중앙데일리

The scent of Korea, in a compact bottle

‘Intangible scents allow people to recall the old days, and that’s the benefit of having a sense of smell and fragrances in general.’

Nov 23,2009
Francois Demachy, who creates perfumes for Christian Dior, explores the Camellia Hill region of Jeju Island, trying to capture the “scent of Korea.” By Claudine Doury for Christian Dior
Perhaps one day you’ll be able to immerse yourself in the scent of Jeju Island whenever you’d like, courtesy of Francois Demachy, a perfume creator for Christian Dior.

Demachy visited Korea recently for the first time to get some inspiration for new products. During his three-day stay on Jeju, the “Dior nose” spent much of his time walking along the southern coast of the island, trying to capture the essence of Korean nature.

Whenever Demachy encountered a unique plant, he stopped and inhaled deeply through his nose. He was especially attracted to several plants on Camellia Hill, which is located in the Andeok area of Seogwipo City.

Along the way he came across teolmeowi, a perennial plant that grows in countries like Korea, China, Japan and Taiwan. As it was his first time seeing the plant, Demachy spent several minutes taking pictures of it and drawing it in his notepad.

When asked why he felt the need to draw it even though he already had images of it on his camera, Demachy said it’s important to capture other aspects of the plant that photos alone can’t provide.

“When people try to recall a scent, they don’t actually only recall the scent itself,” he said. “Rather, we all have an image of the scent inside our heads. The picture I took and the image that I drew look similar, but the ‘feeling’ is surely different.”

Demachy drew his nose close to every teolmeowi he encountered during his time on Camellia Hill.

“I haven’t seen all of Korea yet so I can’t really define what the ‘Korean scent’ is,” he said. “But teolmeowi has a soft scent like honey. Instantly, I thought about making honey-scented perfumes. This is how I derive inspiration based on scent.”

As a perfume creator, Demachy said that the actual smell of a country or area is only one part of the equation.

“People told me that Koreans are kind of like ‘Asian Latinos’ when I told them about my planned trip to South Korea,” he said. “They meant that Koreans are extremely passionate. I found that Koreans are indeed very bright and have a hearty laugh. I heard that Koreans react to things in a distinctive manner and show passionate behaviors, and it’s true.”

These impressions, he said, contribute to the Korean scent.

Though born in Cannes on the French Riviera, Demachy spent his entire childhood and adolescence in the flower-carpeted fields of Grasse, which is located in the southeastern part of France. There, where the air is heavy with scents of jasmine, mimosa and rose, Demachy began training for what would one day become a fulfilling career in perfume. Demachy has been working as a perfume creator since 1971, spending some time at Chanel before joining Dior. Last year, he created the wildly popular Miss Dior Cherie Blooming Bouquet. More than 20,000 bottles of the perfume sold in the first three months after its release.

Demachy says jasmine is one of the strongest scents in his mind.

“I used to hang out in nightclubs till dawn,” he said. “On my way back home in the early mornings, I’d encounter fully bloomed jasmine flowers. The scent from those flowers was so refreshing that I can still recall it. Intangible scents allow people to recall the old days, and that’s the benefit of having a sense of smell and fragrances in general.”

During his visit to Jeju, Demachy spent the entire morning of one day smelling various plants including camellia and a type of tangerine that is indigenous to Jeju Island. He then visited a nearby Japanese restaurant for lunch. He picked this type of cuisine to avoid eating garlic, which Demachy said interferes with his sense of smell.

“Similar to Korea, almost all meals in my hometown have garlic in them,” he said. “Of course, I enjoy eating such meals but while I’m working I never consume them. The strong scent from the garlic stays with me for at least two to three days.”

For a perfume creator, that’s a big drawback. Most people probably can’t detect the scent of garlic two or three days after they’ve eaten it. But then again, most people don’t have Demachy’s sense of smell. “I still practice smelling at least 10 different scents every day. The way to develop a sense of smell is through endless training,” he said.

Aside from that, however, Demachy believes any perfume creator worth his or her salt must have a hefty dose of curiosity and plenty of modesty. Demachy certainly was full of curiosity while wandering around Camellia Hill, endlessly snapping photos and letting his nose lead the way. His curiosity continued at lunch, where he smelled every single vegetable on the table and chewed each bite thoroughly to capture the full taste.

“Our sense of smell isn’t always perfect,” he said, explaining the modesty element of a good perfume creator. “It becomes dull over time. That’s why you need to be modest. You can’t think that your nose is perfect, because it isn’t.”

To Demachy, perfume is “an unstable balance and something that’s in harmony at the same time.” He says that perfume formulas are extremely strict, scientific and analytical. On the other hand, perfume has “romantic and hedonistic” characteristics that arouse the imagination, Demachy said. The trick, he believes, is to find the balance between those elements.


By Kang Seung-min [estyle@joongang.co.kr]



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