Calice Becker has the dream career, working as a ‘nose’ for one of the biggest luxury fashion brands in the world, Versace.
But what exactly is a nose? And how does one get into the fragrance field? We spoke to Calice, the perfumer behind Versace’s new Versace Pour Femme Dylan Blue (as well as being responsible for other cult classics including Christian Dior J’Adore, Calvin Klein Secret Obsession, Tommy Hilfiger Tommy Girl and Tom Ford Velvet Orchid), to find out what it really takes to get to the top of the perfume game.
When and how did you discover you passion for fragrance and how did that influence your career path?
My earliest olfactory memory is my mother’s cologne. I kept asking her how a clear liquid could smell so beautiful. She tried to explain that there were flowers in it… but I couldn’t see them! She told me that I would understand when I grew up. I suppose this started me on my journey down the perfumer’s path to understand how flowers can get into a bottle! My mother has always supported my choice of career and encouraged me.
Have you always been finely attuned to scent?
As a child I had a curious mind and was very particular about detail. I have had an international life: I come from a Russian family, grew up in France, worked in the US, and have travelled a lot. Sensitivity to different palettes of scents and sensations gathered from across the world is something deeply rooted in me since I was a child.
Did you ever consider any other career?
I thought for a while to become a doctor, but in the end I chose a different career, the one that makes myself and other people dream… a different way to heal people!
Does your engagement with scents around you ever impede your everyday life as it’s not a skill you can switch off?
Of course being a nose puts you in contact not only with wonderful scents! But I can cope with it! The sense of smell is such a gift!
How to you decide when a fragrance is ‘done’. That it doesn’t need any other elements?
Creating a fragrance means considering many elements, quality, technique and emotion to mention a few. I challenge the fragrance until I find what I call the perfect balance. It should be long lasting, mood enhancing and as complex as the person wearing it. When I get to this feeling of harmony that is when I know the creation is ready.
What was your starting point, image or inspiration with Versace Pour Femme Dylan Blue?
Donatella Versace wanted the perfume to be “a tribute to femininity, a strong, sensuous, refined fragrance, created for a woman who knows the power of her sensuality”. In collaboration with Euroitalia, the Italian leading company in the creation and distribution of Versace fragrances worldwide, I started from this idea she had of the woman wearing Versace pour Femme Dylan Blue: a young, modern and determined woman who lives in a world of men without leaving aside her femininity and unafraid to show her personality. I wanted the fragrance to be as unique as this memorable woman; the top with fruity and floral notes makes her young and joyful. The heart is an imaginary bouquet, so captivating and charming making her modern and glamorous. The dry-down, so fundamental for the fragrance persistence, shows her sublime strength. And I dressed her up with unique ingredients like Shisolia, Pétalia and Rosyfolia to crown her empress of the senses…
What types of elements in a woman’s life do you think of when creating a fragrance like this?
In today’s world women must be so many things. Strong, but still able to show their vulnerability. Graceful, and yet wild. This fragrance is in my opinion a charismatic interpretation of femininity where you find all the woman’s facets you can find in real life: a mix of career, family, love, sensuality… and when you look at this woman an unquestionable femininity, full of magnetic sensuality. An attractive force, dynamic and at the same time with a sparkling and luminous elegance.
When you create a fragrance do you ever see the idea for the bottle/does the bottle have any influence on the scents creation, or is it always a surprise for you?
It is not always the same. Sometimes I have a very clear idea of the shape of the bottle, colours, materials and concepts and of course this can ensure a great synergy in working on a project. Sometimes not, but that’s when I look just to emotions for inspiration.
When you started there were no many women in your profession. How do you think the increase in female master perfumers has changed the scents that are being created and what’s popular?
Positions in the fine fragrance world are in general few and it is extremely tough to break through. But being a woman isn’t absolutely a handicap to becoming a perfumer these days. I think men and women simply bring a different sensibility, a different emotional world to the fragrances that they create. Women have brought their own experiences into the fragrance world with a different, but complementary way, of experiencing emotions. It is this enlarged world that broadens and enriches perfumery today.
Gourmand, almost-edible notes such as the ones in this fragrance are becoming more popular – why have we veered from floral do you think?
I would not say we veered, I would say we have added. People like to discover something new, this has been a new path that has been popular, but flowers are always there, and woods, and roots… in a mix that highlights one or the other more. Every day and for many reasons the perfumer’s palette is enriched!
Trends in fragrance have come and gone since you started. Could you pick one you wish would come back and one you wish would go away?
Trends interpretations are complex, they transform, evolve, complete… the perfumer’s talent is to always create something innovative and unique. So I would probably not be willing to choose…!
Do you always attach your own memories to scents?
I love so many smells, but when I think about my favorites they are all the ones that make life’s journey so pleasurable, ones that come from nature or moments of happiness. For me it’s the smell of drying hay in the summer, the smell of crushed grass and mint together when you walk in the garden, and when I swim in the mountains the smell of soft water in a cool lake. The smells of my experiences or a place in time, the smell of a baby, of honeysuckle, of chocolate soufflé coming out of the oven, and freshly brewing oolong tea; all these things have a special place in my memory and bring me an immediate joy.
Have you ever created a fragrance solely to please yourself? If not, what would/did it smell of?
Besides the smell of my mother’s cologne, the ones that are most linked to my life are those transparent petals, those clean and warm balsamic smells that always gave me sensations I associate to cleanness, not only physical but also physiologically: just like a sense of order in life. In all the fragrances I create there is ideally “my perfume”.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Travelling, horse riding, reading, meeting friends, cooking, arts, cultivating my own flowers, enjoying my family and nature. But my job is also my passion! For me, a fragrance is at the same time visual, tactile and auditory. All the senses can help translate the olfactory emotions. Inspiration can capture me any time!
Interview: Megan Bedford
Photos: Getty Images and Supplied
This article is brought to you by Versace Pour Femme Dylan Blue, available now at Farmers and other leading department stores.