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Marie Saint Pierre is one of Canada’s most celebrated fashion designers. As she marks the 25th anniversary of her business this year, she also celebrates the launch of two perfumes under her name. The designer spoke recently with Deborah Fulsang about her long-held passion for perfume and how it has shaped her life.
QUESTION: Things are busy, things are good? How long have you had your label now?
SAINT PIERRE: 25 years.
Q: Wow! Is 2012 your anniversary year?
SAINT PIERRE: It is. 25 years.
Q: And now perfume. Please tell us about your love of fragrance.
SAINT PIERRE: It’s something that I’ve dreamed for many, many years. As long as I’ve been doing fashion I’ve had a dream of developing a perfume. It comes from two aspects in my life.
One is that in my family, we had the privilege and the education to smell things: my father loving wine, my mother being an extremely good cook. I learned at a very young age to smell things and to develop a sense that became part of my daily routine.
And because we were friends with so many French and European people, they would come to Quebec to visit us, and they would always bring my mom a gift, which was a bottle of perfume. It’s a very French way to do things.
Between those years I saw the most famous perfumes that were made on the planet. All these perfumes that were developed in France were brought to my mother here in Montreal, and I was the one who was putting my nose into those bottles and dreaming.
And when I was a teenager, instead of going to buy clothes, I used to go to the [department stores in the shopping centre] and just go into the perfume area and try on perfumes.
This brings me to the second point: I became [educated]—not knowledgeable, because I never studied anything—but I had a passion and I had a good nose. It became very difficult for me to enjoy mass-market perfume and I started to wear some men’s perfumes that I thought were a bit less commercial. And for many years, I wore men’s perfumes.
Q: So what did you wear?
SAINT PIERRE: I was wearing a lot of Hermès perfumes.
Q: Which Hermès?
SAINT PIERRE: Bel Ami.
My first encounter with men’s perfume was [when] I went to Creed in Paris. It was also when I was travelling I would go to those perfume stores that we didn’t have here. And Creed was just fantastic. You could even make up your own perfume, mix your own scents, and see the tradition and see how almost scientific perfumes are.
I got really into it. My very good friend who lives in Paris always made sure when I [visited], that we would do a day of perfume.
Q: Oh, that’s wonderful. What was the first fragrance you ever wore then? Were you stealing from your mom?
SAINT PIERRE: Yup. The first time I put on some perfume—I have a memory of it that is clear—it was the smallest bottle I’ve ever seen of Mille de Patou. It was a couple of ounces of perfume; very expensive. It was my first encounter with some product that was way beyond perfume. It was chemistry, something in my memory that made me feel a certain way.
After that it was Guerlain, and so on.
Q: Have you ever met someone where you were completed attracted to them or the opposite—totally repelled—even when you didn’t know them strictly because of their scent?
SAINT PIERRE: Absolutely. I remember I was in a club in Europe and you couldn’t see anything. It was really dark and late at night. All of a sudden this smell comes to me, and I’m like, ‘I’m in love.’ I don’t know who is wearing that smell, but I was totally transported. I had to go to the bathroom because my emotions were like ‘oh my god, who smells so good’?
It was so strange because the smell of that person made me go completely crazy. It was the first time that happened to me: that smell could give the same feeling as falling in love.
Of course it goes the same way if I’m around a person who is wearing something that smells bad. It disturbs me. It has the same opposite power.
Q: How do you categorize your two fragrances, B and C? The notes of one sound very gourmand, very sweet, but oriental too.
SAINT PIERRE: Not really oriental. It’s really about the gourmand, an exotic feeling. Maybe at the end it smells like caramel with violet and roses.
Q: This is B, right?
SAINT PIERRE: Yes.
Q: And C?
SAINT PIERRE: C is more about the white flowers and the men’s inspiration. That smell is almost well known to people: it’s a white flower, [with] a leather aspect. That’s what I grabbed from the men’s perfume. It has more to do with a body scent than something specific, like a tree, or a leathery smell.
Q: I love the idea of a white floral with the leather.
SAINT PIERRE: Yes, it’s a beautiful composition, and the fact that at the end I didn’t want to do a men’s perfume, I wanted to do a perfume for Marie Saint Pierre. I’m a woman that wore men’s perfume for a long time, so how that translated was the purity of a white flower with something that was much more masculine and musky and leathery.
You have the suede smell of birch wood, which is my favourite wood on the planet. I have a tree in front of my house and I photograph it; it evokes my youth. It’s a huge tree; a rather fragile tree. The birch wood is how you have the smell of the soft leather, the suede.
Q: There’s B and a C, but no A. Where’s A?
SAINT PIERRE: I can do many more. All the letters are going to be covered. But it definitely comes with a subject.
Q: So the B stands for?
SAINT PIERRE: Bois. Wood.
Q: And C?
SAINT PIERRE: Cuir. Leather. It’s really about the material at the end. A little bit like in fashion too.
Marie Saint Pierre “B” EDP: notes of maple with honey, caramel and vanilla; cinnamon, cedar, sandalwood, Turkish rose and violet. $110, www.mariesaintpierre.com; select Sephora stores, www.sephora.ca, www.luckyscent.com
Each Marie Saint Pierre black lacquered perfume bottle—designed by Quebec artist Melanie Laplante—comes adorned with a fused piece of glass. Like a bead, it can also be threaded and worn on a string as a standalone necklace or bracelet.
PHOTO (SAINT PIERRE): DANIEL DESMARAIS