What I love, more than the journey itself, is the point of arrival, the moment when I drop anchor to catch an idea. Weighing anchor represents hope; dropping it, intention; in-between is the welcome interval during which I can meet other people, especially on long trips—short flights are less conducive to socializing—and chat with an opera singer or a mathematician or an astronomer, as a perfumer. A few years ago, I set sail for China to create a Garden. A Chinese painter friend of mine was waiting for me in Beijing to act as my guide. Whether the perfume should actually smell of Chinese
gardens was beside the point. I wasn’t looking for a specific truth; it was more about making free use of a device (perfume is an explosion of devices) and expressing something I loved, something really personal: a composition based on a sentiment I had of China, an emotional, image-rich description of its gardens and of the country.
Every garden represents a nation, or at least reflects its way of thinking. In China, gardens have water features, with artificial pools, artificial streams and artificial mountains made of real rock, because mountains and water play a major role in cosmology. The paths are winding (evil spirits always move in a straight line, only sinuous forms can stop them), conducive to meditation and strolling. Their multiple points of view play an essential role; pavilions along the way have open windows—round, square or fan-shaped—that direct the walker’s gaze precisely toward a grove, or the shape of a rock, or the reflection in a pool. The scents, which were what I had come for, were few and far between, because there were not many flowers among the plants, except for the peony beds. In the cities, there were pots of mint outside on window ledges; and as for jasmine, there was so much of it in their daily lives that the Chinese had managed to come up with (artificial) jasmine-scented pastilles. The water, the stream, the rock, the mint and the jasmine will all be in the Garden, but the perfume will be primarily based on a narrative thread, a story I was inventing while I was there, a kind of old Chinese tale. I put my idea down on paper; then I had to weigh anchor, and hope.