.”
Stéphanie was obviously pleased with this review but also said
“He (Luca Turin) can be very hard so I learnt to take a lot of distance. Now it’s cool but my next creation can be destroyed by him in a minute. You shouldn’t be so extreme you’re talking about a creation of someone. This was good but I may be destroyed next.”
For her next creation Cloon Keen Atelier, an Irish perfume house, contacted her. Margaret Mangan the Director was looking for a very sunny, floral perfume for her range. Stéphanie was up for the challenge as this style was not her preferred personal style. For Bataille de Fleurs the mimosa blossoming in Khemisset, Morocco, was her inspiration. She visualised the vividness of the yellow mimosa in winter as her creative vision, although the name of the perfume actually references the flower parades in the French Riviera.
“I took this as a challenge and that it would teach me a lot. And then little by little she (Margaret Mangan) fell in love with mimosa that I created … She enjoyed this, a very very white fresh green watery almost marine scent.”
Part 2 to follow where she talks about her work at L’Artisan Parfumeur and her mentor Bertrand Duchaufour.
Notes : Images : Stephanie Backouche provided the photos of herself : : Invasion Barbare my photo : Bataille de Fleurs from the website.