Founder of Henry Jacques Interview

Before visiting Henry Jacques Perfumes at their Beverley Hills boutique, my conception of Rodeo Drive was limited to what I had seen in movies like Pretty Woman and Clueless. When I alighted the fabled steps on a cloudless and balmy day in April, I saw that I was not alone in that idea. I had to push my way through swarms of tourists and influencers—and yes, one was dressed like Cher Horowitz—before finally finding the jewel box of a shop that was my destination. As soon as I walked through the doors, I was transported from the influencer frenzy into the atmospheric embodiment of quiet luxury.

The shop—Henry Jacques’ only American boutique—is serene and stunning, with a classic Parisian herringbone parquet floor and glossy oak paneling. Designed by Christophe Tollemer—who recently renovated the suites at Versailles—the space is classic and streamlined, flawlessly achieving its goal of spotlighting the perfumes themselves. Set on backlit recessed white shelves, each crystal flacon glows like a precious gemstone. This effect is heightened by the fact that each perfume is colored by its all-natural ingredients, their rich hues deepened by the lack of any added water or alcohol. Each is comprised of pure oil or, more accurately, “pure essence.”

If you haven’t yet heard of Henry Jacques, you’re not alone: the brand only took private clients for its first forty years and exclusively made personal, one-of-a-kind fragrances during that time. It was only when founder Henry Cremona retired in 2010 and his daughter, Anne-Lise Cremona, took over the brand that the idea of boutiques came about. While their bespoke or sur mesure fragrances remain a large part of their business—with prices starting at $133,000—perfume lovers can now pick up less personalized but still exceptional and rarefied fragrances from their “Les Classiques” collection for $755 to $1,920.

Courtesy of Henry Jacques

Courtesy of Henry Jacques

I consider myself a seasoned fragrance hound who appreciates the value of a quality scent, but even I have to admit that I found those prices a bit eye-watering at first. I was interested to see if the product was worth it, and the investigative journalist in me was poised for a cynical piece about exorbitant name-brand mark-ups. After experiencing the fragrances firsthand, I am shocked yet thrilled to report that this is one luxury brand that is absolutely worth the investment.

For context, the most common fragrance type, eau de parfum, contains 15-20 percent perfume oil. Henry Jacques, with no added alcohol or water, contains 100 percent. At this high concentration, one only needs a drop or two to achieve the effect of multiple spritzes of most scents on the market. Not only does this mean that it takes much longer to use up the bottle, but the high-quality ingredients result in the perfume itself taking much longer to expire (for reference, the staff was unable to tell me when the perfumes expire—so far, they’ve only seen them last indefinitely). Thus, while a $900 perfume may initially seem steep, it’ll last exponentially longer than the usual $200-500 high-end perfumes. And that’s before we get to the scents themselves.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from scents this pure, but found them to be nothing short of an an olfactory adventure. With anywhere from 80 to 200 components per scent, the evolution from top note to heart note to base note was a consistently thrilling journey. I found myself constantly revisiting each scent strip to see how they had developed. No matter how great each scent had begun, they invariably got better with time, a concept that constantly cropped up in my discussions with the shop staff. Apparently, Henry Cremona’s ethos was, “We don’t count time.” In other words, Henry Jacques has always been committed to taking the time necessary to create masterpieces. From the time to let the best ingredients ripen to the time it takes to get a formula just right, this commitment of patience was further justified by each new fragrance I sampled, all of them bold, decadent, and dripping with Old World luxury.

I had specifically come to experience their new special-edition rose collection, the Collection de l’Atelier. Inspired by the vineyards surrounding the brand’s laboratory and atelier in Grasse, Henry Jacques decided to try planting their own roses. Combining a unique micro-climate and soil conditions with the utmost care taken to conserve the flowers—such as plowing the soil with horses and harvesting by hand—produced a rose the staff likened to “an artist discovering a new color.” They found that Henry Jacques’ rose de mai varietal had an exceptionally elegant, soft fragrance unlike any rose their experienced perfumers had ever encountered; the staff even described how it brought a tear to Anne-Lise Cremona’s eye when she first smelled it. Henry Jacques thus decided to release a collection of three rose scents using this bespoke varietal, the Collection de l’Atelier. Only 500 of these scents have been produced; like a good wine, once they’re gone, they’re gone forever.

Courtesy of Henry Jacques

The resulting collection contains the most refined, unadulterated rose scents I’ve had the pleasure to experience. Each one has a foundation of a rose that perfectly encapsulates the flower’s unique ability to be both delicate yet bold. The Rose Très Rose scent is the most classic, a symphony of pure floral notes that come together for a flawless, satisfying rose accord. Rose Azur is a zesty, woody scent, somehow undeniably rosy and undeniably masculine at once. My favorite, Rose Soleil, transported me to a sunny cliff above a Mediterranean beach, the warm notes of clove, patchouli, and sandalwood marrying perfectly with rose to create a scent both fresh and classic, nostalgic and intriguing, like an aristocratic grande dame wearing a touch of Le Labo. Each scent is specific only to this year, as they are engineered for the qualities of this year’s harvest; next year’s will likewise be formulated based on that year’s rose crop. Each scent is numbered and etched with the year of that harvest, making these the ultimate collectibles for fragrance aficionados.

If you miss out on this year’s Collection de l’Atelier, never fear; their permanent collection of “Les Classiques” has more than enough stunning offerings. I first tried their Musk Oil White, their timeless “white blouse” fragrance that goes with everything. With bright top notes of ylang-ylang and freesia giving way to a snowy base of musk and Bourbon vanilla, it was indeed the perfect portrait of clean-girl femininity. I also tried Lorenzo, with top notes of citrus and Mirabelle plum settling into vegetal violet leaf and heady magnolia, and Blue Vanille, which I can say without hesitation is the best vanilla scent I’ve experienced. Pure vanilla with no trace of saccharinity, it’s warm from cardamom and wood yet light from geranium and white musk. Rose Snow de HJ is another lovely fresh rose scent, both herbaceous and cool with notes of lemon verbena and iris. My favorites, though, were gorgeous Ulysses, a peppery aquatic with neroli, cedar, and oakmoss; Rain Lady, a woody floral both refreshing and heady, like rain-drenched flower petals; and Cuba, a stunning amber fougere spiced with vetiver and patchouli and smoothed with honey and tobacco.

As for my very favorite? Sorry, but I’m going to gatekeep that. For $1,000 a bottle, I think it’s deserved. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. I was so awed by the Henry Jacques experience that I jumped at the chance to interview CEO Anne-Lise Cremona and hear her take on the future of haute fragrance as she ushers this powerhouse of a brand into the new millennium. Read on for Cremona’s thoughts on how, in a world full of olfactory fast-fashion, the way to create exceptional fragrances is to take your time. When time is simultaneously our most limited resource and the key to extraordinary results, singularly excellent products may end up being a bit exclusive. And with something as personal and individual as fragrance, don’t we all deserve a little taste of exclusivity?

Courtesy of Henry Jacques

Coveteur: What sets Henry Jacques apart in the fragrance world?Anne-Lise Cremona: “It is true that Henry Jacques is considered a free spirit in this vast perfume industry. I am always deeply touched when this difference is perceived and recognized because it is a true statement of what I know to be the best. When I took over the house in 2011, I knew exactly which direction I wanted to take HJ to preserve our uniqueness, our rarity. I also knew perfectly well what I did not want to do. There are many points of difference between HJ and the world of perfume. The first could be the link between the tradition of Haute Parfumerie and innovation. In my opinion, this is what makes a “great brand”, this ability to preserve the beauty of our creations while always looking towards the future. It’s a way to soar even higher. The goal has also always been to never compromise on the quality of our products and creativity. It’s not the easiest choice, but it’s by far the most rewarding. For this, I have made many radical decisions, often having to say “no,” such as limiting our retail presence to our own boutiques only, and refusing extensive international expansion.”How is Henry Jacques making its mark in the American perfume market?ALC: “The American market is undoubtedly as important as it is exciting. For HJ, it has always been essential and close to our hearts. In the US, there are so many great perfume lovers and connoisseurs. Henry Jacques was particularly present in the 1990s/2000s, when we created many bespoke perfumes there, and today, it’s not uncommon to encounter the children and grandchildren of our clients and friends. We have been working on our retail presence in America for several years and opened our first boutique in 2020 in Beverly Hills, and to my great joy, other projects are set to follow.”What is your experience with the role of women in the perfume industry? Have you seen that change over time?ALC: “Fortunately, many women are working in the perfume industry, and I am myself surrounded by many incredible women at HJ. However, there are not so many women at the helm of major houses, and when it comes to significant responsibilities, they are still very often offered to men. Nevertheless, I find that things are gradually evolving. I must admit, not without humor, that as a woman, one often has to speak twice as loud. In other words, the journey is less straightforward, even more so when one is innovating and breaking out of the “established” framework. I have often felt that it required a lot of courage…”Can you tell us a bit about how you came to take over the family business?ALC: “When I took over the business, it wasn’t in a very comfortable, prosperous situation, unlike what one might imagine. Quite the opposite. I started my career within the family, but very quickly, I wanted to spread my own wings; my freedom has always been very important to me. So, I pursued opportunities in Paris and then in Geneva within major perfume groups, which was very instructive. In 2011, the company was on the verge of closing, and that’s when I returned urgently, initially only to help, unable to bear the thought of seeing my parents go through this situation. That year, I outlined my vision for the brand; I knew exactly where I wanted to go. Today, I can say that my convictions haven’t changed.”

Courtesy of Henry Jacques

Rose is perhaps the most classic scent – how is this collection different? What inspired it?

ALC: “The Rose is undoubtedly a staple in perfumery, it’s a bit like the queen of perfumes, and yet, I want to tell you that few people have truly experienced a real rose. The story of this collection sums up the history of HJ. Five years ago, we planted a rose field on our estate in La Motte. In this process, every detail counts, from the careful preparation of the soil to the spring water used for irrigation to the use of horses to avoid compacting the earth. The result exceeded our expectations. Nature is generous and allowed us to encounter a very special Rose, our HJ Rose. It is unique and wonderful. So, I decided to dedicate a collection to her, limited to 500 copies because it’s the land that dictates what we do, not the market. We must only take what it gives us and work with it.

This collection around our Rose embodies the art of great perfumery, all of Henry Jacques’ savoir-faire. It is composed of three perfumes because one alone was not enough to satisfy us. This collection is completely free-spirited; the creativity had no limits.”

How do you think the perfume landscape is changing? What trends are you noticing?

ALC: “Yes, we have seen some changes over the past few years. When we opened our first boutique in the Salon de Parfum of Harrods in 2014, we created amazement and surprise. By introducing only our Essences, highlighting extracts, the delicate gesture of applying perfume with a crystal rod, and so much more. The standard merchandise presentation was replaced by cabinets of curiosities, strong lights were replaced by a warm, home-like atmosphere. It seemed unthinkable less than 10 years ago. Today, more niche perfume creators have found their place in the market, which is a wonderful thing, but unfortunately, only a few of them manage to remain independent.”

What’s your favorite non-HJ scent or house? What’s your favorite Henry Jacques scent?

ALC: “I have always loved the great French perfumes that represented French elegance, certainly because my mother wore them wonderfully well. I undoubtedly hold a strong memory of them – childhood memories that never leave you and remain references throughout your life. It’s the taste of the best. Chanel N°5 or Nahema by Guerlain, for example. I find it challenging to find this type of beautiful perfumery today, and I’m not the only one.

In my opinion, Haute Parfumerie cannot exist without ingredients that have become extremely rare and absolutely cannot meet the needs of a massive industry. Therefore, I only wear HJ perfumes now. I wear Mrs Y from the Toupies collection, Rose très Rose and Rose Soleil from the new Collection de l’Atelier, Jeannice, Osara, and Temporaline from Les Classiques. I love the idea of having a perfume wardrobe; different scents for different times of the day and moments in life – to me, this is the new modernity.”

What ingredient or note do you want to see more of in the perfume world?

ALC: “I love beautiful raw materials, and they are becoming increasingly rare. Clearly, fine perfumery cannot exist without the use of the finest materials, just as the pigments of a painting are essential to a great work of art or high-quality ingredients are essential for a great chef. For this reason, great chefs do have to limit their tables.”