NOTES : TRISTAN ROSTAIN
As part of our ongoing series Notes where we speak to inspirational creators, we sat down with master perfumer Tristan Rostain to decode his approach towards perfumery.
Could you tell us a little about your journey towards perfumery?
My father is a perfumer himself. Although he never pushed me towards perfumery, I had the chance to work in the company he is working for during summers when I was younger. I literally fell in love with raw materials…Frankincense, Sandalwood, Tonka beans… As I wanted to study foreign languages, I decided to go to the University in Nice, to learn English and Italian. My goal was to be fluent enough to enter the Grasse Institute of Perfumery where perfumery lessons are given in English.
What’s your strongest olfactive memory?
I’ve always been attracted to raw materials over perfumes. Each of them is already a perfume. My strongest olfactive memory is the day I discovered the Gurjum Balsam. It is a woody note but to me it also has an olibanum facet. When I smelled it the first time, it took me miles away from the place I was and brought me back to the church of my small Italian town. I could smell the benches of the church and the mystical censer. That was amazing. I think only perfumes and music have such a power they can make you travel in time and space.
Perfumery is a scientific art – could you talk to us about instinct versus science when you sit down to create a fragrance?
I know nothing about science. I’ve always been really bad in sciences at school. My only approach, when it comes to create a fragrance, is sensitive. Not scientific. I refuse to think like “I can’t put more than 5 grs of Helional in this perfume because the usual dosage of Helional is between 2 and 5 grs”. I don’t want this kind of limits. I always do a lot of research on internet about the subject I am working on. To understand the universe I am about to describe in a fragrance. Colours, places, people… There are a lot of inspiration sources. The only scientific concern in my creation will be to make sure there is no stability issue made by the raw materials I am using. I am not saying this is the good and only way to work. It’s not. But this is how I work. There are so many good “scientific” perfumers, I won’t say science is bad.
When it comes to ingredients, it is often noted that Naturals have a more positive public connotation as compared to Synthetics. Could you break down the importance of these ingredients in perfumery?
According to me, natural raw materials are the most important ingredients in a really good perfume. So I’d rather emphasize on synthetics’ importance than breaking down the importance of the naturals.
It is trendy to think and say natural raw materials are better than synthetics. The truth is they need each other. The naturals bring the richness of the perfume. They make it noble. But synthetics work as a catalyst to channel this richness towards a stable and round perfume. Without synthetics, a perfume would be a bit messy and unstable.
Could you advise us on how to choose a fragrance correctly?
When we go to a perfume shop and buy a perfume, we rarely stay there for hours to wait for the perfume to evolve on our skin. We usually smell it and decide if we like it or not. This is a mistake. Doing it is to choose a perfume only because of its top notes. And they last for a few minutes only. The identity of the perfume comes later, with the middle notes. It is the heart of the fragrance, and the smell you will have on your skin during the day. So my advice is to ask for samples, always. And try perfumes out of the shop, on a regular day, to discover its real identity. Not to judge after the first smell (unless it is really disgusting). That is how we usually do with people. We don’t marry someone after only one look, just because it looks nice. We need to know him/her better before we marry him/her.
What are the smells you associate with comfort ? Travel ? Love?
I would say musky and woody/ambery notes for comfort. They are clean, steady and warm. Typical cocooning smells to me.
When I travel I like to use fresh/citrusy fragrances. Because traveling is a bit exhausting. Citrus notes give me more energy and keep me awake. And they are positive smells which perfectly fit travels because traveling is always a good moment as I love it.
As far as love is concerned I would mention flowers. It is not original but it’s the only truth to me. Rose, Jasmine… They are all captivating and mesmerizing. If I had to mention only one, I would say Tuberose for its strength and richness.