National Geographic, September1995
 

I met the man who is widely agreed to be the greatest nose of them all. Now, 90, Edmond Roudnitska suffers from failing hearing and sight, but his nose and spirit are indomitable.

To call Roudnitska a perfectionist would be to engage en reckless understatement. In nearly seven decades of work he has created just 17 perfumes that he thought worthy enough to share with the world, but they include some of the most successful perfumes of the century, among them Femme, Diorissimo, Eau Sauvage, and his own favorite, Diorella.

"Anyone can make a nice smell", he says of modern perfumers. "The trick is to create a fragrance that has soul. It isn't a matter of mixing up potions like some kind of alchemist. Most of my time is taken up with reflection and writing - trying to imagine the perfume. Often I go months without smelling a formula."

"You cannot overestimate the importance of simplicity", he says suddenly at one point. "Let me show you something." With startling agility he rises from his desk and leaves the room. A moment later he returns bearing a long blotter - a kind of paper wand - which he wafts very briefly in front of my nose, so briefly that at first I smell nothing. A moment later a most wonderful and delicate hind of violet brushes my nostrils. "Just five ingredients", Roudnitska tells me and beams with boyish, unabashed pride.

The smell lingers faintly. It really is quite intoxicating. I ask if we can expect to see it in the stores soon. "Oh, goodness no," Roudnitska laughs. "This is my first attempt at the perfume. I have a very long way to go."

As we part, I ask Roudnitska if the natural fragrances of Provence have been an inspiration to him. I have heard many times that the lush background aromas of the countryside - the long, orderly ranks of lavender, the groves of rich mimosa, the soft scent of cherry blossoms - account for the vitality of the perfume industry in the region. But Roudnitska just grins. "Let me tell you, I created Femme in 1943 in Paris during the worst days of the war in a building that had a rubbish dump on one side and paint factory on the other."

Edmond Roudnitska started his perfumery training in Grasse in 1926, moving to Paris in 1927, and continuing his study of creative perfumery. In 1946 he founded Art et Parfum, a private creative laboratory for perfumery.

This private laboratory was transferred in 1949 to a rocky, barren landscape near Cabris, the many acres of surrounding hillside have been transformed into a lush garden and forest of trees and flowering plants. There is a clear view of the Mediterranean ten miles to the south.

Edmond Roudnitska is the creator of the following perfumes : Femme and Moustache of Rochas ; Eau Fraîche, Diorissimo, Eau Sauvage, Diorella, and Dior-Dior of Christian Dior. He is also the author of the following books : L'Intimité du Parfum, published by Editions Olivier Perrin ; L'Esthétique en Question and L'Esthétique du Parfum, published by Presses Universitaires de France.