Award-winning perfumer Calice Becker has been the nose behind some of the biggest perfume blockbusters of the past two decades, including a multitude of By Killian fragrances, Marc Jacobs’s Lola (composed with Yann Vasnier, 2009), Christian Dior’s J’Adore (1999), and Tommy Hilfiger’s Tommy Girl (1996), which respected perfume critic Luca Turin has argued is one of the greatest fragrances ever made because of its influential tea-floral accord.
Although she’s considered one of the best noses around, Becker is charmingly down-to-earth, and has said that she believes perfumers are more like designers and artisans than artists. We might have to disagree with her on that point, after sniffing her perfumes and talking to her about her latest scent collaboration with designer Oscar de la Renta.
The Essential Luxuries collection she composed for Oscar de la Renta features six fragrances influenced by the people, places, and things that have special importance to the designer, including Santo Domingo, where de la Renta was born, and Mi Corazon, created for his daughter and inspired by memories of the dew he collected from ylang-ylang petals when he was a teenager. As Becker and de la Renta traveled together, she listened to his stories and memories, touching the stones of a small chapel in his hometown where a favorite flower grew on a vine, smelling the seaweed in the Sargasso Sea, and hearing the cool sounds of the courtyard fountains in southern Spain’s Andalusia, where he started his career with fashion legend Balenciaga.
In describing each fragrance and how she arrived at its composition, Becker opened a window onto a perfumer’s creative process, which in this case involved immersing herself in specific locations, translating both the tangible (flowers) and intangible (moods) into the language of perfume notes, and telling stories with perfume.
Granada, Sargasso, Oriental Lace, Santo Domingo, Mi Corazon, and Coralina are each like perfume biographies, with Becker as the ghostwriter, coauthor or biographer. “Perfume is a story,” she says. “And to be a composer is to dive into someone’s world.” Here, she talks about her creative process — and what it’s like to work with a fashion legend.
Photo: Courtesy of Calice Becker