Caroline Sabas Interview: “I Work On Anything. I’m Up For Any Challenge!”

I first started chatting to perfumer Caroline Sabas a couple of months ago on Instagram when I inadvertently didn’t credit her contribution to the creation of Britney Spears VIP Private Show EDP. Since then I’ve been wanting to interview the 44-year-old who has created a very diverse selection of fragrances over the years. These range from Etat Libre d’Orange You Or Someone Like You EDP, Elizabeth Arden Sunflowers Summer Air EDT and Narciso Rodriguez Santal Musc EDP to Rihanna Reb’l Fleur EDP and Commodity Vetiver EDP.

Caroline Sabas - Narciso Rodriguez Santal Musc EDP

Caroline Sabas grew up in the heartland of French perfumery, Grasse. Her perfumer father had a big influence on her decision to pursue the career she says she was “born into”.

In this interview, I asked Caroline Sabas questions about her work, her ultimate ambition and her favourite ingredient to work with, among others.

Where were you born?

I was born in Cannes, France, and grew up in Grasse.

Where did you study perfumery?

I studied at ISIPCA in Versailles and my apprenticeship while in school was at Chanel.

Where are you based now?

I moved to NYC a year after I finished ISIPCA, which is 21 years ago. I’ve been working at Givaudan New York for 15 years now. I love New York. It has such a great vibe and so much energy.

Caroline Sabas - Elizabeth Arden Sunflowers Summer Air EDT

SUMMER EFFECT: Elizabeth Arden Sunflowers Summer Air EDT is one of the fragrances created by Caroline Sabas.

When did you know that you wanted to be a perfumer?

As I lived in Grasse and my father was a perfumer, I can say that I was born into it. Growing up surrounded by all those amazing naturals, such as mimosa, jasmine, honeysuckle, rose, moss, just to name a few, made me aware at a very young age that my nose was a great asset. I’ve always been sensitive to smells around me and they always provoked in me a lot of emotions. Then when I was 16, I stepped into the lab of my father’s company. Working with all those gorgeous materials was like a dream. I felt like a chef or a painter. From that moment on I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do.

“Working with all those gorgeous materials was like a dream. I felt like a chef or a painter.”

What do you remember most about studying perfumery?

I loved smelling and having to memorise olfactively both natural and synthetic ingredients. Learning about the classics and how they had been created. It’s such a fascinating world and I couldn’t wait to be part of it.

Caroline Sabas - Britney Spears VIP Private Show EDP

FRAGRANCES FOR EVERYONE: “I do not want to be labelled as a certain type of perfumer. Therefore, I work on everything…. mass, prestige, celebrities, designers, niche, women’s, men’s,” says Caroline Sabas.

What’s your ultimate ambition as a perfumer?

I would like to be able to create fragrances for absolutely everyone. I do not want to be labelled as a certain type of perfumer. Therefore, I work on everything…. mass, prestige, celebrities, designers, niche, women’s, men’s, etc… I’m up for any challenge! And ultimately I am hoping that one of these creations will end up being a best-seller. Mostly because it makes me so happy and moves me when I smell one of my creations on someone else. It is the best feeling. I realise that I touched someone’s heart.

Caroline Sabas - Elizabeth Arden White Tea

One of my favourite fragrances you’ve created is Etat Libre d’Orange You or someone like you edp. How did you create this fragrance?

This was a fantastic project. A great collaboration between Chandler Burr and myself. In 2009, Chandler Burr wrote the book You Or Someone Like You. Later on, Etat Libre d’Orange approached Chandler about making a fragrance having the same title. Chandler asked me if I could be the perfumer behind it. I was more than happy to accept, as I had never approached a project with such a different concept.

Caroline Sabas - Etat Libre d'Orange You Or Someone Like You EDP

Chandler and I started to work together and tried to create what would be the perfect fragrance for the novel’s narrator, Anne Rosenbaum. She lives in LA, is reserved and is an avid reader. She is a gardener as well. Chandler and I kept talking about what kind of notes would be perfect for Anne. But mainly, the fragrance that was created for her is not a perfume. It is a scent. We do not talk about ingredients or notes as we describe it. It is an experience. It is what you want it to be. That’s how Chandler described it to me before I started the creative process.

“We do not talk about ingredients or notes as we describe it. It is an experience. It is what you want it to be.”

You’ve created several celebrity fragrances. Is it different creating a celeb fragrance, as opposed to a designer or a niche scent?

I find the process a little bit different, yes. When I create a fragrance for a celebrity, I have to think about all their followers, their fans. It seems like the crowd to please is very big, so I need to make sure that it has a broad appeal from top to bottom. Whereas for a designer, or a niche brand, I can really think out of the box and pour my creativity into it, without thinking too much about who I am going to please. Here, I am inspired greatly by the designer’s vision that they seek to capture through scent.

Caroline Sabas - Sean John Unforgivable EDT

Do you have a favourite ingredient?

It is hard to come down to one ingredient when we have so many beautiful materials around us. But I will say my favourite is Vetiver.  Five years ago, I travelled to Haiti to experience the vetiver harvest. Haiti is where the very best vetiver in the world is grown.

Caroline Sabas - Vetiver

Givaudan has a very important platform of ethical sourcing, which we call Sourcing for Shared Value. We are dedicated to strengthening the vetiver supply chain, including supporting a co-operative in Les Cayes which helps the farmers and villagers to have a better life. It ensures that the vetiver producers can benefit from a guaranteed minimum price and regular technical support from both Givaudan’s and our partner teams. Our initiative aims to ensure that appropriate practices for vetiver harvesting and distilling are in place.

Caroline Sabas - Vetiver

EARTHY: Caroline Sabas loves vetiver for its many qualities.

This process produces the highest quality oil. I experienced the whole process of distillation, from the fields where the farmers uproot the plant, clean it, and then send it to the distillation factory. At the factory, the air smelled wonderful. I felt like I was wearing a blanket of warm vetiver. It is such a faceted material, woody, sensual, unctuous, golden, elegant, earthy, warm. Very addictive to me. Vetiver had been used so much in men’s fragrances. But with this quality, we can create a gorgeous woman’s fragrance as well, using a classic and beautiful ingredient that supports people and the environment.

“It is such a faceted material, woody, sensual, unctuous, golden, elegant, earthy, warm.”

Do you a travel a lot for your work?

I do travel for work and I enjoy spending time in our office in Paris and our office in São Paulo. This allows me to stay current with marketplace and lifestyle trends and also participate in various projects in places other than New York and spend time with my colleagues in other countries.

Caroline Sabas - Vince Camuto Divina EDP

DIVINE: Caroline Sabas also created Vince Camuto Divina EDP. It was released in 2018.

Which fragrance do you wish you’d created?

There are a lot of fragrances that I wish I had created. Starting with Chanel No 19, which I find exquisite. Also, one that set such a huge trend and influenced the fragrance category is Angel, which is a Givaudan creation. I am inspired by these classic trend-setters that were so different, so sensual, so disruptive for their time.

Caroline Sabas - Chanel No 19

Do you have a mentor?

My mentor is David Apel [her husband and vice-president senior perfumer at Symrise]. I love what he taught me and always value the incredible education on perfumery he shared with me: from ingredient expertise to his creative approach.  He is one of the best perfumers in the industry today.

Caroline Sabas - David Apel


Narciso Rodriguez Rouge EDP: The Perfumer’s Perspective (Sonia Constant)

Narciso Rodriguez Rouge EDP - Sonia Constant

Givaudan’s Sonia Constant has created stand-out fragrances for Narciso Rodriguez since 2015. Her most recent fragrance for the brand, Narciso Rodriguez Rouge EDP, is an uber-seductive take on the original Narciso. It features big notes of Bulgarian rose, iris, musk and tuberose. The theme of seduction is carried through to the base, where vanilla and tonka bean add to the sensual warmth.

Narciso Rodriguez Rouge EDP - Sonia Constant

SMELLS GOOD: Sonia Constant at work. Images of Sonia and Nadege: Supplied.

In this interview, Sonia Constant answers questions on how she and fellow nose Nadège le Garlantezec created Narciso Rodriguez Rouge EDP.

With your previous history with Narciso Rodriguez (Fleur Musc, Santal Musc, Bleu Noir), were you the automatic choice to create Narciso Rodriguez Rouge EDP? Or did you have to pitch for it?

Absolutely not. Even if I sign many Narciso Rodriguezes, we are always in competition to create the next perfume! So I had to pitch for it.

What was the brief for this fragrance? 

The brief was the colour red – a blazing red. We had to reinterpret this colour. Also words like “temptation”, “provocation”, “seduction”, “magnetism” and “passion” were part of the brief. The fragrance had to become a more seductive variant of the original Narciso.

Narciso Rodriguez Rouge EDP - Nadege le Garlantezec

CO-CREATOR: Nadege le Garlantezec created the fragrance with Sonia Constant.

“We wanted to create a vibrant, elegant, carnal and sensual femininity.”

What did you have in mind when you first started creating it? And how did you achieve that?

We wanted to create a vibrant, elegant, carnal and sensual femininity. We were thinking of a Baccarat rose, with some pink peppercorn on top. The ardent sensuality was to be revealed with an accord of sandalwood, cedar wood, tolu balm and myrrh. We also had in mind some tones of red sequoia and, of course, musks and tonka beans.

Musk is a staple of Narciso Rodriguez fragrances. How did you treat it for this EDP? 

Yes, musk is at the heart of every Narciso Rodriguez fragrance, but we had to adapt it with the rest of the formula.

Narciso Rodriguez Rouge EDP - Sonia Constant

Where did you find inspiration for this fragrance? 

Nadège and I were really thinking about creating a fragrance able to initiate passion, something warm, but fluffy. Sensual, but in the Narciso Rodriguez style.

Were there any challenges you had to overcome while creating this fragrance? 

Yes, actually the red colour was not so easy to translate, because Mr Rodriguez doesn’t like fruit or gourmand fragrances. So at the beginning we started with some cherry facet, but had to finally remove it. Also, Narciso Rodriguez fragrances don’t follow trends, so it was always more difficult to be a trendsetter.

“The red colour was not so easy to translate, because Mr Rodriguez doesn’t like fruit or gourmand fragrances.”

How long did it take you to create this fragrance?

We worked almost a year on it.

Narciso Rodriguez Rouge EDP - Sonia Constant

There are lots of Narciso Rouge reviews online. Do you ever read reviews of your creations? 

Unfortunately, I don’t have time to read all the reviews on all my creations, but the few I read seem good, I think.

Are you working on any other Narciso Rodriguez fragrances? 

I really love the brand and embrace it, so yes I am always working on a new Narciso Rodriguez fragrance. I can only say that it is much more than one project!

Narciso Rodriguez Rouge EDP - Sonia Constant

Sonia Constant Interview: How She’s Making Her Mark In The Fragrance Industry

Sonia Constant

As is often the case with perfumers and their creations, I started enjoying the fragrances created by Sonia Constant before I knew she was the creative force behind them.

One of those fragrances would be Narciso Rodriguez Fleur Musc EDP, with its lush take on rose and musk, which she co-created with Calice Becker. Another would be the sensual overload of Tom Ford Noir Extreme. Sonia Constant also created Noir Pour Femme EDP, Ombre Leather 16 EDP and Orchid Soleil EDP for Tom Ford. And let’s not forget Narciso Rodriguez For Him Bleu Noir EDT. With its sophisticated spicy, woody and musk facets, it’s one of the best men’s designer fragrances in recent years, methinks.

Sonia Constant - Narciso Rodriguez Fleur Musc For Her

Sonia Constant studied perfumery at the Institut Supérieur International du Parfum, the school founded by Jean-Jacques Guerlain in Versailles. She did her training at Givaudan and has worked for the company since then.

Sonia Constant


The first fragrance she created, s.Oliver Sport 1 Female, was launched in 2006. Since then she has notched up an impressive list of achievements. Some of her fragrance highlights include: Coach EDT, Fragonard Etoile EDT, Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Tiare Mimosa EDT, Eau de Lacoste L.12.12 Yellow EDT, Lanvin Eclat d’Arpege Pour Homme EDT, Les Liquides Imaginaires Fortis EDP, Montblanc Emblem EDT, Montblanc Lady Emblem L’Eau EDT and Valentino Donna Noir Absolu EDP.

Sonia Constant - Coach EDT

COACH CLASS: Created by Sonia Constant, Coach EDT was launched in 2016.

When the EDP version of Narciso Rodriguez Bleu Noir was recently launched in South Africa, I was fortunate enough to bag an email interview with Sonia Constant. This is what she had to say.

What’s your earliest perfume memory?

The smell of my mother. 

Sonia Constant - Narciso Rodriguez For Him Bleu Noir EDT

When did you know that you wanted to be a perfumer?

When I discovered it was a job! Before that I wanted to become a fashion designer or an architect. I also wanted to become a ballet dancer when I was a child.

“It’s important to learn when to stop, to understand when your fragrance is finished.”

What are the most important things you learned when studying perfumery?

That you learn something every day. You never stop learning in this job, as logic doesn’t apply in perfumery. Also that it takes a lot of work to find the right balance and the perfect aesthetic. It’s also important to learn when to stop, to understand when your fragrance is finished.

Sonia Constant - Montblanc Lady Emblem L'Eau EDT

SPARKLING: Launched in 2017, Montblanc Lady Emblem L’Eau EDT is one of many fragrances created by Sonia Constant.

How important are trends for you when creating a perfume?

I think, as a creator, it is important to create the trend. I am not a follower, but more of a trendsetter. Sometimes, though, it is better and easier to follow trends, as the consumer is by nature reluctant to smell new things.

You created Narciso Rodriguez Bleu Noir EDT. How does the EDP version differ from the EDT?

We wanted to create a stronger, but fresher version – a technical challenge! I added some clary sage and made the fragrance more fluid, more watery, in a long-lasting freshness. The wood is more vibrant and gives more verticality to the fragrance. It’s also more ambery, with some cistus facets. I brought a new quality of citrus on top of the fragrance and played with our new extraordinary Integrale Bergamote ORPUR.

Sonia Constant - Narciso Rodriguez For Him Bleu Noir EDP

NATURAL ELEGANCE: Narciso Rodriguez For Him Bleu Noir EDP has a fresher quality than Narciso Rodriguez For Him Bleu Noir EDT.

I wanted to create a male fragrance that’s irresistible, but not following trends. Nothing fruity, gourmand or fougère. Just a very elegant woody-spicy-citrus fragrance using the best natural components.

How long did it take you to create Narciso Rodriguez Bleu Noir EDP?

One year.

Sonia Constant - Narciso Rodriguez For Him Bleu Noir EDT and EDP

This is the fourth fragrance you have created for Narciso Rodriguez. What is it about the Narciso Rodriguez brand that you like?

I love Mr Rodriguez very much. He’s so talented and it’s an honour for me to work for him. He takes part in the development of the fragrances and has a very clear vison. A Narciso Rodriguez fragrance has a very distinctive signature – musk is very important. Narciso Rodriguez fragrances are very different from other perfumes, because they are completely off trend. I love the dresses he designs because of the way they are cut. Simple and elegant. His dresses are intemporelle, like his fragrances.

Sonia Constant - Narciso Rodriguez


How closely did you work with Narciso Rodriguez on these perfumes? 

Mr Rodriguez smells the fragrance several times during development, but not at all stages of development. I also work very closely with the Shiseido team, who know his taste perfectly. Mr Rodriguez is very consistent in what he likes.

“I have also launched my own brand, Ella K Parfums, with a line of seven fragrances based on my travel memories.”

Sonia Constant - Narciso Rodriguez Santal Musc

What’s next for Sonia Constant?

I have just signed Santal Musc EDP and Narciso Rouge EDP for Narciso Rodriguez, Valentino Donna Rosa Verde EDT and Cerruti 1881 Essentiel EDT. I have also launched my own brand, Ella K Parfums, with a line of seven fragrances based on my travel memories. They are an ode to adventure in all its forms, capturing fleeting moments. Ella K is about looking at the world in a new way.

Narciso Rodriguez Bleu Noir EDP, R1 115 for 50ml and R1 345 for 100ml. Narciso Rodriguez Santal Musc EDP, R2 380 for 100ml.