Christophe Cervasel of Atelier Cologne

Christophe Cervasel of Atelier Cologne

Question: Can you tell me how Atelier Cologne came to be? Why cologne?
It’s a long story, but I can make it short. If I have to be really simple and precise, I met Sylvie Ganter, who is now my wife, and we just had a daughter together like five years ago, 2007. We were already both of us working in the fragrance world—she was at Fresh, the American brand; I worked with some Italian names like Max Mara and we met and our lives changed. And that became Atelier Cologne.

We discovered that both of us had been mainly working or creating fragrances for fashion designers and what we liked personally was cologne.

We thought that it would be nice if the company was really investigating the area of cologne, which is the oldest perfume because of Eau de Cologne—the very first perfume that was created 1709.

Q: What was remarkable about this cologne in 1709?

Atelier Cologne Grand NeroliCervasel: What was remarkable was that it was created in Cologne, the German city, of course, by an Italian guy, Giovanni Maria Farina—Roger & Gallet bought 100 years later [the original formula from him]. The most important is why he created this scent, and the answer is very simple: He was living in Cologne with his uncle who had a little pharmacy. He was homesick and he decided he would create a perfume that reminded him of Italy. It was really the first time that someone was using perfume for emotional purposes, not for hygienic [reasons] or cleansing.

…And we thought the word ‘cologne’ was too important in the world to just limit it to a light fresh fragrance. We did not think it was fair for such an important word in the universe to be defined by a light and nice fragrance. We thought that it was possible to create a new kind of perfume that was called the Cologne Absolu. …(with) the freshness of a traditional cologne, but as well the character and personality of a real eau de parfum.

Q: Fashion and in beauty live by extremes. On the runway, where we have big hair and Wonder Woman, we have androgyny too. So today, in fragrance we have masses of fruity-floral celebrity fragrances, but we’re seeing also a return to the romance of old-style perfumery. Why do you think so?
: I think there is a large part of the population that—excuse me for the word—that do not want the bullshit anymore. Everybody knows what’s in advertising. Everybody knows what’s in a mall. I think it is the internet that brought that: That everybody is aware of everything. What you want to know is the truth. Who made that perfume and why.

Atelier Cologne rangeEach of our perfumes is a moment that we like, or it is a moment that we had the chance to live, a moment that we would like to live, or it is a moment that some friends told us they have been living. We write this moment and then we work on the perfume that will exactly express the emotion of that moment. It is as simple as that.

And, of course, we work with the best ingredients, and that feels really like a comeback to real perfumery, like, okay, if you want neroli, we get the natural one from either Indonesia or Morocco. If you want a good bergamot, you get it in Calabria in the south of Italy, because it’s the best. It’s like with food, no? This, I think, has been lost in the perfume. Everything starts with the advertising and the brand and then in the end, the creation process—the product. In our case, it’s the beginning.

Q: If you could name one fragrance that changed your life, what would it be?
: I would say the Cologne of Thierry Mugler. It was created by the woman behind Angel as well, so it was a really different perfume. Probably the consumer did not exactly get what she was trying to do, but for me, it was a very good fragrance creation. It was exactly what we are doing now. It was a perfect balance between a cologne, and at the same time a fragrance with a real personality, where you say, ‘Okay, this is me.’

Q: What was your favourite fragrance or smell growing up?
: I think it’s the jasmine. I was living in the south of France but I remember being in Spain, I was probably 10 or 12. I was vacationing during the summer. I remember the smell was strong, and I was surprised because I thought it was the perfume of someone. I went to my parents and said, ‘do you smell that?’ and [my mother] said it was the jasmine trees.
I like as well the shape of the flower, which is beautiful.

Q: And the white, white, whiteness, too?
: You are right—the whiteness. The white for me is a very good colour; very calming and relaxing. And I like the fact that there’s white, but there’s green as well. So you have the white, the green, the smell, and the shape of the flower. For me this is probably why I love so much Vanille Insensée—the jasmine is not so present, but I know [it’s there], which makes it very special to me.

Christophe Cervasel and Sylvie GanterQ: And what fragrance was Sylvie wearing when you met her?
: She was wearing Bvlgari for Men.

Q: So lots of neroli and citrus in that too?
: Exactly. At that time I was working with the woman that created Bvlgari for Men. (She was the creative director of Bvlgari. She did it for 10 years, and after 10 years she came to work at my company. We worked on the Max Mara perfumes, and Missoni.) So when I met Sylvie, I called her and I said ‘I met a woman and she is perfect because she wears your perfume!’

Q: That’s funny how things happen.
Cervasel: She couldn’t find a fragrance for her, because she was wearing a fragrance for men—it’s clearly written for men. For her, it was good evidence that she had to create something that she would like. Her first fragrance that she’s still wearing the most is Bois Blonds—blonde woods. It’s really her favourite, together with Rose Anonyme.

Q: If we look five years ahead, what will we be smelling?
: Five years ahead. Wow. It’s another good question.
I cannot tell you, I can only say that it will be a scent that comes from a strong experience. For example, next winter it will be winter here, but not where we go. With Sylvie, we will go to Kilimanjaro—the mountain in South Africa. Probably this experience will drive us to create a new scent.

Atelier Cologne Absolue, $145-175 (200 ml) each,

Find out more about the notes and details behind the range of Atelier Cologne fragrances in our Perfume-o-pedia.

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Deborah Fulsang has spent the last two decades as a journalist covering news and trends in the worlds of style—in fashion and beauty, design and décor, food and entertaining. Her long-held love of fragrance led her to launch The Whale & The Rose, a destination for all things perfume-related. Now, when she indulges in a crazy-expensive bottle of fragrance, she can do so guilt-free. Well almost. It’s all in the name of research after all.