Starting from scratch, driven by passion. This defines Florian Gallo best. Florian is a young perfumer, who knew nothing about perfumery growing up. Leaping into an unknown world is not easy; it requires surpassing oneself. A deep belief in this discovered world led Florian to decide what he wanted to do in life. Perfumery was like a magnet, and being a perfumer became a vocation. As everyone else, his course was not always obvious. He would like to share the beginning of his story.
When did you know you wanted to become a perfumer?
Quite late actually. I would say during my perfume studies, in the sense that I had no previous idea of the professions related to this world, nor any contact.
Before entering ISIPCA (International Superior Institute of Perfumery, Cosmetics and Food Flavors), I completed an internship for several months at Chanel which gave me a very good first image of what creation is in perfumery. Unconsciously, I think I knew what I wanted to do from the start but I didn’t want to close doors. During my internship, Christopher Sheldrake (perfumer and Director of Perfume R&D at Chanel) told me about all the other trades related to the perfume industry.
In fact, I started ISIPCA to experience above all an environment, a universe. I thought ISIPCA was going to help me make a decision. During these two years, I did my apprenticeship at Firmenich as an evaluator in Fine Fragrances. This experience allowed me to see the interactions that could exist between an evaluator and a perfumer, but also to get to know the perfume market very well because the evaluators are experts of their markets. I learned a lot from an evaluator’s slightly more emotional approach to the profession.
I think the real click was at this moment: I was given the opportunity to create a formula after work in the evening to participate in the young perfumer competition of the SFP. I liked it for two main reasons. First, I found what I had felt at Chanel, the excitement of creation. Second, the exchanges with the perfumers at Firmenich who shared their know-how with me and transmitted their vision of creation to me just fascinated me.
Christopher Sheldrake, Perfumer & Director of Perfume R&D, Chanel
What is your first olfactory memory?
The smell of mimosa in Cannes, at my grandfather’s house, when I was 5 years old. His house was in the middle of a hill full of yellow pompoms in February.
It was my grandfather who introduced me to jasmine in Grasse a little later. I found myself one morning picking jasmine at dawn in the fields and getting drunk on that characteristic odor, opulent and animal.
Today you are 28 years old, and you are what is called a young nose. How did you do it?
I function by focusing on goals. When I knew I wanted to work in perfumery, my goal was to complete my studies related to perfumery so I could make it my job. In fact, I didn’t ask myself too many questions. Because asking too many questions only brings barriers. I had this wish, I lived it step by step without thinking about afterwards.
The first step was to convince my parents to allow me to do what really interests me. It was complicated because my parents are very Cartesian and have done extensive studies in the scientific field. They were afraid that I wanted to embark on a creative profession solely based on emotions. Therefore, I made a deal with them: to do two years of math studies, and at the end of those two years, if the world of perfumery still pleased me, then I would start. I really struggled to finish these two years, which were the hardest of my studies. Finally, they reinforced my desire to work in perfumery. The result is that my parents thought it was a fad, but I made it my job today.
The second step was to speak about my passion when I had the opportunity to meet people from the industry, which opened up opportunities that I was able to seize at the right time. The first opportunity was to meet Christopher Sheldrake, perfumer and Director of Perfume R&D at Chanel, and to have had the chance to get started in perfumery. At Chanel, I was in one of the most beautiful places to discover perfumery. Then I applied to ISIPCA and was accepted. This school allowed me to learn the basics of perfumery, but also to complete my apprenticeship at Firmenich to learn the basics of the profession of evaluator.
Thanks to ISIPCA, I discovered my calling to become a perfumer: my desire was to join an internal perfumery school. I had the opportunity to join Robertet’s in Grasse. This experience was a chance to learn the basics of the profession of perfumer over two years in the cradle of perfumery. My early career was then built abroad. Indeed, I had the chance to go to Argentina for a year, then to London the following year. Each time, I discovered a way of working, a country, a culture, new clients … These are very rewarding and memorable experiences when you are young. I will remember them all my life.
Today, I made the choice to join Firmenich and continue my adventure in China in Shanghai. It’s a culturally rich, very interesting region of the world. This mission is a real chance, it is a rare and unexpected opportunity in the career of a young perfumer. I’m so excited just to think about it.
Have you had difficulties, doubts or failures?
Admittedly, I didn’t ask myself too many questions at first, but, of course, I had some doubts and failures.
I’m a sensitive person and I tell myself that I still have a long way to go, nothing is won in advance. I am still learning technically, but I believe that creating a perfume is above all done through teamwork. We create hand in hand with the evaluators and the other perfumers. At any age, you cannot know everything. That doesn’t stop me from forging ahead and expressing my creativity. There are failures in the perfumer profession every day. We spend more time losing projects than gaining them. We are constantly criticized for what we create, and when you create, you always put a little bit of yourself, of your own emotions.
When you receive a criticism for a creation, you can take it against yourself, as if you were being criticized personally … At the very beginning, it is difficult to accept.
What motivates you when you create a perfume? What do you feel?
What motivates me the most is finding the idea. The perfumers I have met have always taught me that the main thing is to have an idea and know how to transcribe it as concisely as possible. If we don’t have the idea, we tread, we don’t really know where we’re going … We don’t advance without convictions, otherwise we go all over the place, we get lost and we waste time.
When I find the idea for my creation and transcribe it, I get excited. I think only about that idea. I can’t wait to work on it, to smell the tests, to refine it … In fact, it brings back all my childhood feelings of excitement, a happy enthusiasm and a pleasant impatience.
What is most important to you in perfumery?
The intention and the emotion that we put into the creations at the very start. If your intention is precise and clear, you can easily convince evaluators, other perfumers, salespeople and customers with your creation.
Which perfumers inspire you the most?
All the perfumers I met during my studies and during my earlier experiences. The most inspiring are those with whom I have been able to share and exchange a lot. Jean-Francois Latti and Michel Almairac passed on their know-how to me and taught me all the basics of perfumery. Christopher Sheldrake gave me the incredible opportunity to discover the profession of perfumer. I also think of Francis Kurkdjian who trusted me and shared his experience with me to help me make the right decisions.
At Firmenich, all the perfumers I met and with whom I had the chance to exchange on their vision of the profession, who give me a lot of advice and helped me to better begin my career as a young perfumer: Olivier Cresp, Fabrice Pellegrin, Alberto Morillas, Jeanne-Marie Faugier, Marie Salamagne, Amandine Clerc-Marie, Dora Baghriche and Nathalie Lorson.
Which perfume do you admire the most? Which one would you have liked to create?
I would have been happy to create Féminité du Bois by Serge Lutens. I love woody notes and this fragrance contains more than 50% cedar. It has a lot of meaning for me: it was one of the first perfumes that I smelled when I became interested in the world of perfumery. In this perfume, I find that everything is right, everything is precise, everything is in its place. The idea of using woody facets, which were initially considered masculine, to develop a feminine fragrance was an innovative and strong idea for the time (2009).
What ingredients or raw materials do you particularly like? Which ones do you like the least?
As I love woody notes, the one I particularly like is vetiver. Vetiver has a double facet: it can be used for both males and females. I find it to be a fairly raw raw material, difficult to tame. But when we find the right equation, vetiver reveals all its complexity: grapefruit inflections, earthy and smoky nuances, oriental and spicy notes… I find this interesting because there are still many ways to explore vetiver, and it’s exciting.
There is no raw material that I don’t really like. I will always try to find an interest in the material in the facets it delivers and then work on that. For example, angelica seed essential oil made me unpleasantly think of vomit, which put me off even more to smelling it again. Finally, though, I realized that by letting the smell evaporate on touch, there were iris facets. As I appreciate iris notes, I worked on a perfume around iris and angelica. It’s an association that works pretty well, I think.
If you weren’t a perfumer, what would you have liked to do? Why?
Cooking. I have a great passion for cooking that my mother passed on to me. It has Armenian and Greek origins. In these countries, cooking is really part of everyday life and sharing; it is a strong culture. There is, moreover, a relationship between cooking and perfumery through smells, tastes, emotions … For me, a chef transmits and shares what he feels, his emotions, his personality in his cuisine.
“I bring sensitivity and a keen understanding of culture to each of my creations.”
Florian Gallo was trained in Grasse, and has lived and worked in dynamic markets like Latin America and London. After 5 years at perfume company Robertet, Florian was nominated Perfumer in 2018 and then joined perfume and taste company Firmenich in June 2019. After three months of on-boarding in its Fine Fragrance Creative Center in Paris, France, he transferred to the Shanghai Fine Fragrance Atelier in China. Florian holds a Master’s degree in Sciences & Technologies of Perfumery from ISIPCA and a BSC in Chemistry.