You may not recognize his name or face, but he's probably been in your bedroom. Legendary perfumer Jacques Polge, the "nose" of Chanel, has created some of the most seductive and alluring fragrances on the market. Learn about how he got started, and his relationship with the Chanel brand.
A Nose Is Born
Jacques Polge was born in 1943, near Avignon in the Provence region of the South of France. He summered with his family in Grasse - known as the French capital of perfume - where he developed an interest in the traditional art of perfumery.
Had he lived in Paris or the north of France, Polge is quoted as saying, he is unlikely to have become a nose. "Being in Grasse, I became aware that there was such a profession as a perfumer." It wasn't merely the smells or the creative element which attracted the young Polge. Perfume making had a romantic appeal, too. "I liked the idea, the poetic idea that fragrance is a kind of language. It doesn't use words. It doesn't use images. It's invisible. All these attributes, for me, made sense," he says.
Polge took a degree in English and literature before beginning an apprenticeship in perfume in Grasse. During this time, he taught himself to memorize and recognize thousands of fragrance constituents. After graduation, the young perfumer went to work for Roure (now Givaudan). He also collaborated with Michel Hy to produce Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche Perfume for Women, in 197.0
Polge Joins Chanel
In 1978, Polge accepted the position of house perfumer at Chanel, one of the world's most prestigious, successful and luxurious fashion brands, becoming only the third-ever nose in Chanel's 85-year history as perfume makers. He assumed the mantle from Henri Robert, creator of No. 19, the last Chanel perfume in Coco Chanel's lifetime and Polge's personal favourite.
When Polge joined Chanel, the fashion house was one of only a few remaining to have its own in-house nose. (Today, it's the only house which can boast that every single one of its fragrances was made in its own laboratory by its own nose.) Polge was the first nose operating entirely by himself, with no input from Coco Chanel, who had died in 1971. However, he was keenly aware of her ongoing presence, and the great responsibility of ensuring that her fragrances continued to be made exactly as she had wanted them.
Polge's first women's perfume for the house of Chanel was an aromatic homage to the great lady herself. Coco. Launched in 1984, the sensual fragrance was inspired directly by Chanel and her extravagantly decorated Parisian home, located above the shop on the rue Cambon. It was a runaway best-seller upon release, and continues to enjoy a strong following.
The Legend Lives On
Today, Polge is not only in charge of creating new fragrances for Chanel - his latest are Chanel No. 19 Poudre and Jersey (autumn 2011) - but he is the guarantor of quality for all Chanel perfumes. Over the course of more than 25 years as Chanel's nose, he has created a library of beloved, best-selling, timeless fragrances - Coco, Coco Mademoiselle, Allure, Bois Noir, and Chance Eau Fraiche for women, and Egoiste and Bleu for men, to name just a few. Mademoiselle surely would be proud.