If you're familiar with the world of fine fragrance and you have a chance to meet Alberto Morillas, it's like talking to Karl Lagerfeld about his next Chanel collection. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Alberto Morillas, born in Seville in the south of Spain, grew up surrounded not only by women using perfumes but also men. Experiences such as his father putting cologne on his hair, and the rich smell of the flowers growing in the garden, proved to be formative for his future career.
When he was 18 years old and living in Switzerland, he read a magazine article about Guerlain, and he realized that he had found his dream job: creating perfumes. After having studied for two years at the School of Beaux Arts in Geneva, he joined Firmenich in 1970. He was named Perfumer in 1977 and Master Perfumer in 1988.
Since 1970 he has created more than 300 perfumes. You may be wearing one of them right now: he is the man behind names such as CK One, The Must de Cartier, Carolina Herrera 212, Bulgari Blv, Marc Jacobs Daisy, Flower by Kenzo, Miracle de Lancôme, Pleasures by Estée Lauder, Acqua di Gio by Giorgio Armani and many others. But where does the inspiration come from?
"The company provides a brief," said Alberto. "It’s like working with an advertising agency. The brief explains what they are looking for. It may contain a colour, a sample of the bottle, the packaging, pictures… It's a long process: generally the perfume is ready for the market two years from after the first contact. Each client is unique, and you have to ‘feel’ the client in order to turn their brief into a perfume that will express their own identity. Creating a perfume is very abstract as it is simply an emotion translated into a scent. My handwriting is my emotion. When I write a formula, I can smell the perfume. And each perfume will smell different, according to the person who uses it and the time of the day he or she uses it."
Of course, working with brands such as Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Armani or Bvlgari is different every time. Morillas has learnt to listen very carefully. Each word that the client says provokes an emotion, and he immediately, instinctively, associates this with a scent. A skill that he has developed through years of hard work and his lifetime experience, locating the right nuance amongst thousands. For a perfume he may have used between 50 and 100 scents from a range of about 2,500, all memorized in his head. But where does the inspiration come from? What gives him all his ideas?
"I'm passionate about my work, and so inspiration arrives at any time, perhaps while looking at nature, art, food, or while travelling abroad… It’s not just beauty that is inspiring, but also ugly things."
Alberto Morillas has been creating perfumes for 40 years, attaining remarkable levels of achievement. In 1988, Alberto was nominated a Master Perfumer, and in 2003, he was honoured with the coveted 'Prix François Coty' in recognition of his extraordinary career. On 12 June 2013, at the Lincoln Center in New York, he received the first 'Perfumer of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award' from the Fragrance Foundation. Of course, over such a long career, he has seen many changes in perfume trends.
"Today we are seeing a move towards scents that can be worn by both women and men. There are geographical differences: people in Asia prefer fresh, light fragrances, with a touch of flowers. In America, people prefer fruitier perfumes. But these differences are gradually being levelled as perfumes are becoming more global."
Alberto Morillas' career takes him around the world, but he loves to come back to Geneva, the city that he calls home. "It's wonderful to be able to sit at La Clémence in Bourg-de-Four, or to go to one of my favourite restaurants, L'Auberge d’Onex, for lunch or Le Cheval Blanc in Vandoeuvres for dinner."
And his greatest luxury? "Being able to work for a company where I am totally free. Free to create, free to decide with whom I want to work… and the chance of working with the most famous designers in the world."