A fusion of fragrance and fashion, the old and new, the utilitarian and extravagant, is the trailblazing Clic-Clac by haute perfumerie Henry Jacques. In a Singapore-exclusive interview, the maison’s CEO Anne-Lise Cremona talks about how the ultra-luxurious solid perfume accessory redefines the meaning of wearing a scent.
Imagine whipping out a flat, metallic palm-sized case that is stylish yet intriguing. It is certainly not a smartphone, but not a cigar cutter or lighter either. Casually playing with it, you slide it open, revealing what looks like a single circular capsule, before shutting it again. “Clic-Clac” goes the contraption, while a hypnotic fragrance pervades the air and draws curious glances from those around you.
This mysterious object is none other than a sophisticated accessory for housing solid perfume – a revolutionary invention by French haute perfumerie Henry Jacques. This innovation completes the trilogy of the forms of its 50 Les Classiques scents: Les Essences (concentrated perfumes), Les Brumes (mists) and Solids (balms).
Initially nicknamed Clic-Clac for the sound it makes, the tongue-in-cheek name stuck, and would spell a moment in history when the concept of fragrance is forever changed.
Unlike anything before it
While solid perfume has existed since antiquity, it has certainly gone out of fashion in contemporary times. But beyond reviving the lost tradition, the maison of Henry Jacques has elevated it into a lifestyle statement. If you have the chance to experience the Clic-Clac, you’d realise why.
At the sumptuously Parisian Henry Jacques boutique located at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel Tower 2, I’m given the honour of being the first in Singapore to preview the product before going on a video call with its CEO Anne-Lise Cremona, who is the daughter of the founder of the eponymous brand.
At first gaze, the Clic-Clac is enigmatic. The prototype before me, in silvery-grey brushed titanium, looks sleek and possibly functional but will not give up its secrets. No one would have guessed that sliding it open would unveil a scent capsule. Measuring 80mm by 48mm, the accessory fits pockets and purses nicely. At 128g in total, it has a nice weight that hints at the precious nature of the material and quality of the construction, but it is nowhere too heavy. The product is also offered in carbon fibre with titanium (120g), just like your supercar, and the flashier rose gold (235g).
The Clic-Clac’s heft gives you a sense of confidence in repeatedly opening and closing it without fear of breaking it. Not that it would – painstakingly developed over four years, it is a beautifully engineered marvel featuring an opening mechanism created by Swiss watchmaking experts, and even holds two patents. Nestled on the interior panel is a solid perfume capsule, which is removable and replaceable from both sides of the accessory, although we prefer the one that says “Swiss Made” and has the item’s unique serial number etched on it. A slight push dislodges the capsule or clicks it in place. The Clic-Clac is clever, instinctive and tactile.
Art of living
What can possibly be cooler than the Clic-Clac’s design and construction, is of course, its very raison d’être. During my chat with Anne-Lise Cremona, she reminisces about the sense of style in the 1930s, when elegant men and women would carry amazing objects and trinkets, such as cigar boxes, that offered a glimpse of their identity. In the same way, she envisions that for the Clic-Clac: “Something that defines them. A companion that you need to take with you wherever you go. It’s kind of a social item that you can show off a bit.”
It is indeed a statement-maker. At $44,475 a pop, it’d better be. However, the product makes so much sense now that you think about it. Its portability makes it perfect for the contemporary jetsetter who practises a holistic and environmentally conscious lifestyle. “The solid perfume is once again very modern because it doesn’t contain alcohol. At Henry Jacques, we use a 100 per cent natural base of oils and waxes,” says Cremona, when I remark that the balm just sinks into the skin with no trace of grease and yet possesses such sillage and longevity. There is also a strong element of sustainability with the elimination of the use of glass, and clients are invited to return the metal capsules for recycling.
Unlike perfume bottles, the Clic-Clac is not fragile and won’t leak. And since there is never one fragrance that is suitable for all occasions or moods, the interchangeability of the solid perfume capsules offers so much versatility. In addition to purchasing the Clic-Clac, which comes with one capsule, customers may buy a set of three or 10 that come in a slim and sturdy box. One may carry as many as desired aboard a flight without busting the cabin baggage restrictions.
“Sometimes when I travel, especially on business trips as a CEO, it’s difficult because you feel a bit alone in this big world. But with your favourite fragrances, you feel like you have your home with you. Just like chocolates, you eat one, and then another, because it brings a sense of comfort. The Clic-Clac is comforting to me – I open it and smell it, dab on a little, then I feel better and put it back. I need to use it 10 times during the day, or whenever I need it. Sometimes I just open it up for a few seconds to scent the air. It’s really food for the soul.”
On her preferred number of capsules for travel, she adds: “If it’s a short trip, a box of three. But if it’s more than a week, I’ll take 10. It’s the same for outfits – I’m always too busy to select them, and I never know what I want to wear. It’s a problem many ladies have!”
An inspired creation
The very people the Clic-Clac is created for, are the very people it was inspired by. The decision for this third form of perfume to complete the Henry Jacques Les Classiques trilogy was almost serendipitous: “We work with private clients, and we’d create these amazing balms. They would be stored in the drawers, and after 10, 12 years, they were still perfect. Whenever we opened the drawers, we’d try them on or give them to our friends. They have always fascinated everybody. And that was how it started.
“I always knew I wanted to bring solid perfumes back, but in a modern way. Our creative director Christophe [Tollemer] is a great designer, and immediately he had the vision of the Clic-Clac’s shape and how it would fit the hand perfectly.”
The road to perfection was however an arduous one. The challenges were so many that Cremona and Tollemer took a grand four years for the project. “We made prototypes, and they didn’t work for a period of time. Not good enough, not good enough. We spent so much time travelling through Europe to find the people who were technically capable of helping us. There were so many constraints, for example, the size of the capsule and the exact quantity of perfume it should hold.”
Finally, upon the advice of Cremona’s famous maternal uncle, the high watchmaking iconoclast Richard Mille, the pair sought out experts in the Swiss haute horology industry. “They were the only ones who could create the opening mechanism and the capsule-change system, which were incredible.”
The final result is an object of precision engineering, made with the finest watchmaking components and materials, and tested over 200,000 times to ensure, in Cremona’s words, “a technically perfect object that could pass through generations”.
Back in the Henry Jacques’ laboratory, the formulation of the 50 Les Classiques fragrances as solids was just as laborious. “It was extremely difficult to achieve the right concentration and texture for all 50 scents. We had hundreds and hundreds of tests for each one,” she reveals.
Just like Henry Jacques Cremona himself, who went against the grain of mass perfume production and marketing in the ’80s to identify an ultra-luxury niche of perfume customisation, his daughter would now do the same with the avant-garde Clic-Clac. Like her father, she retains the same free spirit and no-compromise philosophy embedded in the company’s desire to bring “Haute Perfumerie Vivante” to its believers.
“Sometimes history becomes modernity. My dad was a true artist, and during a time when the perfume industry changed paths to go into mass production, he decided he would never follow that. Instead of creating many fragrances like the others, he stayed with the ancestral formulas and introduced perfumes of different concentrations,” elaborates Cremona, of the man who would go on to be recognised as a singular master and awarded projects like designing spectacular perfume libraries and museums for his private clients.
The revival of the ritual of wearing solid perfume is her very own brave effort in taking a piece of history and turning it into modern reality. Cremona credits her father for giving her the courage to breach new ground, and it would appear all of us are better off for it. “When I presented to the press in Europe, the younger generation got it immediately. The clients we showed the prototypes to adopted it in two seconds.”
Even as I’m just seeing the Clic-Clac for the first time, Henry Jacques’ VIPs worldwide are already requesting to be on the wait list – some of whom had only seen the launch photos. While it is imaginable that copycats of the solid perfume idea are on the horizon, the precious object itself is destined for cult stardom. It isn’t just a fragrance; for the lucky few, it’s a talisman and one of the ultimate expressions of a refined lifestyle.
Production is extremely limited and can take up to about six months. Cremona delightedly informs me that Henry Jacques Cremona and Richard Mille themselves get no priority access, and are still waiting for their Clic-Clacs. “I will offer my father the gold one. And he wants his name on it. The problem is that his name is already engraved on the side of the accessory!”
(All images: Henry Jacques)
Henry Jacques is at #01-08A Marina Bay Sands Hotel Tower 2, 1 Bayfront Avenue, Singapore 018971. Visit Henry Jacques’ website for more information.