Pierre Dinand: A Living Perfume Legend

2024 . 06 . 27 | written by Karen Marin

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The People of Niche Perfumery


Down a narrow passage not far from the Place Saint Michel I find the unassuming studio of Pierre Dinand. What lies behind the door is an absolute treasure, and I feel like Ali Baba entering the cave of the Forty Thieves. I see perfume bottles from floor to ceiling, some on shelves like a library, some on tables, some under study for the next project. I recognize many of them, whether I launched the fragrance as a buyer at Sephora (Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue), or sold it while working at I.Magnin (Opium), or whether I remembered seeing it on my grandmother’s vanity (Madame Rochas).

This is Pierre’s realm, where he works and creates, along with his grandson, Jules. I am graciously welcomed inside, honored, yet again, to be in the presence of an industry icon. Pierre is a humble man, elegant and unpretentious. There’s an impish twinkle in his eyes as he tells me stories about the people and the flacons that have marked his career.

“It was Elsa Schiaparelli who really gave me my start. At our first meeting she talked to me for two hours straight and all I did was take notes and nod my head.”

Pierre recalls working on a project for her with symbols that represented hieroglyphics. She then introduced him to Madame Rochas who needed someone for one of her projects. Through these two women Pierre became connected to all the top designers of the time: Balenciaga, Pierre Cardin, Yves Saint Laurent, Paco Rabanne, Loris Azzaro.

“Suddenly, I found myself working for all the great couturiers who had become my clients.”
Elsa Schiaparelli
Yves Saint Laurent
Madame Rochas

After the French designers, then he worked with the Italians: Valentino, Fendi, Armani and Dolce & Gabbana. And then the Americans came: Tiffany, Calvin Klein, Estee Lauder. He has also worked with artistic brands including Map of the Heart and Vilhelm Parfumerie.

To have built such an impressive client list, Pierre said he would begin by getting to know and understand the personality behind the project. He spent time with his clients, he would see what kind of objets and art they had in their home and in their offices, and he would look for something that reflected a facet of their personality. This was the link to put forward the name and the brand in an authentic way, a way to persuade the client to feel that the design was actually a part of them.

“A little spark would come in the midst of a conversation. I would make them feel the flacon I designed was theirs, as if it was their child.”

To illustrate this point, Pierre mentioned Paco Rabanne Phantom, launched in 2021. “Well, Paco loved robots, you see….

Phantom Paco Rabanne
Map of the Heart
Vilhelm Stockholm 1978
Madame Rochas
Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue

There is of course the famous story of the Opium flacon. “Initially I proposed the design to Kenzo but he thought the Inro was too Japanese. Around the same time I was working on a project for Yves Saint Laurent. He wanted to do a fragrance about the orientalist painters such as Courbet, Delacroix and Ingres. From the reference to orientalist, the talk shifted to the Orient. I showed the Inro to Yves who immediately identified it as the box that would hold the opium balls for samurai warriors….hence the fragrance’s name.” Pierre worked with YSL from the beginning of his career. He remarked that “Yves was a charming man with an exceptional talent.”

Karl Lagerfeld was one of Pierre’s most demanding clients. When he worked on the flacon design for Fendi, not only did he have to secure Karl’s approval but he also had to convince the five Fendi sisters. It took two years for everyone invovled to come to an agreement.

During Pierre’s first meeting with Giorgio Armani, the conversation turned to architecture. “During our conversation it came up that we had both studied architecture. He asked me who was my favorite architect. Antonio Palladio I said, and it was also his favorite! Initially, we were supposed to meet for thirty minutes, but we ended up spending the whole day together. He’s a very passionate man. “ Is it any wonder then that the flacon for Armani resembles a Palladian style dome?

Yves Saint Laurent Opium
Moschino Cheap & Chic
Calvin Klein Obsession
Givenchy Amarige

I asked Pierre where he studied architecture. “I attended the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris but I was thrown out. My teachers told me I would never do anything in design.” How wrong they were, as he has now designed over 1000 perfume bottles, so many of which are iconic including Moschino, Calvin Klein Obsession and Givenchy Amarige. Indeed Pierre’s background in architecture has served him well as he sees similarities in building a house and designing a flacon. Just consider, building a house requires a blueprint and various materials such as glass, wood and metal.

“Building a flacon is very similar to building a house. It’s a house in which the perfume lives.”

Today Pierre works with his grandson, Jules, another student of architecture who did his studies at the Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris. According to Pierre, “We both start with a blank slate. I draw with a pencil and paper while Jules uses his computer.

Pierre & Jules Dinand

Pierre regales me with more stories about bottle he has created such as Giorgio of Beverly Hills (“It was inspired by a vase…I only designed the cap!”) as well as some of his clients (Oleg Cassini, a charming man who spoke several languages, he was also quite the lady’s man.) While chatting we find that our career paths have crossed several times! In it’s heyday, Pierre worked with I. Magnin, an esteemed San Francisco-based retailer, and he worked on numerous flacons for Parfums Givenchy. He told me that the Givenchy logo was based on a hieroglyph, a bit of trivia that I never knew even after having worked for the brand for ten years!

Which comes first, I wondered, the fragrance or the flacon? “Typically the bottle comes first since the juice takes more time. And the history behind the creation gives so much value and meaning to the final product. But we work in collaboration with perfumers. After all, perfume success is often very important because it can be the most lucrative license for a brand.”

I had to ask Pierre to tell me if he had a favorite flacon amongst all the ones he has designed. Without hesitation, he reached for Opium, still a masterpiece to this day. What is his opinion, I wondered, on the tendency for brands to use stock bottles or even the same bottle for an entire brand? “It’s really a shame but it’s a question of economy.”

Before our time together ended, I remarked that in the past, in the time of Lalique, brands were often proud of the flacon designers and gave them credit, which is rarely the case today. “Lalique was already well known, he was a jewelry designer. I’m just a modest guy, an artisan at the service of the couturiers.

Perfume Legends
A signed copy!

What a gracious man, sharp as a tack, with so many priceless memories and stories to tell. He gladly signed my copy of Perfume Legends, Selection of 30 Drawings, the book which was published in 2017, in collaboration with Michael Edwards, to commemorate an exhibit of Pierre’s flacons. Pierre himself is a perfume legend, a living legend and treasure.