Dior Perfumer Francois Demachy Takes Spotlight in 'Nose' Doc

Francois Demachy in the doc Nose.
Courtesy of Parfums Christian Dior

Francois Demachy in the doc Nose.

Demachy and his work — his creations include J'Adore, L'Or and Miss Dior — are the subject of the latest documentary by Arthur de Kersauson and Clément Beauvais.

"We are animals first," says François Demachy, Dior's perfumer-creator, of the most frequently undervalued human sense — smell. "Our sense of smell was here for very crucial reasons at first: to find a mate, to search for food, to protect ourselves. Yet given evolution we don't really need it anymore for basic survival … For most people we smell without actively and consciously smelling, which is kind of like seeing but not watching!"

Demachy and his work — his creations include J'Adore, L'Or and Miss Dior — are the subject of the latest documentary by Arthur de Kersauson and Clément Beauvais (who directed 2014 doc The Greasy Hands Preachers, about custom motorcycle culture). Nose follows Demachy to farms around the world that grow the raw materials for perfumes, and explains how a fragrance is developed. The film, created by Mercenary Productions in association with Parfums Christian Dior, premiered Feb. 22 on streaming VOD platforms.

“You know that you can smell through a mask? We would not think so, but you actually can, even if it’s not as precise,” continues Demachy, who spent most of his 2020 in Grasse, a French town known for creating high-quality scents and perfumes. “Let’s not forget you can wear perfume for yourself, as confirmed by the fact that numerous people in lockdown still wore perfume every day. Perfume is also a statement that you wear to say something of yourself; and trust me people can smell it through a mask. Perfume can be a way to communicate from afar during these times, to keep us closer in these strange times, because believe me I can smell Sauvage on someone even when we are three meters apart!”

In a 2019 survey, most adults ranked smell as the least important of the five senses. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, this began to change. As thousands of people lost their sense of smell (one of the most common symptoms of the coronavirus), it reaffirmed its importance. Furthermore, in a world where many people are sequestered indoors, not seeing, touching or tasting the world, scent becomes one of the only ways to experience one's surroundings and each other.

"This project helped us grab the importance [smell] has," says de Kersauson. Beauvais adds that "so many documentaries exist about music, arts, cooking … and not perfume! It was time. It's a whole world of people who work in this industry with passion, and it deserves to be seen."

The pair had previously worked with the House of Dior, including several short films about Demachy’s quest for raw materials. Filming for Nose took place over two years, with the documentarians following Demachy around the globe, including visiting the patchouli fields of Indonesia. Says de Kersauson, "You have to follow the blossom seasons everywhere for all the raw material we wanted to feature. If you miss the May rose-blooming season, you have to wait for a year to go shoot during the next one."

When asked about what they learned while shooting, Beauvais points to the many, many people involved in making a single scent, and the lengths to which they go to produce top-quality product. “We had to travel for three days to go to the patchouli fields in Indonesia, and almost didn’t make it there, only to stay for a few hours to shoot and then go back. François said it was worth it for him in the film! That taught us that a raw material in its natural habitat is something you have to deserve; it’s not just given to you! That’s the beauty of nature.”

Demachy echoes this sentiment, saying “the relationship with every producer and the importance they play in the whole perfume is the most important part for me in the Nose project. From the people who prepare the land and plant the flowers, the ones who harvest them, the ones who transform them into absolutes, the one who reflects about them and mixes them (me), all the way to the people who market and promote the perfume, to finally the customer who wears it. It is my belief that a perfume doesn’t really exist in the world before it is worn by somebody, and that aspect is as important as the rest in the creation — it gives it a life.”

A master of scents, Demachy rarely varies in what he likes. “I wear an 'eau de cologne' that I created specifically for myself,” he says, “because I don’t want it to hold too long on the skin or it bothers me to work, so it’s citrusy but with zero musk. In terms of scent, I have my favorites of course, like patchouli. For me it’s very special because it links everything, it has an extraordinary function that blends everything together, and also you can use it in women's and men’s perfume, which I love.”

A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.