Scent Tastemaker: Sylvie Ganter
Co-founder of niche fragrance brand Atelier Cologne, Ganter has led the dream career of perfume aficionados. Her story is fascinating.
If Sex and the City character Carrie Bradshaw was considering a career in Manhattan in 2019, you know she’d be launching a nice perfume company in some cute Soho boutique. Perfumery is the new journalism for a new generation of career-minded college graduates who no doubt yearn for a resume like Sylvie Ganter. Born in Provence, then studying in Aix and Marseille, France, she landed a job at Hermes where she quickly learned the craftsmanship and beauty of raw materials that makes that brand so famous. At 25, she hopped on a plane and moved to New York City to further develop the Hermes brand in the Americas. She quickly caught the attention of LVMH executives who wooed her away with the offer to develop their new cosmetics acquisition: Fresh.
Atelier Cologne Co-founder Sylvie Gunter
It was a chance encounter with Christophe Cervasel that would change the trajectory of her career and life. Cervasel was a perfume designer for fashion brands and the two instantly connected with their passion for scent. They quickly dreamed up the concept of Atelier Cologne, a luxe perfume brand based on a new olfactive family they developed called “cologne absolu’. It’s based on the legendary ‘eau de colognes’ in France that pair the finest citrus notes with the most precious raw materials. What makes these perfectly balanced fragrances unique is their exceptional lasting power. Since its launch in 2009, the company has sold more than 500,000 bottles of scent in more than 30 countries thanks in part to the assistance of L’Oreal who acquired the brand a few years ago. Sylvie kindly agreed to sit down with Beauty Departure for a candid and fascinating talk about her favourite ingredients and passion for the art of perfumery.
The Interview: Sylvie Ganter
My Four All-Time Favourite Perfume Notes
Oh, I love this question. It really excites me. You know that we love to work with citruses at Atelier Cologne but there is one that I love to work with the most and that is bergamot. I find it to be incredibly versatile. (bergamot is an inedible fragrant citrus that is half lemon and half orange) I love that it is a citrus but there is so much floralcy in it. Sometimes it tricks you into thinking it is a floral note. It is one natural material that is multi-faceted: when you first smell it, you get the fresh citrus smell. But then it changes and you get this floral effect. Then it develops and you can smell the leaves and bark from the tree it grew on. For this reason, it is one of the ingredients I use the most.
The best bergamot in the world is grown in Calabria, Italy. We are actually planning a trip in three weeks to take a group of French journalists to witness the harvesting of bergamot so they can observe the process. It is actually a lot of small families who grow bergamot along the coast and they are very competitive. To extract the scent for perfumes, you actually get it from the peel of the fruit. It’s called expression and you press the peel almost with a sponge on a big table. This is done close to where the bergamot is grown – it doesn’t travel far. There is something very soothing and relaxing about bergamot. It’s like drinking a cup of Earl Grey tea. I love it. If bergamot was a band it would be “Florence and the Machine.” Their music has some darkness in the background but it comes across as very sheer.
Atelier Cologne Bergamote Soleil, $135
Vertiver to me is the sexiest ingredient in perfumery. I don’t normally like to talk about “sexiness” in fragrances because that is only a fraction of what a good scent should do for you. It can be sexy but it can be so many other things as well: happy, joyful, comforting, soothing. But vetiver is truly sexy as it has so much depth
The finest vetiver is grown and harvested in Haiti where they use the root of the plant. We use the essence which means we boil it with steam to get the scent. You can smell that it is a plant but it is very earthy. It is almost like when you are pumping gas and you get that gasoline smell. You know it smells bad but there is a little bit that is kind of addictive. I think with vetiver there is a similar dirtiness that is quite sexy. I love how versatile it is. You can make it very sheer, you can blend it with florals to make it more feminine or you can add woods to make it more masculine. I personally like to add lots of bergamot to brighten it up. If vetiver was a band it would definitely be “Radiohead”.
Atelier Cologne Vetiver Fatal, $150
I would like to talk about jasmine. I love smelling jasmine in fresh air. I love when you are walking down a street and you see a wall of jasmine vines with the white flowers and it smells so fresh and floral. But when you put jasmine through the distillation process, it becomes very intense, deep and dark. It transforms into something almost animalic. I’ve learned that flowers don’t like the distillation process. They transform into something deeper and darker. It took many months to be able to capture that light, fresh note of jasmine outdoors. I like to describe jasmine as a “tomboy girl” – it’s green, borderline spicy and a little wilder. If jasmine was a band, it would be “The Strokes”.
Atelier Cologne Jasmine Angelique, $150
4 Orange Blossom
You can actually extract the scent from orange blossom in two ways. The first is to boil the materials using steam extraction and that is called an “essence”. If you go with a solvent, you end up with an “absolu” which is typically a little deeper. I love the essence much better and it is usually called “neroli”. Orange blossom takes me back to my childhood. It takes me back to my mom. She would bake us cakes and put the orange water inside. The very best orange blossom comes from Tunisia, Nairobi and Egypt. Each location has its own character. I find the one coming from Tunisia slightly sweeter. When creating a fragrance, I often like to have something familiar in the scent. And orange blossom is a very comforting and familiar note. If orange blossom was a band, it would be “The Smiths”.
Atelier Cologne Grand Neroli, $150
“My favourite hotel to visit from an olfactory experience is the San Pietro Hotel in Positano, Italy. You have the lemon, lime and grapefruit trees and their wonderful scents. You walk down the streets and you smell the jasmine vines. And then you smell the salty air. It’s heavenly. We go back at least once a year.”
Atelier Cologne co-founder Sylvie Gunter & Dave Lackie