Jean Claude Ellena, by appearance only, created quite a buzz with his presence at Laboratorio Olfattivo’s stand at Esxence 20023. Yes, there were many perfumers present, more than ever before. And yes, they should be treated as stars of the show. It was fascinating to observe fans flocking around JCE, his contagious smile, and to finally grab a chance to interview him.

Some years ago, when Jean Claude Ellena was the star guest of Pitti Fragranze 2019 at an exhibition of his creations curated by Chandler Burr (ah, the careless pre-Covid times…), I wrote The Man Who Stole The Show post. Esxence 2023 was just so huge, and no single perfumer could steal the show, not even the rock star of perfumery who was surrounded by fans wherever he went during his stay on Esxence 2023.

What I noticed, while not so discreetly moving into his personal space and discreetly sniffing is that he wore no perfume. Nothing. Absolutely nothing, this myth proves to be the truth. But when he speaks about perfume, there’s a sparkle in his eyes, his hands move faster in the air, and his smile becomes contagious.

Albeit Monsieur Jean-Claude Ellena seemed very patient with so many people demanding his time, a selfie with him, an out-of-a-sleeve piece of perfume wisdom – he successfully avoided any deeper conversation unless it was previously arranged with Laboratorio Olfattivo.
Less is more, just like with his creations, and yes – after so many years spent in the corporate world, I guess some of that spirit still lingers: when I asked to interview him at the stand right there and then, his immediate answer was “I’m not the master of my time here, please ask the boss. He decides.” (meaning Roberto Drago, the art director of Laboratorio Olfattivo and co-founder of KAON with Daniela Caon).

Jean Claude Ellena and Elena Cvjetkovic
Ellena and Elena / Esxence 2023

Since this was already arranged, while waiting for my time slot I had the chance to explore the new fragrances presented.

The one created by Jean Claude Ellena is Pompelmo, for the Viaggio in Italia Collection of Laboratorio Olfattivo  (with previously released fragrances he also signs: Arancia Rossa, Bergamotto, Limone, and Mandarino).
The newest big bright citrus in this line, spiced by pink pepper and softly blended with patchouli and vetiver (100 ml Parfum Cologne) features Grapefruit, and since it is well known that JCE favors bitter vs. sweet, light vs. heavy – is done in JCE  style.

To quote his words:

Unlike sweet scents which I find to be obvious and uninspiring, bitter represents in my opinion one of the brightest scents. To make Pompelmo a unique and different fragrance, I have worked on both the lively and sour freshness of Grapefruit while stressing its bitter scent.

Pompelmo by Jean Claude Ellena Laboratorio Olfattivo
Notes: Italian Grapefruit, Pink Pepper, Lentisk, Patchouli, Vetiver (photo by Laboratorio Olfattivo)

I also tried something else new and interesting: Masters Jean Claude Ellena and Lucien Ferrero have known each other for decades, 40 years to be precise.
Now they’ve joined forces and created two new fragrances together! C’est Mutine (I love the name, meaning: It is a mutiny) and C’est Rebele (rebel, rebel!)!
Special attention was paid to the raw materials used, as you can see in the description provided by the brand.

Luciano Ferrero brand is now refreshed and renamed Anthologie by Lucien Ferrero. There was a change in packaging of the entire collection, so all the bottles shall look like this:

Lucien Ferrero new perfume
C’est Mutine: green Italian Tangerine EO, Orange Blossom, Petitgrain Paraguay EO, Jasmin, Rose, Lilyflor, Raspberry, Beewax, Ambrettolide. C’est Rebelle: Bitter Orange EO, Sri Lanka Cinnamon EO, Blue Ginger EO, Ambrocenide, Haiti Vetiver EO, Indonesian Patchouli EO, Ambrettolide, Ambre Extreme. EdP, 30 and 100 ml

I also managed to meet Master Lucien Ferrero later on, during the Osmotheque event, and took some photos, but this one is so much better:

Lucien Ferrero and Jean Claude Ellena
Master Lucien Ferrero and Master Jean Claude Ellena creating together, photo by KAON

My conversation with Jean Claude Ellena started with a little anecdote I shared with him. This is the story: in August 2016, when I stayed in Grasse with my family for two weeks, we rented an old 18th-century house in a certain small village near Grasse.

When we arrived (and half an hour after we parked near the post office, the whole village knew some strangers are staying there), our landlady met us, showed us around, and we talked about perfume a bit since she was interested to find out why we decided to make a 1000 km trip and spend our vacation there.

I told her I’m a perfume writer, talked about my carefully planned trip and all the perfume-related places I was going to visit, and she suddenly said: “You know, I don’t know much about perfumes and the perfume industry but we have a perfumer living here, in the village. He’s a local, born here, in Grasse. You can see him around sometimes when his travels don’t take him to big cities. I don’t know if you ever heard of him.”

I let her talk, trying to guess who that might be. “Naah, you probably never heard of him. He worked for some big companies in big cities so he must be important, that much I know. He grew up here, and his family lives around here as well, just a nice gent living in the village.”

I finally asked: “That’s nice, what’s his name? I might have heard about him.” And my lovely landlady smiled shyly and said: “Jean-Claude Ellena”. You can imagine the expression on my face. “Sooo. You do know his work, huh?” she asked, slightly surprised.

“I wasn’t aware he’s so famous”, she laughed after I tried to find words to gently explain just how important in the world of perfumery their local villager is.

Maitre JCE’s reaction to this story (we laughed so much):

JC Ellena

This is our conversation about less is more, seducing vs. shouting, and living your life as a perfumer:

Elena: Ever since you left Hermes, you seem busier than ever. How do you feel about this stage in your creative career? Creativity unleashed and unlimited?

Jean Claude Ellena: The thing is that I’m very selfish (Editor’s Note: …and he pulls this off with a huge, charming smile.) I have a lot of pleasure in creating perfume. I’ll keep doing what I enjoy so much, and what gives me pleasure.

Being a perfumer is like being a cook, you know? If you enjoy cooking, if it pleases you to cook for your friends, you give it all.

I do the same thing. I like to share my creations, as I share with Roberto Drago. This is a good way to go through your life, I think.

Jean Claude Ellena in interview with Elena Cvjetkovic

Elena: Is your creative freedom now making you enjoy what you do more than ever?

Jean Claude Ellena: No, no. I’ve always enjoyed creative work. And when there were difficulties I enjoyed it even more, accepting difficulties as challenges. 

Elena: In your career, you have changed/reduces your ingredients. pallete. Why so? Do you ever feel the need to expand, to experiment all over again? Or is this now your creative comfort zone?

Jean Claude Ellena: I was considering a change, you know. To go back in a way, to work with more ingredients, to return to let’s say a more classical way of making perfume. And I concluded that I’m not able to do it anymore! I just don’t know how to do it anymore. (laughs wholeheartedly). It seems, the further I go in time,  the simpler it becomes. And I’m more simple now than I’ve ever been. I reduce, reduce, and reduce…

I’ll give you some figures: when I started creating perfume, I was working with 1.200 ingredients. After two years, I reduced my palette to four hundred. And after that, I reduced it to two hundred ingredients. Today I work with one hundred and ten! No more than that. Isn’t that terrible (shrugs and laughs!).

Elena: That’s quite a process, to reduce and simplify, and yet to be able to express yourself. New ingredients are being created on a regular basis now, using new technologies, and new molecules are being invented and marketed. Aren’t you tempted?

Jean Claude Ellena 2023 Interview The Plum Girl

Jean Claude Ellena: My reduced palette doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ve shut the doors for any new product. I’m always open to exploring new things. But, any new product needs to prove something to me. To show me something completely new. I worry that, when you see a chemical like, for example, Ambermax or such, that you shall smell it in ALL perfume surrounding us right now, very strong, I ask myself what is the purpose of it. That is not even perfume for me!

It’s just a product. It’s not perfume.

A perfume is not just a product! It has to be more than that. Perfume needs to seduce. It has to tell a story to someone, or to make them hear and tell their story better. These “PRODUCTS”, they don’t seduce.

They hit you over the head, shouting loudly: I’M HERE.

I’m here, I’m here, I’m here – that’s all I hear. And I ask myself, so what? You’re here, and? Who are you? What are you trying to say? Ah!

Jean Claude Ellena Interview The Plum Girl

Elena: You’re not a fan of generally present sweet gourmands either, in a way. You’ve said that more than once. As I remember, during your talk with Chandler Burr during Pitti Fragranze, you openly said, I’ll quote you, that “To smell bitter is to smell intelligent.” (Editor’s Note: Pompelmo is a good example). Would you consider creating a sweet gourmand, just for the fun of it?

Jean Claude Ellena: (Laughs out loud) I did say that, ha. I’d do it my way, and if I do it my way, it has to be pleasant and “right”. I could work with fruits or anything!

If I did a vanilla-centered fragrance, the vanilla would be light and present but not heavy. I’d serve fresh fruit, not jam. That’s me.

Elena: When you look/smell around yourself here and now, with all the new and emerging niche perfume brands, where do you think is the so-called “niche” perfumery segment going? Is “niche” as we knew it dead?

Jean Claude Ellena: Let there be as many new brands as there can be. I’m not against that. But. I’ve smelled some new creations here (at Esxence 2023), aaaand – bam! (hits himself on the forehead). Not all, but that’s what I keep smelling.
One more thing is, a difference between Italy and France, in my opinion. In France, you have big distributors. These people are in control of the market. In Italy, there’s more diversity, which I prefer, of course.

Another thing, when you work in the perfume Industry, as a perfumer, the main problem you deal with in your work is the creation of perfume as the final product.

When you work for a fashion brand, like when I worked for Hermes – it’s not about the final product anymore! Not at all. The way you do things is to listen to how you should do things, and do them the best you can. If it’s perfectly done, it will become a product. Can you see the difference?

In the first approach, the final product is the most important drive. In the second approach, you are listening to the market.

And you know what? The moment the product (Editor’s Note: new perfume) hits the market, you’re listening to an already old voice, it’s already a finished story, and it had its say. The process is more interesting, at least for me. I’m enjoying the process at all times.

IMG 6603 Elena: Monsieur Ellena, thank you for your time, laughter, interview, joie de vivre, and insights.

Jean Claude Ellena: Merci!

A big thank you goes to Roberto Drago for making this interview possible, and Angela Cardarelli for being so helpful and smoothly running the KAON show at Esxence 2023.  Grazie!

The Plum Girl
Elena Cvjetkovic
Photos: Elena Cvjetkovic, Laboratorio Olfattivo

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  1. Fascinating read, Elena. Great shots. I’m a huge fan of so many of his perfumes and his style. Though, that’s so interesting that he doesn’t wear perfume.

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