Delphine Jelk, a nose for Guerlain has once mentioned that the milky, musky scent of her baby’s neck was what happiness smelt like to her and this emotion, as surprising as it is sentimental considering its source, is what she has been bottling as perfumes for the Maison since entering its rarefied ranks in 2014. There is the cheerful, citrus-inspired Aqua Allegoria collection and the bubbly Mon Guerlain series that fizzles on the skin but more often than not, there is always a sun-dappled softness to them. And the said noun comes from her love of Neroli.
An oil derived from orange blossoms and hence its often-assumed Italian summer vibes—crystal blue water, lush palm trees, and imagery from Gwen Stefani’s ‘Cool’ music video—the ingredient is distilled differently into Jelk’s latest fragrance titled Néroli Plein Sud.
Inspired by Courrier Sud (French for Southern Mail), the first novel published by French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in 1929 (you might instead, know him from his 1943 masterpiece titled The Little Prince), Jelk’s particular use of Neroli blossomed from her memories of Morocco and once the perfume takes flight like Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s journey over the mountains, allows your imagination to do so too to hone in on memories within your mind.
Would it bring to mind a lazy day out by the beach lolling around on the sand with a loved one? Or would it do wonders to wake your senses up like a burst of cold, fresh air after a day out in the sun? Well, it depends on the emotion you experience on the first spritz and what personal memories you’re able to draw out of its waters.
Here, Jelk takes us through Néroli Plein Sud’s creation process, the relationship we have with perfumes right now, and how best to purchase a signature scent.
Just a little light-hearted question to start this interview: can you describe Néroli Plein Sud in three words?
I would say fresh, vibrant and spicy.
What was the creation process like for Néroli Plein Sud?
I travel very often to Morocco. It is a place I love, so I have a lot of memories of orange flowers from the food, cooking, and pastries, and also in hammams where they use orange flower water as treatments on the skin. There is a sensuality about it.
I have all these memories in my mind, and when I visited the fields of orange trees in the south of Rabat, in Khemisset, I fell in love with this exceptional quality of organic neroli. When we associated Neroli with Moroccan spices like turmeric and ginger, I felt it was an interesting starting point for the perfume.
I was inspired by the freshness of Neroli in the air, so I imagined a flight above the orange trees fields— the freshness of the smell coming from those fields in the blue sky, and then going down to the south towards the warmth of the Sahara. It is this mix of freshness and warmth that makes the signature of this fragrance.
When it came to formulating Néroli Plein Sud having previously created Nerolia Vetiver, what was it about the ingredient that interested you in making another perfume centred around the blossom?
Neroli is the essential oil of orange flowers and do you know where its name comes from? It comes from an Italian princess called Nérolia who loved the orange flower so much. Neroli has a very soft and enveloping scent. It can remind you of a baby’s smell or childhood memories and I wanted to contrast it with something more spicy and woody.
The name that I chose for this fragrance when I created it was “Mon Ange” which means “My Angel” because your angel can be your baby but it can also be your lover. And it was the idea of the love for your baby and even your lover. It is not the same but it is all about tenderness and softness, childhood memories and at the same time, seduction and sensuality with the spices and the woods.
How do you think Néroli Plein Sud fares in our tropical climate versus in colder and dryer ones?
It works in all climates and that is what I love about neroli. The flower is very fresh, crispy, vibrant and luminous. And as always in l’Art et la Matière, the idea is to create a surprise while allowing you to wear a fragrance that allows you to tell a story about yourself and leave a trail. This trail can lead someone to follow in your footsteps.
What kind of woman do you see wearing it? What is her attitude towards life?
A fragrance can be likened to an emotion. If you like a scent, you should use it for yourself. I think there are no gender boundaries—it is not “blue” for the boys and “pink” for the girls—and especially with neroli which is loved by women for its softness and even by men because it is part of the cologne family.
The spices in Néroli Plein Sud make it masculine, but more women are starting to use what we would call “masculine” scents. But I do not want to classify it under gender norms because it is all about beautifully precious ingredients and the experiencing of your own unique emotions.
What do you think is our relationship with perfumes now? What are we hoping it does for us?
I think that people are more interested in discovering perfumes because they have noticed how important it is to engage their sense of smell. A perfume gives you confidence by helping you feel sexy or gives you a feeling of well-being and sensuality.
I think that there will be a real divide though, in the future. There will be more perfumes that will put you at peace and ease with your emotions but there will also be a rise in a sensual approach to them which is currently a popular one. We are going to focus on creating perfumes that play on their sensuality.
What is your best advice on choosing a signature perfume? Would you even recommend blind buying?
I would say the most important thing when you first discover a fragrance is the emotion you experience based on the conditions you are in. Luxury perfumes deserve an experience that mimics the purchase of a piece of jewellery: you need to sit down and be comfortable before taking your time to select it.
Being in a state of relaxation will enable you to be more connected with yourself, which in turn will enable you to “sense” the emotion behind a perfume. All your senses need to be at rest and if they’re not overstimulated, you are in the best condition to smell and feel.
Guerlain’s Néroli Plein Sud is only available in Guerlain Boutiques and is priced at $580 for 100ml and $850 for 200ml.