They say the test of time is one of the measures of great creativity. They also say that vision is instinctual. The memorable artists have it from the moment they take their first steps in their chosen form. Perfumery has more than a few for whom these statements are true for. One of them is Calice Becker.
Ever since perfumers have become more known Mme Becker has been the quiet rockstar perfumer. She continues to advocate for the future since she was named the head of the Givaudan Perfumery School in 2017. Her twenty-plus years as a perfume has seen her create pillar perfumes for some of the largest mainstream brands while finding a willing partner in creative director Kilian Hennessy to allow her to explore the niche perfume side of things. That partnership has produced some of the greatest niche perfumes, ever, since they started working together in 2007. She is a consummate professional who has produced some of the best that perfume has to offer. For this month’s Perfumer 201 I’m going to focus on the pillars of her career, as I see them.
The first commercial brief for Mme Becker was Tommy Hilfiger Tommy Girl. Tommy Hilfiger wanted a perfume to capture his All-American fashion aesthetic. It always makes me smile that he turned to a perfumer of French and Russian heritage. The perfume shows what will become one of Mme Becker’s signatures; exquisitely balanced accords. The top accord here is of a vast green lawn of freshly cut grass. Spearmint is used to provide an expansive quality to the heart of the grassy accord. A fresh floral accord of honeysuckle gives way to a clean cedar and sandalwood foundation. When you smell this today it needs to be said this was one of the first perfumes of its kind when released in 1996. By a perfumer who was unafraid to follow her instincts to produce something different for the brief she was given.
If anyone was inclined to think that was a fluke, she would follow up three short years later with another blockbuster of a fragrance; Dior J’Adore. This time the green in the top is a sinuous ivy. It leads into a brilliant floral accord in the heart of champaca, jasmine, and rose. To this she adds an “orchid accord”. So often in one of Mme Becker’s compositions there is a linchpin which snaps things together. In J’Adore the orchid is that. It provides the stitching together of the floral leads while also providing subtle dewiness which makes it memorable. She then grounds it with a set of fruits, Damson plum to add a juicy tartness with an accord of blackberry and an animalic musk. This is what every fruity floral since J’Adore has failed to achieve.
Mme Becker would burnish her reputation for trendsetting mainstream perfume with 2003’s Estee Lauder Beyond Paradise and 2009’s Marc Jacobs Lola on which she worked with Yann Vasnier. Like many of the mainstream perfumers of the time as we crossed into the 2000’s they wanted to jump aboard the niche perfumery trend. Mme Becker found the right place for her to make that leap.
By Kilian Back to Black would be the sixth perfume Mme Becker would make for creative director Kilian Hennessy’s luxury niche brand. To this point M. Hennessy had only worked with two perfumers for his brand. Mme Becker has mentioned in multiple interviews how difficult it is to get a realistic version of a natural effect using just the essential oil. The building of accords is what can provide the nuance which captures what is missing. Nowhere is this more evident than in the tobacco accord she assembles in Back to Black; without a drop of tobacco essential oil. It is one of my favorite party tricks to spray some Back to Black on a strip and ask people to smell it hours later. It is only then that the components have begun to unravel enough to understand that the lush slightly mentholated tobacco you smelled earlier was an olfactory illusion. I have always considered this to be the best perfume in the entire By Kilian line.
Mme Becker’s work for By Kilian has shown her creativity is boundless. In 2014’s By Kilian Intoxicated she produced a coffee gourmand that was compelling. Her inspiration was spice laced Turkish coffee. To her rich coffee accord which captures the oily bitterness along with the roasted nature of coffee she mixes in a sticky green cardamom. Nutmeg and cinnamon arrive soon after but Intoxicated is the dark coffee accord and green cardamom. You won’t find it at your local coffee shop, but it is one of my favorite coffee perfumes.
Technology moves forward and Mme Becker moves with it. Givaudan came up with a new technology called Freeze Frame. This is where they take a source, like lime, freeze it in liquid nitrogen, then as it thaws do a headspace isolation. What this produce is an HD version of lime to place at the center of Ralph Lauren Collection Lime. Because the new technology has supplied her with what she usually created through accords she only uses two additional ingredients; bergamot and lavandin with the Freeze Frame lime. It is a simply marvelous near-photorealistic lime as perfume.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of all the fragrances mentioned I purchased.