It’s fitting that the experience of watching Nose, a new documentary about fragrance, is a sensory burst of serotonin. As the film and its subject, perfumer François Demachy, take pains to explain, fragrances are transportive. A scent can stoke the imagination and — if Demachy pulls the puppet strings correctly, which he always does — it brings the wearer along to a rose garden in France, to a road trip along the Italian riviera, or to a dark local bar where you’re wearing your favorite dress. Watching the film, wearing the same sweatpants I’ve pulled on every morning for a week, made me want to spritz on perfume as if I were going out.
In a way, the film is named after Demachy, who holds the title of master perfumer (often called “the nose” in the industry) for Dior. He’s the creator behind Dior Homme, Sauvage, Miss Dior, and more of the house’s iconic scents. With a single sniff, Demachy’s sensitive nose could identify countless ingredients, where they come from, and the distinct differences between each of them. It’s a superpower in its own right, and he uses it to conceptualize fragrances from scratch and to locate the best possible ingredients for their creation.
Demachy is ostensibly the subject of the film, and we do learn some details about his work process and personal history. But the film’s heart, much like Demachy’s, is with the farmers and growers who produce the raw materials that he ingeniously spins into perfume. “It’s important to see the perfume in its natural habitat,” Demachy states early in the film. And so we do, while following him on his travels to patchouli fields in Indonesia, a bergamot harvest in Italy, rose farming in France, and ambergris hunting in Ireland. In a typical year, the vivid footage would be transportive; it would be the type of film that leaves you blinking for an extra moment as the credits roll. But after a year wherein most of the movie’s viewers have been grounded in place, it’s even more thrilling to watch as Demachy circles the globe in search of the world’s best-smelling ingredients.
The film emphasizes the international coordination it takes to build a scent like Sauvage, and Demachy happily shares the credit with farmers and growers across the globe. “Showing the full circle of perfume creation was in fact the idea behind the film,” he tells Allure. As he defines it, that full circle includes “the people who plant the raw material, the ones who harvest it, the ones who transform it, the one who mix it to create a composition, the ones who market it, sell it, up until the consumer who wears it and gives it a life. That is perfume creation, not just one person in a lab mixing scents.”