Glass speaks to leading perfumer Aurélien Guichard of Matiere Premiere

BORN IN what is generally considered to be the centre of the perfume world, Grasse in the south of France, to a perfumer father and artist mother, Aurélien Guichard has enjoyed a distinguished career spanning more than 20 years.

Notably, he is the perfumer behind many blockbuster scents such Gucci Guilty and Tom Ford’s Sole Di Positano.

In 2016, he bought some land in Grasse, where he grows roses.  Three years later, Guichard set up Matiere Premiere (meaning “raw materials”) with two other co-founders. The brand has had rapid success and is available worldwide. He is also the only perfumer who plants, grows, harvests and uses his own ingredients in his House.

Portrait of Aurélien Guichard by Alexis Jacquin

As you might expect from the name, each Matiere Premiere fragrance explores one central high quality – often very expensive – ingredient used in lavish quantities.

Last Autumn, the House launched its 11th scent, Vanilla Powder, to great success.

How did Matiere Premiere come to life and what inspired it?

It’s a project I always carried in me. As the seventh generation of a family of perfumers, my upbringing was a blend of Parisian and Grassois influences, where my grandparents cultivated fields of roses, tuberoses and jasmine. As a perfumer, I always wanted to cultivate my own raw materials in the most qualitative manner, leading me to establish my organic Rose Centifolia farm in 2016. 

I was then joined by my two co-founders, Caius von Knorring and Cédric Meiffret – people that I had already worked with for years and that had become friends – and it became a collective adventure. We shared a vision of placing the raw beauty of nature at the forefront of contemporary, high-quality olfactive creation.

We felt that many fragrances, no matter how beautiful, were associations of a complex set of ingredients and that few perfumes highlighted the unique texture of a central natural ingredient, used in overdose. That is how the idea of Matiere Premiere was born.

Matiere Premiere is also about sharing the inherent beauty of the art of perfumery and the daily life and craftsmanship of a perfumer. Sourcing the most exceptional raw materials from around the world is my first act of creation for the House. Also, our creations are available in the same 6ml bottles that every perfumer uses to assess new compositions. Our larger 50ml and 100ml bottles are essentially supersize versions of these small vials.

Aurélien in his atelier at Domaine de Chautard

Are you pleased with the response to your latest perfume, Vanilla Powder?

We launched Vanilla Powder in the beginning of October last year, so it’s still too early to tell. But we have been incredibly humbled and pleased with the response so far – both from our retailer partners and our customers worldwide.

With Vanilla Powder, we wanted to create a different, sophisticated take on vanilla, far from the sweetness you could expect. I chose to contrast the rich, deep and dark facets of the vanilla absolute from Madagascar with a natural palo santo oil, and an explosion of white modern powders – coconut and white musks – which give the fragrance a contemporary and luminous aspect.  

The fields of Domaine de Chautard where the ingredients for Matiere Premiere are grown

Can you share with us some insights into the importance of using raw materials in fragrance?

Matiere Premiere is the French phrase for raw material. For each fragrance in our collection, my goal is to turn one exceptional natural ingredient into a perfume. 

Natural ingredients are already almost a perfume composition in themselves. But of course, they also come with little flaws and weaknesses, which especially appear when you start from an overdose of one particular ingredient like we do.

As a perfumer, I place my craft at the service of the raw material, to reveal its unique texture and most beautiful facets, while tempering any less desirable notes. I use very few, equally carefully selected additional ingredients to compose a contemporary formulation that will leave a strong emotional imprint and an unparalleled sillage, or scent trail. It’s important to me that people understand the fragrance they are wearing.


Vanilla Powder by Matiere Premiere

Matiere Premiere fragrances contain between 85 to 92 per cent of natural ingredients. Synthetic ingredients can be the best assets to highlight natural ones, and they are sometimes great substitutes to obtain certain notes while preserving nature and the wildlife. 

I also strongly believe that focusing on one central ingredient for each fragrance allows us to order substantial quantities of it, which in turn supports and benefits the producer. For Vanilla Powder, for example, I discovered a vanilla absolute from Madagascar issued from a Fair for Life agricultural programme, which protects local know-how and minimises any negative impact on the environment.

As a producer of perfume flowers myself, I tend to prioritise partners who share similar ethical, fair trade and environmentally-friendly principles.

Fragrance ingredients used at the Matiere Premium atelier

What are the challenges you faced in establishing your own brand and setting up and owning a sustainable brand?

When you combine creativity, entrepreneurship and agriculture, the challenges are constant. Beyond the traditional economic challenges and crises like Covid-19, the central creative challenge is to continue creating products that bring something new, that resonates with our clients’ expectations.

We want to keep offering fragrances of the highest quality that are extremely qualitative, contemporary and easy to wear and understand.

My conviction is that sustainability is a mindset that drives every single step of creation of a fragrance. A part of that is growing our own ingredients organically on our Ecocert farm in the Grasse region:  we currently produce Rose Centifolia and tuberoses and are planning to include more perfume plants in the future. I am currently the only perfumer in the world to cultivate his own ingredients.

Overall, our mission is to select the most beautiful natural ingredients from around the world, and to commit to partners whose social and environmental behaviours are on par with the top olfactive quality we are looking for.

What ambitions do you have for Matiere Premiere?

Our primary ambition is to continue to offer contemporary and interesting interpretations of raw materials. With my co-founders, we have a common vision of offering some of the world’s most qualitative fragrances and sharing the beauty of the art of perfumery. 

From a business standpoint, we hope to extend the reach of our creations to an ever-growing global audience. We are happy and proud to be present in over 50 countries and 400 points of sale. Our hope is to continue to expand alongside our valued partners, fostering growth in both physical retail spaces and the digital world.

Aurelien (left) and his father Jean Guichard (right) at the family-owned Domaine de Chautard

What do you see as the future of perfume? How will it evolve in the next 10 years and will AI play a part?

I believe there will be a return to the essentials in perfumery, a return to beautiful raw materials sourced ethically. Perfumes will be handmade to give them a patina and a sense of uniqueness.

To me, artificial intelligence is the opposite of luxury because it makes creation predictable – it’s losing the emotion of the creative imprint. A beautiful creation is working on and with the raw material, with human sensitivity.

Which perfumers working now do you rate?

During my career spanning of over 20 years, I have had the opportunity to work and collaborate with the greatest perfumers, both well-known and lesser-known ones. I see talent in each of them. Many of these individuals have been a source of exchange and collaboration, but what I admire the most are the creations rather than the creators.

If you were not a perfumer, what other profession would you choose?

I would have liked to be a painter if I had the talent for it, or else a field hockey player, a second passion of mine in my youth.

Is there a perfume you wish you had created?

There are many – L’Eau D’Issey by Issey Miyake, Fahrenheit and Dior Homme by Dior and Santal 33 by Le Labo … These are just a few among many others.

by Caroline Simpson