Five Minutes With…Barnabé Fillion Being in the Nose


NecesCity talks with acclaimed French photographer, model and olfactory expert Barnabé Fillion about choosing a scent, finding inspiration, and being ‘a nose’.

Major perfume and fashion houses have noses. What exactly is ‘a nose’?
A nose is a trained, passionate expert of the olfactory world that can create scents.


You progressed from fashion model to photographer and stylist. How did you end up specializing in olfactory?
To me, life is about the right encounters and I have been inspired by meeting great mentors that consciously or not have led me to my passion for perfumery. I was working in a very visual world, surrounded by photographers and I finally decided to challenge myself with another creative medium.


Where do you take your inspiration from?
I’m inspired by great masters from any period, brilliant minds and, of course, nature itself. I also look to many artistic processes and inspiration. A lot comes from the mastering of techniques in Japan, and also the alchemy process.


In such a visual world, how important is smell as a sense? What does the sense mean to you?
Even if our visual sense is overstimulated, we never stop smelling. It’s our deeper state to continuously smell; it’s our primitive behaviour for protection. I believe that our first impressions come from smells. For me, it’s very important to elaborate the highest sophistication of that sense, to be more open, more sensitive, and more present to the world. It’s also, for me, the best way to be constantly intrigued, inspired, playing and interacting with all environments.


You've studied botany, phytology and experimented with your own home-made concoctions - where does your fascination for aromas come from and which are your favourite?
For me, it’s the celebration of the beauty of life. It comes from many rituals, from washing with a beautiful scent, to cooking aromas, to wearing textiles that smell great. I love to time travel with the memory of smell; my deepest and oldest memories are linked to a scent.


Tell us about your work with fragrance company Mane and with Christine Nagel, the 'nose' at Hermes.
Christine is a brilliant perfumer, a strong technician who taught me many tricks to be able to exploit and push further my creative ideas. Mane is an extraordinary familial company, with a great sense of value for innovative processes as well as the traditional ones.


What are the biggest mistakes men make when it comes to choosing and wearing a fragrance?
A big mistake men make when choosing a fragrance is listening to other people’s opinion. A scent is so personal, one of the most personal things you can have. Please choose it with time and patience; it’s such a ritual to wear a fragrance.


What are some of the best experiences you’ve had playing the game?
That harmony is essential, but for me the pure beauty is acceptance of who you are, that is the strongest charming attitude. A scent can mean so much to someone, it can be a way to hide, or a way to protect, or a way to create connections. You can express so many things with a perfume; each one has its own way, its own desire.


How do you balance the demands of innovation and heritage in your work?
It’s for me the most interesting duality or contrast that we can work nowadays with perfume. I use the industry’s technological advances, for example, in a new way to extract scents, but I love to combine that with the most traditional techniques. For example, capturing scents with wax. To create the essence of a rose, thousands of petals are infused with a neutral wax that captures its scent.


You've worked with many companies, including British whisky brand Royal Salute, to offer an olfactory experience. How much of the whisky experience is through the nose and what should we be looking for in a tumbler of Royal Salute 21 year old whisky for instance?
In terms of taste, 95 percent of the experience that is happening in your mouth, is related to the art of smelling. For me, a whisky is a liquid to discover with the nose and enjoy for a long time. It’s so rich; it’s the magic alchemy of time and elements that create such a complex beauty. Royal Salute’s youngest blend is 21 years old, so it is only through time that the precious liquid is born. It’s as rich as a perfume for me. Then comes the tasting, a taste that lingers in your mouth, especially with an exceptional blend such as Royal Salute 21, the only blend to use the beautiful Speyside profiles from the Strathisla Distillery, with beautiful traces of peat.


The fragrance industry is centuries old; are there really new smells we are yet to experience?
Of course, nature is so complex, the idea is to constantly get inspiration from it. However, it’s always a subjective interpretation that can create numerous scents. A leather smell, for example, can be many different things. Also a perfumer could create a totally new smell, but it could remind you of something else. You need great challenges to create surprises. For example, I’m working now on an art installation where we’re trying to re-create the odour of the moon, based on research and our interpretation from the reports of 12 astronauts. I guess that will be a new smell. I hope so.


It is said that memory and smell are closely connected. Why do we associate smell with memories and what aromas trigger memories for you?
There has been amazing work carried out with autistic children that have difficultly to communicate and through working on their sense of smell, they finally develop communication skills. There have also been studies with Alzheimer’s sufferers where scents help people to reconnect to past objects. It’s a very hard question, but for me the smell that has always haunted me and connects me to a very special part of my mind, is the smell of tobacco or the smell of the incense of an Orthodox Church. Both in a very different manner can link to some of the greatest memories of my life.


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