In Conversation with Fabrice Pellegrin, the Grasse-native Perfumer Behind Penhaligon’s Racquets
The life of Perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin is intrinsically connected to the art of making fragrances and the spirit of his hometown, Grasse. His father was a perfumer, his grandfather a supplier of naturals to make scents and his grandmother a jasmine picker.
“The people of Grasse are secretive, they keep their knowledge preciously hidden, but when they do divulge it, they hand it over entirely,” Pellegrin said of his hometown on the French Riviera, widely known for its long-established perfume industry.
Recently, Pellegrin, who worked between Paris and Grasse for the past 15 years, worked on a modern interpretation of Racquets, an old favourite from the Penhaligon’s classics library. The fragrance, inspired by an elegant tennis club house and British sports, has an uplifting sparkling-citrus shine that takes those who wear it and smell it to a playful state of mind.
In an exclusive interview with the Penhaligon’s, Fabrice Pellegrin talks about the fragrance, working with the British heritage brand and his career as a perfumer.
What was the inspiration behind Racquets? How did it evolve from an idea, into the fully formed fragrance?
It all started with brief from Penhaligon’s, namely to be inspired by British sports and a dandy spirit. There was an idea to marry a tennis tournament, the concept of the tennis rackets themselves, and horse racing. I started by creating a leathery perfume, thinking at first about the equestrian world, and then was more inspired by the Wimbledon tournament. As I imagined the leather of the tennis rackets, I reworked my creation over time.
Fragrance is very personal, but how do you hope that Racquets will make the wearer feel?
The starting point of any creation is pleasure. I’d like first and foremost for consumers to feel pleasure when wearing this fragrance. There is a blend of citrus that provides a lot of energy and a certain dynamism, as well as a leathery and woody facet, representing a typical English dandy: elegant, refined and full of quality.
Racquets has notes of Lemon Essence, Gaiac Wood, Ambrox and Woodleather – what do each of these ingredients bring to the fragrance?
The lemon essence brings freshness, brightness and freshness, with a certain glow and pleasure. The Gaiac wood delivers a richness and authenticity, with a smoky elegance.The ambrox adds magnetism and addiction, sensuality and sillage. The woodleather provides textured woody, leathery facets, with a unique contrast and strength.
Can you give us some insight into the process of creating Racquets? What sort of research, discovery, dreaming went into creating the fragrance?
Thinking about the world of British sports, I immediately had the idea of working on a very contrasting fragrance using fresh and energising top notes, featuring two intense and complementary qualities of lemon. The “all-white dress code” of the Wimbledon tennis tournament also inspired me to look for luminosity, brightness and freshness, and develop a very pure, chic aesthetic for this creation. The base of the fragrance delivers all the elegance and refinement that is inseparable from British sports, providing an indelible olfactive signature.
Perfumery runs in your family, when did you decide you wanted to be a perfumer?
My craft is a true family story, set in Grasse. My father was a perfumer, my grandmother harvested flowers, including roses and jasmine, and my grandfather was a supplier of natural ingredients for perfumery. Naturals are my life, as I grew up surrounded by their precious scents. This is the reason I am so passionate about natural ingredients. I trained very early with master perfumers to learn everything about composition. I have always wanted to do this job: it has always been evident. Perfumery is my life.
Does Racquets remind you of any different memories or experiences in your life?
I don’t associate this fragrance with a specific time in my life, but the quality of its citrus reminds me of my Mediterranean roots. It is both the smell of my youth and the unique elegance of the perfumers, harvesters and, more generally, the people of Grasse who surrounded me as a child.
A gendered label when it comes to perfumery is not as important anymore, does Racquets hit the unisex box?
I think you can say that Racquets is a genderless fragrance. When I imagined and created it, I gave it an infinite elegance and richness thanks to the most beautiful natural ingredients, without privileging feminine or masculine inflections.
What would be the ideal scents to layer with Racquets, for extra depth?
Overall, I find Penhaligon’s fragrances so unique that they are best used alone. However, with its duality of luminous freshness and sophisticated intensity, I could recommend layering Racquets with Halfeti; it will highlight the more radiant notes, while reinforcing its sensual amber, woody trail.
What does the brand Penhaligon’s mean to you?
To me, Penhaligon’s means great authenticity. It also represents a very British identity: British chic with a taste for the finest quality.
Why is fragrance a good vehicle for storytelling?
Fragrances are full of emotion, recalling memories and feelings. With a unique palette of ingredients, we can tell an infinite variety of stories. I believe in natural ingredients. In overdose, they deliver all their poetry to the perfume.
Could you give any advice or tips on how you should apply a fragrance?
There are no rules when it comes to perfumes. I like to say that fragrance should be used without moderation; apply it everywhere you want to smell good.
The interview with Fabrice Pellegrin was originally conducted by Penhaligon’s, which authorised Prestige Hong Kong to use it