Cecile Zarokian

Cecile Zarokian Creates Perfume to Evoke Ani


By Isabelle Kapoian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

PARIS — Cecile Zarokian is what is called a “nose,” a perfume artist who can evoke different moods with perfume by mixing various elements to compose a new scent. Her latest scent is Nishane Ani, inspired by the city of Ani.

Paris-based  Zarokian graduated from the noted fragrance institute ISIPCA and spent four years at fragrance house Robertet, in Grasse and Paris. She was still a trainee when she created her first fragrance, Amouage Epic Woman.

In 2011, Cécile set up her own laboratory and now creates as an independent perfumer for Jovoy Paris, Xerjoff, Jacques Fath, Laboratorio Olfattivo and Masque Fragranze. 

If you could please take a moment and talk a little bit about your background, where you grew up, and what inspired you to become a perfumer?

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

I was born in Marseilles, in South of France, the same as my whole family, but I moved to Paris at the age of 6. I first studied medicine because my father was a doctor and I wanted to become a pediatrician, actually. So I was always sensible to smells in general, not from the perfumes, but I didn’t consider it as a future position until I met someone who ran the famous perfume

Can you please give a little description about your job as a nose and company owner?

So, the thing is, in my job there is no routine, actually, I mean, really each day is very different from the day before. I create perfumes as a perfumer does in a fragrance house. But I have to add to that a lot of different projects and missions, like being an in-house perfumer for brands which manufacture their own perfume. Also some consultancy projects or conferences worldwide.

I used to travel a lot. I’m still traveling. In November I was in Brazil, and in January I was in Oman, despite the whole pandemic situation. But, I was used to traveling a lot and what I really love is to be able to have a close relationship with my clients and to help in the development of the project from the brief to the launch. And you know, I can adjust the needs and ambitions of the brand accordingly…

Can you could give a little insight into what the perfume market is and how the Middle Eastern perfume market might be slightly different than in the United States.

Topics: Ani, Perfumes

In the Middle East they want it to be very long lasting, to be very diffusive and powerful is very important. I mean, it’s important everywhere, but especially there, it’s very heavy and powerful. And compared to the US market, I would say, again it’s changing, but usually, the whole mainstream thing is more focused on the freshness, cleanness, citrus floral notes, sweets, and I would say in the Middle East it’s a bit more Oriental, ambry, dense, deep.

Moving into Nishane Ani and your role in creating the scent, what was the hope for this project? And was there intentionality behind working with you as the French-Armenian perfumer, or was that a serendipitous coincidence?

We had been discussing a potential collaboration for a few years with Mert (Guzel) and Murat (Katran), the owners of Nishane, when they finally asked me to work on Ani, a project that seemed meant to be about the ties in relationship between Turkish and Armenian people.

Cecile Zarokian

How did you feel when you knew that you would be able to create this scent and be one of the directives in making this scent a reality?

We were discussing for the past few years about working together, so I was super happy that it finally happened. I was quite excited about it.

Did the ancient city of Ani serve as an inspiration for the scent, or did that part of the project – considering Ani as a place and as a history – come after?

Actually, it came after. So the initial brief was actually entirely based on the song, Sari Gelin, in Turkish, and, Sari Aghjik, in Armenian. And so the owners sent various versions for me to listen [to], the Turkish way, the Armenian way and the Anatolian, and explained to me the meaning of its lyrics as well as the meaning of this song as a symbol. So it’s a true indicator of cultural interactions and shared emotions by the people who lived on the same land. So two different cultures, the Turkish people, the Armenian people, but at the end, sharing some common culture through the song, through the lens. So that was what it was all about. And that’s why it was part of the “No Boundaries Collection.”  And so Ani and the City of One Thousand and One Churches came afterwards, but it was completely coherent with everything that I just said and that I was just explaining, and [it was] another symbol like that. 

Can you briefly describe the scent for our readers?

So the song is about two lovers who cannot be together because of their families, so that’s why Ani is a dual perfume. It’s sweet, ambry, vanilla, warm and spicy, with a crisp green fossette, to represent both sides of this bittersweet love, you know, and also I used warm woods and the comfortable musks, versus the cold spices that you can have on top like the ginger or the pink pepper, cardamom, to give this a dual effect. And, yes, then the church came, but the perfume was almost ready.

So after working together on this project with Mert and Murat, and once the creation was done and was validated, we were very happy with the results of the perfume, which seemed to be again, the perfect match to the brief. But to be true, it was for me, a rather edgy perfume and I expected it to be [a] not so easy to wear perfume; I’m proud of it, but maybe it’s going to be edgy and not for everyone, you know, just a few people will enjoy it. So I was very surprised and very happy to see such enthusiasm about it and that it was really popular, but I was really surprised, actually.

Was your relationship to this project impacted by your Armenian ancestry? And did you feel like a sense of responsibility?

[The collaboration relationship] was kind of casual, but I mean, I don’t feel a responsibility – I mean, I’m no one to take this kind of a huge responsibility; I can just talk for myself, you know, and talk about our relationship with the founders… What I can say, is I was happy to be a part of it…

Of course it’s very important for us Armenian people, but also, I think and I think my family, my generation, maybe think that at some point we have to move forward, you know… you cannot blame the children of the people that [committed genocide]… they are not responsible for their elders, not everyone, and you cannot put every people in the same basket, you know.

Because Mert and Murat are very thorough, they are very nice, and they explained to me the project, I’m not going to just say, “Okay, you’re Turkish so I’m not gonna talk to you,” you know?

And what I can say is, I felt the pressure working on this project to be sure that it would be correctly understood. Like for me, it was very important to explain the meaning of this project and to explain to the Armenian community that it was not something outrageous, or it was not like being a traitor or you know? It [the Armenian Genocide] is very huge in our history, and we have very good reasons for that, you know, but again, we are not our grandparents, parents, and I think at some point we need to try to make peace, you know, to live with it…

I felt like because it’s also in my name, it’s my culture and my heritage, that I wanted you to make sure that people would understand what I did, and it was not just business oriented, you know, and also that it was something that mattered. And, and hopefully they will share the same vision that I had and, and understand why I did that, and what was the meaning of that. 

Do you consider this effort an isolated relationship between yourself and Nishane or a micro-instance of international diplomacy?

I think our relationship with the founders is not the only one and could be, I’m not going to speak internationally or of diplomacy, but I think it’s just one example that could have many other examples. I mean, I’d like to believe that.

I was hoping you could share your thoughts on the ability of perfume to be a conduit for collective memory or a way to preserve cultural heritage or reference history?

Tough question. Well, I think again, it’s one example and one I feel comfortable with, because it’s my job. And maybe, let’s say it’s something that is light, you know, not serious or too deep, after all it is perfumes, and I think it’s a way to introduce maybe these notions, and to again have an example of a collaboration through that. And… I hope it talks to people. And again, it’s an easy way to express or talk about a very serious or deeper subject.

Is this the first perfume you created which references your Armenian heritage and if not, are there any others?

So, yes, it’s the first perfume I created in reference with my Armenian roots, but actually one more might come in the future, as well as an artistic project for which I would traveled to Armenia, whenever it’s possible to travel again. I mean, it was supposed to happen last year, and it’s a very interesting artistic project, I cannot say much for now, but it will be very focused on Armenia, and that’s why I’m going there: to feel the country, to see the flowers, to see what could be interesting to evoke as the scents and smells, and to get the big picture, also. And it involves some, not the government, but some local professionals there, involved in arts. It’s going to be, hopefully in the next few months it’s going to be possible again, I mean, it was supposed to be in May last year, so maybe it will be May this year, again.

Are there any scents that you grew up with which hold special memories to you or remind you of your Armenian heritage?

Yeah, so lately, as we’ve been [spending] much more time at home because of the lockdown and curfew, I had the opportunity to, more than usually, and this is the divine smell of a freshly cooked Boreg coming right out of the oven, for me, that represents this heritage.

And also the stuffed grape leaves, because for me, I have a very precise picture of my grandmother making them, and the spices for me, it’s a trigger. She picked her herbs, cooking and the very specific spices – I mean, everyone has his own recipe – but for me, it was mostly about the Jamaican pepper that we’re using a lot, I mean, she was using it a lot for the grape leaves, and I really, really love them, but takes ages to do.

There was a time when the women were not working. So, I love that, but it takes really hours to do so. I mean, I did them for the baptism of my two sons, actually, and yeah, so, well, one pot, like hundreds of them, just to roll them, it was four hours… so just to roll, for four hours, alone. Wow. And also it was more cheerful because there were the women together, cooking, so it’s not the same when I’m cooking. For example, for Christmas, with my Armenian family, that’s different – we can talk while we are cooking and everything, and that’s a joy, and it’s good to share these kinds of moments, but when you just have to cook by yourself, it takes a lot of time.

But the boreg, yes, I think that’s an easy one to do that I really love, and really meaningful and powerful for me too.

To see Zarokian in action, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0XYcAhz4uE






Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: