Patricia de Nicolaï was practically destined to become a world-renowned fragrance designer. The great-great-great-granddaughter of Pierre François Pascal Guerlain, the founder of famed perfume house Guerlain, she told England’s Daily Mail, “I grew up surrounded by people who were fascinated by smell. My parents had a beautiful eighteenth-century manor house in Burgundy with a lovely garden where the rooms were scented with Pot Pourri de Guerlain. . . . I think my love of fragrance was unconscious—I grew up with it.”
After studying chemistry, Nicolaï attended the Institut Supérieur International du Parfum, de la Cosmétique et de l’Aromatique alimentaire (ISIPCA), the training ground for some of the top professionals in the perfume and cosmetics industries, and then worked for Florasynth and Quest International. In 1989, she forged her own path, co-founding Parfums de Nicolaï with her husband, Jean-Louis Michau. Since then, she’s been lauded for her diverse collection of contemporary fragrances, including women’s and men’s perfumes and colognes (Number One is the perennial best-seller for women, while New York is tops for men) and scents for the home, which are known for their strength and ability to eliminate stubborn odors like cigarette smoke.
Though Nicolaï is heavily influenced by the romantic Guerlain scents she grew up with, she finds inspiration in her travels and leans toward white flowers and musky notes. She likens her job to that of a composer, choosing from among some 500 raw-material “notes” that she carefully assembles into “chords.” Her approach has garnered the International Prize for the most creative perfumer by the Société Française des Parfumeurs in 1988, and in 2008, she was awarded the French Legion of Honor. She’s now also the president of Osmothèque, the Conservatoire International des Parfums (International Perfume Conservatory) in Paris.
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