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
Susan T.February 26, 2023 at 2:19 pm
Great interview! I’m going to look out for vetiver! I’m sure it’s in some of my favourite scents but I don’t think I’ve smelled it alone.
HEATHER CAINFebruary 1, 2023 at 9:57 am
I love this whole areticle – one can learn so much
Susan T.February 26, 2022 at 3:11 pm
Their orange blossom scent is one of my favourites for summer. So fresh and lively!
Surinder GurmDecember 26, 2021 at 2:44 pm
What a cool job
Belinda MDecember 8, 2021 at 1:22 am
An inspiring article, a great read, thank you. Do you spend some of your time visiting schools, tertiary institutes sharing your life experiences ? Or running in-house educational tours/courses for interested peoples ?
Gianna KatalDecember 8, 2021 at 1:04 am
Wow! Best job ever!
Penny Branson LeBaronDecember 6, 2021 at 5:14 pm
Definitely a fascinating career and one that will not go out of vogue!
Trisha PedrosDecember 6, 2021 at 12:33 pm
She is truly SCENTsational! I love this article! Chance really does change lives! I really like how she chooses bands to represent scents! Thank you so much for sharing, Dave!
Eileen RutherfordDecember 16, 2019 at 8:56 am
Fascinating article! Thanks for sharing.
Mariah LockwoodDecember 11, 2019 at 3:02 pm
She’s my kind of people, the only scent she mentioned that I never smelled was the Vertiver. I love all the scents she mentioned and I have often imagined that places around the world may have a smell all their own. I haven’t traveled to Italy, but I identify with those scents and some of them at a location. When I went to Florida 6 years back, I smelled the salty air and fell in love with it…then I noted the citrus scents new my friends home added to it, heavenly…I adore the clean floral scent of jasmine, if that were added I fear my husband would have needed to come get me and drag me home to Colorado. Lol
Amber YoungDecember 6, 2019 at 10:56 pm
I do not have the nose to be a perfumer, but I think it’s a very unique and exciting career. I find bergamot to be highly underappreciated. It is popping up a lot more often, but not nearly enough for me!
Jody DannaNovember 29, 2019 at 6:14 pm
Family1st4ever1 Please would love this
JoAnne RobertsNovember 27, 2019 at 9:44 pm
Dave, I read your article on another perfumer. His work sounds fun and a career that takes a long time to learn! Your other friend Sulvie Ganter has an equally great job and I cant even say enough, about Loreal. I Just started collecting perfumes about 4 years ago. I buy my scents from Ulta or Srphora and when I travel to Jacksonville Fla theres this open air mall that has a shop, that sells nothing but perfumes. So, I take my Mugler Alien bottles with me, and fill them while I’m down there. I’m looking forward to spending this Christmas in Ga and will be making my yearly trip to Jacksonville. Two fun s activities. Shopping thr open air mall of every shop you could imagine and taking my grandson to visit Santa while we’re there.
Thérèse PerezNovember 27, 2019 at 6:14 pm
Magnifique, j’ai beaucoup aimé l’article.
Jamie JohnsonNovember 27, 2019 at 11:14 am
Fantastic! Great story! Thank you for sharing it with us! Cheers! Thank you!
Serendipity E DrakeNovember 27, 2019 at 7:33 am
I love how she describes each of her favorites. I really like Bergamot also…. it’s got so much depth.
Tara WareNovember 27, 2019 at 12:51 am
What a fascinating career. Thank you for sharing this with us.
Mary CoderNovember 26, 2019 at 9:59 am
Great article! I could s.ell the ingredients while reading those alluring descriptions of each one!
Linda LNovember 25, 2019 at 8:31 pm
I’ve become addicted to neroli…..can’t wait to smell The atelier cologne grand neroli!!
So enjoyed this article Dave. I think I could live in Positano for a bit! LOL! @linlett60
Ashley BowersApril 27, 2019 at 2:50 pm
Great article! Are there perfumes that you recommend that use all or most of these notes together well? @ABjanda13
Pam MooreApril 16, 2019 at 6:49 pm
Such a fascinating article! Thank you so much Dave!
Michelle ConnApril 7, 2019 at 10:59 am
I love all the memories connected to the scents! This fascinates me and is exactly why we need a wide selection of fragrances! ????
Shannon FlanneryApril 5, 2019 at 3:36 am
This is the best article on perfume I have ever read! I love the way she described the scents and correlated them to music bands. I have added the San Pietro Hotel to my bucket list.
Heather SchellApril 3, 2019 at 4:05 pm
What a fantastic career to have, and to be so accomplished must really be something. I an’t imagine what that must feel like.