"Developing knowledge and appreciation for beautiful perfume is my passion and it is a privilege to share what I know. Perfume is wearable art"
Provence is associated with beautiful light, landscapes, culture…an intoxicating way of life. It is also the home of a rich tradition of perfume. The region is replete with iris fields, jasmine, lavender, roses, wisteria, citrus blossoms…the list is endless. Cultivation of the flowers and raw materials here make perfume what it is.
Rebecca Johnson, English by origin, has lived in Provence for over 20 years and has made perfume her personal passion. In an interview, she explains how she came to love perfume and gives an overview of a customized perfume tour she offers here in Aix-en-Provence.
What made you interested in perfume?
Throughout childhood, I was attuned to how things smell. The classic smells of roses and lily of the valley, cut grass, dirt in the garden, bonfires, but also hot tar, the smell of a match that's just been struck, leather car seats, my ballet shoes, grandad's pipe tobacco, the many different smells when it rains.... and so on.
My mother was an early inspiration as she wears perfume so well. She always has a beautiful "sillage" or scent trail; one of my sisters was besotted with our mother's fragrance and she would rub her neck and sniff her constantly! So this perfume obsession is in the family. Perfume can reignite strong feelings. Really emotional, not at all intellectual.
A great perfume master articulated the gift of smell in talking about the noses of perfume houses. He said they are all born on farms or in places rich with natural scents, both ambrosial and sour. One can be native in certain smells, but only if those neural pathways are created in the earliest years - in the same way a child can become native in a language, whereas adults who learn a language will always have an accent.
This was so fascinating to me that I started to explore perfumes and a whole new world opened.
How did you pursue your passion?
I studied at the wonderful Osmotheque in Versailles with Sophie Irles testing precious and extremely rare perfumes with her, along with raw materials like real ambergris and Tonkin musk.
What inspires you most in the pursuit?
I've always been a people person; I love to hear people's scent history and how that intertwines with their personalities and lifestyle. What I appreciate about perfume is its artistry, its romance, the vivid emotional responses it induces. There is so much choice and new perfumes are released constantly; one always has more to test and to learn.
How do you share this passion?
I provide bespoke perfume consultations, individually, in small groups, for couples, for perfume houses and for luxury events.
The private perfume tour I offer in Aix-en-Provence lasts two hours. Firstly, over coffee, a brief "history" from each person is taken to help with later testing. A person is on a life-long journey to revisit the scents they experienced in their youth. We don’t know it but our noses are guiding us ‘home’ in a sense.
We then visit an exclusive boutique to explore a "house" and see the coherence and evolution of the Hermes line. Lots of testing! Then we move on to Trupheme to test other houses. We explore niche and the best brands.
The goal is to share knowledge, teach a little perfume history and guide each person towards their "holy grail" or to extend their perfume wardrobe. Perfume is a uniquely portable and personal art form and there are masterpieces available amongst some less than good scents. Like wine tasting, appreciating good perfume takes a little time to learn, and therefore I encourage everyone not to purchase during the tour but to take time trying and gathering samples. Everyone leaves the tour with carefully curated, top-quality samples and hopefully a desire to smell divine.
If you are planning a trip to Provence and would like to book a private perfume tour with Rebecca, you can email her directly: firstname.lastname@example.org