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Kelly Killoren Bensimon gets heady with scent creator Yann Vasnier

Yann Vasnier

Yann Vasnier (Credit: Yann Vasnier (Getty))

Have you ever wondered who’s behind your favorite fragrance? Yann Vasnier of the Swiss-owned fragrance house Givaudon is the man you want to know or to make you a fragrance. He’s the mastermind behind Marc Jacobs’ Bang and Lola scents, and has worked with Tom Ford, Donna Karan and Comme des Garcons. Vasnier’s craft is one honed by a very sensitive nose, a learned love of smells from all over the world and an ability to tell a story with scents.

How do you become “a nose”? My parents had beautiful gardens with roses and flowers. I grew up in Brittany and there are a lot of smells there. My brother was a landscape architect and we’d learn about the tress and follow him around France and attend plant fairs. On the north coast of Brittany near the beach in 1986 there was a guy from L’Oreal who opened a perfume store. I started to be interested in fragrances by talking with him. I then studied art, chemistry, physics and I went to a perfume school: ISIPCA perfumery school with Versailles University.

When did you do the TED talk? I did a ted.com talk about my experiences in fragrance and how to become a nose ... two years ago in Jaipur.

How did you prepare for that? It stressed me out for a month and I ran the script and rehearsed for months.

What’s the most special fragrance you have created? There are a lot I’m really proud of. Arquiste Aleksander inspired by Aleksandr Pushkin. It smells like the fur, the boots, the leather, the gun powder. ... I always love Marc Jacobs’ Bang. ... They are all my babies so it’s hard to choose.

What are notes? We talk about notes in fragrance because they are the words from music. A note would be a single ingredient. Like jasmine flower is a jasmine note.

What do you think of people creating their own fragrances? It takes a lot of hours of training and thousands of hours of trials and error. At school you learn about the history of ingredients and how you can recreate some fragrances. You work for years to mix them properly. If you want patchouli and vanilla you can do it yourself. It’s difficult to source the quality on the market, and to find the pure essential oil.

Who is your favorite muse? My favorite muses are all of my friends for whom I’ve made fragrances for. Gabrielle [Coco] Chanel, Hélène Rochas and Kate Moss.

Cologne or parfum, what’s the difference? Cologne is a fresher, lighter scent. Parfum is heavier. ... Cologne is for day and perfume for night. Cologne is for summer and parfum is for winter and fall.

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